Look Before You Leap: Testing Some Assumptions on Visual Literacy and Predominant Learning Modalities of Undergraduate Design Students in Australia and New Zealand

By Arianne Rourke and Zena O’Connor.

Published by The Learner Collection

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Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

There are many differing stances on what visual literacy is (Fransecky & Debes, 1972; Ausburn & Ausburn, 1978; Hortin, 1983; Sless, 1984; Avgerinou & Ericson, 1997; Chauvin, 2003) and the fact that it “is also different things depending on one’s viewpoint” (Burkbank & Pett, 1983, p.1) and disciplinary focus. The main factor that most educators agree on is that it is important that students develop their visual literacy skills particularly when living in the e-learning multimedia world of the 21st century as they “need to be able to think critically about and manipulate visual information and make solid interpretation of its meaning” (Rakes, 1999, p.14). This paper discusses the theories of visual literacy as well as the assumptions that have been made about students’ predominate learning styles in higher education and reports experimental research that was conducted to investigate these factors. Using a combination of qualitative and quantitative research methods including: a questionnaire and F-sort and Q-sort methodology, this research study uses descriptive statistics in order to identify varying levels of visual literacy and the predominant learning modality of participants. Participants were undergraduate design students from two Australian and one New Zealand University. Correlation analysis was used to examine patterns of similarity or dissimilarity in terms of levels of visual literacy and predominant learning modality. The findings from this study suggest that visual literacy and learning modality vary among design students and that contrary to popular belief, students studying a visually dominant discipline are not necessarily predominately visual learners. This research concludes that as a result of these findings, educators should consider incorporate a range of different teaching materials and strategies into their teaching in order to facilitate the long-term retention of learning.

Keywords: Visual Literacy Skills, Learning Style Modalities, Teaching Design History

The International Journal of Learning, Volume 16, Issue 8, pp.33-46. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 1.359MB).

Dr. Arianne Rourke

Lecturer, The School of Art History and Art Education, College of Fine Arts, The University of New South Wales, Sydney, NSW, Australia

My research interests are in online teaching, visual literacy and the application of Cognitive load theory to improving instructional design in higher education specifically in the area of improving the teaching of undergraduate design history and postgraduate arts administration towards the long term retention of learning.

Dr. Zena O’Connor

Sessional Lecturer, Environment and Behaviour Studies Research Group, Faculty of Architecture, Design and Planning, The University of New South Wales, Sydney, NSW, Australia

The University of New South Wales, Australia

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