Text and Graphics in a Yellow Wood

Taking a step beyond the beginner’s mind and adding text to images is moving into territory perhaps too familiar.  Gone are the difficulties of translating abstract ideas or difficult-to-draw trademark free objects, as those irritants are soothed by the ancient balm of text.  This most customary combination reduces the time needed to produce the design and allows the instructor to focus on the message instead of the media.  At the same time it dramatically increases the ease of comprehension by the learner who has seen this combination of media since infancy.   It allows instruction to be more widely differentiated as novices need more graphic representations whereas learners with more expertise can scan or skip them and go to the part of the text they need.  Text with graphics allows the easy communication of details and abstract concepts through text and the concise, rich and universal information that graphics provide.

However this familiarity can beget some contemptible offspring.  Complacency in the use of this media can lead to a lack of originality and reduce student engagement.  Old habits and lack of attention to details can lead to

 “The great enemy of communication, we find, is the illusion of it.” – William Whyte (Whyte 1950)

When dealing with the familiar, it becomes easier to fall prey to the trap of assuming the other party understands what seems obvious to the instructor.   Becoming enamored with the details, instruction materials can become too baroque and instead of concision, the combination can lead to confusion and misunderstanding through overuse and busyness.

As with so many things, text and graphics can be extremely synergistic and powerful, easy to use and easy to understand, but when not used judiciously can be confusing or even misinformative.  While it is faster and easier to create instructional materials with text and graphics it requires more discipline of the instructor to be sure to look at the subject with a fresh perspective and not carry students down the rutted path just because it is familiar.  Exploration and inquiry come from the path less travelled.

Whyte, W. (1950) Is anybody listening? Fortune, 42, No. 3, 77-83, 167-178.

File:Two Paths Diverged in a wood.JPG uploaded to wikimedia by Nathan Wert


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