Visual Communication

We are surrounded by images and other forms of graphic communication, but purposeful teaching of the skills needed to understand, critique and deploy visual modes is not often included in disciplines lacking an explicitly visual dimension. These skills are sometimes referred to as ‘visual literacy’. (This is a contested term – the implied analogy with spoken or written language can be misleading and it also tends to emphasise consumption rather than production of visual artefacts. But widespread use of the term, particularly in the US and Australia, reflects and enables a more sustained interest in supporting visual literacy in schools and through online resources.)

In Reading images: an introduction to visual literacy Melissa Thibault and David Walbert describe it as “the ability to see, to understand, and ultimately to think, create, and communicate graphically […] Like traditional literacy, visual literacy encompasses more than one level of skill.. The first level … is simple knowledge: basic identification of the subject or elements in a photograph, work of art, or graphic. The skills necessary to identify details of images are included in many disciplines; for example, careful observation is essential to scientific inquiry. But while accurate observation is important, understanding what we see and comprehending visual relationships are at least as important. These higher-level visual literacy skills require critical thinking, and they are essential to a student’s success in any content area in which information is conveyed through visual formats such as charts and maps. They are also beneficial to students attempting to make sense of the barrage of images they may face in texts and Web resources.

Some general sites relating to visual literacy & communication
Websites with examples and explanations of different kinds of charts, diagrams and other visual ‘texts’
  • Visual-Literacy: An E-Learning Tutorial on Visualization for Communication, Engineering and Business A joint project by four Swiss universities, this English language 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… in order to transform abstract thought efficiently into graphic, tangible forms and to manage the topic complexity and the problems addressed in each class.” The site includes a comprehensive Periodic Table of Visualisation Methods with 100 examples sorted into categories such as Data, Information, Concept and Strategy Visualisation, and two excellent demo tutorials, Business & Communication and Engineering & Communication, which you can view as a guest, or log in to take advantage of more interactive elements. The related WikiViz contains resources and links on information visualisation.
  • Concept Maps
  • Types of graphs
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