Seeing is believing

The idea of visual literacy is one that’s been around for quite some time. In this new era of being inundated with visual media at each and every turn, teaching skills of visual literacy suddenly become of paramount importance.

In reading Erin Riesland’s Visual Literacy in the Classroom, some things that she wrote jumped out at me:

Although the definition of literacy remains a hotly contested topic among educators and researchers, it is hard to deny that technology is driving the debate. While reading and writing will most likely remain at the heart of standard literacy education, educators should reconsider what it means to be literate in the technological age.

Additionally, she goes on to say:

Advertisers understand how to reach youngsters (and really, just about anyone) far better than educators. Professional visual communicators hold the power when communicating in the modern media image-centric environment.

This is something that educators have been talking about for quite a while. What does literacy mean now, in this digital age? How do we teach our kids about literacy when we are still trying to understand what it means ourselves?

Just defining visual literacy can prove to be a daunting task. I found this site that offered up a myriad of quotes and definitions about visual literacy. This quote summed up my feelings about visual literacy fairly well:

“Each of us reacts to the picture on the basis of our own sensitivity, culture, intelligence, mood and passion. What is more, the interpretation of one and the same photograph will be different at different times. A photograph produced today will offer a different impact tomorrow. Even the place where the photograph is seen can dictate our reactions. A photograph published in a gossip weekly cannot have, a priori, the same impact as a photograph on display in a museum or of another printed in a sophisticated book. The environment where the photograph appears may determine our reading of it.” (Source:
Grazia Neri from “Ethics and Photography”)

This is an important component when looking at visual literacy. Using this explanation of visual literacy, do we teach this to our students and make sure they understand it?

Frank Baker, a well-known media educator, writes about students and media literacy:

Many of our students believe everything they see–including digitally altered images sent to them online.

These are all ideas that we need to be aware of as we take on the task of educating our students to be prepared for this new age of literacy. We also need to begin to understand how we ‘see’ visual media ourselves.

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