Going, Going, Gone

Evolution has programmed us for visual acuity, especially when it comes to movement. Listening has never triggered our reptilian fight or flight alertness as any lecturing teacher with any self-awareness has known.

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And as our students are increasingly weaned on hyper-kinetic levels of movement, we must acknowledge this and differentiate accordingly.  The recent footage of VP Biden dozing off during Obama’s recent budget speech is just a funny, cross-generational reminder of the need for visuals to access our Darwinian interest levels.  Colbert makes light of it here, and Biden’s probably sleeping because he’s 68 and it’s past his bedtime or he thinks he’s on the train back to Wilmington, but there is a reason why USA Today is America’s most popular daily newspaper in the US.  It is keenly aware of the visual nature of its audience.


CNN just published an article that says as much for infographics as a whole new medium of communication.

“Today, visualization has the potential to become a mass medium. Engagement — grabbing and keeping the attention of a viewer — is the key to its broader success. The clearest, most precise graphic in the world communicates nothing if nobody looks at it…

The best kind of visualization, like the best kind of story, is one you can relate to. Ask yourself: can users see themselves? A 2009 New York Times feature showed a graph of unemployment — including not just averages, but letting readers highlight trends by gender, age, education. The title? “The Jobless Rate for People Like You.”

This kind of interaction puts the “you are here” dot in the visualization, orienting viewers and letting them add their own context. (“Aha, so my unemployed 20-year-old sister isn’t the only one.”) By offering personalized entry points, a visualization turns into a mirror. And we all know people love mirrors!”

The article also mentions the fabulous representations of this type of data presentation from Hans Rosling at TED.  If you’ve never seen these, check them out in order so you can be blown away by his extra special, attention-getting finale in talk #2.

We have to focus on leveraging the innate visual acuity of our students to aid their deeper understanding rather than bemoan the speed with which they become bored of 20th century static stand and deliver modes of education.

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One Response to Going, Going, Gone

  1. Avatar of Adrian Adrian says:

    Good stuff Michael. I didn’t make the connection about USA today and the visuals, but it makes sense. I sometimes have students dozing off in my afternoon classes. I have been trying to include more visuals and movement in the class to keep students (especially the boys) interested.

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