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What is Visual Literacy?

Tuesday, February 17th, 2009

What is visual literacy? When we have the ability to interpret, negotiate, and make meaning from an image, or information presented in the form of an image, it can be said that we have visual literacy. It can also be considered a vision-competency, says John Debes. Many are familiar with the value of linguistic literacy, as found in the printed word through books and journals, but the importance of visual literacy is growing as it delivers information without the need for the print.

When traveling, we see a sign with a bicycle and a red diagonal line through it. As someone who is visually literate, a traveler knows that the sign means something to the effect of “Please do not ride your bicycle here.” Likewise, if we see a sign with the picture of a child and a ball, with no red line through it, we understand it to mean “Children playing; please watch out for them.”

Several 21st century scholars, including Courtney Cazden, Allan Luke, and others advocate for the importance of both linguistic and visual literacies as modalities in the process of meaning-making. Implications, then, for classroom or home-schooling would be to incorporate the written word with visual information to provide a rich teaching and learning environment. For example, one might give kids a picture and asking them to write a caption or an empty cartoon and asking them to fill in the speech balloons to see what kinds of different interpretations emerge.
Exciting fields effective in visual literacy training include art history in all its glory: paintings, drawings, sculpture, architecture, even textile design and furniture design. Of particular delight to students in these fields are uses of color, texture, style, shape, size, and form. Who is not visually delighted when confronted with patterns of colors, which convey excitement, cheer, and suggest lively festivities?

In terms of learning tools, one visual tool used in teaching environment is PowerPoint, intended to present information visually. One expert on visual literacy, Edward Tufte, a Yale professor and an expert on the presentation of information graphics, offers us a challenge: Do the slides communicate? His interest focuses on the efficacy of the tool rather than simply the happy opportunity to have the tool.

Thus, visual literacy not only refers to learning through the visual experience but learning useful, helpful, and usable information! It is easier for a student to make meaning when not only information is provided but information that a child can use to make meaning of her or his world.

Learning is delicious in whatever form. In capable teaching hands, linguistic and visual literacy make wonderful partners. For the learner, integrating these with other modalities—such as music—continue to expand learners’ meaning-making capabilities.

Thank you, trinchetto, for the colorful photo of lights!

Rhonda Robinson: Visual literacy for a digital age

Wednesday, January 21st, 2009

 

As promised last week, welcome to Madcap Logic’s second podcast, and this time with our special guest, Dr.Rhonda Robinson from Northern Illinois University. Dr Robinson works with educational technology and assessment as well as teacher training for technology and has spent her career working around ideas of visual learning and literacy.

Originally an English teacher in middle school, Rhonda was very interested in media literacy and language arts and began to pursue media production in

her masters and doctorate degree. Beginning with ‘old media’, Rhonda’s techniques now span into the digital realm, encouraging students to analyze imagery from newspapers and also video, tapping into kids’ (and their teachers’) natural creative abilities.

Rhonda has used our Creativity Express program to teach her masters students color and composition, expanding their practical orientation to consider the aesthetic dimensions of the images they and their students create. Rhonda believes that we learn first through vision but the verbal orientation of schools has privileged verbal learners. Whether or not we have natural inclinations towards art, these skills can be developed over time. Images provide us with an easy door to learning, and it may be that we learn more through them than more literary or verbal texts because we have a reduced resistance to them.

Dr Robinson therefore, believes that visual literacy should complement and supplement other forms of literacy in education to aid diverse learners in the classroom. Teachers of reading in particular, have embraced this entire collection of literacies, as have teachers of science and mathematics. Integrating technology into the classroom, as opposed to having it shut out of the lesson or considered something different, is critical as visual literacy involves not only encoding or the creation of the image but also decoding, that is, how we select meanings for the same image and messages. This is increasingly important in a digital age with our ability to manipulate images!

We hope you enjoy our conversation with Rhonda! There is much to be learned from this fascinating conversation around the renewed importance of art and visual literacy in our contemporary times and its contribution to citizenship.

With thanks to lakewentworth for his art!

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