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Contact: Mark McGowan, NIU Office of Public Affairs
March 22, 2007
DeKalb — Northern Illinois University faculty are acutely aware that visuals provide good learning tools.
Rhonda Robinson, a Distinguished Teaching Professor in the College of Education’s Department of Educational Technology, Research and Assessment, knows that.
She also knows that visuals are key to the future. Today’s college students have grown up bombarded by hundreds of TV channels, after all, and are among the most-frequent visitors and contributors to user-driven Web sites such as YouTube and myspace.
But “just watching hasn’t been shown to make you more visually literate,” she said. “It’s how you watch, how you look, how you analyze.”
Visual literacy includes concepts of viewing, analyzing and creating visuals for better communication.
Consequently, Robinson believes she still can suggest to her university colleagues how to make even better use of the visuals at their disposal: “We can bring in both the cognitive and the affective domain,” she said.
“The idea of feelings, motivations and attitudes is something we tend to downplay in our teaching … but we should want people to not only know how to do something but to be good at it, enjoy it, be excited about it and interested in it,” she said. “Visual information very often can help people improve their affective response as well as their learning. Here at NIU, the tools are available.”
Robinson will present “Visual Literacy: Learning to See, Seeing to Learn,” a Presidential Teaching Professor Seminar scheduled for noon Thursday, March 29, in the Capitol Room of the Holmes Student Center.
Refreshments will be served at 11:30 a.m. All are invited. Call (815) 753-1085 for more information.
“Teaching, if not the most important thing we do here, is certainly the most important thing we do with our students, and the Presidential Teaching Professors are the best of the best. The intent of the seminars is to have them share their thoughts, ideas and insights about teaching,” Vice Provost Earl “Gip” Seaver said. “I’ve found them to be quite stimulating and very focused on what people can do to help students learn.”
Robinson was drawn into visual learning during her years as a language arts teacher to seventh- and eighth-graders.
As she became interested in film and video, and followed her curiosity, she saw that students who created visual representations of what they had learned gained a stronger grasp of the knowledge.
“Viewing is a language art to me. We usually think of reading, writing, speaking and listening, and I add viewing to that,” she said. “Viewing is motivational, informational and provides people a second channel by which to understand difficult concepts.”
Fortunately, critical viewing is a skill – not a talent – that students can learn. They’re already comfortable and familiar with the territory.
“We should do this not because students like it, but because they could become more proficient at it,” Robinson says. “One of the things visual literacy brings to the table is helping people become more critically conscious about what they’re viewing, and what it means to them.”
For example, Robinson points to body image in women.
Popular media promotes images of thin women, she says, and stresses the need for new clothes with every season.
“Developing visual literacy skills would help young women to not be so overwhelmed by the fashion images they see in magazines, in movies and on TV,” she says. “You cannot accept that message from advertising. Visual literacy helps them to critically analyze what the message is from advertising and to realize why advertising does that.”
Meanwhile, she says, some students are counting on a strong visual literacy component to their college experience. They learn through using and creating visuals.
“We have special learners coming to college. In previous generations, that was not so true,” Robinson says. “We need more multi-modal learning opportunities.”
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