Through the Prism

After passing through the prism, each refraction contains some pure essence of the light, but only an incomplete part. We will always experience some aspect of reality, of the Truth, but only from our perspectives as they are colored by who and where we are. Others will know a different color and none will see the whole, complete light. These are my musings from my particular refraction.


Will You Read This If I Add a Pretty Picture?

I don't really get Pinterest, one of the latest big things sweeping the web. It calls itself an "online pinboard." I've heard others refer to it as a collection of visual bookmarks, and I think there's a key word in calling it that: visual. Many people are visually oriented in their learning preferences, getting more out of information-rich pictures to look at than from pages of words filled with text to read.

That same dynamic is at play in Facebook's post rankings that determine what becomes a top story; Facebook ranks pictures higher than words and visual shares are generally much more widely seen than text-only ones. That's why, for the past while now, when someone has a wise or pithy quote they want to share they rarely just type the words as a status and instead embed them within a related photo or image. So all the "words" on Facebook end up looking like this:

I tend to see something like this, though, and think of the image as filler and fluff. As an attention-grabber. In some instances, the pictures add content and deeper meaning to the words, but often they just leave me wondering how much more I would have gotten from the "thousand words" I might have read instead. The things I've seen on Pinterest so far just feel to me like quick blurbs and splashes of imagery without much substance or content. I'm left wondering why it's so exciting to so many people, just like I do about watching video after video on YouTube and many of the other things that have taken the web by storm in recent years, wanting to know what's wrong with good, old-fashioned blogs and screens filled with nice, simple, meaningful words.

Of course, I also know I'm not the average bird. At work we recently took a learning style quiz--this one, from VARK (it takes 5-10 minutes, if you're interested)--and I scored as the most extremely read/write oriented on a staff of people who have been called to work at the library.

My scores were:

Visual: 2
Aural: 6
Read/Write: 15
Kinesthetic: 7

In comparison to the rest of my work group:

The VARK site makes sure to point out that these merely indicate preferences for learning, not necessarily developed strengths or rigid categories. Everyone is flexible and uses all of the styles at different times and contexts. I may learn most naturally and easily through reading, but that doesn't mean I didn't skip most of my assigned reading in high school because I could save time by just paying attention in class and learning from the lectures and discussions. I opened this post by ranting about the emphasis pictures are getting, yet I absolutely love picture books and have long been an advocate for graphic novels and comic books getting equal respect in the library world for their literary merits. And I definitely learn new computer skills by playing around and just trying things out to see what happens. What works best for me, though, is text.

The VARK site goes in depth about each of the learning styles, but since I brought them up I want to at least quickly define each:

  • Visual (V): This preference includes the depiction of information in maps, spider diagrams, charts, graphs, flow charts, labelled diagrams, and all the symbolic arrows, circles, hierarchies and other devices, that people use to represent what could have been presented in words.
  • Aural/Auditory (A): This perceptual mode describes a preference for information that is "heard or spoken." Learners who have this as their main preference report that they learn best from lectures, group discussion, radio, email, using mobile phones, speaking, web-chat and talking things through.
  • Read/write (R): This preference is for information displayed as words. . . . This preference emphasizes text-based input and output - reading and writing in all its forms but especially manuals, reports, essays and assignments.
  • Kinesthetic (K): By definition, this modality refers to the "perceptual preference related to the use of experience and practice (simulated or real)." . . . It includes demonstrations, simulations, videos and movies of "real" things, as well as case studies, practice and applications. The key is the reality or concrete nature of the example. If it can be grasped, held, tasted, or felt it will probably be included.
  • Multimodality (MM): Those who do not have a standout mode with one preference score well above other scores, are defined as multimodal. They are of two types. There are those who are flexible in their communication preferences and who switch from mode to mode depending on what they are working with. They are context specific. . . . There are others who are not satisfied until they have had input (or output) in all of their preferred modes. They take longer to gather information from each mode and, as a result, they often have a deeper and broader understanding.
My mom, for instance, is a read/write learner. If you try to tell her the directions for something, she will stop you and ask you to let her read it for herself. My dad, on the other hand, is auditory. He can read the directions and be stumped, but if you read the same text to him out loud so he can hear it then it suddenly clicks and he can understand it.

One of the areas I'm most aware of my preference is music. I really do find lyrics somewhat irrelevant and extraneous when listening to music because I don't really hear them and often can't decipher them even when I try, and even when I can decipher them they don't really take on meaning for me until I can see them written down somewhere and take the time to read and digest them.

Another area is learning from others, whether the setting is a classroom, presentation, meeting, or other. I can learn basic information from reading, so I get very impatient when all that happens when we interact is someone telling me something I could more easily learn by reading. It feels like a waste of my time to hear someone repeat the information to us out loud or walk us through it or present some charts about it. I want--need--some added value above and beyond what can be learned through reading--questions and discussion and spontaneous reactions, the perspectives and viewpoints of others, related life experiences, etc.--or I'm not getting my money's worth.

I find most PowerPoints particularly irksome. Often the presenter either basically says the words that are projected on the screen or has graphs, charts, and videos that don't convey the information as effectively as writing would have. I'm not alone. Here's a very nice article by Edward Tufte called PowerPoint Is Evil. It's a short read worth a few minutes of your time, but a few choice excerpts:

Slideware may help speakers outline their talks, but convenience for the speaker can be punishing to both content and audience. The standard PowerPoint presentation elevates format over content, betraying an attitude of commercialism that turns everything into a sales pitch. . . .

Particularly disturbing is the adoption of the PowerPoint cognitive style in our schools. Rather than learning to write a report using sentences, children are being taught how to formulate client pitches and infomercials. Elementary school PowerPoint exercises (as seen in teacher guides and in student work posted on the Internet) typically consist of 10 to 20 words and a piece of clip art on each slide in a presentation of three to six slides -a total of perhaps 80 words (15 seconds of silent reading) for a week of work. . . .

In a business setting, a PowerPoint slide typically shows 40 words, which is about eight seconds' worth of silent reading material. With so little information per slide, many, many slides are needed. Audiences consequently endure a relentless sequentiality, one damn slide after another. . . .

At a minimum, a presentation format should do no harm. Yet the PowerPoint style routinely disrupts, dominates, and trivializes content. Thus PowerPoint presentations too often resemble a school play -very loud, very slow, and very simple.

To illustrate his point, here's The Gettysburg Powerpoint Presentation. For a quick taste, compare,

But in a larger sense, we cannot dedicate, we cannot consecrate, we cannot hallow this ground. The brave men, living and dead who struggled here have consecrated it far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here.


I'm not really complaining since I know that if there is one style most favored by schools and best suited to success in many contexts, it's the read/write preference; I know I'm not an oppressed minority in this. I just find it fun to explore the issues and learn about ourselves in the process.


At 4/13/2012 5:41 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

All I can tell you is that I either skim over FB pictures with added text or block the person from my feed (if that's all they can do, no point in my reading someone's canned cliche'd material). I hate that stuff, and it's unbearably popular. It used to be games, but now it's this.. .or maybe I just finally succeeded in blocking all games.
On Pinterest, I avoid the same thing, and instead use it to collect images that I find are relaxing or stimulate my creativity in some ways. It's also a way to gather ideas and make plans. If I had the space and a printer, I would absolutely do the same thing in my house. There's a metaphysical aspect to visualization that is easy to work with there. It's becoming more appealing than Facebook because I totally control what goes on my boards and I don't need to look at other people's religion and politics...or unoriginal quotes with stock photos.


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