Visual literacy lesson ideas that can fit into information literacy sessions you're already teaching! Get more in depth in the webinar!
Check out these other great examples of visual literacy initiatives in higher education.
Authority is Constructed and Contextual
When people are claiming to be an authority on paper, in text, the easiest way to communicate that is by mentioning their credentials, backing up their opinions with research, and citing their sources. When people are trying to seem like an authority in person, however, it often has more to do with appearance and demeanor. Do you teach your students to look out for signs that someone in a YouTube video is trying to persuade them?
Consider these researchers who found that students had a greater misunderstanding of earth science concepts after watching a popular sci-fi film, mentioning "Specifically, we found that the film leveraged the scientific authority of the main character.". What does it look like, in visual media, when someone is trying to leverage their authority to convince you of something? Encourage your students to find out! You can follow this example and incorporate lessons on different persuasive appeals.
Information Creation as a Process
Working with open data collections is a great way to teach students to create visual representations of information. Try assigning students to create two infographics, each pushing an opposite agenda. It's a great way to teach students that similar studies might have conflicting results (and why is that?!) and that the same data can be used to support opposing opinions, depending on how you frame and display it. Three popular sources for data are: Data.gov, Statista, and OpenDataNetwork and there are free tools online for creating infographics (you usually have to create an account).
Information Has Value
When you teach students about intellectual property, try starting the conversation from the perspective of creators. Students have existing attitudes about IP, and their attitudes as creators often differ from their attitudes as consumers. Encourage them to identify these conflicting attitudes and explore whether they need to adjust their behavior as consumers.
One activity that serves as a great conversation starter is to use examples of copyright complaints currently in the news. I do a matching activity where I spread out keywords and students have to Google them to see which ones pair up as a news story. At the end, people share what they learned with the class. Talking about memes, like Pepe the Frog and InfoWars or Grumpy Cat and Grenade, gets students to reconsider their thoughts that these images belong to everyone.
Research as Inquiry
We always encourage students to read and then figure out which question they still have. This is often very difficult for them to do with visual media, because we don't emphasize it as much in the classroom. If you want to learn more about analyzing visuals, check out these resources:
Library of Congress Primary Source Analysis Tools
Enabling Students to Read Historical Images
Scholarship as Conversation
If you're starting to question whether assigning research papers is really preparing your students to become scholars, consider assigning papers formatting to a specific journal's guidelines. I ask students to find a journal they would submit a manuscript to, find their author guidelines, and follow them. It's particularly interesting to read the guidelines for accompanying figures, because some will specify a file type, DPI, graph scale, caption format, etc. and students aren't all comfortable following guidelines like that.
Searching as Strategic Exploration
Students don't struggle with personal searching at home in the same ways they do in the classroom (see this study), for example they don't often feel stress when browsing around for discovery at home, however if you ask them to browse for inspiration for a paper topic, there is suddenly a lot of pressure. Using visual materials is a great way to make this first discovery step seem less intimidating. Use your library's streaming media databases to teach students how to browse subjects instead of searching keywords.
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