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
- Edward Tufte Tufte has published several highly influential and lucid books on Information Design, including Envisioning Information , Visual Explanations: Images and Quantities, Evidence and Narrative and Beautiful Evidence. His website also includes the Ask ET Forum with discussion threads on many topics in this field.
- Using Visual Aids This is part of the LearnHigher Oral Communication website and contains advice (including video examples) on using visual aids as part of a seminar presentation.
- Creating Effective Poster Presentations This very useful site includes detailed advice on all stages of creating a poster presentation, with plenty of illustrated examples. Though primarily aimed at creators of scientific conference posters, the advice applies equally to other subjects and to poster assignments for university students. Downloadable resources include a Quick reference handout and sample evaluation sheets.
- International Visual Literacy Association Resources include “Visual Communication: A Taxonomy and Bibliography” by Sandra Moriarty and Keith Kenney
- Image and Meaning , part of Harvard University’s Initiative in Innovative Computing (IIC), began in 2001 by Felice Frankel in MIT’s Envisioning Science Project. Their purpose is “to help scientists, writers and visual communicators develop and share improved methods of communicating scientific concepts and technical information through images and visual representations. The goal is to enhance the level of discourse within the scientific community, among teachers and students, and those who communicate with the public.”
- ‘Is visual language anything more than a figure of speech?’ part of a discussion on “Is drawing a language?” on the excellent Tracey site – an electronic open access journal dedicated to presentation and the discussion of drawing practice
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