Why we need more visual texts in our teaching and learning

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Found this fantastic infographic touting the success of infographics. Reading it ( or more correctly, viewing it) immediately focused my thoughts on the use of visual texts in classrooms today. Click on the screenshot above to view the animated, interactive info graphic that presents  13 reasons why we should use infographics ( or visual texts in general). Unlike other infographics I link to on Mr G Online, I’m not going to discuss the specific points presented – that would be contradictory to the message of the infographic. I’ll let you get your own meaning from it. However, I am going to reflect on how it made me consider the use of visual texts in education.

If we take at face value the research this infographic is based on, human beings are, at heart, visual learners. Our first written languages were image based (hieroglyphics). Our first recorded historical artefacts are cave paintings. Before the Bible was printed, the story of Christianity was predominantly told through Church Art. Museums are based on our desire to see artefacts firsthand.

I in no way want to devalue the importance of reading. Making connections with the printed word promotes creativity and imagination as we strive to interpret the  detailed writings of an author. Words allow us to add our own meaning to written texts rather than have an artist’s or film maker’s interpretation forced upon us. Reading is vital for learning and engaging with the world.

Having said that, though, Literacy Education has been dominated by the written word, and to a lesser extent, spoken word in the form schooling has taken over the 100-200 years of formal education as we know it. In recent curriculum documents we have seen viewing make its long awaited debut, but it still seems to be a poor relation compared to the other strands of Literacy. Improvements are being made, but as teachers do we fall back to written and spoken texts because its easier for us?

Screen Shot 2013-06-16 at 11.02.57 AMIf our brains are visually wired, then it makes sense that we visually present information, instructions, new learning, methods. If half our brain capacity is involved in visual processing but we present our lessons verbally or in written text form, how much are we getting through to our students? If 70% of our sensory receptors are in our eyes, then why do we persist in TALKING so much as teachers? How much more learning could take place if we had much less word based instruction (written or oral) and much more Visual instruction, considering we can make sense of a visual scene (0.01 sec)  so much more quickly than a spoken or written scene.

I’m not saying teachers don’t use visuals – I’m saying we need to A LOT more.

 

 

 

  • In Mathematics we take away the visual representations far too early in our quest to rush in Screen Shot 2013-06-16 at 11.02.25 AMthe algorithm and written methods. Singapore’s visual pedagogy in Maths Education is an example of how it should be done.
  • Textbooks include plenty of visuals but are still dominated by the written text in putting forward the primary content. The visuals seem to be add ons. It should be the other way around. Start with the visuals as the primary content and support it with accompanying text.
  • How often do we complain that our students don’t follow instructions? Or that they don’t remember anything we taught them? How often are these instructions 10 minute monologues based on fifteen points teachers think are important to get across but in reality have no hope in getting across to overloaded children’s memories? Is ‘teaching’ verbally for 10 minutes resulting in students ‘learning’? Yes it takes more time to create and then present a visual alternative but do we waste even more time repeating lessons or instructions that would have been delivered more effectively with visual elements.
  • In our quest for improved standardised test scores, we cram more literacy lessons based on written texts at the expense of the Visual Arts. We spend countless hours teaching children to comprehend worded Maths problems but ignore how much visual representation of number concepts can improve their problem solving techniques.
  • “Flipping the classroom” has its pros and cons. Like any pedagogy it can be done well and poorly. But if at its heart is the ability to provide relevant, purposeful visual resources that can provide  a learner with extra support outside and within the classroom environment, we can’t be doing a bad thing.

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The world of our students IS overloaded with information. The expectations of our curricula are overloaded with information. How we present that information then is important. If it is primarily written and verbal we may well be banging our and our students’ heads against the proverbial brick wall if, despite the best of intentions, that information is not filtering through the brain’s barriers to processing and retention of information. We owe it to ourselves and our students to dig deeper into the theories and statistics highlighted/implied in this infographic to ensure we are giving everyone the best chance to learn. What do you think?

TouchCast – interactive, browsable web in a video – insert possibilities here!

 

For a fully interactive version of this video, go to the Touchcast website and see it in action.

Just when I thought the Explain Everything iPad app was going to be my ‘go to’ app for everything in Education, this new app comes along. Touchcast (App Store link) is described as ‘the Web in a video’ rather than video on the web. It creates fully browsable, interactive videos that embed everything from websites, Twitter feeds and Youtube videos to polls, quizzes and news tickers inside your video creation.I’ve only just started experimenting  with the app and am yet to create a completed video, but I’ve already started getting a feel for how it works. Like all iPad apps, its dead easy to use. Using it effectively and with purpose is the crucial step.

While the above video and product website gives you a fair intro to the use of Touchcast, I’ve taken some screenshots of the app to show some of the features available. I have tested most but not all (greenscreen for one – sounds like a winner if it works well!).

newtouchcast

When you open the app, a number of themed touchcasts ( News, Business, Sports, How to, Review, Travel Diary) are available as well as the option to create one from scratch.

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If you select a theme, the option to add the title and search terms is provided. This creates the Touchcast title automatically and adds relevant content related to the subject to be used straight away, as seen below with the inclusion of a news ticker from Google News, a Twitter Feed and News Headlines. You can delete these if you don’t want them. Deleting content is as simple as selecting and dragging the thumbnail at the bottom to a ‘magically appearing’ trash icon.

autocontent

If you create a Touchcast from scratch, all the tools are at the bottom of the screen. The basic tools are Camera, The Record Button, Effects, Whiteboard, Titles and vApps.(see below)

tools

There are many title styles to choose from but all have a similar look to the Titles seen on TV programs

titleoptionscameratools

One of the most powerful features of the app is the capacity to add vApps. These are the interactive, live and embeddable extra content elements that can be added to your video as you record. Ideally though, you would add and prepare all of these elements before recording. The screenshot below shows all of the vApp options. It’s an impressive list of options that can help create a truly interactive and educational experience in the school setting. Imagine an interactive presentation that calls up web pages, images, polls,quizzes and rating systems, slide shows from Flickr, working GoogleMaps. There is certainly potential for overkill from both teachers and students but the possibilities for screencasting/flipped lessons, multimodal presentations, digital story tellings, project presentations, reports, reviews, surveys are there to be considered.

vapps

Once a vApp is created, they appear in a thumbnail view at the bottom of the screen and with a simple touch they can appear and disappear from your video at your discretion. As I said earlier, by preparing all of the vApps you require before recording, you have great control over their use during the video creation process.

Another useful feature in the Educational setting is the Whiteboard. You can call up multiple whiteboards and switch between visible boards to record notes or invisible in order to draw or type directly onto the video or images

whiteboard

To help with the flow of your recording, Touchcast comes with a built in Teleprompter. This is found in the Camera tool.This allows you to write a script to follow as you record rather than umming and aahing your way through your video. You can alter the speed at any time. Also within the Camera tool options is the ability to swap between front and rear cameras

teleprompt

Special effects include a Green Screen option ( will check this out when I get access to my GReen Screen), video filters for different effects and sound effects such as applause, laughter and emotional expressions ( a bit cheesy, but some will like it!)

effects

filters

soundeffects

Opportunities for digital literacy and multimodal learning abound in using this app but there are some limitations that are not obvious until you start using the app.

 

  • First there is a 5 minute limit to the length of the video. Probably not a bad thing as you could fall in the trap of going overboard. Also this 5 minute limit doesn’t restrict you from pausing the video and viewing the interactive elements and multimedia content ( e.g. the embedded YouTube clip can be as long as it is in its source location). 
  • While you can save your project along the way as you add in all of your extra elements, once you start recording, you cannot go back and edit or continue. Once you start recording, you can pause but if you want to stop or exit the app, you can only save as a non editable video not as a project. I hope they can change this option in the future. You can re-record the video if you make mistakes and restart without losing all of your vApps, however
  • Another limitation is that the only additional video you can add is through the web. You cannot add your own video (only photos)  from the iPad. This is probably reasonable, considering the file sizes this would create. You can always add your video content to a Youtube account and then add it.
  • As this is a very recent startup, at present it is a free account for users to experiment with. At present, this means a maximum of 60 minutes of video on their site. There are plans for paid accounts in the future but as it stands now, 1 hour is it. Of course, you can store videos locally on your iPad within the app, but you can’t save to Camera Roll. You can export to a Touchcast account on their website, share via social media and post on YouTube. Be warned, though, the YouTube video is only a video – there is no interaction. That is only possible through Touchcast. However, for presentation only purposes with all the content included, YouTube export is a way of storing more content if you dont need the interaction.
  • As with most Web tools, the Under 13 caveat applies. There are some features you woud want to monitor.I have emailed Touchcast for clarification on whether it is OK to set up a teacher controlled account for students to post content from their iPad app. I’ll post their answer if and when they reply.

While it’s early days in my experimenting , I’m really excited about this app. The use of it can really encourage creativity, problem solving, planning, and a range of digital literacy skills. Like any tool, we need to make sure purpose comes before play. There is more to ed tech than engagement. We want it to make a difference. Check it out. It’s a free app but you do need to set up an account (not a lot of info required – user name and password). Would like to hear from anyone who has used it and appreciate ideas on how it can be used for educational purposes. Like most tools on the Web, they don’t start out aimed at schools, but we tend to find a way to embed them in teaching and learning.