Saturday, February 9, 2013

The Importance of Visual Literacy

They say that the eyes are the window to to the soul but perhaps the more accurate expression should be that the eyes are the window to the brain.  Given that the brain is the center of learning, this is an important tidbit of information.  We all know this, but brain research continues to confirm just how important the connection between the visual and learning can be.

Try this on for size, research approximates that between 80 and 90 percent of the information received by the brain is through the eyes (Hyerle, 2000).  That's amazing!  How about this one, vision is by far our most dominant sense, taking up half of our brain resources* (Medina, 2008)  Teachers armed with this information know that the more visual an input becomes, the "stickier" it gets for our students.  

Let's Get Digital

Digital tools are very, very good at enhancing visual literacy. I would say that this is one of the reasons I was drawn to technology in the first place.  I frequently say "I'm not a tech guy"… maybe I'm a visual guy and the technology lets me achieve my visual goals.  In any case, ensuring that you UTILIZE a healthy amount of visual aids when working with students can make an immediate, positive impact on your teaching and learning goals.  Actually having students CREATE visual representations of their learning can be even more powerful (again, technology is really good at this but more on that later). I'll be blogging a lot about visual literacy and even hope to continue my "Friday Visual" series I started over a year ago on my personal blog.  

For now, I've got three videos that you should watch when you get a chance.  The first two videos are from the excellent Edutopia website (I first saw them over on Prezentation Zen) and they feature George Lucas and Martin Scorsese talking about the importance of visual literacy and visual communication.  George Lucas goes as far to say that we should rename English class and call it Communication (naturally, this course would introduce the language and grammar of visual literacy in addition to traditional literacy). I'm curious what you think of this... feel free to use the comment feature on this blog.

The final video is from Dr. John Medina, author of the best selling book called "Brain Rules" (I've seen it on a number of your bookshelves).

So, please watch the videos and I encourage you to reflect about the visuals you use in your classroom during teaching practice.  Are you using a wide variety of maps, charts, videos, diagrams, models, etc?  How are you presenting these to students?  How do they improve your teaching practices? Are you letting students create visuals that provide evidence of their own learning and understanding?  The academic technology team is happy to help you integrate technology into your own visual literacy goals.  Just let us know! Enjoy.

George Lucas on Teaching Visual Literacy and Communications

Martin Scorsese on the Importance of Visual Literacy

Brain Rule #10: Vision Trumps All Other Senses

Hyerle, D. (2000). Thinking maps: Visual tools for activating habits of mind. A.L. Costa & B. Kallick (Eds.). Alexandria, VA: ASCD.

Medina, J. (2008). Brain Rules. Seattle: Pear Press.

*Thinking about Apple stuff constitutes the other half of my own personal brain resources.


  1. Thanks for turning me on to the Presentation Zen site, added it to my reader. I already saw the first two videos there, but enjoyed the third. I like the idea Lucas had of making it communication class and including visual literacy as well, but then I'm not an English teacher either. You've definitely got me thinking of being better about incorporating more powerful visuals into my teaching.

    1. Presentation Zen is pretty inspiring. I've learned so much from that site about what makes a good presentation. The nice thing about incorporating more visuals into teaching is not too time consuming to actually pull off, so you get a lot of bang for the buck!

  2. George Lucas's point is a really helpful one. I've been incorporating film analysis into my English classes for years, but not to the extent that Lucas proposes. His observation about the increasing importance of video production in how people communicate opens up a whole can of worms about the extent to which our current educational goals are antiquated.

    Every few years I suggest that we retire our I.S. "English" and "History" classes and instead offer "Communications" and "Humanities" classes. Humanities would concentrate on studying literature, historical case studies, film, art, and poetry to extract and discuss lessons about human decision-making, universal values, and diverse perspectives. Communications would be the core of the educational experience, a workshop where students would study and practice the techniques pertaining to different modes of communication: persuasive essays, journalistic articles, fiction and memoir, lab reports, explanatory narratives. Now that I've seen the Lucas clip, I'd add modes other than writing to this list. The content of these forms of communication would stem from the students' other academic classes, as a way of meaningfully integrating the curriculum.

    My idea here, and I think what Lucas is getting at, too, is that we should rethink how we package and prioritize the content and skills of our curriculum so that our students can make connections and identify distinctions in ways that will be most useful to them. And incorporating visual literacy into the curriculum might be done best through a reshuffling of the curriculum as a whole.

    Each time I propose the Communications/Humanities idea, people perk up and say how cool it would be. And that's always the end of the conversation. Maybe we can start it up again...

    1. I think you are right on with your thinking... I'd sign up for your communications class for sure. Let's start the conversation again :-)

  3. Scorcese is so clear in his thinking about visual literacy. I appreciated his comments about the different angles each lens offers to the viewer. We all tell stories every day to our students and provide a platform for purposeful learning. The toolbox for visual literacy he refers to will hopefully lead them to improved decision-making and better choices. This was an inspiring video!

    1. I'm glad you liked it. I found it pretty inspiring, too!

  4. The students do learn more visually. I believe that some of us already teach students in a form of this way by looking at picture books and analyzing the pictures in the book. The students learn that this helps determine mood and setting.