July 14, 2009

Are We Text Snobs?

This post will be double posted to the tech learning blog shortly.

Schools are text snobs. Most people reading this are text snobs. Our institutions are built around the written word. That in itself is not bad and we owe much of our culture, knowledge and understanding to the written word. It’s not our fault, we’ve been living in a world that up until a few years ago, only offered us to easily produce content via the written word. But like the revolution of the printing press, we are in the midst of a revolution of a digital nature that’s allowing us to easily create and consume context in many different forms, specifically audio, video and imagery.

So what are our schools doing to address this? I’d say for the most part very little. I must say I’m please to note that many curricula, are beginning to address this gap. In fact my own Saskatchewan Curriculum identifies these six strands as the cornerstone of the English Language Arts Curriculum: Reading, Writing, Speaking, Listening and Viewing and Representing. All are considered equal but take a wild guess as to which ones receive the bulk of the attention? No doubt that many standardized tests and assessments focus solely on reading and writing and thus perpetuate the lack of attention on the other four. But even those who are building vast digital footprints and experience the power of publishing and connecting are doing so mostly via text. Believe me, I don’t want to discount its importance and value. Writing and the written word will always hold a prominent place in our understanding and experience of life but I’m concerned over the limited use of video, audio and even imagery among teachers and leaders in our schools and in particular those who have created and are developing an online presence.

(This post continues with the following video)

(And now some audio)

In general, schools have placed writing ahead of other forms of expression. Writing is what is measured and what is valued. As we consider the changing of the guard of modern communication.  The recent marketing ploy by the Australian government to find someone to be the caretaker of an island illustrates the shifting of communication skills. Instead of simply asking applicants to write an essay, they were to submit a video to sell themselves. Consider this quote by Stephen Downes.

OK, these are videos for that contest to live on an Australian island (the contest was probably the public relations coup of the year). They are, of course, creative and imaginative and effective. Now for the kicker: ten years ago, not one student in a hundred, nay, one in a thousand, could have produced videos like this. It’s a whole new skill, a vital and important skill, and one utterly necessary not simply from the perspective of creating but also of comprehending video communication today. Some people out there

Marco Torres get a great deal of credit and is seen as an extraordinary educator. Not that he isn’t but part of the reason Torres gets the attention is the fact that very few teachers/schools allow students to create and express themselves with video. I’d love for this to change. We need more Marco Torres’. The challenge is that most teachers who have developed their online presence is largely because of their ability to write. This continues the bias towards text over other mediums. We need kids that can write, tell a story, engage in a coherent, interesting conversation and tell stories with still and moving images. Shouldn’t we be modeling this? Who’s going to teach them?