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Product Information Center > > General Resources > Audio Visual Literacy
Audio Visual Literacy

Audiovisual Literacy: Reading Beyond the Printed Word

We live in an information age, and a huge amount of that information comes in visual or audiovisual format. From weather forecasts in the newspaper, to embedded advertising in television shows, to video clips on the internet, we have a constant stream of incoming images and sounds that compete with or complement the written word. How do we make sense out of photos, posters, logos, slogans, speeches?

The critical thinking skills you use on essays can be applied to any form of communication, and learning about seeing, or how images are composed or designed, is now an important part of learning to write. Just as writers plan word by word how each sentence is shaped, and paragraph by paragraph how the whole essay is constructed, artists, directors and designers compose their work. Advertisers (even public service ones, as in Chapter 9) decide whether there should be a story implied by their ad. As you learned in Chapter 10, web designers decide which colors to use, and how much white space, and how easy the navigation menu is for the user. Photographers decide how to compose what they see and what should be included in and what left out of an image.

Seeing critically involves observing what is in front of you, as well as developing and then answering questions that lead to a possible explanation of the meaning of what you are observing. Seeing always start with careful observation, a skill you can actually practice. By developing this skill, you will also develop questions about what you observe. From these questions emerges your own interpretation of the meaning or significance of what you observe. Writing provides the opportunity to explore your interpretation.

Persuasive speech, like imagery, is all around us. Politicians, salespeople, and community activists all argue their theses using verbal skill -- and in the age of all-news television, verbal skills sometimes play as large a role in persuasion as writing. As with images, sounds can be "observed", and interpreted. In fact, speech and the written word may have a number of elements in common:
  • Sound—vowels and consonants in the words chosen, as well as accent, may subtly influence the audience.
  • Rhythm and Tempo—pauses in a sentence draw attention to the words being spoken. Changing speeds of speech may signal enthusiasm, excitement, stateliness, or sorrow.
  • Structure—a speech, or even a song, like an essay, is organized for effectiveness:
    • Repetition: returning several times to a theme or image, or repeating a phrase with variations throughout a speech, are ways of foregrounding that theme, image, or phrase, in the audience's mind.
    • Contrast: the use of an opposing element, such as a sound, phrase, passage, or a sentence structure, for emphasis.
Being visually and audiovisually literate is as empowering as being verbally literate. You control your experience when you think about what you have observed. Your visual and sound experiences become a rich opportunity to make meaning, to swim in the lively waters of experience rather than to swept away by them.

Each of the Audiovisual Activities includes a link to images, audio clips, or short videos on the Web. Each asks you to observe, to think about, and finally to write about these artifacts.


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