Definiton function and features of Visual Literacy

Published: Last Edited:

This essay has been submitted by a student. This is not an example of the work written by our professional essay writers.

Visual literacy is the ability to read, interpret, and understand information presented in pictorial or graphic images . The Metiri Group identified visual literacy in their report, titled 21st Century Skills: Digital Age Literacy, as "the ability to interpret, use, appreciate, and create images and video using both conventional and 21st century media in ways that advance thinking, decision-making, communications, and learning". The report defined one (especially students) who is visually literate to possess the following characteristics :

Have functional expertise of visuals created or presented through the electronic media

Able to comprehend the fundamentals of visual design, method and media

Are conscious of the emotional, psychological, and cognitive impacts in acuity of visuals

Able to understand representational, illustrative , conceptual , and symbolic images

Employ proficiency of visuals in electronic media

Are knowledgeable audience, critics, and consumers of visual knowledge

Are informed engineers of visual knowledge

Are effectual visual communicators

Are representative , creative visual intellectual and possess problem solvers skills

Extensive researches have further suggested that through the use of visual in teaching, it has resulted in a greater degree of learning. Hence it further distinguishes the importance of visual literacy in education.

Visual Literacy in education sector

Visual Literacy course in Ohio State University, US

Visual Literacy has been gaining more interest in the educational sector, whereby "some envision visual literacy programs as a core requirement" . In the paper, Visual Literacy in Higher Education, Bleed cited an example of a course designed for visual literacy could resemble one developed by Ohio State University. The course named Visual Literacy in the Age of Information Abundance stated the learning objectives as below for its students:

Ascertain their learning styles

Understand the implication of visual literacy in the perspective of information literacy

Design visual representations of figures and information (charts, maps, concept maps, and storyboards)

Produce a short movie using a digital camera or its equivalent, with the use of other presentation and multimedia software

Engage classmates with face to face and online interaction and feedback

The table below shows the Metiri Group criteria met for the case study of visual literacy course in Ohio State University, US:

Ohio State University, US

Criteria Met in 21stCentury Skills Report

Comprehend the meaning of visual literacy in the context of information literacy

Able to comprehend the fundamentals of visual design, method and media

Are knowledgeable audience, critics, and consumers of visual knowledge

Create graphic representations of data, information, knowledge, and wisdom

Have functional expertise of visuals created or presented through the electronic media

Employ proficiency of visuals in electronic media

Table 1: Ohio State University visual literacy course

Visual Literacy course in Nanyang Technological University, Singapore

In Singapore, similar visual literacy course has been implemented at the Nanyang Technological University (NTU), Singapore . In her research case study, the course titled "Aesthetic and Creative Use of the 2D Media" aims to "lay a foundation for students' visual perception - how they make sense of images, how they recognize, interpret and analyze visual messages, how they develop their aesthetic sense, and how they become more visually aware and more sensitive to their surroundings so as to enable them to become more effective visual communicators" . In the survey carried out by Pun on NTU working graduates, 80% of them "indicated that they require basic visual literacy skills to perform their jobs" , highlighting the essentials importance of visual literacy to be incorporated in education.

The table below shows the Metiri criteria met for the case study of visual literacy course in Nanyang Technological University, Singapore:

Nanyang Technological University, Singapore

Criteria Met in 21stCentury Skills Report

How they make sense of images, how they recognize, interpret and analyze visual messages

Are knowledgeable audience, critics, and consumers of visual knowledge

Able to comprehend the fundamentals of visual design, method and media

How they develop their aesthetic sense

Are conscious of the emotional, psychological, and cognitive impacts in acuity of visuals

Become more visually aware and more sensitive to their surroundings so as to enable them to become more effective visual communicators

Are effectual visual communicators

Table 2: Nanyang Technological University visual literacy course

Visual Literacy for the deaf

Although the authors see visual literacy as a growing area of concern in the education sector, the focus of their discussion will be directed particularly to a special group in the education sector, students who suffered from hearing disorder/impairment, i.e. students who are deaf. Deafness refers to the conditions in which one is disabled in hearing. Due to the inability of hearing, deaf students relies heavily on gestures and sign languages to communicate. Hence, visual literacy plays a more important role in the education of deaf students. In their paper, Reeves, J. B., P. Wollenhaupt, et al highlighted that "effective communication and instruction with students who are deaf requires that we educators maximize our students' opportunities to most effectively use their ability to see by recognizing that deaf students are primarily visual learners" , stressing that "deaf students receive and process, retain, and recall information best that is presented in a clear, congruent, and unambiguous visual format" .

Visual literacy: case studies in general

"A good picture is equivalent to a good deed" . Studies have proven success through visual thinking and learning. A change of mentality is required and it is not just the students who have to learn visually but the teachers have to be taught to teach visually. A creative mathematics method implemented got the students to "do" instead of just "watching" mathematics . This method focuses on learning through interactive visuals without words thus allowing words to go into the idea only after the idea have taken root. However it is also noted that employing visual lessons boost learning with varying rate of success .

Stokes pointed out that students with different levels of prior knowledge of a subject respond differently with visual graphics. Students with low prior knowledge, still or animated graphics work better than text based lesson. It is also noted that students with high prior knowledge react better with still forms of graphics compared to animated form which suggests that animated form can reduce the effectiveness as they might be too distracting if the visual graphics are incompatible with how the students perceive the visual information . Studies have also proven that the use of color as compared to the standard black and white in instructional module show remarkable improvement.

Visualization is of vital importance for the modern methods in mathematical education . Malkowsky found that students performed better when visual techniques were incorporated into mathematical education.

Keegan, S.N. also found that images help students to make visual associations and remain focused in lectures. In his survey, 85% of the respondents prefer lecturers to use visual images in teaching . Students also suggest that images helped them remember the concepts and are easier to refer back. Thus this further establishes the strengths that visual literacy conveys to education.

Visual literacy: Case studies of implementation for deaf

Challenges encountered in their education by the Deaf

Lebedeff, T.B. states that there is a preconceived notion that it is essential that the education for the deaf be visual. Unfortunately deaf students are unwilling to include visual approaches in their learning and education as they have been drilled by schools to recreate activities and experience based on hearing with limited references to visual experiences . Thus there is a need to sever this problem through re-education and revamping of the education system in order to break this vicious cycle.

There is a need to include imagery into the curriculum taught to deaf students and officially adopt visual literacy into school itself. Educators working with the deaf students should re-evaluate how visual imagery participates in the learning process and utilize these resources comprising all disciplines of knowledge in order to enhance the thinking process.

There are expectations that with the process of early detection of hearing loss, deaf children should be able to achieve the same level of literacy abilities as their normal peers. However it remains a fact that deaf children are still unable to develop age-appropriate skills in reading and writing . This shows the education system has not been effective in providing the deaf with the appropriate resources and learning methodologies in order to overcome the difficulties in developing their literacy abilities.

It is especially critical during the early years of literacy in a child's development as it has a direct impact to their future career. The importance of these early years are further emphasized though the laying of groundwork in comprehending the functions of text and the approaches engaged to make sense of print, comprising the theories of the working of alphabetic writing system. There are really no reasons to believe that these skills are any less essential for deaf children or those with some form of hearing impairment. Hence it further emphasizes the importance of visual literacy in the hearing impaired early years.

The main challenges that these deaf children face are the hindrance in their face-to-face verbal communication development which adversely affects their literacy learning. These low literacy levels of the deaf and those with some forms of hearing impairments are often linked to their imperfect verbal language system and the difficulty of reading a speech-based system. Furthermore it is even more of a challenge for deaf children whose primary language is not English as they are confronted with developing literacy in the language they are unfamiliar with. More measure must be put in place to provide them with the necessary tools and skills to bridge the gap between the hearing and the deaf.

Visual Literacy Education Methodologies' Dilemma for the Deaf

Though many strategies and methodologies have been proposed for the deaf, consensus on which of these strategies are most effective for the deaf learner cannot be agreed on. Some of these visual techniques include the usage of web charts and Venn Diagrams in providing the deaf with means to understand the English language.

It is still unproven whether explicit teaching in phonological awareness is useful. Phonological awareness can be referred to as one's awareness to the sound structure of language. Speculations can only be made on whether these teaching such as finger spelling and sign language will be able to permit the deaf to construct visual associations to text in similar ways to how phonological processing provides the normal hearing children. More research and studies are needed in order to conclude a more accurate assessment of these findings.

It has been suggested that finger spelling be included as a component of a child's preschool language development as it will significantly aid the child by providing a bridge to the English words and on literacy advancement. This can be depicted as a convergence of abilities where finger spelling is associated to that of reading and written spelling.

Finger spelling has been known to be effective at the word level where the association involving manual representation and orthography is rational and organized, and thus this might explain the success of the deaf students' accomplishments in attaining standard spelling. It is also valuable in emphasizing the discrete aspects of the verbal language and bringing these aspects together into conscious awareness to construct the link between verbal and written text more explicitly. Nonetheless, finger spelling cannot function alone and replace the phonological processing strategies that normal children use, hence the dilemma in which educators faced.

Visual Literacy: Case Studies Implementation for the Deaf in the US

At the George Washington University, research has been done on gloves that has sensor incorporated into them to interpret American Sign Language by translating gestures into written or oral English. These tools will eventually be used to aid the deaf in developing literacy by enabling them to understand the English language through observing the distinction in what they are gesturing and how it is being written in English. Though this invention might have potential in bridging the missing gap between the hearing and the hearing impaired, there are many other issues such as the cost of the device and other variables. Thus it has definitely raised many questions to justify its merit.

At the Rochester Institute of Technology, researches have showed that the usage of visual input enhancement, in particular essay enhancement, on deaf college student targeted at enhancing their English grammatical knowledge demonstrated noteworthy improvement after a ten week period. Furthermore these deaf students managed to retain that improvement significantly even after a five and a half months period . This has once again emphasized the importance of incorporating visual literacy in the education for the deaf.

Hence it further strengthens the motion that the search for highly effectual teaching methodologies, in order to assist and quicken the deaf students' English language and literacy education, should continue to be prioritized in the education system. This is especially critical as it is evident of the role that robust English language skills play in educational achievement and this is particularly true with respect to a college education.

The American Samoa Deaf Education Project were carried out to educate Samoan teachers in American Sign Language as well as to equip them with deaf education technique, to provide education facilities with media and technology for the purpose of communication and learning and to advocate deaf community building .

In American Samoa, the deaf lived in isolation and deaf children were not recognized by school representatives and thus do not go to school. Family and relatives of these deaf children are themselves not equipped to speak American Sign Language or converse in sign language. Their position could be illustrated as one of seclusion.

The project concentrated on high school students to equip them with knowledge in understanding storybook in American Sign Language so they can sequentially spread this knowledge to the younger deaf children and their families.

Each page of the books were taught using a combination of ASL, hand motions and pantomime while images were used as stepping stones for storytelling with the aim of promoting ASL fluency in order to achieve a greater comprehension of the text and to develop English literacy. Students were encouraged to learn by providing them own elucidation of the meaning behind the text instead of the usual signing of each sentence literally.

Visual Literacy: Case Studies Implementation for the Deaf in the UK

At the Oxford University, several visual literacy projects for the deaf were started.

Literacy Teaching for Deaf Pupils: Morphological and Visual Inputs. (The Nuffield Foundation)

The deaf literacy levels have remained minimal throughout the years and most of the deaf school leavers are unable to read at the level for their respective age. This can be constituted to the fact letters correspond to sounds which the deaf has no access. Furthermore these deaf children only possess a limited amount of English vocabulary and this impedes their reading comprehension.

Morphological and visual inputs which are coding of prefixes, stems and suffixes representing units of meanings are used in word forming for the deaf students in order to improve their word recognition abilities as well as to increase their vocabulary.

Using deaf children's visual skills to promote mathematical learning. (The Royal National Institute for Deaf People)

Deaf school leavers aged sixteen years old on average only have the mathematical ability of ten years olds which is especially detrimental to their future careers. Deaf children are typically weaker in expressing the number of objects displayed in a temporal sequence but performed better when these numbers are represented to them in a simultaneous visual display. Hence in order to provide a strong foundation in mathematics for the deaf children, activities are developed to elevate their mathematical skills through investigating how the deaf apply their visual and spatial skills in maths.

Visual Literacy: Case Studies Implementation for the Deaf in Singapore

According to the Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing Federation , in Singapore, the deaf population is about 2.5 million. The local deaf education came in as early as 1950s when its first deaf school was setup by the community . Besides the community's effort, the government is very supportive in the education for the deaf, the Ministry of Education (MOE) has been providing full funding support for the deaf education since 1989 .

Due to their disability in hearing, education for the deaf has to be done in some visual form. Signing Exact English (SEE2) has been adopted as the language of instruction among deaf children in Singapore since 1997 . Today it is widely used in deaf schools, and is taught as the preferred form of sign language by the Singapore Association for the Deaf .

SEE2 is a form of Manually Coded English (MCE) . MCE is a visual communication method expressed through the hands. It attempts to represent English through sign form . Thus in order to communicate with deaf children through SEE2, one must be able to communicate in English.

Mandy Phua from National University of Singapore (NUS) has perform several assessment with children from the Singapore School of Deaf. From her results, it was establish that Singaporean deaf children were generally poor in reading and writing. Furthermore Singapore, being a multi-lingual country, with the majority of its families not using English as their main form of communication consistently at home has furthered widen the complications for family members to use SEE2 in order to communicate with these deaf students. Without the necessary reinforcement at home, the full potential of SEE2 may not be realized by the deaf students .

Given the differences between Singapore and other monolingual countries, the use of SEE2 by itself may not benefit the deaf students much. It would be more useful to allow deaf children to develop their native sign language alongside SEE2 . Thus it shows the importance on the use of visual literacy for the education of the deaf.


As the society continues to progress, new methods of learning, technologies, workforce competencies are pushing the need for visual literacy. It is now essential to be visually literate in order to stay competitive as visual media are now integrated in how we work, play, communicate and educate. Visual literacy continues to evolve rapidly especially with globalization.

Even now, school and colleges are continuing to change their curriculum to involve computers, information technology and to incorporate visual literacy. Thus it shows the importance and the need to adopt a strong commitment to visual literacy.

As in the case of hearing impaired students, the incorporation of visual literacy is even more critical as they are mainly visual learner. There is a need to engage them in early visual literacy development so that the deaf are ultimately able to read and write at their age appropriate levels as their normal counterparts.