This page has been created to house resources for staff and students to support the development of visual, spatial and tactile knowledge and skills in any discipline. These are not usually included in general study guides, but they are important in most subjects, including science and humanities subjects as well as art and design. Typically, they include such activities as:
The page also contains suggestions for using visual approaches to help other aspects of learning in higher education. For instance, there is now considerable evidence to suggest that making ideas visible and tangible (through drawing, diagrams, collage or other techniques) is a powerful way to enable individuals or groups to engage with and explore abstract concepts.
The project originated as part of the LearnHigher Centre of Excellence in Teaching and Learning.
* For an fascinating demonstration of the relevance of the visual in different disciplines, see the variety of examples in James Elkins Visual Practices Across the University (based on an exhibition, later published by Wilhelm Fink Verlag, 2007 - now available online). Elkins described this as:"a study of the range of image-making and image-interpreting practices in an average university, with no particular stress on art. There are chapters by doctors, lawyers, scientists of all sorts, engineers, humanists, social scientists... it is a cross-section of the actual production of images in the university." He argues that "One way to bring [the university] together, or at least to raise the possibility that [it] is a coherent place, is to consider different disciplines through their visual practices. To begin a university-wide discussion of images, it is first necessary to stop worrying about what might count as art or science, and to think instead about how kinds of image-making and image interpretation might fall into groups, and therefore be amenable to teaching and learning outside their disciplines. Above all, it is necessary to look carefully and in detail, and not flinch from technical language or even from the odd equation."
Drawing and other visual methods such as collage have an important role to play in every discipline, not just those such as art and design with which they are usually associated. See details of the Drawing Research Network Conference held at Brighton in 2010.
Among the many potential functions of drawing, the most common include:
Observational drawing - to sharpen perception and make rapid and accurate records of key data in almost any situation.
Conceptual drawing and diagramming - helps students visualise ideas and processes, compare their understanding and develop critical thinking skills;reinforces memory.
Collaborative drawing and image making activities - can develop communication skills, encourage reflection on experience, professional and personal development planning.
Drawing to Learn Booklets
These booklets support the use of drawing in higher education, each addressed to a broad cluster of disciplines.They offer a brief introduction to the ways in which drawing and other visual methods may be used to support undergraduate and postgraduate learning and research. We hope the ideas and examples will encourage lecturers and supervisors to explore the possibilities in their own teaching. Following links to download copies:
If you would like to discuss the ideas raised in the books, please contact the authors Pauline Ridley and Angela Rogers . If you would like to receive one or more print copies for your own institution, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Other resources include:
Some other useful external resources are listed below:
Learning to scan the landscape and pick out essential information was a vital survival tool in human evolution, so it may seem unnecessary to teach students how to observe. But though we may be hard-wired to use our eyes efficiently, growing up in an industrialised society offers fewer opportunities to practice observation skills. Equally, ‘essential information’ is likely to be different in each disciplinary context.
Students in most disciplines need to develop observational skills, whether in relation to artefacts (eg in art, design, architecture, visual culture, design history, media studies), natural phenomena (eg geography, geology, physical sciences) or human subjects (eg medicine and other health professions, social sciences).
How can we as teachers help students to sharpen these abilities through looking exercises, for example, or clearer criteria and prompts to help them identify and focus on key aspects? Equally, how do students learn to record relevant data more accurately, and to evaluate the use of drawing, photography, and other graphic and verbal forms of notation as tools for recording?
Interventions that can help include:
• Checklists and mnemonics may help students to understand what is most relevant or significant - something that academics familiar with disciplinary priorities can take for granted and fail to make explicit. To see how a structured approach to observation can make a difference , take A Visual Literacy Exercise. This resource is based on selected woodblock prints from a famous 19th century series by the Japanese artist Hiroshige. Students are invited to examine a sequence of fifteen prints, complete a short exercise, review the print set a second time, and then complete a second exercise. This is followed by discussion of the implications for observation and analysis of visual materials of all kinds. Working through the exercise in full would take about 30 minutes.
• Recording what you see , through making written or dictated notes, sketches , photography, video or a combination of these.
Drawing is a particular valuable activity to improve observation skills, and can also help to reinforce learning or provide a tool for generating and communicating ideas.
Visual Practices Projects at University of Brighton
Details of all current and completed projects can be accessed through the links below.
Faculty of Arts & Architecture
Brighton & Sussex Medical School
Faculty of Education & Sport
Faculty of Management and Information Sciences
Faculty of Science and Engineering
Visual skills are not usually included in general study guides, but they are important in most disciplines, including science and humanities as well as art and design. Typically, they include such activities as:
This page is mainly aimed at teaching staff, so we thought it would be helpful to bring all the current links to student resources together here.
Finding and using images
There are several kinds of 'visual assessment'.
In some subjects, such as art and design, media studies or architecture, practical visual production is a central part of any degree and is assessed in a number of ways, most commonly through the medium of the studio 'crit' where students display their work for discussion and critique by tutors and peers.
In others, the demonstration of practical skills must be assessed in action - for instance through OSCEs (Observed Structured Clinical Examinations) in medicine and other health professions.
Many other disciplines are also making increasing use of visual assessment formats - such as posters, illustrated presentations or web pages - to assess analytic skills, or to provide reasonable alternatives to written essays for students with disabilities, or just as a way to vary the assessment regime for all students and help develop transferable skills.
The funded project described below seeks to explore the range of visual assessment practices in current use and to develop resources for staff and students. Meanwhile, we have included some links to other resources for presentations, posters and multimedia tasks, as well as a link to a report on a project about visual plagiarism issues..
Visual Assessment Project
LearnHigher funded the Universities of Brighton, Kent and University College Falmouth to:
The rationale for the project is twofold. The art and design sector has identified the need to provide a clearer framework for assessment and produce a range of usable resources and examples of good practice, particularly to help students benefit from feedback on their work. At the same time, as described above, visual formats are being introduced in other disciplines, but students can be unsure how to approach such unfamiliar tasks, and staff may lack experience in setting appropriate tasks or marking them fairly and rigorously
A final report and new resources for staff and students will be available through this website. Meanwhile, reports of related individual projects include:
Using Visual Aids This is part of the LearnHigher Oral Communication website and contains advice (including video examples) on using visual aids as part of a seminar presentation.
Creating Effective Poster Presentations This helpful site includes detailed advice on all stages of creating a poster presentation, with plenty of illustrated examples. Though primarily aimed at creators of scientific conference posters, the advice applies equally to other subjects and to poster assignments for university students. Downloadable resources include a Quick reference handout and sample evaluation sheets.
Advice on designing scientific posters. Excellent site by Colin Purrington; a particularly useful feature is that the advice is linked to numerous examples posted to a special section of Flickr.
Diversifying Assessment 2: Posters and Oral Presentations in Undergraduate History of Science Louise Jarvis & Joe Cain originally published in PRS-LTSN Journal - now available through the HEA Resources Centre.
Visual Assessment in Anthropology This website reports on the outcomes of a C-SAP-funded project, Visual Technologies and their Assessment in Undergraduate Teaching and Learning, carried by the Anthropology subject group in the School of Social Sciences and International Development, University of Wales Swansea. Students participated in the design of assessment criteria, and submitted 39 CD-ROMs (for the History of Anthropological Theory) and 8 visual ethnographies on video (for Visual Anthropology). The website includes a final report as well as resources and handouts - all of which would be helpful for anyone considering introducing similar assessment formats in other subjects, as would the Jarvis and Cain article cited below.
Diversifying assessment 3: Web projects in undergraduate history of science. Louise Jarvis & Joe Cain originally published in Discourse: Learning and Teaching in Philosophical and Religious Studies - now available through the HEA Resources Centrein. This article contains useful advice (though technical references are now somewhat outdated) particularly on assessment issues.
Visual Plagiarism A report of research undertaken in 2007 for the Plagiarism Advisory Service by Margo Blythman and Susan Orr, including some materials that can be used with students.
In Reading images: an introduction to visual literacy Melissa Thibault and David Walbert define visual literacy as "the ability to see, to understand, and ultimately to think, create, and communicate graphically [...] Like traditional literacy, visual literacy encompasses more than one level of skill.. The first level ... is simple knowledge: basic identification of the subject or elements in a photograph, work of art, or graphic. The skills necessary to identify details of images are included in many disciplines; for example, careful observation is essential to scientific inquiry. But while accurate observation is important, understanding what we see and comprehending visual relationships are at least as important. These higher-level visual literacy skills require critical thinking, and they are essential to a student’s success in any content area in which information is conveyed through visual formats such as charts and maps. They are also beneficial to students attempting to make sense of the barrage of images they may face in texts and Web resources. "
'Visual literacy' is a contested term - its implied analogy with spoken or written language can be misleading and some resources may focus on helping students to understand visual communication but ignore the need for them to learn to communicate effectively themselves. However, the presence of an established name for this aspect of visual learning does simplify the search for useful resources. Many of these come from the US and Australia where there appears to be more sustained interest in supporting visual literacy in schools, so I've included some resources aimed at school teachers or children where they would also be helpful for university students. (All external links will open in a new window)
Some general sites relating to visual literacy & communication:
Websites with examples and explanations of different kinds of charts, diagrams and other visual 'texts':
A number of disciplines make use of qualitative visual research methods, with a rich literature on practical and methodological issues, particularly in the fields of visual sociology, anthropology and ethnography. These will also be useful to anyone attempting to explore the visual aspects of learning in other disciplines, as will some school-based educational visual research methods. Here are some useful starting points, mainly web-based resources.
Computer Assisted Qualitative Data Analysis Software
Examples of visually oriented research projects
This project was originally developed as part of the work of the LearnHigher Centre of Excellence in Teaching (CETL), one of 74 CETLs funded from 2005-10 by the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE). This initiative had two main aims: to reward excellent teaching practice, and to further invest in that practice to deliver substantial benefits to students, teachers and institutions. For further information on the CETL initiative see the HEFCE website.
LearnHigher was the largest collaborative CETL, a partnership of 16 universities representing a broad cross-section of the sector with expertise in different aspects of learning development. The University of Brighton had lead responsibility for the Visual Practices learning area. More information about LearnHigher.
In 2010, LearnHigher became part of the Association for Learning Development in Higher Education (ALDinHE) which is committed to maintaining the website and continuing to carry out research and development of resources to support student learning. More information about ALDinHE. Please direct all queries to: email@example.com.