Good-bye text, hello ‘media collage’

Literacy 2.0 requires a “shift from text centrism to media collage,” writes Jason Ohler in Educational Leadership.

General literacy means being able to read and write the media forms of the day, which currently means being able to construct an articulate, meaningful, navigable media collage. The most common media collage is the Web page, but a number of other media constructs also qualify, including videos, digital stories, mashups, stand-and-deliver PowerPoint presentations, and games and virtual environments, to name a few.

Reading and writing will be more valuable than ever, writes Ohler, who describes himself as a “digital humanist.” And art is the “fourth R.”

KitchenTableMath is dubious.

From The Onion: Are video games adequately preparing our youth for the post-apocalyptic future?

About Joanne


  1. Oh, great. They’ve coined the term “text-centrism” which is going to be used as a pejorative against people who think being able to read and understand things in a linear fashion is important:

    “You’re textist! You’re oppressing me because I’d rather watch mash-ups on YouTube than read a book!”

    And the generational split grows wider…

  2. I took both art and graphics design in high school, and I learnt ten times more from the graphic design teacher about communicating using images. Not merely in the sense of technical drawing, but in information about how viewers’ minds work.

    If every student is going to learn “media literacy” I suspect this will first require a major upgrading of most teachers’ skills.

  3. Do these people really want to dumb down the populace, or are they themselves too dumb to see the result of what they want? And why do they want this? What makes them think that logical, sequential thinking, and the ability to read and understand text, is so bad?

  4. Darren, I think you are being unfair to Jason Ohler. To quote from his work:

    Both essay writing and blog writing are important, and for that reason, they should support rather than conflict with each other. Essays, such as the one you are reading right now, are suited for detailed argument development, whereas blog writing helps with prioritization, brevity, and clarity.

    Now Jason Ohler’s ideas may, if implemented, lead to the dumbing down of the populace. But it certainly does not appear to be his intent, nor does he appear to think that logical, sequential thinking and the ability to read and understand text is bad.

  5. Tracy, I’m glad you pointed that out. May it be just as clear to those who would take his phrase “media collage” to absurd extremes, and you know they’re out there.

  6. Mark Roulo says:

    … blog writing helps with prioritization, brevity, and clarity.

    Because essays need not prioritize the arguments, and aim for brevity and clarity?

    I think not.

    A good essay says what it needs to say as briefly as possible while still being clear and focusing on the important/key points.

    I’d suggest that blog writing tends to be much sloppier than essay writing, partially because blog posts have a greater tendency to be “dashed off.”

    For priority, brevity and clarity, I’d emphasize learning to write a good essay over learning to make blog posts.

    -Mark Roulo

  7. The negative reaction appears to be in the use of the word ‘literacy’. If it has only meant reading and writing and it should only mean that then perhaps coming up with another word to describe a similar level of competence might be in order. The fact of the matter remains: an ability to absorb, process and disseminate other forms of communication is necessary. We were visually and aurally literate before we were ‘text’ literate. Now advertisers seduce us endlessly with their SuperBowl half-time parade of commercials that wholly rely on these two senses.
    If English comp is designed to learn structure and a bit of criticism to offset the ‘powers of persuasion’ coming from the writer, then it bodes well for all of us humans when we understand the structure of imagery [still or moving]. It is no coincidence that after the flow of VietNam imagery that the Bush 41 administration tightly controlled what the public saw. Over and over again we saw how benevolent our soldiers were to the bedraggled Iraqi soldiers captured in Kuwait. What one hardly saw and had to look hard to find, was the absolute annihilation of the fleeing Iraqi convoy. More recently, the ban on returning coffins. The power of imagery is great. We should make no mistake about that and treat it as a fundamental competency to our core skills; not this versus that. Computing has brought all fields of communication together in one concurrent space.


  8. “stand-and-deliver PowerPoint presentations”…the way one leans to give a good PowerPoint presentation is by learning to give a good *presentation*, with or without PowerPoint. The key skill is organizing information in an interesting and convincing way. The problem with most P/P presentations isn’t poor use of the visual tool (although that it’s often pretty lousy), it’s a failure to understand the basics of rhetoric.

  9. Mark Roulo says:

    The problem with most P/P presentations isn’t poor use of the visual tool (although that it’s often pretty lousy), it’s a failure to understand the basics of rhetoric.

    I’d suggest that the problem with many PP presentations is that the *content* the PP presentation is supposed to be summarizing is poorly thought out. Or even close to non-existent.

    My view is that a PP presentation *should* be a summary of a much larger argument/document. But you can’t create a summary without the original, much-more-detailed argument to begin with.

    And frequently, the much-more-detailed argument is skipped.

    Then you wind up spending lots of time on PP animations, but there isn’t any content.

    “Basics of rhetoric” make sense, but only once you know what you want to say … and why you believe it.

    -Mark Roulo

  10. Mark Roulo says:

    The negative reaction appears to be in the use of the word ‘literacy’.

    I think it is more that the negative reaction is because many readers assume that if learning to do a multi-media mashup is “literacy”, then the time spent learning to do that mashup will come from the time-budget that historically has been used to teach composition.

    I haven’t run into anyone who believes that today’s students are excessively good at composition.

    The fear then becomes that today’s perceived lack of ability to write coherent sentences and paragraphs will become even worse.

    -Mark Roulo

  11. “The fear then becomes that today’s perceived lack of ability to write coherent sentences and paragraphs will become even worse.”

    It’s already bad, but it’s not because of computing. This new tool has only allowed those who are deficient to broadcast themselves the world over thereby boosting our awareness of the decline of literacy standards. It’s a just a question of how long it will take to adjust. To be sure, I’ve seen my own profession take a dive off the deep end – all because.

    There is a whole set of disciplines that address all the issues inherent in the ‘media collage’.
    Let’s see:
    English comp and Literature
    Graphic Design
    Sound engineering
    and the knowledge necessary to make all these widgets run?
    Computer Science

    Currently all of these fields have been reduced to nothing more than widgets in the pursuit of the ‘cooool media collage’, i.e. website. Many of which are all form and no substance.

    It boggles my mind that we are viewing media and computing as if it is something all together different. It is akin to marveling at the latest hammer thinking one can now build a better house because we have a nail gun; despite the fact that one knows nothing about architectural engineering.

    And that’s what we have here:
    -Can’t read, can’t write. Hey, I’ll start a blog. Hey, I’m a journalist. Dump the newspaper.
    -Can’t make an interesting image but I got a new Panasonic digital camera. Why is my picture so pixelated? What’s an aperture? Shutter speed?
    -Look at all these cool fonts! I can put them all over the page. What do you mean you can’t find the directions? They’re right there between the bolded Giddyup and the 24 pt. Critter.
    -Film/Video? I’ll just plug in a YouTube clip or Hey I got a new Panasonic digital video camera. I’ll just film a DVD off the TV screen and edit into my own movie. What’s an aperture?
    -I play Guitar Hero and I’m pretty good cuz I win all the time. I don’t play guitar or read music but I have some really cool software or I can just ‘share’ someone else’s music on my site.
    -What’s screen resolution? Print resolution?

    We are approaching this new tool as if the groundwork for use in this area has never been laid. Even some instructors adept in analog technology have left the bags at the dock with digital, not knowing what to do with it and those who are adept tend to teach the tool and little of what to do with it. I gave a small visiting lecture on the use of collaged imagery citing John Heartfield’s work and claimed that not much was different with digital – only the production. The look of horror on the classroom instructor was telling. Instructor thought they had been navigating new waters with new content. Well maybe – students needed to learn their math as it applied to their widgets – but that’s about it. Oddly enough, there are plenty who enter art to avoid math. Ha!

    Content has been thrown out the window in favor of the tool.
    Reading and writing are essential but given modern living’s media bombardments, the core competencies of all forms cannot wait.

    I actually think I agree with the writer on a number of levels. Allowing those who have little understanding of what all this entails run the programs ensures that the babies get thrown out with the bath water. It’s likely a real fear, but still, an issue that does need to be addressed.

  12. This sounds a lot like what my grad school rhetoric instructor, and the “cultural studies” people tried to convince me of: “Everything is a text.” They meant everything, too–statues, buildings, art, photos–except for actual, written text.

    That said, I’d like to comment on the idea that blogging is inherently sloppy when compared to essay writing. I don’t think that’s necessarily the case–it depends on the blogger. I use mine to exercise a lot of my frustration. Occasionally, I link to stories with a sentence or two of comment. I’ve been doing that more and more frequently, lately, as my infant son doesn’t let me have much time with both hands free to write, and most of that time I spend grading.

    Still, there are, occasionally, stories that I feel I must spend time responding to. Where that is warranted, I usually will link to the story somewhere in a brief summary, react, then discuss what prompted the reaction. That could be just me, just the composition teacher coming out, but I don’t think so. I’m not the only one that does it. I’ve noticed that this blog does the same. So do a couple of others I follow.

    But yes, like any trend, I think this one will be misunderstood, distorted, and will damage the education process for possibly a generation of students, but probably more than one. Not the theorist’s fault. Not the teachers’ fault. It’s more the fault of the ed schools that teach the teachers that they don’t have to fully understand something to teach it/use it in their class rooms, just figure out how to use it enough to make their jobs easier (i.e., lessen content actually taught, and material that they actually have to grade objectively rather than subjectively).

  13. Why is it always an “or,” but never an “and?”

    I’d have no problem with PP projects, if they were additions to a term project. Say, write a research paper about the glaciers, and present a PP on the topic to the class. I can see the value of such an approach. Presenting the same research in two different modes would be a good exercise.

  14. Tracy W says:

    Darren – good point, I think you are right and that there are some people who are bound to misinterpret this argument into the simplest possible form.

    Mark Roulo,

    I agree with you that essay writing should always aim for clarity. I do think though that in essays you can take the space to marshall the appropriate evidence, examine alternative hypotheses, and discuss the details. Not everything in life should be brief, and sometimes disgressions into non-priorities are amusing and/or thought-provoking.

  15. Tracy W says:

    On thinking about it, arguably multiple blog posts can cover all the details, alternative hypotheses, and so forth better than one essay could. And certainly I have read more than one post that disgressed into non-priorities.