Amy's Whimsical Musings

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?


6 comments on “Picture This: Soundbitification II

  1. Pingback: The fourth choice – Portfolio lessons | Principal Interest

  2. Pingback: » U have my attention:Tyranny of text-moving beyond… Langwitches Twitter Feed

  3. Amy, aka "Ms. H"
    July 15, 2014

    Thank goodness Ray Bradbury is not alive to read this… ha ha ha! Hi, Amy. My name is also Amy, and I’m also an education blogger (over at! This post was really interesting to me, since some of my areas of research interest include the use of visual-media texts and how they correspond to the teaching of writing. I agree with many of the points you made here, about how marketability in today’s world hinges more upon interpersonal skills and the ability to create a compelling audio-visual argument than ever before. I guess the one question I would pose is this: If we allow the “death of the essay,” what might we dearly mourn as a result? I mean, if high school students aren’t expected to write compelling, sustained pieces of written text, what will that fantastic photograph attached to their Twitter link lead people to? When it comes to higher level scholarship, participating in online communities like this one, or rationalizing a piece of thinking that leads to progressive change, 140 characters is just not going to cut it. I suppose I’m saying that I’d advocate for a diversification of the term “text”, which merges written text with other methods in our teaching. But an all-out substitute for formal writing? I–along with my pal Bradbury–surely hope not.

    Thanks for your thoughts–your blog is awesome and thought-provoking. I look forward to following. 🙂

    • amyburvall
      July 15, 2014

      Hi Amy! Great name. I love books, don’t get me wrong. I am merely exploring the possibilities of ceasing to privilege text – lengthy or not. I am really interested, for example in second orality and how both our reading and writing have become more blended (check out Clive Thompson’s Smarter Than You Think or the great pdf book Knowmad Society) as well as the lines between print and speech are increasingly blurred. As for length, I simply think that we need to balance out our instruction / practice of the succinct and pithy with the traditional. Moreover, I do think for better or worse our attentions have altered drastically with our technology (and I’m not just talking about teens). It’s something we need to at least acknowledge if not address. I just read an intriguing piece on what makes great speeches so great and besides storytelling techniques and rhetorical devices, a relatively short time frame (think TED’s 18 min) was key, as was primarily visual material (evocative images trump bullet points), and “tweetable” titles and catch phrases.

      • Amy, aka "Ms. H"
        July 15, 2014

        Thanks for the heads up on the resources about the reading/writing blend phenomenon! I am in complete accord with you that we DO need to acknowledge, address, include, and celebrate these emerging text forms as well as equip our kids with strategies and devices for successful presentation. Our brains are changing with the rise of social media, and that’s a real thing… I guess, to me, I feel like I am seeing less and less of a “privileging” of text. I feel like I’m already in protective mode rather than disestablishment mode! It gives me split loyalties as a lover of technology, the internet, the audio-visual, and the verbal, but also of substantial written eloquence. I do fear the gradual edging-out of real writing and the social implications thereof. But maybe my idea of “real” needs to be revised. It’s a tough call. Saturate with technology or defend classical technique? For the best among us, I’m sure we’ll engineer a way to do both. 🙂

  4. Pingback: “The Magical Power of Words”: Intersections of Content and Form in Newspaper Typography | Novel Alliances

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