30th / VRA 20th Joint Conference , Hyatt Regency, Union Station, St. Louis,
Missouri - March 20-26, 2002
5: Is a Picture Really Worth a
Thousands Words?: Information
Literacy and the Visual Learner, Monday,
March 25, 2002, 3:30-5:00 p.m.
Glassman, New York School of Interior Design
McCleskey, Clemson University
If Johnny can't read, can he find the information needed for an industrial design project? Educators increasingly maintain that "the future of higher education will be determined in large part by how individuals and institutions respond to the challenge of information technology and information literacy." Successful information literacy programs have built institutional support and developed partnerships with faculty. Most of these curricula, however, assume text-centered learning, and few have addressed alternate learning styles, such as the particular needs of visual learners, who may approach the universe of information with entirely different mental processes and assumptions than students experienced in the more verbal aspects of the humanities.
Jeanne M. Brown, Art
Bibliographer and Head, Architecture Studies Library, University of Nevada - Las
Jane Carlin, Librarian, Design, Architecture, Art & Planning Library, University of Cincinnati
Heather Corcoran, Assistant Professor, School of Art & Graphic Design, Washington University, St. Louis
Jeanne M. Brown
"The Visual Learner and Information Literacy: Generating Instruction Strategies for Design Students"
Ms. Brown posed the question of how we define the visual learner, and whether all students in design disciplines are visual learners. She thinks that perhaps we should refer to these students as visual/verbal or visual/non-verbal learners. Her talk focused on visual/non-verbal learners. She showed a transparency of architecture students in various learning modes. A handout that she plans to place on the Web provided definitions of visual learners. These included the following descriptions: “Needs to see it to know it. Has a strong sense of color. May have artistic ability. Has difficulty with spoken directions. Likes to take notes. Enjoys making charts, graphs, lists. Follows maps well. Good at puzzles. Interacts visually with new information. Perceives the larger conceptual picture. Works better informally rather than formally.” Ms. Brown asked an architecture student to look through this list, and the student felt that these descriptions were accurate. Web site addresses for more information are http://www.nv.cc.va.us/home/nvhodgm/Nadsfl99/sld011.htm http://www.thepottershousesschool.com/The_Visual_Learner.html http://www.calstatela.edu/centers/cetl/fdp_presentations/sld035.htm
Ms. Brown described a variety of learning methods, including spatial, haptic, visual, and interpersonal. A Web site developed by Professor Paul Sparks at Pepperdine University offers valuable information on multiple intelligences and the “kaleidoscope” of learning methods:
Next Ms. Brown addressed whether the ACRL information literacy standard 4 (http://www.ala.org/acrl/ilstandardlo.html) is aimed at verbal learners? Does it recognize alternate approaches? Do we need an alternate approach? Standard 4 in particular has specified outcomes that are especially relevant to the visual and haptic learner, but it concerns how “the information literate student, individually or as a member of a group, uses information effectively to accomplish a specific purpose”–not how the student finds information. Earlham College has an excellent Web site describing best practices in Information Literacy: http://www.earlham.edu/discus/; categories 7 (pedagogy) and 10 (assessment) have good advice for instructors in visual literacy. There is an acknowledgment throughout these categories and in ACRL materials that there are several varieties of learning styles.
The ACRL general documents do not address discipline-specific competencies, and this is a challenge for us in using ACRL standards for our students. The Society for the Teaching of Psychology has adapted the ACRL standards specifically for teaching psychology students. Cal Poly has developed “information competencies specific to architecture,” but they are more a list of what students should learn than a definition of what an information literate student should be able to do.
What strategies can we use to reach design students? Is there a unique brand of instruction? Can we tailor instruction styles to the way they learn? The answer is “maybe.” We want to get their attention, but we have to use more than just images or comic-book simplicity. Design students are not a homogeneous group. Not everyone learns the same way. In the end our students have to use all learning styles and be able to function well in all learning environments. Liz Ginno and other librarians at Cal State Hayward have developed a Web site that provides information on “Generation Y” learning styles preferences: http://www.library.csuhayward.edu/staff/ACRL/examples.htm. Specific techniques on reaching these types of learners include using props, cartoons, book jackets, (e.g., a can of soda can be used to demonstrate a controlled vocabulary--soda, pop, etc.). One might use a visual analogy of the library research process to that of designing a chair, such as deciding on the scale as a first step.
Ms. Brown also mentioned D. Kolb’s Web site with a “Learning Styles Inventory”: http://cleo.murdoch.edu.au/asu/staffdevt/pubs/lesleyw/bjedpsych96.html and an “Index of Learning Styles,” compiled by Richard Feler and Barbara Solomon of North Carolina State University: http://www2.ncsu.edu/unity/lockers/usersf/felder/public/ILSdir/styles.htm.
Teaching information literacy isn’t easy even when students are “engaged.” Many of us have looked out to see half-open eyes and glazed expressions and wondered how we can do it better. Ms. Carlin’s presentation focused on ways she has tried to reinvent library instruction and engage students in a more creative learning environment at the University of Cincinnati.
In a recent issue of Library Quarterly, James Marcum, librarian at the City University of New York, published an article titled “Rethinking Information Literacy,” in which he proposes that information literacy be refocused away from information and towards learning. His ideas focus on the premise that librarians should, rather than dealing with database facts and figures, develop a more meaningful approach focusing on concepts, ideas and strategies. Ms. Carlin’s recent attempts at the College of Design, Architecture, Art and Planning have tried to incorporate this subtle paradigm shift and incorporate the concept of conducting the actual research as part of the creative process.
Visual learners function best through seeing and there are some very basic characteristics that need to be incorporated into any library instruction program tailored to a visual learner. Visual learners have a desire to see words written down; they prefer written instructions for assignments and benefit from careful organization of learning materials. The visual learner can remember better and understand software tools such as Blackboard, visual images, graphs, diagrams, charts, and maps. Often visual learners appreciate presentations using visuals aids, and handouts and observe all physical elements in a classroom.
There has been a great deal of research on learning styles--a 1998 study sites that 60% of students in the K-12 environment today are visual learners--and we would probably all agree that in our profession the percentage is even higher. This shift from facts and figures to concepts and strategies can be best employed using the problem based learning model. A recent article in Reference Services Review, by Alexius Smith Macklin, an instruction librarian at Purdue University, reviewed the concept of integrating information literacy into the curriculum using problem-based learning. A real challenge, she points out, is that students think they already have the skills that they need. They have confidence in using technology and, thus, create barriers for us in teaching information literacy skills. A quotation from an unknown source describes the problem most directly: “It’s impossible to teach anything when it is already believed to be known!”
Problem-based learning is a teaching strategy that takes everyday situations and creates learning opportunities from them. This model is collaborative in nature and uses interactive applications to engage groups of learners by introducing real-life or simulated problems to be solved. In problem-based learning, students approach research methodology from the perspective of solving a real problem and the librarian becomes the key to providing the information about the resources that can help them solve problems. Students ask questions and begin the process of identifying what is known versus what information is required. This provides a perspective for which to start research. As we all know, all too often in this age of instant answers, the information retrieval process begins before the information need is really identified. Just observe students in the library – and watch how many students go immediately to a computer to begin the process of collecting information--without a plan, a strategy and very often--not really knowing enough to ask the right questions, no matter what search engine or database they are using.
Recent topics and events work well for the problem-based learning approach because they are relevant to the student’s everyday life experiences. In the social sciences it is easy to create problem-based learning exercises based on current events, and in the arts this same approach can be taken to include concepts.
Adaptive instruction provides us with good opportunities to teach students information literacy skills. A useful Web site from the University of Toronto called “Learning to Learn” offers practical advice for adaptive instruction: http://snow.utoronto.ca/Learn2/introll.html. We may have a tendency to try to turn students into mini-librarians, when they only need to get the right information at the right time.
The University of Cincinnati has adopted ACRL standards for the information literacy program and try to integrate these into curriculum-based instruction. Edith Crowe at San Jose State University has done some valuable work in our area: http://www.library.sjsu.edu/staff/ecrowe/infocomp_art.htm.
Most problem-based learning is a group activity. In addition to engaging the student, the process of working in groups provides opportunities to build in different skill levels so that students can utilize their skills and knowledge in a group setting. Constructing good problems is a challenge--they need to be engaging, structured, adaptable and collaborative. To maintain motivation instructors need to pose problems that are within the range of their students’ abilities. In problem-based activities, learners should be prepared to gather facts based on what is known, and identify and ask questions about what is not known. Most problem-based learning is a group activity and takes more time, but there are ways to integrate it into a 55-minute session. A benefit of problem-based learning is that the Librarian is no longer lecturing about dull databases and computer resources but instead is contributing knowledge and expertise in helping to solve the problem, creating a more collegial atmosphere of learning and stimulating critical evaluation of ideas.
The remainder of the presentation focused on examples of successful problem based learning used in the library at the University of Cincinnati.
For a graduate
seminar in research methodology that would result in bibliographies for
students’ theses, there was just not enough time to cover all resources and
explain role of new technologies. Problem-based
learning was used to keep students from focusing too much on technology rather
than thought process. This makes
students think about their assignments before beginning a search for
information. Students worked in
groups with uncataloged objects in the University collections:
historic costumes, photographs, artists’ books, posters, and a
collection of postcards. The
process of working with original works and asking questions engaged the students
in the learning process. As we all know for most students of art history, and
all the arts for that matter, original works of art are the starting point for
research. The purpose of this
assignment is to acquaint the student with the ways research can be approached.
Different strategies may yield different results and sometimes strategies
are adopted in order to support a particular manner of interpretation.
Each group had to address the following issues:
How can the collection be researched, what questions will help direct the
research, what are three different ways the collection could be approached and
how does that affect your research and interpretation, and if you were asked to
exhibit these materials, how would you arrange such an exhibit and in what
context? This also helped students
understand the importance of primary information (versus the Internet), the
importance of documentation (there was considerable frustration in tracking down
materials), and the value of archival research. In addition, in the process of working in a group students
were exposed to new ways of presenting information:
PowerPoint, use of digital cameras, and scanning technology.
These are important skills that are often lacking in a standard art
history graduate curriculum. This
class was used as part of an ACRL study on information literacy, where students
took a test at beginning and a test at the end.
At beginning they failed, and at the end they passed.
Another problem-based learning program has been implemented with architecture and interior design students at the University of Cincinnati. This program is the most consistent, because it has the complete support of the faculty and it is integrated into the curriculum. There is a major campus-wide emphasis on the first-year experience. The library orientation begins with a focus on a building. (Last year it was the Experience Music Project building in Seattle). Students were asked to answer such questions as “What types of questions do architects answer in design process?” to encourage them to think about what information they would need in their profession. They also looked at other works by the building’s architect, building techniques, and structural problems.
In graphic design, there is an assignment on researching well-known graphic designers and how to find information. Similar approaches are used in industrial design and urban planning. Research methodology is integrated into all aspects of the design process and students are introduced to four levels of research in the human factors in design class. Students survey historical, interview, survey and experimental methods of research. Historical research methods are introduced first, and handbooks, journals, proceeding, books, and databases are reviewed with a design problem in mind. The focus is on broad categories of information such as terminology (serials, journals, magazines) and types of sources rather than individual sources. Materials are brought into classes so that students can examine them hands-on. Different ways of finding information are emphasized, as well as the importance of verifying information and finding different points of view. A goal of this approach is to implement a shift from specific resources to concepts of information gathering strategies.
“Learning between Words and Images”
Outside of the university environment, teams often complete projects. Students must learn to interact with others. Without thinking, reading, writing, and seeing skills, they will not be able to work effectively with others. Artists and designers have often found themselves to be outside the mainstream, but their audience includes people from the ‘outside’. Therefore they must be literate to communicate with the general public. Graphic design involves the investigation of how words look, and expectations of the industry are high. The work requires the ability to write well. Because of these demands, Professor Corcoran structures projects for students around words and images.
A recent assignment she gave was for students to design a book that documents a shift in some aspect of American identity sometime in its history. Students were required to use words and images and relate them over the course of the book.
Professor Corcoran showed three examples: The first was a book was about the teapot in America. The student wrote a text and then used images to supplement the words. It was a straightforward text-image relationship. The second book showed the impact of hairspray in the 1950s and how it affected American identity. The student gathered factual information and examples of advertising and packaging. The result became a children’s book with rhyme about hairspray, illustrated with images. The third book was a version of Whitman’s Song of the Open Road, juxtaposed with photographs of Route 66, the road to the new American frontier. Its typography was the most graphic of the three examples, using a 1950s diner-esque style to display poetic text. The student re-contextualized the existing text in a new way.
In discussing how she creates projects that allow students to develop their writing skills, Professor Corcoran discussed the need for students to be excited about what they study. They need structure, with steps outlined, but also the freedom to choose the subject and take responsibility for what it means and what depth it has. Projects become more creative as the student progresses through school. Professor Corcoran asks students to write a statement of intent to articulate ideas about their projects. They speak about project in groups on a regular basis. Professor Corcoran sees the art library as a critical resource for herself and her students.
For Heather Corcoran: At what point does class come to library to learn about finding sources? The students had already had instruction before they started this project.
For Heather Corcoran: Does she require citations? Yes.
For Jeanne Brown: You found that experts say visual learners need to learn in all styles. Where does this theory come from? See D. Kolb from handout. Learners have preferences but need to keep a balance. If you’re a verbal learner and approach is not verbal, you have to compensate.
For Jeanne Brown: Are you trying to vary types of instruction for all types of learners? Yes to an extent. She tries to vary lectures with group work, hands-on and problem-based assignments.
For Jane Carlin: With problem-based learning, are the assignments devised in collaboration with faculty? Yes, the assignment has to be integrated, but they are assembling a compilation of assignments that work well. They have examples of what has worked to give to faculty. It makes outreach easier when you can show faculty what they can do with students.
For Jane Carlin: Sometimes there is little response from students to hands-on (showing magazines, etc.). Even problem-based learning seems to not work. Sometimes you may feel you are standing on your head and still get a glazed-over look. What can you do? Jane agrees. Sometimes this is true. Teaching freshmen has challenges all its own. Many universities now have emphasis on the first year experience. It gets back to the issue that students don’t know enough to know what they don’t know. The quiz at the beginning (designed so that they will fail) helps them realize they don’t know as much as they think they do. She has had professionals come into classes to talk briefly about research skills. Heather Corcoran added that her students have that problem at the beginning of their major. Students appear bored because they don’t know anything about the subject. She thinks it helps that if they have to read something, they should write a short response. There was a comment that we need to make sure students know this is their library, not just “ours.”
For Jane Carlin: Jane has done a lot of outreach. Are there individual liaisons to departments? Being a branch library in a college makes it easy. Having a supportive administration is very important, getting librarians on committees, etc. Their library training services department does a lot of outreach to students and faculty. She encourages everyone to interact and show what we can contribute to the higher education agenda on a broader level. Comments from audience: Sometimes faculty need BI before their students get it! Participating in a curriculum committee can be a good way to become involved with faculty. Some faculty haven’t considered how to involve the library. Jeanne Brown commented that you can use NAAB standards as a “hook,” too.
For Jeanne Brown: Does introducing the Web into classes make tactile (haptic) learners more comfortable? Jeanne says she suspects we’ve all encountered the Web making our students’ interest level higher. It combines visual and verbal learning styles. Jane Carlin added that working with art historians to change the types of assignments from the standard art history term paper to a Web-based presentation, and thereby moving away from traditional approach, is an interesting concept.
For Jane Carlin: Is a core list of resources important? Do all art studio students need to know the Art Index? This comes back to the establishment of information competencies at different levels. For example, she does not teach freshmen about the Avery Index. It is important to work with faculty to establish the gradual introduction of resources so that students are not overwhelmed. Jeanne Brown agrees that there are core resources we need to teach and that how we teach them and at what point in the curriculum are more important issues. Heather Corcoran added that she thinks it is difficult to identify core resources in design.