I’m currently taking a course in Culture Media and Education and something we’ve been talking about a lot is the idea of 21st century literacy, and what it means to be literate in today’s world. While text is still regarded as a more lofty, intellectual form of communication, other forms of communication such as image, audio, video, simulation, and educational games are increasingly being integrated into the educational landscape.
This idea of multimodality – the use of multiple modes of communication – is not new. A textbook with bolded key terms is already using multiple modes to convey meaning. Perhaps more obvious, the use of words and images together has been used in everywhere from children’s books to science textbooks, and research demonstrates that the use of two modalities can add meaning and increase learning.
Something I’ve been thinking about more recently is how certain modalities lend themselves to certain types of communication. A photograph or video can be more compelling emotionally, spoken word can convey nuance more clearly than written word, and a short documentary is often easier to digest for a wider audience than is a newspaper article.
One suggestion for the educational sphere is to continue to promote and use these various types of media. Rather than privileging text, we should think about what the educational aim is and then decide which mode can best suit that aim. Furthermore, to be literate in multimodal learning, students must learn how to shuttle between different modes. Some research suggests that when presented with text and images in science textbooks, students will barely read the text and instead focus solely on the image, which can lead to incorrect and incomplete understandings. Teaching students how to combine and integrate information from multiple sources is vital as we introduce a variety of modes into our educational system.
Last, literacy is not only about consumption. Students must also be producers of knowledge in more modes than the written essay. Teaching verbal communication and use of media and technology are critical for this “youtube” generation, and developing media in multiple modes can lead to new learning opportunities and help students express themselves in ways they may not be able to do when limited to text.
My major assignment for this semester is to develop media that matters, or a short multimedia piece that provides a call to action for a social issue that matters to me. While I begin to explore my option, I’ve been viewing these incredible short videos from the Media That Matters Film Festival. I encourage you to view some of these clips, and while watching these videos to think about how the medium conveys meaning beyond what a compelling text piece could do.