At what point do visual representations undermine listening(auditory) skills? Listening skills are important. By producing visual presentations, am I undermining the development of that skill? These questions are good and I had the opportunity to reflect upon them recently thanks to a question from a colleague.
At first thought, it seems easy to say these skills are mutually exclusive. Are we not emphasizing one over another? However, I don't think that this is the case. Visuals should not reduce auditory listening. Visuals should be a "hook" for the learner/audience to make the concept being talked about more vivid and easier to recall. Hopefully, the visual brings out some relevant relationship for an unusual way to think about the idea or reinforce the verbal description. If an audience can remember an image, it is much more likely they will remember a concept.
For example, in some presentations, I have recently used this visual:
Back to my focus, if we post less text and more images/media, then more listening is required, not less. Note the stark contrast to straight powerpoint presentations...typically heavy on text. Text-heavy powerpoints can undermine presentations as much as enhance. People become extremely dependent on the words on the screen--they listen less and read more. Why not hand out a sheet with the text and just let them read it if that is the goal? Some would rationalize this because students listen and write it down themselves as a kinesthetic way of learning. Although true, it seems to me that they spend more time making sure they "write" down the right things than understanding the concepts/content.
We need to find ways to use more images and multimedia to engage students and make the content memorable in place of text powerpoints. If we can do this effectively, it seems to me the images require more listening to make the connections and derive the content. However, I don't want to seem naive and say this is easy. It isn't. This is something I am working on in some of my PD work with teachers. It takes time and it is a skill which develops with use, practice, and effort. Effective teaching is not easy.
Let's note an exception...there is a value in helping ESL students by having more text visible. That doesn't necessarily mean less images, but more text may be interspersed. For ESL students, much of their learning extends to language learning and having a language rich environment. Their learning is more than just getting the content. However, images are invaluable to them as they use it for context and depend on it for understanding, perhaps even more than those without language limitations. For ESL students, they may not understand the oral language...again, they need to practice and do it, but in smaller chunks. For them, it is not the listening skill that is so weak as comprehending what is being said. Again, balance is needed.
Listening as a mental discipline. Effective visuals can be a way to engage and "appeal" to students to perform the discipline of listening in some non-painful, enjoyable ways. At the same time, a discipline takes effort and sometimes there is no way around it.
What do you think?