Web Reviews: Practical Resources for Visual Literacy Instruction

by Andrea Baer


The term visual literacy, first coined in 1969 by John Debes (Avgerinou 280), has gained much wider currency in the last decade, particularly as education begins to focus greater efforts on information and media literacy. In general terms, visual literacy refers to the ability to critically evaluate, use, and create visual information. Such skills have become increasingly important in the digital age of media images, image manipulation, and visual technologies. Though increasingly more emphasis is being placed on visual literacy instruction, this aspect of information literacy (IL) has not received the same degree of attention as have other aspects of IL teaching.

Finding resources to promote visual literacy learning also presents challenges: while there are a number of social media websites which compile teaching tools relevant to the topic, many of the links on these pages are broken, while the pedagogical application of others is not always immediately apparent. This review, while by no means comprehensive, offers a starting point for information literacy instructors interested in further integrating visual literacy instruction into their curriculum and classroom activities. Art, Design, and Visual Thinking: An Interactive Textbook provides a basic framework and vocabulary for discussing visual concepts and representations. Digital Visual Literacy (Maricopa Center for Learning & Instruction, Maricopa Community Colleges) includes detailed curriculum and learning objectives which may help instructors in creating more extensive curriculum or simply specific lesson plans. Visual Lit Wiki and Visual Literacy Resources on the Web compile a number of helpful classroom tools, while Pictures that Lie (C Net News) is one example of a resource that can energize students and prompt animated discussion.

Art, Design, and Visual Thinking: An Interactive Textbook

This website features an “interactive textbook” created for the undergraduate, survey course “Art Design and Visual Thinking” (a class taught at Cornell University by Dr. Charlotte Jirousek). Though the textbook presents information more through the lens of art and design, rather than through that of visual literacy per se, the ideas and concepts introduced here are essential to developing a deeper understanding of visuality as a mode of thinking and communicating. The resource presents visual and design elements in straightforward terms, and demonstrates concepts through an abundance of engaging images. Simply click on an image to see a larger version of it. The book also discusses visuality in relation to social, cultural, and historical circumstances, adding a valuable interdisciplinary perspective.

Digital Visual Literacy (DVL) logoDigital Visual Literacy (Maricopa Center for Learning & Instruction, Maricopa Community Colleges)

This website provides links to digital visual literacy curriculum modules that have been developed by researchers and educators at Maricopa Center for Learning & Instruction. The project was made possible thanks to a grant from the National Science Foundation. The twelve curriculum modules provide detailed instructional content which relate to specific digital technologies tools (e.g., copyright skills, blogs, graphics, software like Microsoft Office and Microsoft Excel). (Click on the hyperlinks to each module to view curricula in detail.)There is also a more general “Introduction to Digital Visual Literacy” module (Module 1). These resources may prove useful to library instructors as they develop their own curriculum and lesson plans for visual and digital literacy.

Visual Lit Wiki

This wiki compiles valuable resources for visual literacy teaching. Particularly useful are the “Activities” and “Toolbox” pages, which compile practical web resources for the classroom. Other helpful pages include “What is Visual Literacy” which includes definitions and components of visual literacy and “Whose Is It?” which addresses issues of copyright and fair use.

Visual Literacy Resources on the Web

In an online publication Alessia Zanin-Yost (College & Research Libraries News) compiled an excellent set of resources related to visual literacy. Some of these sources are related to visual literacy instruction, while others are more focused on research and theory. For librarians interested in digging deeper into the topic of visual literacy, this is a good place to begin a more in-depth exploration of the topic of visual literacy.

Pictures that Lie (C Net News)

This resource includes links to 24 doctored photographs, as well as stories about how and why the images were manipulated. (The first photo displayed, at the time of this writing, was a slimmed down version of NBC newscaster Katie Couric.) The website offers an opportunity to discuss the manipulation of images that has become increasingly prevalent in the digital age, as well as the underlying social and political significance and implications of such digital editing.

Works Cited

Avgerinou, Maria, and John Ericson."A Review of the Concept of Visual Literacy." British Journal of Educational Technology 28.4 (1997): 280-291.

Zanin-Yost, Alessia. “Visual Literacy Resources on the Web: A Look at What is Available.” College & Research Libraries News 68.8 (2007): 508-510.

Reviewed by: Andrea Baer. Andrea Baer is a recent graduate of the Masters in Information Sciences Program at the University of Tennessee. She is a consultant for the University of Tennessee Center for Information & Communication Studies, a reference administrator for the Internet Public Library, and editorial intern for the open access journal Evidence Based Library and Information Practice.