AECT Handbook of Research

Table of Contents

16. Visual Literacy

16.1 Introduction
16.2 Theoretical Foundations of Visual Literacy
16.3 Establishing a Visual Literacy Research Agenda
16.4 Visual Vocabulary
16.5 Visualization
16.6 Visual Learning/Visual Teaching
16.7 Visual Thinking
16.8 Visual Literacy and Verbal Literacy
16.9 The Visual-Verbal Relationship
16.10 Visible Language:Text as Visuals
16.11 Eletronic Visuals
16.12 Conclusions
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In the past, others have attempted in sundry ways to facilitate the research of the visual literacy area. The first authors to undertake the task of building a framework for visual literacy research were Spitzer and McNerny (1975). Their emphasis was on operationally defining visual literacy so that others could proceed with research to support the operational definitions. An extensive study was made by Hocking to determine visual literacy goals, which in turn could become the basis for research (Hocking, 1978). At about the same time, Levie (1978a) offered the field a prospectus for instructional research on visual literacy. The link of instruction to visual literacy was important, and the bulk of all visual literacy research has been done with learning and instruction in mind

Lida Cochran and her associates took a more pragmatic approach. The Cochran team held seminars and meetings with aspiring visual literacists and examined the possible avenues of visual literacy research. A direction for the field was recommended, and possibilities were outlined for a broader audience in their Educational Communication and Technology Journal article (Cochran et al., 1980). For those with a greater interest in the linguistic aspects of visual literacy, Hennnis (198 1) pointed out the need for research in the area of visual language. More recently, other authors have provided their conceptions of an agenda for visual literacy research. For example, Hartley (1987) addressed the role of print-based research in an era when we must accommodate to changes brought about by the emergence of electronic text.

Gnizak and Girshman (1984) turned the entire process on its head. Rather than concern themselves with doing research about visual literacy, they undertook an experiment in visualizing during the research process. They encouraged students to "define a pressing social problem in visual terms and thereby develop student abilities to analyze, to criticize, and finally to synthesize" (p. 207).

16.3.1 Levie's "Islands"

Levie (1987) lamented the fact that research on pictures was done in small topical islands, barely connected. He said that "an additional approach that brings together data and ideas from separate contexts could contribute much to our understanding of this pervasive, versatile mode of communication" (p. 27). A list of Levie ~ "islands" is an outline of much of the research in visual literacy. His selected bibliography to accompany that list is broken into categories and is exceptional, including sections for:

  • Picture perception (6 bibliography entries)
  • Attention Theoretical approaches to picture perception (21 entries)
  • Attention and scanning (40 entries) Interpreting figures and pictorial cues (40 entries)
  • Perceiving global meaning (25 entries)
  • Memory for pictures (6 entries)
  • Memory models (25 entries)
  • Recognition memory (44 entries)
  • Recall (20 entries)
  • Other types of memory research (27 entries)
  • Learning and cognition (7 entries)
  • The acquisition of knowledge (48 entries)
  • Problem solving and visual thinking (26 entries)
  • Acquisition of cognitive skills (32 entries)
  • Media research (39 entries)
  • Affective responses to pictures (95 entries; broken down further as follows: arousal and emotional impact, 17 entries; preferences, 22 entries; attitudes, 25 entries; and aesthetic responses, 31 entries)

Obviously, many of the topics above are included in the research agendas of other fields. What is remarkable is that so much research in sundry fields has been found to have visual literacy implications.

Updated August 3, 2001
Copyright © 2001
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