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Of Chalkboards and Laptops and Visual Literacy

This week, AnnMarie (co-author, former student, fellow educator) and I will be presenting a webinar  via UNC at Chapel Hill's SCALE Read. Write. Act. National Conference. Our focus is on achieving greater Visual Literacy through rhetorical analysis. You’re all invited, of course! We're "on" at 2pm EDT, Friday.


Because of the webinar, perhaps, my visual literacy senses are tingling painfully. Every image or video I watch, I consider its potential merit for discussion in a classroom. The image below came through on an assignment in one of my grad classes. We were to assume the role of a school improvement committee and present our plans for a technology upgrade. 

tech png


When I first looked at this image, I thought:  


        Graphically, this is a “clean” image. The colors stand out very well, and it’s easy to read. 


All noteworthy points to consider for a PowerPoint presentation. However, something about it bothered me.

It reflects an outdated mental model—that of chalkboards, chalk, and erasers. The word “technology” on a chalkboard doesn’t work. It’s contradictory. And the use of the image reflects the author’s mental model as holding desperately onto some Norman Rockwell idealistic image of teaching. 


Yes, the font is neat. Too neat. I can’t remember the last time my handwriting was that neat on a chalkboard. Yes, the image is clean. Too clean. My chalkboards hardly had any green on them at all as the dust from multiple erasures and changes created a funky nimbus cloud--that of a chalkboard in use. What’s the reality? Why do we strive so hard to avoid it?


This image, presented to an intended audience of teachers, ineffectively illustrates the argument of the slideshow, which was to encourage teachers to use more technology in the classroom. It doesn't work.


How are we going to get teachers to use and authentically integrate technology, if we insist on holding these images up as the ideal?  It’s cute and quaint, I grant you. On a subconscious level, which is where these visuals hit home, it says, "Not really. jk. Hold to tradition." 


Until districts and administrators understand that teachers need specific (paid!) training in how to use the available technology, and until teachers admit that they are somewhat daunted by it and holding onto familiarity, we’ll get nowhere. And our students will continue to disconnect from what we do, noting the discrepancy between the “real” world—an ironically digital one—and our static educational world, leaving us behind in a cloud of chalk dust.


Mirror Site: Joyful Collapse

Mindy Keller-Kyriakides is the author of Transparent Teaching of Adolescents: Defining the Ideal Class for Students and Teachers.  Become part of the conversation!

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