Visual Literacy

Video professionals often discuss the need to include media literacy in education. That ship has sailed. The next generation of professionals, not just media professionals but the whole professional class, has filled that void with the likes of the Colbert Report and the Daily Show. In fact, the current generation of college students is more media literate than any other generation. They are not just media literate, but media fluent as well.

The proliferation of inexpensive cameras, inexpensive and free software, and free distribution channels has given them the tools to become visual communicators. Previously the tools used and materials consumed to craft a visual story were quite expensive. In order to become any good at photography and motion pictures a significant investment of time and money was needed. To put it in perspective, my part time job in high school yielded me enough disposable income to shoot at process two rolls of film (72 images) per week. To distribute those images to an audience outside my family and closest friends was cost prohibitive unless the school newspaper or yearbook wanted to pick them up.

The change over the past decade has been dramatic. For the past ten years I’ve taught a 500-level post production class at Boston University. Students no longer have to be instructed to use the rule of thirds. They know it instinctively. They’ve shot so many images on their phones they’ve discovered it on their own. I don’t have to tell them what works on the big screen doesn’t work when creating a mobile experience. They know that.

I still enjoy comparing the students’ first assignments of the semester to their final projects. The progression is amazing. The difference is that the first projects submitted by the class of 2012 rival the final projects of the class of 2002.

As this generation gets into the mainstream media business, its effect on it will be profound. Its effect on society will be more so. They have their FOX News decoder rings. The remaining question is what will be the new standard of Fair and Balanced.

One Thought on “Visual Literacy

  1. Great observation, from your point of view as a major college professor.
    I would contend that most media is used without critical thinking and creativity.
    At the very least we are missing a HUGE opportunity to use these tools to build mindful media experiences that will affect all areas of life, most of which include media.
    The first few years of the Colbert Report the majority of viewers where right wing believers who couldn’t discern the humor.

    My experiences in elementary schools is that the media is taken at face value by students as part of a larger structure that “runs their lives.”
    They learn to roll over and play dead rather than being empowered members of community.

    Technology has become the new opiate of the masses, seducing and disconnecting its users.
    But hope springs eternal, build an aesthetic into media use (our task) and you have built critical thinking into our daily lives.
    A potential game-changer.

    I’d say more, but I heard that Bill O’Reilly is going to be on Dancing With The Stars and I want to get the telly warmed up…

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