Innovative Learning Week: Monday – Visual Literacy

For Edinburgh University students, today was the first day of Innovative Learning Week. A large proportion of students use this week as a week off in which to visit their families, catch up on work like a normal reading week, or just to have a break. If I was capable of doing any of those things, I’d be tempted to do that too, but I’m not. So I actually use ILW for what it says on the tin. For those followers who have no idea what I’m on about, the university probably didn’t either when the idea was presented. Basically, ILW is a week where students and staff are supposed to learn, as is normal for a university, but innovatively. Classes and workshops are run on either innovative topics, or through innovative media, or using innovative methods. Learning without lectures or tutorials or readings or seminars. 
Today I just headed in for one event, a session on Visual Literacy. Although I primarily attended for the publicised talk on using video diaries in research and teaching, which was changed to be a talk about using Aurasma  to communicate about texts, I really enjoyed and got a lot out of the session. I gleaned some really great ways to visualise numerical data and new inspiration to use empirical techniques in my upcoming dissertation, which I had been becoming more and more sceptical about in the past few weeks. The clarity and effectiveness of this sort of visual was definitely set up in this initial presentation. 
Image from Andertoons
I also picked up some great presentation ideas and techniques from Ross Bond’s demonstration of sociology students’ presentations of dissertation works. This also affirmed for me that using “pretty pictures” does not make a work less academic or less valuable, when used engagingly, and that visuals can in fact be the key to engaging that little more with audiences (or examiners). 
The aforementioned talk about Aurasma also discussed the loss of students annotating library books in margins, and between lines. This practice has obviously died out (perhaps due to overzealous librarians), and was highlighted for me today as a form of communication between student experiences and academic perspectives. This was definitely something new to me. 
The following section on the Anthropological interpretation of images began as a discussion about the “double act” of interpreting images. I understood briefly what was going on, but it’s gone now. I did however, learn a lot about how in future I could critically analyse images for information, including, crucially, what is not explained. Further, a really great example was used (with great visual literacy) to show how pictures which do not explicitly hold information can be reinterpreted into clearer, complementary visual means. 
Here’s a really quick explanation I knocked up of the transformation for information:
Finally Dr Thin looked at the significance of some images to academia through time and discussed how powerful images can and have been as communication tools. I took some great notes in this section about how different images function both as great explanatory tools but also as tools to include metaphors and interesting references with the information being communicated. I look forward to trying to use similar engagement in my work. 
So, to end my second blog for today, I’ve learned loads this afternoon about using and engaging with visual media. If anyone wasn’t able to attend by virtue of being away, or not being a UofE student but would like to ask about visual academic stuff, feel free to drop me an email (as always) and I will either start a wonderful exchange with you or pass your query on. 
On to Tuesday. 
The original event description (in case you were curious or wanted to ask what else I learned)
N.B. not all talks were presented on the topics published here, but were presented by the same speaker.
Most of our formal learning and communication in academic social science today relies primarily on verbal channels. Graphic communication and analysis using visual media such as diagrams, charts, photos, and videos tend to be given little systematic attention in social science course delivery and assessments, except in specialist texts and courses. Yet most of us are probably dimly aware, at least, that in real life we rely far more on visual channels, including both subconscious and conscious processing of non-verbal communication, face recognition, reading landscapes, and using visual tags for attention and memory. In short, to get on in life we need visual skills, and there is no good reason why these shouldn’t be given as much if not more attention in social science education and research.”
10 minute presentations from the following :
Ross Bond: Sociology Project course on presentation skills
Paul Norris: statistical data visualization
Angus Bancroft: Prezi; video diaries for research and teaching; researching the visual in the classroom
Richard Baxstrom: anthropological interpretations/uses of film
Neil Thin: diagrams in anthropological texts and in the field

One thought on “Innovative Learning Week: Monday – Visual Literacy

  1. This is great, I am so glad that you have taken this on. I am in the middle of this Sales and Marketing Guidelines and have scrapped a lot of words for some simple pictures. Makes the document easier to comprehend and more interesting to look at.


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