Kelly Smith, Visual Resources Librarian, Lafayette College, Easton, PAVRA Annual Conference – Providence, Rhode IslandApri...
What roles do visual resources play?What are the methods and motivesfor image retrieval?What are the opportunities foroutr...
Pictorial Turn…mute witnesses and it is difficult to translate theirtestimony into words”(Burke, P. 2001).
Years inProgramABDPrevious M.A.(s)from OtherInstitutionsFields of Study5 Yes 3 in HistoryEarly Modern European and History...
Course WorkTeachingResearchUse of Images
Use – Course WorkStandard Three:The visually literate student interprets and analyzes themeanings of images and visual med...
Use – TeachingChildren in Classroom in Keene New Hampshire. Keene Public Library and theHistorical Society of CheshireCoun...
Use – Research
Faculty Use
Discovery as MethodStandard Two:The visually literate student finds andaccesses needed images and visual mediaeffectively ...
Interactions with Information Institutions andProfessionalsOutreach and Instruction
Outreach Preferences Handout available in print, online, or both. Image guides hosted on the library’s webpage. Visit c...
Dog Riding a Tricycle. National Media Museum,
(2011, October 27). "ACRL Visual Literacy Competency Standards for HigherEducation”. American Library Association.Retrieve...
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VRA 2013 Pedagogical Studies in Visual Literacy, Smith


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Presented by Kelly Smith at the Annual Conference of the Visual Resources Association, April 3rd - April 6th, 2013, in Providence, Rhode Island.

Session #13: Pedagogical Studies in Visual Literacy
ORGANIZER/MODERATOR: Mark Pompelia, Rhode Island School of Design
Diana Carns, University of Massachusetss Dartmouth
"Constructing Meaning: Integrating Text, Images, and Critical Questioning"
Ellen Petraits, Rhode Island School of Design
"Visual Literacy for Visual Learners: Relating Research Skills to Haptic Skills"
Kelly Smith, Lafayette College
"Image Seeking and Use by Graduate History Students: Avenues to Incorporating Visual Literacy"
Sarah Vornholt, University of Hawai'i at Manoa
"Visualizing the Article: An Exploratory Study of Undergraduates' Educational Reactions to Images in Scholarly Articles"

Following the popular Visual Literacy Case Studies session that premiered at the 2012 annual conference, this session follows that same purpose while expanding the definition of what it can mean while meeting in Providence, Rhode Island—the Creative Capital, a city that serves as a factory for and of non-traditional learners. As background: A term first coined in 1969, visual literacy, according to the Association of College and Research Libraries “Visual Literacy Competency Standards for Higher Education,” “is a set of abilities that enables an individual to effectively find, interpret, evaluate, use, and create images and visual media. Visual literacy skills equip a learner to understand and analyze the contextual, cultural, ethical, aesthetic, intellectual, and technical components involved in the production and use of visual materials. A visually literate individual is both a critical consumer of visual media and a competent contributor to a body of shared knowledge and culture.”

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  • I decided to do this study because I wanted to tie-in my interest in history with my career in visual resources and investigate the extent of visual literacy instruction in the History field. With this study, I explored graduate history students’ image seeking and use behaviors. I believed they would offer insights into not only their own behaviors, but also those of faculty and undergraduate students because of their unique positions as both learners and educators. The core questions driving this exploration were:What roles do images play during the course of study for graduate history students?What are their methods and motives for image retrieval? Are there opportunities for outreach by visual resources specialists and other information professionals to serve this population better?There is a “pictorial turn” of historic methodologies underway and this, mixed with the current generation of new historians raised using computers, offers a unique opportunity for visual resources professionals. The results of exploratory interviews with six graduate history students provided valuable insights on how we, as visual resources professionals, can meet the most immediate needs of this population followed by suggestions on how we can collaborate with other university personnel to best serve this albeit self-reliant group of researchers that want more information regarding how to find images for a variety of purposes.
  • When the “pictorial turn” of historic methodologies began, this initiated a scholarly atmosphere that accepts images as an equally viable source material for historical analysis. This “post-Gutenbergian” pedagogical method rooted in the visual is partially due to a new generation of historians raised in the age of computers and living in a world saturated with visual media.However, the difficulties and conceptions that images are harder to analyze than texts persists. Much of the presentations this week discussed visual literacy skills. I believe that these skills are not necessarily more difficult to teach, but do definitely require a different skill set that can parallel information literacy standards, skills that can be incorporated into graduate history courses.
  • As I mentioned before, I conducted exploratory interviews with six graduate history students from a program notable for supporting diverse fields of study and various theoretical methods for historical analysis. As part of the flexible degree requirements, each graduate student chooses one primary field of study and one secondary field of study. Students may either complete an MA within the graduate program or be accepted with an MA from another institution. Students entering the program without an MA, must take History 700 Thinking Historically and History 900 Crafting a Historical Project during their first year. History 700 introduces students to a variety of historical methods and the sources used by said methods, whereas History 900 charges students to write a research paper utilizing the methods and skills taught in History 700.To give a sense of the diversity of the participants, this slide displays each participants progress in the program, including number of years and status as “All But Dissertation”, as well as the number of Masters Degrees held previously to entering the program and their respective fields of study. From this we see that three of the participants entered the program without an MA in History and therefore definitely took History 700 and 900 as part of their course requirements. Although the interviews were largely free flowing, main topics discussed with the participants included:The methods used to find an image;The intended purposes for images retrieved;The role of images in each participant’s work as a graduate history student;Image retrieval instruction;And awareness of image resources available to students and faculty.
  • Large portions of the interviews focused on the motive or purpose for finding an image. From these discussions, I identified three primary roles of use for visual resources by graduate history students: course work, teaching, and research.Course work use refers to the use of images in the graduate level courses each participant must take as part of their program.Teaching refers to the use of images during courses taught solely by participants or when participants acted as Teaching Assistants or guest lecturers for a faculty member or another graduate student’s course.Research refers to each participant’s use of images in his or her dissertation, whether these sources are part of the finished dissertation, the prospectus, conference presentations, or as a memory tool.
  • Overall, participants described course work focusing predominantly on writing assignments including: book reviews, historiographical papers, source criticisms, and online discussion postings. Assignments and class discussions centered around textual sources to produce “oral and written digests” and all participants stated images did not play a prominent role (if at all) in the majority of their courses.However, the three participants who took the previously discussed History 700 course stated this class in particular discussed images as another type of source to evaluate and analyze, similar to textual and oral counterparts.Intended to be an introduction to the graduate course format and seminar class style, History 700 examines a variety of historical methods and teaches students how to critique and use sources effectively, including images. The “pictorial turn” in the field is discussed and an “in-defense of images” tone commonly takes hold. One participant expressed the general debate common in the course, quote “just because [it is] an image, doesn’t make it any less important”.Although I am unsure if in the design of the Hist 700 course the ACRL’s Visual Literacy Competency Standards for Higher Education were consulted, it is clear that Standards Three, Four, and Five are met throughout the class. Questions regarding interpreting and analyzing “the meanings of images and visual media”, evaluating “images and their sources”, and using “images and visual media effectively” are asked as part of the “pictorial turn” discussion.
  • Unlike the faculty members teaching the graduate history courses, all of the participants used images often in their lectures, albeit most commonly as illustration. But four of the participants replicated the visual literacy exercises taught in History 700 and asked their undergraduate students to evaluate and analyze images. Regardless of whether the images were discussed at length during class or used simply as illustration, all of the participants felt that undergraduate student engagement increased during lectures when using images. Participants expressed the need to grab and keep the attention with the aid of images. One participant described his visual literacy exercises as being a way to get undergraduate students in the right mindset for class. At the beginning of every class, a slideshow of images was projected as students entered the classroom and then the class would spend a few minutes analyzing one image. The participant noticed a change in student engagement and hoped to avoid any bored or glazed over expressions like the children here.
  • All participants used images in some aspect of their research to produce conference presentations, publications, and the dissertation. But the level of use relied on the level of comfort with interpreting, analyzing, and evaluating images and the amount of relevant images found to support an argument. Four participants described their use of images in their research as quote “the bad way of using them”, as illustration for the argument bolstered by textual sources. And if the images do not make it into the final draft or conference presentation, two of the participants stated they were useful as a memory tool by allowing them to humanize content and form a “personal connection” with names and events read about over and over again, helping to keep chronology, faces, names, locations, and events in order. One participant anticipated primarily using images in the dissertation, but this participant was also most comfortable with quote “the close reading of an image” because while working on an MA at a different institution, she took a course focused entirely on the use of images as historical evidence. The course required students to write historiographical essays based on visual resources and present an image or series of images with a lecture analyzing them. This example of in-depth visual literacy training was developed by a faculty member with experience and extensive knowledge of using images as historical evidence.
  • Although the faculty’s use of images is not the focus my study, it is important to note that gleaned from all of the interviews was that the use of images in the three roles of Course Work, Teaching, and Research relied heavily on faculty influence. For Course Work, most of the participants could name several faculty members that used images extensively as historical evidence, but attributed the seminar style of classes as the primary reason for the rare use of images during instruction. Additionally, incorporating visual literacy instruction is at the discretion of the faculty member teaching the course. For Teaching, participants often acted as Teaching Assistants for faculty members’ classes, where the scope and the content is decided largely by the faculty member. Input from the Teaching Assistant is of course welcome, but the ultimate decision to include visual literacy instruction lies with the faculty member teaching the course.For Research, all participants noted that comfort with using images as historical evidence came from learning by example from faculty. The participant primarily using images as sources in her dissertation was heavily influenced to do so because of her advisor’s use of images in their own work.
  • When speaking generally about the methods of finding image collections and individual images, all participants described happenstance discovery as the method or quasi-method where new resources were found all the time regardless of if there is a current need. Participants expressed that the real challenge was organizing newly discovered resources to easily access them when needed for Course Work, Teaching, and Research in the future. When searching for individual images, participants prioritized search criteria by subject, date, and geography of the image, then browsed results until finding a specific image or images that met their needs. All participants described themselves imagining an image of a particular subject and then seeking it, relying on happenstance searching of select resources to produce the desired results.One of the last questions I asked each participant was What do you find most confusing or difficult about finding and using images? I hoped to get a sense of what is most problematic for this population when it comes to visual resources. Surprisingly, five participants all said they found how images were cataloged to be most confusing and difficult to understand since it can vary based on the resource. This was why participants reverted to the search criteria they most commonly used when searching for textual sources: Subject, Date, and Geography in their online search for images and accounted for the happenstance discovery of useful images. This struck me as a clear opportunity for visual resources professionals to reach out to this population and provide image access instruction.
  • I asked each participant about their knowledge and experiences with outreach by libraries, archives, or other similar institutions regarding visual resources and to share their preferences in how they would like to be approached with visual resources information. These responses were most revealing about what direction visual resource professionals should take when serving this user group. Four of the participants attended a seminar, workshop, or class hosted by an information institution such as a library, archive, historical society, individual department of a higher education institution, or any other similar institution that provided access to and instruction on finding images. Content focused solely on scope of the image collections and the “nuts and bolts” of accessing the collections, leaving how to evaluate, analyze, and contextualize an image collection or individual image for subject specialists. The three participants that entered the program without an MA toured the university library and attended a session on available resources relevant to history, including image resources. When asked about their awareness of information professionals around campus that could assist with visual resource needs, four participants consulted with library and archive staff not specifically associated with visual resources, one contacted the university photo archivist, and one contacted the Art History Department’s Visual Resources Curator. All participants assumed there would be one or more people on campus that specialized in visual resources, but most could not directly name who to contact for assistance. Although online Subject Guides are not a new invention in libraries, it does seem that subject guides devoted entirely to images and hosted on the library’s website are new and growing increasingly common in higher education institutions. Image resources are often tucked into a relevant discipline-specific Subject Guide, but the participants believed that although helpful, this produced “very fragmented” information. Just previous to conducting this study, the university library created an Image Guide featuring only image resources. None of the participants were aware of this new guide, but when I informed them, all six participants saw great value in the guide and were very interested in utilizing it in the future.
  • When I asked each participant if they would want to learn more about accessing and using visual resources, all of the participants resoundingly said “Yes! Of course!”, but time available and energy to do so play important roles in the decision. All stated that because of time constraints and strenuous schedules, it would be impossible to attend a seminar or class devoted entirely to visual resources. One participant stated “in a fantasy world, it would be great, but also thinking about our daily lives, would we want to spend another day, another afternoon in a course when we have four courses, TA loads, [and] everything else we do?”Keeping their extremely busy schedules in mind, I asked each participant for suggestions on how to effectively deliver information about visual resources to graduate history students and came away with three:A handout available in print, online, or both with introductory information about available visual resources and contact information for suggested people to contact for assistance. All participants emphasized brevity though, because of the mass amounts of information they ingested every day. Create and publicize Image Guides to be hosted on the library’s webpage. Once created, share this information with departments that might find it relevant and do not wait for graduate history students to discovery it by happenstance. Visual resources specialists talk to faculty teaching courses like History 700 and organizing TA training to see if you can introduce yourself to the students during a session. One participant summarized in saying that if information is simply and concisely given to graduate history students, then visual resources specialists have done their jobs; graduate students will take it upon themselves to seek further information.
  • So what are the general lessons we as visual resources professionals can take away from this information?We know that a “pictorial shift” continues in the field of history where images are being elevated to a new level of use. They are being evaluated, analyzed, and interpreted by historians using similar methods as their textual and oral counterparts to bolster arguments. As a result, Faculty members are incorporating visual literacy concepts into at least their introductory graduate-level courses and while I believe instruction regarding the contextualization of images should remain at the discretion of historians, visual resources professionals have an opportunity to reach out to graduate history students through collaboration.Visual Resources Professionals should take this “pictorial shift” as welcomed news. Our job descriptions are changing. Shrinking use of slide collections and increasing use of digital resources have brought many of us into the purview of the library and left us exploring avenues to broaden our reach to new disciplines. We know that graduate history students want more information about finding images and we provide a unique set of skills to help them. Faculty influence weighs heavily on graduate history students so perhaps the best way to reach them is not directly, but through faculty members. Knowing all of this, I met with a member of the history department at Lafayette College to not only introduce myself and what I did for the college, but to also ask if there were specific faculty members that discussed the use of images in their courses. Not only were there several faculty members that used images in their own research, but two faculty members in particular developed a course similar to Hist 700 for undergraduate students and devoted an entire section to interpreting, evaluating, and analyzing images. After meeting with the two faculty members, I now participate in the image section of the History 206: The Politics and Practice of History. This allows me to introduce myself and the visual resources available to them. The students now know me as someone they can contact to learn about accessing images. I also created an Image Resource Tool for the library’s page and although still early, I have received positive feedback from several departments and know that this tool has been shared with many students. This enabled me to collaborate further with my library colleagues, but overall elevate my presence on campus because more students and faculty now know who I am, how to contact me, and what I can do for them.
  • VRA 2013 Pedagogical Studies in Visual Literacy, Smith

    1. 1. Kelly Smith, Visual Resources Librarian, Lafayette College, Easton, PAVRA Annual Conference – Providence, Rhode IslandApril 5, 2013IMAGE SEEKING & USE PRACTICES BYGRADUATE HISTORY STUDENTSAvenues to Incorporating Visual LiteracySession #13: Pedagogical Studies in Visual Literacy
    2. 2. What roles do visual resources play?What are the methods and motivesfor image retrieval?What are the opportunities foroutreach?
    3. 3. Pictorial Turn…mute witnesses and it is difficult to translate theirtestimony into words”(Burke, P. 2001).
    4. 4. Years inProgramABDPrevious M.A.(s)from OtherInstitutionsFields of Study5 Yes 3 in HistoryEarly Modern European and History ofArt5* Completed None Modern European History3 Yes 1 in HistoryEarly Modern European and IntellectualHistory2 No 1 in HistoryRussian/Eastern European CulturalHistory and East Asian History5 Yes NoneUnited States Women’s and GenderHistory and African American History8 Yes None United States African American History*Participant 2 recently completed a dissertation before the interview.
    5. 5. Course WorkTeachingResearchUse of Images
    6. 6. Use – Course WorkStandard Three:The visually literate student interprets and analyzes themeanings of images and visual media.Standard Four:The visually literate student evaluates images and theirsources.Standard Five:The visually literate student uses images and visualmedia effectively.
    7. 7. Use – TeachingChildren in Classroom in Keene New Hampshire. Keene Public Library and theHistorical Society of CheshireCounty,
    8. 8. Use – Research
    9. 9. Faculty Use
    10. 10. Discovery as MethodStandard Two:The visually literate student finds andaccesses needed images and visual mediaeffectively and efficiently.
    11. 11. Interactions with Information Institutions andProfessionalsOutreach and Instruction
    12. 12. Outreach Preferences Handout available in print, online, or both. Image guides hosted on the library’s webpage. Visit classes and Teaching Assistant training.
    13. 13. Dog Riding a Tricycle. National Media Museum,
    14. 14. (2011, October 27). "ACRL Visual Literacy Competency Standards for HigherEducation”. American Library Association.Retrieved from:, P. (2001). Eyewitnessing: The use of images as historical evidence. Ithaca,NY: Cornell University Press.Stafford, B.M. (1996). Good Looking: essays on the virtue of images. Cambridge,MA: The MIT Press.