There are good reasons why students should be encouraged to introduce visual material into their writing. Jay Baetans provides four reasons. The first is that of readability where visual images make it easier for the eye to manage the text blocks. Secondly, images convey information in an economical way. Thirdly, images convey modernity in that today we expect the visual to play an important role in communication. And lastly, there is the networking of images and text where “images…reinforce the building of a network of relationships that make a proposed “fact” difficult to attack” (Baetens, 2003, p. 186). The latter point is especially important because it is this “networking” which makes multimodal explanations so powerful. Each mode acts as a layer which can equally serve to reinforce a message or give more depth to the point of view. The distinguishing feature of new media is if course its hybrid nature brought about by different modes being combined together. The challenge for students in creating such texts is to manage this wealth of resources and to be able to not only distinguish what each mode is capable of doing but how they can work together. Experimenting with texts like the photographic essay foregrounds the importance of successfully fusing modes, in this case word and image. Images have a dramatic immediacy, especially when they dominate a computer screen. But images alone are too open to interpretation and need other modes to clarify their significance.
New media has provided the means to better appreciate past communication practices and to recognise their multimodal quality. Today, even the written word can be appreciated for its visual qualities. Students need to experiment with both new and old media but in a context where the multimodal nature of the task is fore grounded. This may be done by emphasising one mode, but the challenge is for students to experiment with effectively fusing the modes they are employing. Learning how to do this can from analysing those text forms where this is a unique challenge.
The visual is an area rich in teaching possibilities. Fictional narratives that consist of a sequence of images are made truly possible for our students because of the relatively easy access to images through the use of digital and the Internet. It also allows us to revisit the pioneering experimentation of John Berger and Jean Mohr in such works as their photographic story If each time… (Berger and Mohr, (1982). We need to reclaim our own sense of the visual and not just move through a visual environment intent on celebrating consumerism and where corporate icons are worn proudly. We can choose to visualise the world differently. When Joseph Conrad said, “My task, above all is to make you see” (Conrad J, 1897, p. 13), he was expressing his belief that language had the power to transform our perception of life. An engagement with the visual can do the same. Thinking about the visual is important, but so to is the pleasure that comes with playing with the visual and drawing on its power to change the way we see life.
Marden Senior College