Posted in Graduate Studies

Visual Literacy & the Internet

visual literacy

Visual Literacy is not a new concept.  As a matter of fact it was concept given a name in 1969 by writer and educator John L. Debes. To put it simply, visual literacy is defined as the ability to make meaning from what we see. The fact that this concept was around before the Internet and much of the technology we have now demonstrates that it transcends the barriers of time. Even before it had a name, people were making sense of images in their own unique ways.

Educators have been using visual literacy in education for quite some time. Students are often shown photographs or drawings to make meaning of a topic they are being taught. I myself remember my political science class in high school where we studied and made meaning of political cartoons.  I remember enjoying that very much and learning a great deal about the historical period we were studying. That was visual literacy, and the fact that is a vivid memory for me all these decades later further justifies for me the power of visual literacy. Even in college, in my humanities class, we had to study images of art and make meaning out of what the message the artist was trying to convey. Once more an example of visual literacy. The issue before us now is we have the Internet…how do we continue to harness the power of visual literacy in the digital age with 21st Century learners?


There are so many images available to us on the Internet. Some of my most favorite ones are the ever popular “infographics.” I enjoy finding relevant ones and breaking them down with my students. What is most interesting to me are the things my students will identify as they study the graphic. The same is true for your traditional still image. Just today I was revisiting the concept of patterns in math and showed my students this photo:

Discovery Communications, Inc.,  . Animal print & ripples on sand dune. [Image]. Available from

I told my students I would be showing them an image. I did not tell them why or what it may relate to. Then I had them do a 5 minute quick write of whatever came to mind when they looked at this image.  I was curious to see if the concept of pattern came to mind for any of them.  After the 5 minutes had concluded, I had them share their quick writes with their desk buddy, and then finally with me.  For those who shared out their ideas, only one mentioned the concept of pattern. Several of the students wrote short stories about how they would survive in the desert or about the animals that had been there as there are animal prints in the sand.  We did discuss the concept of patterns and where we find them, and the conversation on the whole was a lively one. Many students asked if I would continue showing them photos like this and asking them to quick write as they enjoyed it. I assured them I would.


The quick write situation I described is one way I will be using the Internet and visual literacy in my classroom. The study of infographics in the way that I studied political cartoons in high school, where we scrutinized every aspect and looked for symbolism and subtle hidden messages is another. However, that is me as an educator using images with my students. How will my students use the Internet and visual literacy to communicate? In this digital age, I want my students to find images that convey something to others, that support their learning, or cause their peers to think. Not only do I want them to locate such images, I want them to create them. It is at this point where the obstacle that is ever present gets in my way. The distinct lack of technology. I know I am a broken record when it comes to this bitter topic, but it is a reality in my classroom. I wish my students each had a tablet of some kind at the very least.  The ideal would be them each having their own laptop computer to work with in class at any time. While a reality for some students in this country, and likely in this state, it isn’t for mine. I recognize that simply complaining about this issue won’t get it resolved. As always I have to figure out some creative work around to getting technology into the hands of my students to create with and to demonstrate their understanding of what they are being taught.  For the time being the solution that I have employed has been reaching out to those parents and families of my students who have technology readily available at home and know how to use it. I was thrilled to have one such parent reach out to me recently and ask how they could add an image or a video to a Web 2.0 tool we are using as they helped their child complete a multimedia project for me. I instantly recorded a tutorial for just what they needed via Jing and sent it to them. I saw that student’s completed project today and it was perfect. It was truly a bright spot in my ongoing struggle to show my students how to use the Internet in ways that support their education and demonstrate their construction of knowledge.

(GCU TEC 538 Reflective Blog Post #2)


Wife, mother, National Board Certified Teacher, doctoral student researching the learner centered teaching practices of fully online K-12 teachers, Elementary Assistant Principal and dog lover. Passionate about educational technology, academic innovation, and redesigning the American educational system.

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