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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Visualization is both something that we do for others and something that we do internally within our minds. The creative, do-it-for-others sense of visualization is covered in this chapter under other topics such as visual representation: How do we "visualize" ideas for transmission to others? Most of the how-do-we-visualize questions had been answered to the general satisfaction of the field until new, computer-associated questions arose. Revived interest now expresses itself in terms of screen design, icon design, figure-ground, and similar look-of-the-tube issues. Friedhoff (1989) has commented that "visualization, because of the computer, is emerging as a distinctive new discipline" (p. 16).

The more abstract, more problematic concept of visualization is related to mental imagery ("picture that in your mind"), visual mnemonics ("visualize a duck with a yellow bill turning pancakes as a means of remembering the name Bill Turner"), mental spatial manipulations ("look at this picture of a polygon, then picture in your mind what it would look like from the back side"), mental rehearsal ("imagine yourself cutting out the letter A"), and mental recall ("visualize the face of Abraham Lincoln").

Visualization and other visual skills are widely considered to be innate. Salomon's (1979a) study of the effects of television viewing on TV-naive children led him to conclude that visual skills will develop naturally as a result of exposure to visual media. However, there is no evidence that individuals will innately learn how and when to apply those skills or whether the skills will fully develop "naturally." Winn (1982a) concluded that:

... imagery can be used in some shape or form by most people. However, only some learners can be said to be ,mentally skilled' in its use" (p. 4) and also that, "In general, any basic visual process can be developed into a visual skill through practice, and any visual skill can be developed into a useful learning strategy through training (p. 17).

16.5.1 Mental Imaging and Recall of Mental Images

Clark (1978) constructed a graphic model of the auditory and visual memory system. The model shows separate paths for coding and storing verbal and spatial representations in memory, following the dual-coding theory of Paivio (1971). In that model is a visual-spatial system that processes visual imagery (see 26.2). To test the model and the assumption that multichannel presentation of instruction with its dual-coding possibilities would be superior to single-channel presentation, Clark (1978) designed an experiment utilizing highly visual subject content to be learned by college students. The auditory-visual treatment group scored significantly higher than all others, and the visual-only treatment was second.

Under ideal conditions, mental imagery has been demonstrated to be effective as an aid to prose learning (Lesgold, McCormick & Golinkoff, 1975; Levin, 1973; Pressley, 1976). Pressley (1976) found that when eight-year-olds were instructed on forming mental images, given practice at imaging, and were provided separate times for reading and imaging (as opposed to simultaneous reading/imaging), their memory of story content was significantly improved. Lesgold, McCormick, and Golinkoff (1975) established an imagery training procedure for third- and fourth-graders. In the procedure, students read a passage, then drew stick figure cartoons illustrating the passage's content.

After extended training in drawing adequate "comic strips" to illustrate prose passages, performance in a paraphrase-recall-task improved, but only when explicit imagery instructions were given with the task (p. 663).... The need for direct imagery instructions in order to get the effect is consistent with general paired-associate findings that even adults show substantially better performance when given explicit imagery instructions than when left to their own devices (p. 666).

Other early studies clearly established that when learners are told how to process visual information, their performance improves (Kosslyn, 1980; J. R. Levin et al., 1974; Paivio & Foth, 1970; Simon, 1972).

Several studies confirm the finding that imagery strategies particularly aid poor readers and poor-learning populations (Levin, 1973; Paris, Mahoney & Buckhalt, 1974; Pressley, 1976). Being instructed to visualize is a factor in these studies. Age is also a factor in the research associated with these findings. Rohwer (1970) demonstrated that children 5 and 6 years old do not benefit from visual imagery instructions. Levin et al. (1973) found that children have acquired the requisite internal elaboration ability by age 7. However, Shimron.(1974) is cited in Lesgold et al. (1975) as having found 6- and 7-year-olds still not able to profit from imagery instructions in prose-learning tasks.

16.5.2 Mnemonics

For centuries, people have used mnemonic imagery as an aid to memory. The research doesn't go back that far. Atkinson (1975) wrote a seminal research paper that introduced the keyword mnemonic strategy. Atkinson's interest was in the value of mnemonic images to aid in learning second-language vocabulary. The keyword process is based on a simple two-stage process, First, a keyword is selected to represent the concept to be learned. Second, a visual image representing or using that keyword is created either by the student or the teacher to act as a mental proxy for the concept. Levin and Pressley (1978) used Atkinson's strategy, and it later became the focal point of a series of studies that demonstrated the effectiveness of the strategy for learning different kinds of subject matter (Levin et al., 1980, 1986, 1988; Pressley & Levin, 1981; Rosenheck et al., 1989). These experiments have demonstrated that the keyword technique is successful in aiding recall across a broad range of subject matter. Levin and Levin (1990), in discussing this series of studies, said that there is "a growing body of research that indicates that information acquired on the basis of mnemonic instruction is not just remembered better at the rote memory level. It is often applied better in a number of thinking contexts as well" (p. 315).

Another mnemonic technique that has proved to be useful for remembering people's names is the face-name mnemonic (Carney, Levin & Morrison, 1988). The process, developed by Carney in 1984, is similar to the keyword procedure in that it uses proxy images to stimulate recall, but it involves a third stage. First, a keyword is devised. Next, a prominent feature of the person's face is identified. Then, a visual image is generated which relates the facial feature to the keyword. Although Carney originated the procedure as an aid to remembering names, in the Carney, Levin, and Morrison (1988) experiments, the strategy was used to aid college students learn about art. The Carney team reported, "These three experiments demonstrate that the face-name mnemonic may be successfully extended to an ecologically valid task, the learning of artists and their paintings, such as one would find in an art appreciation class" (p. 120).

Still another derivative technique has been labeled by its creators as mnemonomy (Levin & Levin, 1990). The procedure combines the concept of figural taxonomy with that of visual mnemonics. That is, a scientific taxonomy is transformed into a "pictorial mnemonic (memory-enhancing) taxonomy" (p. 302). The Levins conducted three experiments using a botany mnemonomy. Subjects were college students. Mnemonomy students statistically outperformed their taxonomy counterparts in all experiments. The pictorial mnemonomy substantially enhanced students' ability to reconstruct the botany classification system. Mnemonic subjects were more fluent in their ability to navigate the plant classification system. Mnemonic subjects outperformed other subjects on tests of memory. In a surprise to the researchers, mnemonomy subjects statistically surpassed free-study students in related problem-solving ability.

Updated August 3, 2001
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