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  • Writer's pictureAmy Burvall

Picture This: Soundbitification II


above: “The Tyranny of Text”, from my Myconography collection

This post is going to be penned in haste during a lunch break when I have way too many projects to be working on, but I was overwhelming inspired by this tweet from Brad Ovenell-Carter and a student presentation given today by Nick PedersonIt’s going to be brief – and you will understand how meta that is in a minute.

Screen Shot 2014-05-20 at 1.08.38 PM

A while back I wrote a post called “Soundbitification”, and this is really an extension of those thoughts (at the risk of using the word “extension” when I’m extolling brevity).

In the article Brad shared, professor of Economics Hannah Holmes discusses the inherent “flaws” of the essay as a means of assessment (or, at least, our privileging of it as frequently the sole or “best” means). She describes ways she has tried to break away from the tyranny of text and incorporate more visual, personalized means for students to demonstrate their knowledge such as research posters and oral presentations.

And while they are most certainly more creative, she acknowledges the very practical assertion that

“it prepares them for the working world, where they’re more likely to give a presentation than to write an essay”

My aunt is in Human Resources for a large pharmaceutical company, and I always ask her about the qualities she seeks in hiring the best employees. She boils it down to :

1. Working well with others (basically, effective communication, strong work ethic, and not being a total jerk)

2. Being able to give killer presentations (a sweet spot between critical thinking, design skills and oral communication skills / talent)

I think about that a lot when I craft assessments. The ability to synthesize – to boil something down into basic, easy-to-grasp-yet-still-meaty concepts and/ or make connections is a gift for some but for many it takes instruction, exposure, and practice. I talk about it a bit in my post about my “Quick and Dirty” 3 slide presentation format.


I wonder if we are not habitually doing enough with our students in terms of visual and media literacy, design theory (typography course anyone?), and speaking skills. (including body language). Recently, a student suggested we have paraliguistics as an option for a second language course. Many have told me they’d love more graphic design classes or formal speech training.


I recently read that for 94% of human history, we were communicating without writing. In his presentation my student Nick Pederson alluded to research claiming that Facebook and Twitter posts including images receive more than double the number of “likes” as those which are pure text. He also addressed the benefits of emojis to contextualize text and infographics to present data in a more palatable way.

When I speak on New Literacies, I usually bring up the Gutenberg Parenthesis theory, which claims that we are moving forward into the past and that social media in particular has ushered in a sort of second orality a la Walter Ong. Exploring if “Twitter is text or speech?” is fodder for another post but it’s worth reiterating that the constraints (usually of character limit), make this medium into a sort of poetry.

Crafting a tweet, creating a video that could go viral, or developing an evocative, pithy blog post title are exercises in being creative, succinct, and visually-stimulating.

“the future of the book is the blurb” – Marshall McLuhan

If McLuhan was right – and I think he is – what are we doing to move beyond privileging text and verbosity?


#BradOvenellCarter #secondorality #walterong #nickpederson #newliteracies #text #socialmedia #visualliteracy #McLuhan #designtheory #pedagogy

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