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The universal integration of computers into the environments of work and leisure has been a major factor in the increasing reliance upon imagery to communicate information of all kinds, challenging the supremacy of text as the dominant communication modality in some areas. As a consequence there is a greater emphasis on the importance of visual literacy, albeit specialised, alongside conventional literacy and numeracy as a requisite for both learning and effective functioning in the workplace. It is evident, that the sort of skills acquired from an early age for the processing of textual and numerical information, are not matched by equivalent skills for the processing of visual information, especially when encountered in unfamiliar formats. This can impede learning. This paper proposes the strategic use of animated text labels as didactic agents for directing the spatial and temporal attention of learners when introduced to unfamiliar visuals, and the capacity of such animated text labels to perform a preliminary explanatory function in addition to identification. The origin of text animation within screen based media is addressed as well as aspects of recent research into cognition and attention that can inform the use of such animations in accomplishing instructional goals.
Two aspects of information technology have been major contributors to this scenario. One is the ability to assemble and manage databases and automate their visual representation, making it possible at the touch of a button, to illustrate statistical information, for example, using devices such as fever graphs, pie and bar charts, first seen in the 1786 publication by William Playfair, the Commercial & Political Atlas (Holmes 1984, pp. 15-17). The second was the development of visualisation tools, allowing rapid assembly and editing of any kind of imagery, for example, the production of diagrams similar to Charles Joseph Minard's Napoleon's March produced in 1869 (Tufte, 1983, p.41), that combines timeline, events and quantities with cartography in one visual, without having to possess the high level, manual graphic skills once necessary. New paradigms of charting, diagramming and display have also emerged as a result of discipline after discipline adapting to the efficiencies and advantages of computing. Such developments have challenged, and in some areas overtaken the dominance of text over images as the primary information delivery modality.
It is easy to assume that because we live in a visual world and have evolved, in no small part, as a consequence of the ability to see, that the reading of pictures and diagrams should be second nature. However, what can easily be overlooked, is that unlike text, with respect to which, how to direct attention is learnt from an early age according to rules derived from the sequential nature of language, such rules, or even general principle don't exists for directing attention either spatially or temporally, with respect to imagery, as Lowe and others have discussed. Without obvious cues for mapping a visual representation to what it represents, and unaware of the thematic relevance of the visual elements present, novices and learners are forced to concentrate processing effort on what is perceptually significant.
Visual information can be intentionally presented in a ways that exploit perceptual significance as an indicator of hierarchy, however, such a strategy has limited application. The apparent perceptual hierarchy in images containing highly differentiated graphics, is most likely to be coincidental or irrelevant to the thematic structure and intended reading sequence. This results in the same failure to extract meaningful information that occurs with unfamiliar images where the components are perceptually undifferentiated, their arrangement providing no distinct perceptual cues. In both circumstances, specific domain knowledge, or a key is required to initiate the appropriate perceptual strategies for extracting useful information. Egyptian hieroglyphics, for example, in spite of their aesthetic and emotive appeal, as well as the incorporation of recognisable pictorial elements, were undecipherable until the discovery in Egypt in 1799 of the Rosetta Stone (British Museum, n.d.), which revealed a linguistic key that provided external guidance, where perceptual cues alone had failed. It follows, that novices can't be expected to learn from complex depictions, even when they contain recognisable components, without help.
In the historical examples cited earlier, Playfair and Minard anticipated that their, then novel and unfamiliar visual representations required some hints as to their interpretation, and employed text labels and captions to reveal the meaning of the visuals, thus allowing for the reading from their diagrams, of relativity, value, relationship, concurrence and difference, with an immediacy and clarity, unmatched by text or numerical tables alone.
There are however many circumstances, and categories of visuals, diagrams and displays where static labels, captions and even related body texts are insufficient to easily explain a depiction sufficiently to facilitate comprehension by a novice or learner. For example: where there is high information density; where dynamic events are depicted statically; where relationships between elements need to be know before function can be understood; where sequence or temporal relationships important in understanding significance; where attention needs to be guided; or where the function of elements requires explanatory hints. It is in such circumstances, that it is suggested that the animation of text labels, can fulfil a didactic function beyond nomenclature, through attention capture, attention guidance, indication of relationships and analogical movement.
A number of recent studies in cognition and attention should be considered. Text or writing is an external cognitive tool developed by humans in order to compensate for the limitations of memory and the ephemeral nature of oral communication. In doing so, text provides a means of facilitating the product of cognitive processes "to exist in the world, so that [they] can be perceived instead of computed" (Chandrasekharan 2004) thereby relieving the load on memory. Chandrasekharan has called such devices, 'epistemic structures' (2004). Since epistemic structures act as stimuli, an important aspect of their functioning is revealed by empirical studies which have shown that all stimuli, are subject to pre conscious, automatic affective processing, resulting in attitude priming that may impinge upon subsequent cognitive processing (Azar 1998; De Houwer & Hermans 2001; Musch 1996). This prompts the proposition, that how the text appears in the field of vision, what it does and how it looks as it appears, may influence how it is read or more precisely, what information is gained upon its observation and reading. It is known that text, in common with other symbolic systems, has the capacity to communicate outside of its denotative function.
This semantic dimension of text has been discussed by Drucker (1994, p.27), describing it as 'materiality' with respect to typographic experimentation in the early 20th century; and is relevant to this discussion because it is here suggested that the morphology as well as particular choreographies, or materiality of animated text could be arranged to serve an explanatory or enhancing function to what it denotes. Experimental work in this general area has included the 'Temporal Typography' project, investigating "the expressive power of time varying typographic form to convey emotion and tones of voice" (Wong 1996); the design of a 'Prosodic Font' to facilitate the representation of "the melody and rhythm people use in natural speech" (Rosenberger & MacNeil 1999) and the development of s "The kinetic typography engine" software, with the purpose of adding time based emotive content to the display of text (Lee, Forlizzi & Hudson 2002).
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Lee, J. C., Forlizzi, J. & Hudson, S. (2002). The kinetic typography engine: An extensible system for animating expressive text. In Proceedings of the 15th annual ACM symposium on User interface software and technology (pp. 81-90).
Lowe, R. K. (2000). Visual literacy and learning in science. ERIC Digests, ED463945. [verified 10 Oct 2004] http://www.ericfacility.net/databases/ERIC_Digests/ed463945.html
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Rosenberger, T. & MacNeil, R. L. (1999). Prosodic Font: Translating speech into graphics. Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems (CHI '99). pp252-253. Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. [viewed 15 Mar 2004, not found 10 Oct 2004] http://web.media.mit.edu/~tara/CHI1999.pdf
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|Please cite as: Borzyskowski, G. (2004). Animated text: More than meets the eye? In R. Atkinson, C. McBeath, D. Jonas-Dwyer & R. Phillips (Eds), Beyond the comfort zone: Proceedings of the 21st ASCILITE Conference (pp. 141-144). Perth, 5-8 December. http://www.ascilite.org.au/conferences/perth04/procs/borzyskowski.html|
© 2004 George Borzyskowski
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