Techno-trad Ballet
By Daniel Séguin

   The twenty-first century’s arrival has brought with it an unbelievable amount of bleeps, dings, zings, and flashy images. Today’s society is constantly being bombarded with the impressive visual and auditory features found on television and in film. With the introduction of these visual media and the growing amount of people that have access to it, one could wonder whether or not print materials will become obsolete and simply discarded. This short paper will explore the similarities and differences between the mediums of print and visual` media. This will be followed by a discussion about their advantages and disadvantages in terms of their potential and limitations for the instruction of young children.

   Early recordings of printed texts date back over two thousand years. When the world was slowly shifting and importance in recording events was commencing, the scholars turned to printed text as a way of recording information and passing it down to younger generations. Today, information takes on a new form –visual media. Now video and television have become an everyday occurrence that more than 99% of Canadian households take part in (Education 305DE Video: Learning with television, 1999). Television has maturated from the simple black and white picture display unit to an awesome DVD-Surround Sound capable system permeating today’s homes. Of course books, newspapers and magazine are still an important part of our lives, these new forms of visual media challenge what role print will be taking on for the next century. I believe visual media and print will each have their particular roles to play in the twenty first-century ‘techno-trad’ (technology-traditional) ballet.

  Print could be considered a simple information delivery system in terms of having less immediately apparent complexities. In a fiction genre text, these printed documents present readers with a linear story line in which they are transported through a beginning, a middle, and an end. The interactions the reader has could be defined as limited. What is understated in this argument, are the ‘internal interactions’ that take place between the reader and print. An ‘internal interaction’ would be the thoughts being provoked by the text, the image spontaneously appearing in the reader’s mind and the emotions a particular passage will evoke.

  Print allows for such internal interactions to occur. A reader can go through a slew of images, emotions and thoughts simply by engaging in a printed document. The readers can control these internal interactions and truly make the text their own. A character can take on any shape, size, dress, or accent. The writer becomes an artist where the reader’s mind is the canvas. Everything writers place on a page can be subject to a reader’s interpretation. In contrast, visual media present the reader, turned viewer, with preconceived pictures and images. A good example of this is books recreated as movies.

  Most of these experiences lead to my being disappointed with the movie. I had usually pictured a character differently and the visual images I was seeing on the screen conflicted with the ones I already had in my mind. Moreover, the outcome of such direct prompting resulted in my never being able to appreciate the book in the same manner. The images I created in my mind were no longer were my own, but those I had seen on the screen –the images decided upon by the show’s creators.

  Again using fiction genre show or movie as model, visual media create everything for the viewer –a story line, an environment, the way characters look, and so on. They leave very little to the imagination. The internal interactions that will occur while watching a TV show or a movie have usually been carefully mapped and planned out by the program’s creators. These creators set moods by using formal features like music, lighting, sounds effects, and framing (Wartella, 1987). Characters are designed and shaped by other people. In a movie or TV show, the viewer is presented with a prepackaged notion of how characters are supposed to be. All this added to the flashing lights, the loud bangs and the quick cuts, little, if nothing, is left to the imagination of the recipient. The characteristics of print and video media set the stage for the advantages and disadvantages that plague both these mediums in an instructional context.

  As discussed, print allows for readers to interact with the material in a more imaginative and personal way than with visual media. A printed document will automatically spawn thoughts and images within the learner. Much because of the amount of invested mental effort required to decipher a text document, learners are more engaged with the material (Personal communication -Lisa Chalifoux, February 1999). A text document, not unlike radio, requires a learner to place a higher focus on the presented material. More attention has to be paid to the plot, descriptions and environment in order for the learner to construct meaning. In this case, the learner is an active recipient of information.

  Another advantage of print is that it allows for a high amount of learner control. When reading a book, one can choose to skip over unpleasant material. They can also choose to skip from one part of the book to another, from the beginning directly to the end. The exception would come from a learner in an academic environment being forced to read an exert aloud or by a teacher. Tough in some cases video-media also allows for this type of interaction to take place, unless a program is recorded, such interactions can be impossible.

  Moreover, and perhaps print’s most advantageous attribute, the learner does not solely have to be the message receiver, but can also become the message maker. Print allows for learners to become writers. It allows for them to create their own text and share it with others. Print gives their ideas and creativity a voice –it empowers learners . Until recently, this was impossible to achieve through any other medium. Today, thanks to advances in technology and availability, it is possible for an individual to buy video editing software and computers powerful enough to accomplish this task. Though the technology is readily available, not many consumers have the knowledge and money needed to fully appreciate this exciting new possibility.

  Though print has benefits it also has its downfalls. Not all people can appreciate print. Though it is a universal medium, this language can sometimes limit who will be able to decode its message. Print can only be read by individuals that have the ability to decipher its many symbols. Young children for example, do not have the language and cognitive abilities to read until a later age (Bertrand, Bertrand & Stice, 1994). They will be able to make out certain commonly used words but story lines and complex sentences might not be understood. Language development and cognitive development will lead children to a better understanding of printed documents. In contrast, visual media presents the learners with a full, rich environment within which they can interact at a young age.

  Television and film can be a learner’s window to the world. It will allow for individuals to visit far away places, learn about them, and interact with intricate, sometimes impossible to duplicate, materials. Worlds are created in visual media and access to these worlds is granted to anybody that has a television or eight dollars for a movie. Visual media brings everything in our solar system into our homes and classrooms. News is recorded and almost simultaneously beamed into our living rooms. The possibilities with visual media are only limited by the creators’ imagination. Unfortunately, this imagination is most often not our own.

  Visual media allows for teachers to bring information into their classrooms, information which might normally be unavailable to learners. Indeed, it can allow for dangerous activities to be viewed by learners without posing any actual danger to them. Thus, an avalanche or an unstable chemical reaction can be viewed in a safe and controlled environment. Also, students can be exposed to places and animals they would not be able to see unless they traveled to a zoo or went on an extensive and expensive fieldtrip. In this way, visual media allows for certain logistical impossibilities to become realities in the classroom and is a very stimulating presentation medium. A danger of this is that in such a controlled environment, the learner can become a passive recipient/viewer of information.

  Video media plays into the fast-paced, quick changing world of today’s children. Twenty-first century children are being habituated to quick clips and short, segmented pieces of information by television and its subsidiaries –video games, movies and CD ROM’s (Postman, 1984). This poses a concern as to what kind of learner we are tending... or creating. Are these children going to grow up having very short attention spans? Will they be able to concentrate on one issue for an extended period of time? Moreover, are the outcomes we are used to expecting from learners really the ones we need to focus on in the twenty-first century? These issues put specific demands on classroom teachers. Teachers need to make sure that their students are not becoming passive recipients by ensuring they are engaged in the material no matter what the medium. As with print, visual media shares in the possibility of learners not fully understanding the material. Again for reason pertaining to cognitive and language development, teachers must ensure that their students are ready to take part in visual media (Biehler & Snowman, 1997). Teachers and parents have the responsibility for preparing children to be analytical and critical TV and film watchers.

  In conclusion, I find video media and print difficult to compare. Like apples and oranges, these two very different mediums each hold their particular attributes and shortcomings. I believe it is up to each person, student and teacher alike, to have an open choice as to which medium each prefers. In deciding which medium one should use to present information, the context, the content, the targeted audience and the purpose of the material need to be addressed. This being said, I do not believe one medium should overshadow the other. I feel we are moving away from the either-or mentality of print versus video media and moving more towards a both-and mentality –where both print and visual media complement each other in the learning environment we as teachers create. I believe visual media and print will each have their own personal dance space in the twenty first-century techno-trad ballet.


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Postman, N. (1984).  Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public discourse in 
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