160x128 image of Mount Salem School in Jamaica
Click above image for movie by Leslie Fort. Image sharing is global. Click above image (Keisha Thompson, WCU master's graduate, 2002) for news of Mount Salem Primary & Junior High School,  in the parish of St. James, Montego Bay, Jamaica.

An Introduction to the Literacy of Image and Audio

A Digital Literacy Chapter


Image and audio literacy refers to the capacity to understand, compose and use images and audio. They represent two of our primary senses, seeing and hearing. These ideas explore how compositions can use them as a part of a communication team with text and other media. Such work challenges us to expand our perception of reading text to include the "reading" or understanding of the content of still images and audio (sounds, speech & music). It further challenges our authorship to think about how they complement and strengthen each other, and how might also get in each other's way if some forethought is not taken.

This page contains examples of such composition teamwork. In the opening frames of of this chapter, an audio file is playing, an original solo tune and composition created by a software program, Band-in-a-Box. If computer volume is loud enough, readers of the page will hear it; the controller bar makes it possible to turn down or stop the audio from playing. At the top of this page are two pictures, both photographs, both cropped (trimmed) using the cropping feature found with Microsoft Office applications and then inserted into a Web page and uploaded to the site using the Dreamweaver Web page editor. The one of the left is from Fairview Elementary School , and when clicked displays a videoclip with sound, a video composed in iMovie. The one on the right is from Jamaica, which links to a Jamaican newspaper story about the school, sharing a photo of another former student of this course. The image below this paragraph is a complex multilayered graphic drawing created by this author using Fireworks, a graphics/image editor; each element of this digital palette image is its own editable layer of the graphic. Further, image and audio are two key elements of this palette. Later on in this chapter are examples of clipart as well as screen shots (a way to use the operating system to take pictures of what is on its desktop).

The expanding range of media in communication point to the need for another much older meaning for reading. That is, can the observer "read" the scene, make sense of the input of a wide range of senses? Using the full range of senses to read the environment were once critical to survival. Yet, the concept persists; x-ray technicians make a career of "reading" x-ray photographs. This sense of the ability to read has long been at the core of media studies, the visual technologies prior to computer technology such as painting, photography, radio, film and television. The communication scene of the media that need to be read has been under constant change for a century, and now computer technology adds to and synthesizes this mix. This  larger sense of reading, this need to make sense of all input has always been a core part of the meaning of reading instruction as well as scientific observation and scientific visualization. 

Digital technology has greatly increased the already significant need for visual literacy instruction. However, in spite of centuries of partnership between text and image, the phrase visual literacy is a relatively recent arrival, credited to Jack Debes of Kodak around 1968. The intense interest in this concept led to the formation of an organization that today is known as the International Visual Literacy Association. Perhaps digital technology will lead to an equally significant development for aural literacy thinking for audio as well as parallel developments for the rest of the elements of the digital palette. In 2013, a group announced the formation of the International Aural Literacy Association, but online journals and conferences have yet to emerge. Two sections follow, the first on Image Literacy and the second on Audio Literacy.

Image Literacy

testReading is a term that we use in many ways. It is commonly understood to mean the text arena of stories, essays, poems and chapters that are part of articles and books. Yet from the earliest development of writing, drawings and other forms of image making were included along side text. Reading skills today include the idea of reading an image; hopefully the focus on writing instruction will expand to include image composition and text integration. Learning to compose and use images effectively is an important stepping stone to composing with the other media of the digital palette.

The web is increasingly flooded with images and the addition of other media beyond text will only accelerate in the years ahead. As one measure of both compositional and instructional need and how fluent our culture has become in its use of images, the Google.com database by September of 2003 had provided immediate searchable access to over 425 million images in use on the Web, that is in world culture. Today this number is in the billions though no longer specifically reported on their web page. The digital agenda is challengingly transformational. The brain has immense capacity to recall and associate or see relationships in visual images, images that also connect with and help cement vocabulary development. Might not the early steps in writing on a topic just as fruitfully start in Google's image database, as in a search for further inspiration in an encyclopedia or database of articles? This suggests novel text reading strategies. Try Web searches in an image database such as Google's as a document or story is read. This can easily be extended to a team effort in a small group or class setting.

screen shot of Publisher & Paint windows side by side Appleworks Paint-Draw windows side by side Better than finding and using the images of others is to create and/or mix your own. This requires understanding and skills with the two basic digital systems for image composition. Basic image editing techniques such as building a collage, as the videoclips to the right show, are simple and easy to learn. On the right, click the top image hotspot of Microsoft Paint and Publisher windows to play the movie using draw and paint concepts. Click the bottom hotspot portion of the image of Appleworks Paint and Draw applications to see the same concepts addressed on a version of the Mac OS. Both of these application sets have procedures for saving files in web useable formats such as png, gif and jpeg. It is important to explore and master these basic draw and paint concepts in image composition for whatever OS is in use.

The left image-video clip at the very top of this essay shows students learning and using basic search strategies to find information and express it visually. Play this video before reading further. The right image at the top leads to a web site that demonstrates the use of images by a school in Jamaica. Click and browse the web site. How do these images support or not support the messages of this chapter? Much further information is available. The ERIC Database of educational literature uses the phrase visual literacy as one of its special descriptors. ERIC lists several hundred articles which use visual literacy as a major descriptor of the article. 

Image History

There is a long history to the relationship between words and image. neanderthalBefore our species learned to read words or even to talk, the human race had survived for millions of years through learning to "read" the images in our environment. The early hunter-gatherers of the human race learned that reading and understanding the visual and aural scene first, instead of rushing to the hunt, was critical to their survival. (Image credits: Tanger)

Understanding text today still begins with creating associations between images, oral language and the written word. Yet even for readers and writers that have gained some mastery and fluency over the association between words and ideas or images, professional publishers still make heavy use of images for all levels of readers. 

An examination of all modern publishing, from newspapers to newsletters, magazines, books and textbooks, reveals a very strong practice of creating associations between still images and words. Cartoon drawings and comic books, notably editorial cartoons, are a highly distilled form of relationship between image and text. Within organizations and educational literature, understanding the impact of media on thinking is known "media literacy". Searching for the phrase in different scholarly article databases can reveal a many references listed by their most recent date, including: "media literacy" in the ERIC database (may require a WCU password) and "media literacy" in Google Scholar. The field of media literacy has historically concentrated on teaching a form of self-defense. Communicating to "children about the media is... seen as a way of `empowering' them to resist such influences" (Buckingham, 2003, p.10) as the political and business pressure to act or think in a certain way without independently evaluating it themselves. Buckingham and others have been seeking to turn the emphasis of this field from protection to preparation. "By emphasizing the development of young people's creativity, and their participation in media production, media educators are enabling their voices to be heard; and in the longer term, they are also providing the basis for more democratic and inclusive forms of media production in the future" ((Buckingham, 2003, p.14).

Media literacy is of course about all kinds of media, but in spite of the wide spread cultural use of film, television, radio and music players, still images are still the most common of the media besides text that are available for and used by classrooms. This chapter takes the a step towards Buckingham's wider view with a focus on making sense of (or reading) and composing with an image, picture or photograph. Reading and reading instruction for characters on a page is not going away. It is moving into an ever wider arena. 

Digital technology's challenge to the nature of reading has advanced step by step with advancement in computer technology. From the 1940's to the 1960's programmers barely had the computing power to manage communication with numbers and simple text. As computer power grew and size and cost dropped in the late 1970's, computer users increasingly learned new forms of reading including interactive outlining, spreadsheets and databases discussed in other chapters. From the mid-1980's onward, computers had the power to deal with still images and audio (such as the music that plays when this web page opens). The invention of desktop publishing began the transformation of print publishing. 

By the 1990's, readers had to adjust to the hypertext links of the Internet and commonly available computers gained the capacity to deal with faster display of images. After inserting still images in Web pages became standard, programmers added the use of 2D animation, video and then virtual reality. The web rapidly developed a way to link to and display every media known to human kind.  On the desktop or on the Internet this wide range of sensory input is commonly referred to as multimedia.

Specialized computer composition tools developed to deal with the special needs of integrating text and images. This genre of computer software, desktop publishing, greatly simplifies the integration of image and text. At one time entire careers were being built around such specialized skills, but today the average word processor not only provides numerous easy to use tools for mixing image and text, but provides a significant collection of clipart images to use as well. This concept of desktop publishing is being extended into what will be called "webtop publishing" in this chapter. Webtop publishing addresses the process by which images combine with text on web pages. 

The Image in Curriculum and the Schools

In an important sense, reading and writing instruction begins in the pre-school period. To "write and read" in the sense of working with letters or other symbols that become words, there must be associations between the language and images of experience (such as chair or sit) in our world and those squiggly lines of a culture's writing system, whether it is phonetic (e.g., English, Spanish), syllabic (e.g., Arabic or Hebrew) or iconographic (e.g., Chinese). Sometimes mentally linking words with images and actions means illustrating, putting words under pictures and with objects, but there are many approaches. See the NCSCS language arts requirements for kindergarten, for example 3.04. 

The relationship between images and text in the curriculum seems increasingly conflicted as the grades advance. There is little or no encouragement to continue composing this association of image and text with writing in later grades. As students progress through the grade levels, the use of image in writing has been increasingly marginalized. Yet professional publications of fiction and non-fiction for children and adults are often heavily image oriented. Further, the World Wide Web format on the Internet is heavily media oriented, and is heading far beyond the use of just the still image medium. Having seen three sons move through the K-12 educational system, they were never required to include a single image, let alone compose the image or learn or reflect on whether their use of that image was helpful or effective. Never was there a homework assignment to study, or reflect and write about an image. Never were they asked to capture an image through any media or edit an image to make it better for an assignment in any class, let alone a composition class. It is these experiences that lead many of the observers of classroom practice to note the gap that is growing between traditional reading and writing instruction and the communication needs of the world around us.

There are many historical reasons for this miserly media integration in K-12 education. One of them is that the debate over reading instruction techniques (Adams et al., 2002) has become politicized, with the debate over phonics crowding out opportunity to debate other new agendas and new approaches. More practically, until digital technology became more advanced in the 1990's, the tools for more powerful image construction and publication were often too expensive, too messy or too complicated for common school use.  From the 1930's onward,  teachers had to deal with the hassles of remembering infrequently used technology as well as getting and putting away a range of different classroom devices. This might have meant pushing a cart to the classroom from the media center with the TV in the morning and then getting a different cart in the afternoon for the record or videodisc player. The challenges of access to media resources continues into the start of the 21st century.

Every K-12 student does not yet have access to a computer in every class period, let alone composition class and getting that to them is seen as beyond the budgets of our schools. But there are in-between steps that can be taken. Teachers can model the instant finding and display of images with one computer and standard sized monitors (15 to 17 inch diagonal) now common to every classroom and a large image on such screens can be seen by the whole class.  Increasingly, projection systems for computer displays are provided and computer labs are available that can be used. A majority of students may now have in their homes powerful yet easy to use image and desktop publishing editors (along with the common personal computer). In a computer based age in which image composition and publication tools are as common and easy to use as writing tools, one must ask why curriculum guidelines have not been more forceful in setting a new agenda with a more inclusive perspective.

The North Carolina Curriculum Standards on language arts provide a curious mix of do more and do little with images. This conflict in direction may be typical policy response in times of significant change. To understand this requires knowing some current details about our state curriculum. These standards do require educators to integrate "non-print" media and technology, but this requirement only lasts through fifth grade. [See the Language Arts link in the sidebar.] At grades 2 through 5, two of the five major goals point to the requirement to actively integrate non-text media.  Competency goal #3 reads, "The learner will make connections through the use of oral language, written language, and media and technology." Competency goal #4 reads, "The learner will apply strategies and skills to create oral, written, and visual texts." But where non-text media is addressed in general terms, the detailed requirements focus on words. In grades 6 through 8, the requirement to use (compose) with media is dropped,  leaving only Competency Goal #4, "The learner will continue to refine critical thinking skills and apply criteria to evaluate text and multimedia." What is missing is the direction to create, use or compose with it. High school curriculum has a similar problem. At the high school level, one finds Competency Goal #1, "The learner will express reflections and reactions to print and non-print text and personal experiences." Though current computer literacy objectives require media composition skills only in grades K-5, all grades share in the language arts requirement to teach students to read an image as well as read other multimedia. We accept without question that learning to write text contributes immensely to learning to read text. We have yet to extend the common sense of that practice to other media in our curriculum.

These language arts requirements are in some contrast with the NC computer literacy requirements which require multimedia composition at every grade level. In short, in language arts, younger students (K-5) are to be empowered to create with all media (text and beyond), but in the content area of "other media" 6-12 students are just to be critical and thoughtful "readers" and consumers of media produced by others. This would imply that composition in language arts education is to specialize in text. Apparently, computer literacy curriculum is left to become the content area which will teach the integration of all media forms including text. However, since these other cyberspace skills such as image composition are not included in the influential ABCs testing program, it is difficult to see how North Carolina students will become adequately prepared for contributing to cyberspace until our standards and our testing catch up to the changing times. These cross-currents are indications that the "canon" for reading and writing appears to be changing, and that the directions of this change are not clear. 

Image Editing and Learning

The educational research shows a strong correlation between teaching text composition and teaching the reading of text. Writing improves reading. Writing to read is more than a slogan. It is reasonable to assume that teaching composition in a media (image, video, audio, etc.) has the same strong correlation to the "reading" of that media (image, video, audio, etc.). In spite of that knowledge, upper level curriculum has too often dropped composition requirements in other media, finding it sufficient to just "read" these other media, even though better "reading" requires composition in that media. If cyberspace and digital devices are truly becoming the dominant communication medium, a curriculum must emerge that supports the construction and composition of its many media throughout all grade levels, and especially in the upper levels. 

As these new cultural and curriculum directions grow in importance, they raise a number of questions that need better answers. Here are just some. How does reading an image compare with reading a page of text?  Why does our instruction in language arts provide some beginning instruction in the composition, editing and revision of images which integrate with text and then drop such instructional requirements in middle and high school levels? Should not student composition increasingly reach for the relevance of the professional standards they encounter every day in paper and web formats? 

If language arts curriculum (DPI requirements) should become more relevant to the information age and its new forms of communication and more closely aligned with current publishing standards even for text and images on paper, what must such literacy of the visual include? Greater exposure for teachers and more time will be needed for addressing the former questions. This last question can be addressed in this chapter more effectively than the others.

Visual Literacy

Visual literacy is the ability to understand and create visual messages. How does one teach visual literacy? Teaching about and with an image begins with simply spending time with an image. This might mean just minutes in a lesson, or days or hours of placement in a  prominent position in a room or classroom, or even checking out the image to hang in a bedroom for some period of time. It means seeking details and elements within the image and considering their relationship to each other.  It means seeking the relationship between elements that can be seen and other ideas outside the image. This could mean just inches away in accompanying text. It could mean anywhere else in our experience and in other resources. It also means comparing related images for issues of quality in composition and meaning. Finally, it should also be recognized that not every thought about an image can be turned into words and sentences.  The painter paints and the photographer shoots in large part because either words will not do or they are not as effective.  Teachers should show and help students spend time with images, but it is not always necessary to require students to explain them in words though using other media may prove effective in revealing their understanding. 

Teaching visually also means developing a language for talking about image elements. "The visual elements are the basic substance of what we see, and they are few in number: the dot, the line, shape, direction, tone, color, texture, dimension, scale, and movement" (Dondis, 1973, p.39). It means acquiring and displaying a wide range of images and teaching students where image collections can be found. Though a trip to the museums is most worthwhile, increasingly museums are placing some sense of their contents on the Internet. Teaching visually also means image composition.  It includes software such as the Paint program whose screen shot is on the right. Such a program enables framing, cropping, scaling, erasing, cutting and other common image editing features. "We cannot learn to read (images) if we do not have some practice in making images" (Burke, 2001). Almost every computer sold in the last few years has included such a program at no additional cost. The Microsoft Paint editor pictured on the right comes with the Windows operating system.

The Image, Desktop  Publishing and Economic Development

Desktop publishing was at one time a phrase that referred to a very special kind of word processor. In concept, it is primarily about the integration of two mediums, both text and image with the added capacity to create multiple columns for text and image. Electronic tools have made it very easy to integrate images with the text. Today's average word processor now provides as standard the "insert picture from file" command and many other tools for image integration once exclusively in expensive desktop publishing applications. But special image editors are also needed to resize and crop the image for web and other uses. Tutorials in the sidebar deal with both classic desktop and the more recent "webtop" publishing. Working with images means also learning more about how to compose them. Someone has to draw the image or use a camera to take the shot. Finally, given the Internet, the "work" can then be viewed, sold and delivered in seconds to any audience or market in the world.

Given the intense focus within our culture to teach the use and construction of passages of text, it is easy to lose sight of the relationship between text and other forms of communication. A common error of novice desktop publishers (and novice teachers) is to mistake the role of the image to be one of decoration, space filler and time killer.  Instead, in effective presentations of information, the images can play at least as significant a role as the text. Rudolf Arnheim (1969, Visual Thinking) made the bold claim that visual thinking is the primary basis of all learning and thinking. Others continue to affirm the power of the visual explanation within and alongside the textual yet express concern over inattention to the visual in our educational system (Grace, 1998; Roth, 1992; Tufte, 1997). In current publishing standards, the more important the piece is to the publisher, the more images and the more types of images are used to lead and enhance the article. To test this observation, look at different issues of popular publications such as National Geographic or Time Magazine. Effective communicators will see that the image can also be a key factor in understanding and lack of understanding. That is, what you show can be more important and better remembered than what is written or the image can confuse and block understanding. The growing presence of digital media "will increase the need to educate the next generation for the use and interpretation of visual images" (Roth, 1992). 

This knowledge does not imply that there should be vast changes in the amount of time spent teaching reading and writing. They are difficult arts for many to acquire. But it does imply that there should be some change in this equation. It does imply that other forms of communication should be elevated to higher status and attention within school curriculum. It does imply that text and other forms of communication such as image composition should be in support of each other, not in competition. It does imply that giving image use and image construction greater instructional time can magnify the value of instruction on the use and construction of text. 

Practicing an integrated form of image and text composition is no longer technically difficult. The personal computer and high-resolution printers which are now commonly available have taken the specialized capacity and art of newspaper publishers and extended it to anyone of any age who can run a software application. Desktop publishing applications are the genre of computer software that enables the manipulation and merging of both image and text and its printing to paper. Electronic slide show software extends the power to merge image and text to presentations in rooms. But the web is something much more radical, a "disruptive" technology, a development that disturbs the status quo. The World Wide Web and its web design tools have extended the reach of student and teacher publications from the range of our classroom and neighborhoods to the far reaches of the globe. Once the work of collecting and preparing the images and content is done, it is but a small step to put the ideas on paper, on a presentation screen or on the ever so international Web.

 Both our culture in general and educators in particular are still discovering the immense implications of our digital age. Educational systems have always had a place for vocational and career education, for direct encounters with economic activity and study. High school and even middle school vocational programs have experimented for decades with the running in-school businesses by students, selling pencils, food and other simple manufactured commodities. Now that the economy has switched from being dominated by manufacturing goods, to the creative and critical development of ideas or knowledge expressed in every variety of media, where are the models of educational experimentation and exposure to the new careers and economy of the digital age?

New media open the door to discuss the topic of economics that have seldom be raised in classrooms. The study and practice of economics as it impacts children is often poorly treated within educational systems. This is not just a request that educators extend old practices into a new century, but an observation that a significant cultural shift has taken place. With the manufacturing age, school age students frequently could not have made the products themselves. The lion's share of profit went to their manufacture and then to a series of middlemen who transported, distributed and marketed the goods. Our younger set at best could only go door to door to sell somebody else's light bulb for a very small percentage of the profit. It is hard to compete with Wal-Mart in that regard. To be part of the industrial age meant that in general an individual or family no longer had the capacity themselves to produce the commonly sold goods of economic value. They could not compete with the expertise and the machinery of the industrialized factory.  Our culture also recognizes that many remaining sources of income to children and families of the industrial age have been illicit ones. However, a shift of immense proportions has occurred within just the last few years, a shift in the ownership of the means of production. With the coming of the third wave, the age of knowledge, or the digital age, the power of the computer has increased so significantly that means of production has in large part shifted back to what most families already have in their home, a personal computer and its peripherals and an Internet connection for delivery and distribution. That students are not earning more of their higher education costs and other expenses is the result of lack of knowledge, something that schools can address, not lack of the means of production. The value of personal productivity of course is not news to the tiny percentage of families still in rural areas that have continued with the practices of the agricultural age. They have long known that their children can and do contribute directly to their personal income and their family's income, a source of not only personal status and empowerment but of community development as well.

At the moment little is organized and individuals and families must struggle to figure out how to reach digital markets. Today communities could benefit greatly by using their economic development councils and Chamber of Commerce organizations to develop contacts with markets for the products of the younger minds using personal computers and by helping school systems understand what knowledge is needed to provide for those markets. Any discussion of such ideas will inevitably raise the issues of the excesses of the agricultural and industrial ages, the exploitation of children for economic benefit. Lest we forget, laws regarding mandatory school attendance and child work hours in the United States and other countries radically reduced what was once a broad problem. Those laws remain in force and would apply to digital work as well.

There is another point to be made about the nature of knowledge work. What is of significant economic value in the knowledge economy is creativity. Creativity cannot long be forced from people of any age that feel abused. It is questionable that it can be forced at all. We do know that what fosters, enhances and accelerates creativity is an environment that nourishes all aspects of being human. The very nature of what is valued puts it increasingly under the control of the creator not the employer or buyer. It is far more likely that the creative needs of the digital age, more than the needs of any other age in the history of our species, can be used for the empowerment of those moving towards adulthood. Along with the other arguments already being made, this awareness of the economy and creativity may be the additional weight need to finally improve the funding for the digital technology resources of schools and improve their integration into school practice.

Immediate Image Challenges

Beyond broad cultural challenges, there are some very basic and practical considerations introduced once a composition moves beyond text. Images add considerably to the size or amount of information that must be stored. A single image can easily take up more space than is available on one floppy diskette. Computer networks, both local and global, provide a better system for sharing these larger files without the hassle of moving and delivering physical media such as disks and CDs. These electronic networks greatly assist both in the sharing of work in progress and in distributing completed compositions to readers and higher level publishers. A link in the sidebar reviews basic competencies in networking that all educators need to know. Many other forms of media take up even more storage space. 

All of these media forms stress our computer networks. The growth in the use of media other than text has contributed heavily to network traffic. United States network traffic grew from 290% in 1999 to 400% a year thereafter and no change in this geometric growth rate is expected for some time. One outcome of this network stress is ever more bogged down community and school networking. This will last unless and until communities and schools become funded with the personnel and the telecommunications capacity to keep up with this growth and the tools to manage certain kinds of network traffic abuse. For example, many net users spend hours illegally copying music and other media such as movies through the Internet. 

Effective Image Integration

Given the idea that image and text can easily be integrated, the task turns to questions of composition and design. Each of the higher order thinking skills discussed in earlier chapters  plays an important role in the design of publications. Some of the key design questions are noted below. Can you think of other important questions to ask for each of these stages? 


    Why did the artist place that element in that location? What are the key ideas that need to be communicated in the newsletter or brochure? In what order should they be presented? What is the best way to subdivide or break up the display and organization of image and text so as not overwhelm or bore the reader and learner? [Note that these analytical skills are identical to thoughts an educator must consider when designing a six point lesson plan, a unit plan, an IEP (Individual Education Prescription) or other curriculum formats.] 


    Compare the role of image and text in a publication? How are they the same and how are they different? 


    How could I do it differently? How do different arrangements of image and text change the meaning of the piece? If I publish it in this arrangement, what will my audience think of these ideas and their presentation? 


    Why are we looking at this image? Is this publication as good or better than other presentations of images and text information? 

Critique of desktop publishing

Desktop publishing is not about the exclusion of text, but of finding the proper balance between text and still images. Webtop publishing extends the goal of finding balance to include all other media. The rapid spread of the personal computer greatly magnifies the importance of this discussion of the role of recorded images in our communication. Computer technology is making it even easier to compose and edit images than pencil and paper made it easy to edit text for those learning to read and write. This topic however is part of a long standing and much deeper debate. This debate considers a fundamental question. Can any one form of communication be the best?

In the history of human communication, we appear to be moving through a series of four transitions in our emphasis on different forms of communication. Each transition has had a profound impact on the future direction of our species and on the nature of teaching and learning. Four major transitions in communication are noted here. Over the millennia the human species has moved from emphasis on gesture (hand-sign and touch) to orality (e.g., speaking which emerged in  pre-historic eras perhaps around 23,000 B.C.) to orthography (e.g., written communication which appeared from 2000 to 700 BC in different cultures) to forms of mediaography (e.g., photography, cinematography and virtual reality which appeared in the 1800-1900's) which are also merging with audiography and other forms. 

Ong (1967) states that our educational institutions are still "obsessed with the primacy of the written word," an observation noted by others in the literature (Finnegan, 1988). Ong declared a strong preference for the spoken word, for a phonocentric perspective. This strong bias towards a particular form of communication has been labeled in a variety of ways (Chandler, 1995) including phonocentric (speech), graphocentric (writing or text), and logocentric (words whether spoken or written). In fact, within each of the four major eras of communication, it can be seen that large groups of human beings became so attuned to the preferred emphasis of the era that they became obsessed with that form as the "right or best" way to communicate a wide range of meanings. This causes them to minimize other forms of communication in order for their preferred form to receive more time and attention. Since Ong, other authors (Burke, 2001; Snyder, 1998; Stevens, 1998) have noted and expanded on their observation that the nature of role of text is changing and the importance of the image is rising. Is this merely a period of adjustment in the digital age in which a new balance will be reached or is this development something more far reaching? 

These issues will only be further highlighted by the rapid development and spread of the personal computer. A much better name for this electronic device may be that of "personal communicator". The 21st century will only see a more intense discussion about the values of these different ways to communicate. This debate will become increasingly important to educators. Further, our species shows no sign of interest in reducing the complexity of the situation. New forms of recorded communication are continuing to emerge. 

What is your evaluation of this debate? 

Search Strategy

Whether desktop or webtop publishing, both text and images must be composed or found. Whatever form of communication is utilized, search systems are needed to help inform the new compositions that are being created. Every beginning depends on the end results of someone else's work. That is, someone else's finished article or web page is part of the basis of the new ideas of another. The more interactive the culture, the more important this linkage becomes. The world is full of curious connections which can lead to novel ideas. The more that other media besides text, such as images, become important on the Internet, the more important text becomes. That is, our search systems have no other basis for functioning other than text. It is the text that accompanies and defines images that enables others to use them as the foundation for further work. Without the text of image labels and file names that enable them to be found, the power of image creation to influence others is greatly diminished. The search strategy sets the goal and perspective from which new compositions of text or other media may emerge. Effective desktop and webtop publishing and composition in general requires effective search strategies. By critically listening to the thinking of others, we improve our own. 

    Using and Creating Information

Readers work with the end of a process. Desktop publishing is one example of a way to reach the end of a search strategy. This "end" of the creative process is often referred to as a publication. In the LEAP model for problem processing (look, evoke, assess and publish), the concepts of publish (e.g., paper or web) and perform (e.g., lecture, painting, dance, sport) are used synonymously. The publish stage represents the seemingly final step in the problem solving process. For substantive action at this publish stage, other stages should have already occurred: an answer or at least more formal contribution to a question or need has been organized and composed; a practice or draft version has been in circulation for comment; and the revisions from those comments have been made. The remaining challenge is to select the most effective format for presentation of the ideas and conclusions. To do so, a key decision must be made. Can we bring the audience to us (performance), or must we take our ideas to them (publication)? 

To create, organize and gather the text and images needed for the assigned desktop publishing newsletter, use the search strategies and tools that are introduced in the left margin. Readings in this chapter's concept section address strategies and tools for more effectively finding information. As always, cite your sources in your newsletter. Previous weeks' study on word processor outlining, databases and spreadsheets also provides the resources for a variety of means of organizing that leads to higher order thinking. For example, outliners can be used to hold and organize images and text as your find them. Further, spreadsheet and chart data can be inserted into your newsletter. This in turn enables further exploration of the information that you collect, which in turn improves the meaning and value of your desktop and webtop publishing. 

Audio Literacy

We have been technically deaf since childhood to the sounds of a page, or at least when paper is used. Paper cannot speak or sing without the insertion of electronic parts. However, we are certainly not deaf to the potential of merging audio and text because homo sapien is a very inventive and imaginative species. Everything from choral ensembles to separate electronic technologies have been used in many innovative ways to allow the reading of pages to be accompanied by audio. What is new in the 21st century is that the digital page opens the door to possibilities that a paper page cannot do. Audio can now follow the path of imagery, putting audio right beside or within paragraphs. In fact, if audio volume is up, music should be audible right now. Human culture will increasingly explore and test the new possibilities this brings. This chapter explores many of the options for both voice and music.

Audio is so a part of the teaching, learning and thinking experience that the audio around is perhaps invisible to our conscious mind as teacher or student. Jamendo site cover pageWe may only become conscious of it when it does not occur as expected. This includes online audio communication requiring microphone use or have a student in our classes that is hard of hearing or a very loud sound is playing outside our windows that we cannot control. When participants in a learning experience cannot hear, the problem can become a major one very quickly. Perhaps that problem is occurring right now. Are you hearing the audio of this page? If your computer speaker volume was off, the sound would not have been heard, but if up it might have deafening. This audio on the opening of this page plays endlessly so learn to turn it off before opting to play other audio options in this chapter.

Notice the image in the left of this paragraph click it and a live version opens in the upper left corner of the page. If your computer speakers are on, scroll the upper left frame of this page to reach the audio controls to control that loud sound. If music is not being heard, turn the computer speakers on. For something a little less head banging than the Fallen Upward album, try Pomponette or click the album cover for more options.

screenshot of text wrapped around mp3 player The era of 21st century Web composition has enabled audio to be placed on the same page as text, pictures and video, as well as serve as an independent composition in its own right. (see example in this paragraph) This composition partner or team member is represented as the green blob of paint on the digital literacy palette above. For educators, it is important to examine the various ways that audio recordings and audio compositions are being used in all content areas for: motivating through self-expression; extending career path study; creating and studying unique aspects of that which makes us human; encouraging language development; and expanding instructional variety. Further, the growing gap between the ways students use audio in-school and out of school creates an obligation to look even more deeply at its possibilities.

Since the invention of writing, art and imagery have been mixed with text for thousands of years. time magazine, 2 page spread, heavy graphicsOur vision of what is possible on a paper page in this mixing of image and text is rich and immense, as in the views of Time Magazine text, photos and charts on the right. Though digital audio was made possible in the 1980s on personal computers, widespread use and distribution of music and aural events on a page have had to wait until the invention of the Web page in 1994, and then the invention later of additional supportive technologies to make the integration of audio seamless and automatic to the reader. In fact, the potential for making audio visible and impactful with many aspects of the creation of Web pages is huge. However, in the scope of human history this happened as if yesterday. The vast majority of school students do not possess at their desktop the digital book that makes this possible, though touch tablets like the iPad and Kindle are bringing this ever closer. New ways to make audio as seamless as the integration of imagery continue to emerge. Audio grows in its frequency of use on the Web but such composition is still not widely known, modeled in classroom teaching, understood or yet taught in public schools. It is time.

How is audio being used in digital activity? How does an audio composition, whether a stand-alone element or mixed with other forms of media, become integrated into Web pages for teaching and learning activities? However long or short in duration, how do audio ideas get turned into a computer file for sharing in digital environments? Why should such work be integrated with the educational competencies defined and required by each state?


This chapter and its activities are concerned with a more polished and formal presentation of information in formats that integrate text and images and audio. Publications for others to read may be last in the problem solving process but they are hardly the end. Every composition can become part of someone else's search as they use the world's digital information to more effectively find the best information available. In fact, there is no end. Every publication and every performance becomes part of the garden of reading from which new questions and new compositions emerge. 

Having completed this chapter introduction, begin at the top of the sidebar and work down through the assigned links. 

Text Bibliography

Abbreviated Image Bibliography

Abbreviated Audio Bibliography

There are number of excellent sources for further reflection on the changing canon of reading. See the Electronic Book Review site which contains an overview of the current literature which addresses the issue of electronic texts and their effects on writing and its merger with other digital media forms.  Also, search ERIC descriptors for finding current and future information which include: visualization; visual perception; and visual literacy.

Updated: 1.25.2012 Page author: Houghton | Digital Literacy Chapters