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Using Visual Literacy in the Classroom

“Visual literacy is not just about art …”

We’ve all heard the adage, “A picture is worth a thousand words.” Learning to read those pictures gives us advantages in both work and life. The University of Toledo and Toledo Museum of Art’s Visual Literacy Initiative is paving the way for what it means to speak visual.

Visual literacy is defined as being able to read, comprehend and use visual images effectively. The initiative provides faculty with visual literacy tools to prepare students for the future. To date, the initiative has advanced student learning across all disciplines by launching visual literacy modules for UToledo faculty to use with their students.

UToledo students visited the Toledo Museum of Art for a visual literacy exercise called Back to Back Drawing.

“Visual literacy is not just about art. It’s about understanding the world around us through observation, critical thinking, perspective and collaboration in a vast world of images and visual stimulation,” Dr. Heidi M. Appel, dean of the Jesup Scott Honors College, said. “To communicate successfully in our increasingly image-saturated culture, we must also learn to read, understand and critique images — to become literate in visual language.”

The ability to speak visual will be important in all fields of study and employment whether it’s to read and design schematics, visualize problems and solutions, see data, diagnose patients, interpret clinical images, or communicate information.

“Visual literacy is a way to engage students to begin the process of deep learning and creative thinking,” Dr. Arun Nadarajah, UToledo professor of bioengineering, said.

There are new University of Toledo courses that focus exclusively on visual literacy in the College of Medicine and Life Sciences, the Honors College, and the College of Arts and Letters.

Shari Norte, assistant lecturer in the School of Exercise Rehabilitation Sciences, left, and Mirta Parodi, senior lecturer of Spanish, participated in a visual literacy activity that challenged teams to build something with Legos and write instructions so others could replicate the same object.

All faculty now can include visual literacy in their courses using modules and exercises to support instruction while achieving student learning outcomes. The modules are made to be easily adaptable and span across all disciplines.

“We’re all visual learners. These modules are a great way to infuse our already vital subject areas with more active learning strategies that increase visual literacy,” Dan McInnis, assistant lecturer in the Jesup Scott Honors College, said. “The visual literacy modules and exercises assist me as a faculty member to deliver specific skill sets to students, giving them conduits to stronger visual understanding.”

One module from the initiative titled Infographic Creation and Interpretation “is designed to meet student learning outcomes and provide students with an understanding of the use of infographics for communicating complex ideas efficiently and effectively.” Students also have shared their experience with this module. One student said, “This module taught me that we process pictures faster than words, so by having a picture represent information, people want to share.” Another student said, “Infographics should be an aid to help us tell a story.” Not only did this module teach students how to interpret and read infographics, it taught them how to create their own infographics. A student reflected on his experience: “The module put the ‘common sense’ of visual interpretation into words. It helped me understand why we need concise, accurate and appealing infographics beyond ‘they look nice and are easy to understand.’”

Another student said, “I feel more confident when analyzing an infographic. I look at its content, the structure of the image, how clear it is, if it’s simple, how did they emphasize on the problem. For the design, I pay attention to the colors, if it’s attractive, how easy it is for me to digest and retain the information provided.”

The visual literacy modules and exercises are made available through the Visual Literacy webpage or Blackboard. To access the visual literacy modules and exercises through Blackboard, use the Faculty Support tab on the top of your Blackboard page to find Other Resources and select the Visual Literacy link. Visual literacy will then show up as one of your organizations below your courses. You’ll find instructions on how to use the modules and exercises there.

Campus community members are invited to explore visual literacy modules and exercises during open houses:

Friday, Jan. 31, from 9:30 to 10:30 a.m. in Nitschke Hall Room 5013;

Friday, Feb. 28, from 9:30 to 10:30 a.m. in the Center for the Visual Arts Conference Room on the University’s Toledo Museum of Art Campus.

Friday, April 24, from 9:30 to 10:30 a.m. in MacKinnon Hall Room 1370.

An extended workshop also is planned for Friday, March 27, from noon to 3 p.m. in Toledo Museum of Art Room 128.

Register to attend an open house or workshop on the University Teaching Center website.

To inquire more information about the Visual Literacy Initiative and its campus-wide efforts, visit the Visual Literacy Initiative website or contact visualliteracy@utoledo.edu.

Mejias Santoro is an academic and adult programs coordinator at the Toledo Museum of Art.

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