Visual Literacy: The Truth is Out There


This session explores current issues in higher education visual literacy education, noting cultural and technology perspectives. As the center for information and ideas, the academic library should play an integral role in fostering visual literacy through facilities, resources, instruction, and learning activities.

Universal and cultural-defined visual codes exist, even at the level of color use. Thanks to mass media and telecommunications, students can access – and produce many more visual images than any other time in history. Digital images, particularly those that can capture realities never before seen — be it microscopic or cosmic – have changed the way that humans think about their world and their place within it. Mass media producers who understand the language and connotations of visual literacy can manipulate images to elicit desired responses, so students need to be aware of those techniques as they critically view digital visual information.

Visual literacy should be considered by academic librarians in designing the library’s visual “atmosphere,” collecting resources, and collaboratively developing visual learning activities in higher education. Because librarians work with the entire academic community, they are well positioned to help students become aware of visual literacy issues when locating, comprehending, evaluating, using and sharing visual information.

Visual images should be comprehensible to different student populations – and studied critically. To that end, visual literacy should be integrated across academic domains. When academic librarians instruct, be it to expressly teach visual literacy or to demonstrate other skills, they should use visual teaching aids (e.g., overheads, posters, and multimedia presentations) and visual learning aids (e.g., guide sheets, graphic organizers, and visually-oriented software programs).

These aids reinforce visual literacy tools and help visual learners understand otherwise difficult concepts. Instruction on the communication end of the research process can include sessions on video production, multimedia assemblage, and web design. Particularly since visual communication helps students apply their knowledge to teach others content in attractive and creative ways, attention to visual literacy optimizes all students’ opportunities to learn how to research and communicate fully. To optimize the impact of visual literacy, academic librarians need to collaborate with teaching faculty to design and implement contextualized learning activities, incorporating technology.

Learning Outcomes:

  • Describe methods of altering visual messages

  • Discern the veracity of visual messages

  • Suggest activities to help students become more discerning visual consumers
  • Presenter:

    Dr. Lesley Farmer
    California State University Long Beach
    12062 Pine St.
    Los Alamitos CA 90720



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