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					Visual literacy


         This e-learning site focuses on a critical, but often neglected skill for business, communication,
and engineering students, namely visual literacy, or the ability to evaluate, apply, or create conceptual
visual representations. After this tutorial, students should be able to evaluate advantages and
disadvantages of visual representations, to improve their shortcomings, to use them to create and
communicate knowledge, or to devise new ways of representing insights.

         The didactic approach consists of rooting visualization in its application contexts, i.e. giving
students the necessary critical attitude, principles, tools and feedback to develop their own high-quality
visualization formats for specific problems (problem-based learning). The students thus learn about the
commonalities of good visualization in diverse areas, but also explore the specificities of visualization in
their field of specialization (through real-life case studies). They will not only learn by doing, but in doing
so contribute new training material for their peers to evaluate (peer learning).

Project




Partners




Articles&Videos




Demo
Maps




Visual literacy is the ability to interpret, negotiate, and make meaning from information presented in the
form of an image. Visual literacy is based on the idea that pictures can be “read” and that meaning can
be communicated through a process of reading




Background

The term “visual literacy” is credited to John Debes, co-founder of the International Visual Literacy
Association.[1] In 1969 Debes offered a tentative definition of the concept: “Visual literacy refers to a
group of vision-competencies a human being can develop by seeing and at the same time having and
integrating other sensory experiences.”[2] However, because multiple disciplines such as visual literacy in
education, art history and criticism, rhetoric, semiotics, philosophy, information design, and graphic
design make use of the term visual literacy, arriving at a common definition of visual literacy has been
contested since its first appearance in professional publications.

Since technological advances continue to develop at an unprecedented rate, educators are increasingly
promoting the learning of visual literacies as indispensable to life in the information age. Similar to
linguistic literacy (meaning making derived from written or oral human language) commonly taught in
schools, most educators would agree that literacy in the 21st Century has a wider scope.[3] Educators are
recognizing the importance of helping students develop visual literacies in order to survive and
communicate in a highly complex world.

Many scholars from the New London Group[4] such as Courtney Cazden, James Gee, Gunther Kress, and
Allan Luke advocate against the dichotomy of visual literacy versus linguistic literacy. Instead, they stress
the necessity of accepting the co-presence[5] of linguistic literacies and visual literacies as interacting and
interlacing modalities which complement one another in the meaning making process.

Visual literacy is not limited to modern mass media and new technologies. The graphic novel
Understanding Comics by Scott McCloud discusses the history of narrative in visual media. Also, animal
drawings in ancient caves, such as the one in Lascaux, France, are early forms of visual literacy. Hence,
even though the name visual literacy itself as a label dates to the 1960s, the concept of reading signs and
symbols is prehistoric. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Visual_literacy)
Visual Literacy and Learning in Science


In our visually oriented age, science and technology education rely heavily on the use of pictures to
present technical information. Today's students live in an information environment saturated with visual
images, and educational materials are no exception. Because 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 a wealth of pictorial representations. In science and technology
education these pictures are very diverse, ranging from realistic drawings and photographs to highly
abstract diagrams and graphs. The educational emphasis on pictures reflects the widespread use of
technical pictures by practicing scientists and technologists across many different fields.

The use of pictures to represent technical subject matter is not new. Ancient pictures from many different
countries show that visual information has long been an important means of communicating ideas about
our world and how it works. However in more recent times, there has been an explosion in the number of
specialized types of graphics developed to represent scientific and technological information. These
specialist representations can provide critical information about the state of our world that may have
enormous social and economic implications for its peoples. For example, the science of meteorology
relies heavily on traditional weather map diagrams as well as more modern remote sensing imaging
techniques.

Technological advances, particularly in computing, continually increase the range of imaging techniques
that are available to the scientific community. The burgeoning use of pictorial representation has
implications for science and technology education. The capacities to both understand and generate
technical pictures are fundamental to scientific and technological literacy for students at many levels,
from school to university. We could describe these capacities as a form of visual literacy that involves
the "reading "and "writing "of technical pictures. It is just as important for students to develop this
visual aspect of scientific and technological literacy as it is for them to develop the general literacy
required to understand the specialized verbal and mathematical languages they encounter in science.
Successful reading of a highly abstract scientific diagram requires very different skills from those
required for reading ordinary pictures of everyday content such as photographs in a newspaper or
illustrations in a shopping catalogue. This means it is essential that today's students develop the general
visual literacy skills required for dealing with scientific graphics, but they must also learn about
particular types of scientific pictures that actually form part of the content of a specific field of scientific
or technological study.

VISUAL LANGUAGE

The ways pictures are used in everyday life can give the misleading impression that visual language is
somehow generally much easier to understand and more universal than verbal or mathematical
language. For example, international airports all around the world use various graphic symbols to
present information to people from many different language groups. By avoiding the need for multiple
translations, these graphics greatly simplify the task of conveying fundamental information. However,
this information concerns basic, everyday matters that people in general are familiar with and
represents them in a very straightforward way. In contrast, the forms of visual information that
scientists and technologists use are far more complex and esoteric. The specialized nature of scientific
visualizations means that people do not learn to deal with them as an incidental result of their normal
interaction with the everyday environment. Rather, they must engage in specific learning activities that
help them to develop the knowledge and skills required to interpret these very particular types of visual
representation. Part of the reason for this is that the content depicted in these visuals is quite unfamiliar
to everyone except specialists in the scientific field concerned. However, there are also aspects of how
content is depicted that make these visualizations challenging for the uninitiated. In particular, the
depiction of the subject matter in scientific visuals is often not meant to be taken literally. Rather,
diagrams and other technical illustrations depict their content using a host of specialized graphic
conventions that extensively manipulate and even grossly distort literal reality. To interpret these
pictures properly, the viewer must know about these conventions and be skilled in decoding them in an
appropriate manner.

DEVELOPING VISUAL LITERACY

Teachers must develop students' capacities to understand and properly interpret specialized technical
visuals. Teaching of the necessary knowledge and skills should begin when children are quite young,
even before they begin formal studies of science and technology. One approach is to introduce young
children to graphic conventions that are widely used in depictions such as scientific diagrams by having
them devise simple drawings that actually use these conventions. However, rather than illustrating
unfamiliar scientific topics, this should be done in the context of everyday subject matter. In other
words, the content of the visuals would be very familiar to the students, but the way it is to be depicted
would be highly diagrammatic. For example, teachers could guide students through a number of stages
to help them develop their own diagrams of a simple commonplace object such as a piece of fruit.
Starting with the real object, the teacher could show students how to use a range of diagram techniques
to devise a picture that communicates information about the object in a scientific manner. So, if a
teacher decided to use an orange as the subject matter for a diagram-drawing exercise, one of the
things that could be done is to introduce students to the idea of a cross-sectional view. This is a
technique widely used in scientific and technological diagrams as a way of indicating internal structures
that are normally hidden from view. It is a simple matter to cut the orange in half, place one of the
halves cut-face down on a photocopier to produce a photo-like image of the inside of the fruit. This
photocopy could be the starting point for students to gradually modify the image in order to produce a
more diagrammatic depiction. This would involve processes such as simplifying the image into a line
drawing, omitting unnecessary detail, removing natural irregularities to produce a more 'geometric'
result, and identifying key parts of the structure by means of shading or color coding. Initial activities of
this type could be followed by using objects for which dynamic change as well as structure must be
depicted. For example, a simple device such as a plastic garden irrigation tap could be dismantled and its
functioning represented diagrammatically. This type of exercise could be used to show how other
diagram conventions such as arrows, dotted lines and sequential pictures can be combined with the
cross-sectional convention covered in the previous example. Where aspects of the subject matter would
be artistically difficult for young students to draw by themselves, teachers could provide partly-drawn
pictures so that students have only to add simple lines and shapes to complete the representation.
Alternatively, teachers could provide a "kit" of pre-drawn pieces for the diagram which students would
then assemble into a finished product.

Having children devise their own "technical pictures" requires a significant change in the way drawing is
typically treated in elementary school. In most classrooms, children either copy pictures provided by the
teacher or textbook, or draw their own pictures as a means of self- expression, Rarely are they asked to
produce original drawings that provide the type of clear and precise visual explanation that is found in
technical diagrams. However, it is unreasonable to expect students to acquire all the required capacities
for dealing with technical diagrams by such drawing exercises alone. As students move into formal
studies of science, there are occasions when the teacher needs to present them with ready-made
diagrams as well as other forms of scientific image. In these cases, students' capacities for dealing with
technical pictures are more likely to be developed if extensive scaffolding is provided by the teacher. For
example, instead of requiring students to copy down a finished diagram, the teacher could gradually
build up the depiction piece by piece in a way that emphasizes the logic of the subject matter. The value
of this sequential type of approach would be further enhanced by accompanying the drawing process
with a suitable commentary and questioning that emphasizes key aspects of the subject matter. On
many occasions, students are faced with a technical picture in a textbook or other resource that is
intended to explain the to-be-learned content. However, these pictures are often quite difficult for
students to interpret effectively because they do not know how to read such pictures effectively. Just
because teachers have no trouble reading a picture, we should not assume that it is equally
comprehensible to students. Teachers should consider providing quite explicit guidance to direct their
students through the information that is depicted so they explore the picture in detail and develop an
understanding of its internal logic. Supplementary exercises based on an existing picture but which
require students to analyze, elaborate or modify the original in various ways can also help to improve
comprehension.

CONCLUSION

Visual literacy is an essential component of science and technology education today. However, it is an
aspect of learning that is relatively neglected by teachers. One reason is that teachers generally assume
that pictures are self-explanatory and always function to make their subject matter easier.
Unfortunately, comprehension of the specialized pictures used in technical fields requires knowledge
and skills far beyond those required for everyday pictures. In order for teachers to address this
neglected aspect of science and technology education, they need both a better appreciation of the
demands of technical pictures and a knowledge of teaching strategies that will help to develop students'
visual literacies in this area. Science teacher education should cover this topic, but support is also
needed for experienced science and technology teachers. At present, resources to help teachers
develop visual literacy are limited, and there is a great need for further work to develop practical
teaching strategies and resources.( http://www.ericdigests.org/2003-1/visual.htm)
Visual Literacy in the Classroom
Integrating visual literacy instruction into classroom curriculum begins by asking a few key
questions to spark the critical thinking process. Professional visual communicators evaluate
visual messages by asking: What am I looking at? What does this image mean to me? What is
the relationship between the image and the displayed text message? How is this message
effective? Just as professionals ask critical questions of messages they examine, students should
be just as critical of the messages they see too. In the visual design world, similar questions are
asked during message creation as well: How can I visually depict this message? How can I make
this message effective? What are some visual/verbal relationships I can use? Once students
internalize these questions, not only will students be prepared to recognize and decode
subversive advertising messages, but they will also be prepared to communicate with a level of
visual sophistication that will carry them through the multimedia-dependent environment of
higher education and the modern work environment. Moreover, visual literacy instruction will
better prepare students for the dynamic and constantly changing online world they will inevitably
be communicating through.

There are many ways to integrate and address multimedia in the classroom to make it
educational. Drawing upon Seymor Papert's (1980) research, researchers such as Resnick (1996)
and Kafai (1996) have promoted the constructivist notion of learning by design where students
learn by working on "real world" constructions. Educators create a project whereby students
work together to create a web page or interactive movie where they are allowed to create their
own messages like the professionals they're imitating. This learning environment, based on the
constructivist learning philosophy that evolved during the 1970s and 1980s, has its foundations
in cognitive learning psychology. The learning model is based on the concept that knowledge is
constructed rather than processed from information received from an external source. In this
process, the student assumes the role of the producer rather than the consumer of information.
Through classroom construction of a multimedia project, an in-depth understanding of visual
communication, or visual literacy, is learned along the way.

The examples of learning by design are numerous. Garthwait (2001), as mentioned earlier, used
a hypermedia design program to encourage students to write while incorporating multimedia
design. His results showed high motivation and learning retention. The key to Garthwait's
experiment is the level of comprehension that developed out of designing hypermedia stories.
Every student exhibited an impressive understanding of not only how hypermedia is displayed
on the Internet, but also how to communicate in non-linear and visual modes of discourse.
Exposure appears to be the key element in these experiments. Chandler-Olcott & Mahar (2003)
explored the disparity between one student's high-level web design and communication
completed at home through her enthusiasm for Japanese Anime and the non-existent technology
education at school. Rhiannon, the student named in the study, wrote lengthy fanfictions or
anime stories and posted them on a web site that she designed without any school resources but
showed little interest in school-assigned writing. Rhiannon's expertise came from home access to
the Internet, curiosity, and collaborative online learning, yet went unnoticed by her
teachers(http://www.newhorizons.org/strategies/literacy/riesland.htm)
References

http://www.newhorizons.org/strategies/literacy/riesland.htm)

.( http://www.ericdigests.org/2003-1/visual.htm

(http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Visual_literacy

				
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