Sunday, January 30, 2011

A picture is worth a thousand words

Seeing is believing! In journalism, an image or picture can be so powerful that it can change the world! Jonathan Klein in his TED talk (below) says that images themselves don't change the world but the images have provoked reactions in people, and those reactions have caused change to happen. The image can have a profound impact on our mind and can change our perception on certain issue and how we view things around us. Good image (photo) tells a visual narrative – it tells a story. A photograph has the ability to convey emotion, mood, narrative, ideas and messages – all of which are important elements of storytelling.

In another TED talk “Photography Connects Us with the World”, David Griffin says, “photography carries a power that holds up under the relentless swirl of today's saturated media world, because photographs emulate the way that our mind freezes a significant moment”.

There’s a problem, though, a picture can also be deceiving! People will interpret pictures differently depending on their social backgrounds, personal beliefs and technical/professional knowledge. A picture can also be used for exploitation and for the wrong purpose. Sometimes the photo is ‘doctored’ or manipulated in order to portray a different meaning or to increase the news value (see for example “Controversy crops up over Economist Cover Photo"). So the next time when we look at a picture we have to be careful and not easily jump to conclusion because “seeing is no longer believing” in this day of digital manipulation.

How do we use pictures to enhance learning? I hear, I forget...I see, I remember...I do, I understand... This ancient Chinese proverb suggests that students learn in many ways, like seeing, hearing, and experiencing things first hand. In a classroom, a graphic representation in the form of picture, video or even live demonstration can be very useful to explain and illustrate a concept.  

In my course, I try very hard to get across the excitement of food science. I do live demonstration in the classroom to introduce or illustrate a concept. Usually I will get one or two students to help me out. In one lecture for example, I bring one full bag containing different types of food products. In another course, I bring and assemble the apparatus in front of the classroom. Over the course of a semester these demonstrations include pouring tomato sauce on the plate and pouring milk into a glass to demonstrate the concept of viscosity, “playing” with silly putty to illustrate viscoelastic properties, etc. When live demonstration is not possible, I will show a video. In most of my lectures I use pictures and graphs to help illustrate different concepts, as most students can then at least intuitively understand the concepts even if they have trouble understanding the analysis.

Another graphical tool that I encourage students to use is mind mapping technique. At the end of each major topic, I will ask the students to summarize what they have learnt and understood in the form of a simple mind map. In the next lecture, I will show my own mind map and ask the students to compare and improve their mind map. I used a free mind mapping software called Freemind but recently I tried and I think it is quite good (see link below for other free mind mapping softwares).

Here are some useful links:


  1. I should attend one of your classes :)

    Always learning, always reflecting!

    Finally, I just want to note, isn't it 'A picture is worth more than a thousands words'

    I agree that pictures can amplify, visualize, evoke emotions, and illustrate better than many words, when the message is clear and easy.

    However, it really depends, because sometimes reading a book (example), is a thousands times better than watching the movie version.

    Let's just say it depends on what we are talking about, and we must not forget the magic of words, which can amplify our imagination to explore dimensions beyond pictures.

    In short, I love to visualize pictures, but I love even more reading words that stimulate my imagination. Knowing when to use what is the real magic, and that might take a lifetime to master :)

    Thanks for sharing and Warm Regards,


  2. The magic of words...I like that! It reminds me the Malay proverb, "Terlajak perahu boleh berundur, terlajak kata buruk padahnya". I'm not good with words, perhaps I don't have the linguistic intelligence as Howard Gardner proposed in his Theory of Multiple Intelligence. But I agree with you that words can be very powerful in getting the message across but to have an impact the articulation is very important. A good orator such as Obama articulate his idea in words clearly and succinctly. When we combine pictures and powerful words...?