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Visual Literacy in Educational Practice

Authors:

Abstract

In the 21stcentury the ability to interpret digital, visual and audio media is a form of literacy which is as basic as reading and writing skills. Visual literacy is required of us as much as textual literacy. Visual literacy gives educators a chance to increase the quality of their teaching and to connect with learners in more interesting way. The article elucidates the definition of visual literacy, types of visual assessment, challenges of visual literacy, and proves that visual literacy is important for learning and teaching in educational practice. Research shows that visual literacy is an essential component of science and technology education today, using visual treatments in lessons raise learning with various degrees of success. The article may encourage teachers pay their attention to visual literacy, an aspect of learning that is relatively neglected by them.
Visual literacy in educational practice
Oksana Duchak / e-mail: oksana.duchak@gmail.com
Faculty of Social Sciences in General Pedagogy at The John Paul II Catholic
University of Lublin, Poland
Duchak, O. (2014): Visual literacy in educational practice. Czech-Polish Historical
and Pedagogical Journal, 6/2, 41–48.
doi: 10.247/cphpj-2014-0017
In the 21st century the ability to interpret digital, visual and audio media is a form
of literacy which is as basic as reading and writing skills. Visual literacy is required
of us as much as textual literacy. Visual literacy gives educators a chance to
increase the quality of their teaching and to connect with learners in more
interesting way. The article elucidates the definition of visual literacy, types of
visual assessment, challenges of visual literacy, and proves that visual literacy is
important for learning and teaching in educational practice. Research shows that
visual literacy is an essential component of science and technology education
today, using visual treatments in lessons raise learning with various degrees of
success. The article may encourage teachers pay their attention to visual literacy,
an aspect of learning that is relatively neglected by them.
Key words:
visual literacy; images; students; learning; research
We are a visually illiterate society…
Our world is changing fast — faster than we can keep up
with our historical modes of thinking and communicating.
Visual literacy — the ability to both read and write visual information;
the ability to learn visually; to think and solve problems
in the visual domain — will, as the information revolution evolves,
become a requirement for success in business and in life.
Dave Gray, founder of visual thinking company XPLANE
Introduction
In the 21st century the ability to understand digital, visual and audio
media is a form of literacy which is as basic as reading and writing skills.
Visual literacy is required of us as much as textual literacy. Visual images
are increasingly appearing in learning and teaching resources in
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education environment, and we should be ready to accept the reality of
today.1Educators are interested in transitioning text to a visual format as
it decreases the learner’s cognitive load by providing clarity to complex
concepts and modify meaning.2
The article elucidates the definition of visual literacy, types of visual
assessment, challenges of visual literacy, proves that visual literacy is
important for learning and teaching in educational practice.
Research Focus
Recently, there has been a rise in the number of publications and
researches dealing with the use of images in the classroom, which testify
of the advent of the Digital Era and necessity to respond to the needs and
tastes of a new kind of public which has been called by some the “visual
generation”. Using images in educational practice, taking into account
that they perform a mere illustrative function, as a result their informative
richness may be ignored.3That’s why some researchers are coming up
with new approaches, based on image analysis, art history and
semiotics. In such a way such approach will help students to investigate
cultural meanings of images and motivate them for new reality in terms of
educational practice through profound technological progress have
made visual literacy as a compulsory skill.4According to Gunther Kress
and Theo Van Leeuwen:
… most texts now involve a complex interplay of written text, images
and other graphic or sound elements...But the skill of producing
multimodal texts of this kind, however central its role in contemporary
society, is not taught in schools… In terms of this essential new
communication ability, this new ‘visual literacy’, institutional education ...
produces illiterates.
5
42 Oksana Duchak
1Bleed, R. (2005).
Visual Literacy in Higher Education
. ELI Explorations, p. 3.
2Metros, S. E. (2008).
The Educator’s Role in Preparing Visually Literate Learners
. Theory
Into Practice, the College of Education and Human Ecology, 47, p. 105.
3Calado de Oliveira, N. S. (2012).
Approaching Images from a Cultural Perspective in the
Foreign Language Classroom
. e-TEALS: An e-journal of Teacher Education and Applied
Language Studies 3, p. 32.
4Ibidem, p. 33.
5Kress, G. – Leeuwen, T. (2006).
Reading Images: The Grammar of Visual Design
, 2nd
ed. London and New York: Routledge, p. 17.
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Definition of visual literacy
Visual literacy refers to a group of vision-competences which may
develop human being by seeing and simultaneously having and
integrating other sensitive experiences. These competences enable
a visually literate person to interpret visible actions, symbols, objects that
he meets in the surroundings.6Depending on the person’s background,
the definition on visual literacy may be different. An artist is able focus of
visual literacy as an advance of artistic expression.7Ralph Wileman
defines visual literacy as “the ability to ‘read,’ interpret, and understand
information presented in pictorial or graphic images”. Associated with
visual literacy is visual thinking, which is characterized as “the ability to
turn information of all types into pictures, graphics, or forms that help
communicate the information”.8A similar definition for visual literacy is the
following “the learned ability to interpret visual messages accurately and
to create such messages”.9
Visual literacy is a multidisciplinary concept which have developed in
1966 with the thinking of John L. Debes. In determining the role of visual
literacy he differentiated four types of learning experiences which
contribute to the development of visually literate individuals:
The nature of the learning experience should allow learner to do
something in such a way that there occurs a meaningful interaction
between him and whatever he sees;
The nature of the learning experience should give practice in choosing
particular visual phenomena from his environment which are important
to him;
The nature of the learning experience should be excogitated so that
may exist opportunities for the learner to make meaningful visual
statements;
The nature of the learning experience should motivate the learner to
practice his ideas visually.10
Czech-Polish Historical and Pedagogical Journal 43
6Purvis, J. R. (1973).
Visual Literacy: An Emerging Concept
. Educational Leadership, Vol.
30, Issue 8, p. 714.
7Bleed, R. (2005).
Visual Literacy in Higher Education
. ELI Explorations, p. 6.
8Wileman, R. E. (1993).
Visual communicating
. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Educational
Technology Publications, p. 114.
9Heinich, R. – Molenda, M. – Russell, J. D. – Smaldino, S. E. (1999).
Instructional media
and technologies for learning
(6th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice-Hall, p. 64.
10 Debes, J. L. (1968).
Audiovisual Instruction
. 13, Some Foundations for Visual Literacy,
pp. 961–964.
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So, through the use of mentioned competences person is able to
communicate with other people. In this understanding of visual literacy,
Debes describes five steps of visual communication, namely: 1) seeing;
2) learning; 3) communication; 4) interpretation; 5) Comprehension.11
Competencies of visuals and their epistemological appropriateness are
greatly discussed in arts, architecture, philosophy as well as in
communication, educational, and media studies.12 As human beings, our
brains are wired for images. Researches prove that we process visuals
60,000 times faster than text. Because, we take in all the data from an
image at the same time while we process text in a sequential fashion.13
Visual literacy usually begins to develop as a viewer finds his/her own
relative understanding of what she/he presents, usually based on
concrete and circumstantial evidence. It includes the intentions of the
maker, applying systems for thinking and rethinking one's point, and
acquiring a set of information to support conclusions and judgments.14
Types of visual assessment
A broader visuality allows discuss, enjoy and critique all types of visual
texts. Following from it, assessment of visual texts should acknowledge
the three dimensions of the affective, critical and compositional. It is worth
mentioning the specific features of these dimensions. They are:
1. Affective – in the process of examining images expressions of
enjoyment are signs of effective engagement. Besides, these can also
be approved by observation of gestures, the engaged discussion
about a picture and pleasure which children get participating in the
activity. The affective means when every person share his/her views on
the image, presenting their personal interpretation in such a way.15
2. Critical – the assessment of sociocritical understanding may vary
depends on age categories and learning situation. For younger
44 Oksana Duchak
11 May be available at: http://doc.utwente.nl/59769/1/Velders07visual.pdf [access: 01. 12.
2013].
12 Ratsch, U. – Stamatescu, I. O. – Stoellger, P. (eds.) (2009).
Kompetenzen der Bilder:
Funktionen und Grenzen des Bildes in den Wissenschaften
, Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck.
13 Burmark, L. (2004).
Why Visual Literacy?
excerpt from the book Visual Literacy: Learn
to See, See to Learn.
14 Yenawine, P. (1997). Thoughts on Visual Literacy. In: Ed. Flood, J. – Brice Heath, S. –
Lapp, D.
Handbook of Research on Teaching Literacy through the Communicative and
Visual Art
, p. 1.
15 Barnard, M. (2001).
Approaches to understanding visual culture
. New York: Palgrave.
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students, how the illustrator didn’t draw the picture clearly might be
precursors to more complex critiques of choices made in illustrations.
Although each aspect of visuality is considerable, ideological critique
is the most challenging for students and teachers.16
3. Compositional – The usage of specific metalanguage is the main
aspect of this dimension. Concepts such as color, angles, symbols,
lines reflect a metalinguistic knowledge about visual texts. Teachers
should notice such concepts especially when they are listening
children response while give an assessment.17
Challenges of visual literacy
Physical landscapes and virtual screen-scapes are filled with garish
and unpaid graphics competing for people attention. The noise and
visual overload is dangerous for us. Psychologist Kenneth J. Gergen calls
this phenomenon as postmodern consciousness, supposing that is
“a syndrome in which Americans are so bombarded with a multitude of
images, personalities and relationships that they have trouble hanging on
to their own personal identity and recognizing the authenticity of
traditional reason and emotions”.
18
Another concern is that although our students are consumers of media
and have easy access to visually rich Web, visual saturated media, photo
dependant social networks and sophisticated gaming, they are not
visually literate. They also lack a visual vocabulary necessary for
nonverbal communication. The students can view and read pictures, but
could not interpret and craft images.19 They are able string together video
clips to make a movie, but couldn’t script a story.20
Czech-Polish Historical and Pedagogical Journal 45
16 Anstey, M. – Bull, G. (2000).
Reading the visual: Written and illustrated children’s
literature.
Sydney, Harcourt.
17 Kress, G. – Leeuwen, T. (1996).
Reading images: The grammar of visual design
.
London: Routledge; Unsworth, L. (2001).
Teaching multiliteracies across the curriculum:
Changing contexts of text and image in classroom practice
. Buckingham, Open
University.
18 Gergen, K.
The media’s new means
. In: Willis, J. (ed.), (1994).
The age of multimedia
and turbonews
. Westport: Praeger, p. 27.
19 Metros, S. E. (2008).
The Educator’s Role in Preparing Visually Literate Learners
. Theory
Into Practice, the College of Education and Human Ecology, 47, p. 103.
20 Metros, S. – Woolsey, K. (2006, May/June).
Visual literacy: An institutional imperative
.
EDUCAUSE Review, 41(3), pp. 80–82.
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Visual literacy in education
Nowadays students live in an information environment satiated with
visual images, and educational materials are no exception. Educational
materials must compete for attention in this rich visual environment, all
types of teaching resources from traditional textbooks to the latest
educational technologies contain pictorial representations.21 In order to
perceive and analyze an image, the audience (students) should be able
to understand the aim and recognize the techniques.22 Successful
reading of an abstract scientific diagram demands very different skills
from those who are necessary for reading ordinary pictures of everyday
content such as illustrations in a shopping magazine or photographs in
a newspaper. This proves that it is essential that today's students develop
the general visual literacy skills so that to deal with scientific graphics, but
in addition they must also learn about particular types of scientific
pictures that belong to a specific field of technological or scientific
study.23 Students should also learn how to make ethical judgments about
a visual message’s availability, fidelity, and worth.24
Research made by Lih-Juan Chanlin proves that using visual
treatments in lessons raise learning with various degrees of success.
Comparing text elements with graphics and lesson with text only
influence students with different prior knowledge levels as students get
descriptive knowledge. Students with a high level of prior knowledge of
the subject better responded with the animated form of graphics while
learning descriptive facts. Chanlin’s study suggests that the effectiveness
of visual elements in learning is related to the prior knowledge of the
students and students with different prior knowledge levels react
differently to contrasting presentation forms.25 Besides, Chanlin’s study
proposes that by providing visual control of animated graphics leads to
enhances learning, especially in males.26
46 Oksana Duchak
21 Lowe, R. (2000).
Visual Literacy and Learning in Science
. ERIC Digest, ERIC
Clearinghouse for Science, Mathematics, and Environmental Education, p. 3.
22 Baker, F. W. (2012).
Media Literacy in the K–2 Classroom
. International Society for
Technology in Education, p. 44.
23 Ibidem.
24 Metros, S. E. (2008).
The Educator’s Role in Preparing Visually Literate Learners
. Theory
Into Practice, the College of Education and Human Ecology, 47, p. 102.
25 Chanlin, L. (1998). Animation to teach students of different knowledge levels.
Journal of
Instructional Psychology
, 25(3), pp. 166–175. Retrieved December 26, 2001, from
EBSCOhost database (Academic Search Elite).
26 Chanlin, L. (1999). Gender differences and the need for visual control.
International
Journal of Instructional Media
, 26(3), pp. 329–335. Retrieved December 26, 2001, from
EBSCOhost database (Academic Search Elite).
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In order to understand and correctly interpret technical visuals
teachers must develop students' capacities. While teaching of certain
knowledge and skills is recommended to begin when children are quite
young, even though they begin formal studies of technology and science.
For example, teachers may guide, showing students how to develop their
own diagrams of a simple commonplace object such as a piece of fruit.
Teacher could demonstrate students how to use a range of diagram
techniques to devise a picture that communicates information about the
object in a scientific manner starting with the real object. This technique
is widely used in scientific and technological diagrams being a way of
indicating internal structures that are hidden from view.27 Supplementary
exercises based on an existing picture which require students to
elaborate, analyze or modify the original in various ways can also
facilitate to improve comprehension skills.28
The teaching implications of visual literacy include the necessity to:
integrate visual literacy across all curriculum areas;
develop critical thinking skills in connection to visual images;
be aware of visual literacy principles in the design of teaching and
learning objects;
encourage students to look at underlying assumptions that are put in
the images surrounding young people’;
ensure there is a balance between visual and textual literacies in the
classroom.29
Perhaps, teachers may think that pictures are self-explanatory and
their function is to make their subject matter easier. That’s why it is
necessary to embed visual literacy into teacher education programs
especially for the new ones at the beginning of their career who are still
developing their pedagogical methodologies.
Conclusion
Computers and other form of information technology are widely used
in educational practice. The same situation is observed with visual
literacy. New modes of creative expression and reality are driving the
need for visual literacy. Being visually literate will be prerequisite in the
Czech-Polish Historical and Pedagogical Journal 47
27 Lowe, R. (2000).
Visual Literacy and Learning in Science
. ERIC Digest, ERIC
Clearinghouse for Science, Mathematics, and Environmental Education, pp. 3–4.
28 Ibidem.
29 Bamford, A.
The Visual Literacy White Paper
, p. 5.
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future as visual media are integral to how we entertain, educate and
communicate. Visual literacy gives a chance to educators to increase the
quality of their learning and to connect with learners in more interesting
way.30 Visuality plays a considerable role in communication and it is
especially important for students so that remember what they have read.
Visual literacy is an essential component of science and technology
education today.31
The presented article may encourage teachers pay their attention to
visual literacy, an aspect of learning that is relatively neglected by them.
48 Oksana Duchak
30 Bleed, R. (2005).
Visual Literacy in Higher Education
. EL’I Explorations, p. 10.
31 Lowe, R. (2000). Visual Literacy In Science and Technology Education.
UNESCO
International science, technology & environmental education newsletter
, Vol. XXV, No. 2,
p. 2.
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Academics have a long history of claiming and defending the superiority of verbal over visual for representing knowledge. By dismissing imagery as mere decoration, they have upheld the sanctity of print for academic discourse. However, in the last decade, digital technologies have broken down the barriers between words and pictures, and many of these same academics are now willing to acknowledge that melding text with image constructs new meaning, and some may even go so far as to admit that images, as communication devices, can stand on their own. In this article, the authors assert that higher education has the opportunity to take a systematic institutional approach to defining core values that include visual acuity alongside the ability to read and write, formalizing curricula that teach skills and engage students, and initiating debate on issues related to how visual literacy benefits society. To do this, they suggest three steps to accelerate the adoption of new visual literacies consistent with academic goals: (1) Multimodal fluency: Teach a basic visual design vocabulary; (2) Design context: Provide the places, people, and resources needed for those in the academic community to become visual producers; and (3) Visual judgment: Develop constructive critics of visual information. (Contains 3 notes.)
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In multimedia instruction, computer graphics play an important role in helping students interpret and understand scientific concepts. This paper reports a study of how different visual treatments (no graphics, still graphics, animated graphics) influenced 135 students with different prior knowledge levels (high, low) in learning procedural and descriptive knowledge. It was found that in the low prior-knowledge group, both still graphic and animation treatments were better than the control in learning descriptive facts (p 
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Contemporary culture has become increasingly dependent on the visual, especially for its ca-pacity to communicate instantly and universally. Advances in technology fueled this shift. Stu-dents must learn to cope with and intelligently contribute to a culture rife with easy access to the visually rich Web, photo dependant social networks, video saturated media, and graphically sophisticated entertainment and gaming. To ad-dress this challenge, some educators are trans-forming their school districts' and institutions' core curricula to include visual literacy require-ments and preparing themselves for this shift from text to image by learning how to teach using new forms of media. In addition, educators are providing opportunities for students to be suc- cessful consumers and producers of new media by teaching them to analyze and interpret and to create and compose visual images and messages. Students must also learn how to make ethical judgments about a visual message's accuracy, validity, and worth.
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