Sunni Brown

Author, Chief Infodoodler,


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Why is visual literacy discouraged in most cultures & WHAT CAN WE DO to change that?

This LIVE CONVERSATION will open at 1PM ET/ 10AM PT on Monday, October 31th! Join me!

Visual literacy, if described as the ability to communicate via doodling, drawing, and sketching or described as the ability to display complex information in visual language formats, is often a literacy missing in adults despite it being a universal and natural inclination in children. Why does it disappear? And more importantly, what can we do to alter this course?

**ADMIN UPDATE: Sunni Brown has asked to extend her Conversation for two weeks. She will be jumping in to catch up with responses over the next two weeks. Happy posting everyone!

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    Nov 4 2011: Before you can walk, you can draw. Before you can talk, you can draw. Before you can read, you can draw. Before you can write...... YOU CAN DRAW
    So with all that experience behind us, why do so many people say 'I can't draw"

    35,000 years since we started painting on cave walls and carving figures out of Mammoth ivory.
    What have we done to ourselves that we educate our children to think of art and visual thinking as being a secondary, lesser subject.
    Policy makers sitting ostentatious offices with art hanging on their walls, nicely designed suits, desks and chairs, driving to work in their beautifully designed cars, telling us that Art isn't as important as other subjects.
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      Nov 5 2011: Agree 100%!

      (With my own bias as artist I would extend it: before you can draw, you can paint!)

      The fact that drawing/doodling actually requires processing (unlike, for example, automatic writing) indicates that it takes active listening and contributes to anchor learning and increase retention.
      Weather is art itself, or the ability to take notes this way that are suppressed, this simply reinforces the belief that instruction and indoctrination are preferred over education.

      A passive student doesn't ask questions, but accepts all facts -he already lost his chance to learn!
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      Nov 7 2011: Some time ago, I owned several graphics companies. At that time, if you asked people what were the five largest industries, no one would have put graphics in the list. Probably no one would even put it in the top ten.

      As it turns out it was the fourth largest: after food, clothing, and automobiles.*

      I'm not sure were it would be placed now. I think hospitality/tourism is now considered the "biggest" industry ... but I'm not sure.

      Think about every industry, no matter what else they do, they all use graphics: from package design, to signage; corporate ID to reports; to advertising, business cards, menus, vehicles, clothing, and so on.

      * These are industries categorized in broad stokes: automobiles would include all support for autos; graphics would include design, printing, printing presses and inks, paper, photography, typography; and so on.
      • Nov 8 2011: Graphics....used in entertainment, advertising..... It wouldn't surprise me if graphics had actually grown given how influential advertising is and how much demand there is for advertising anywhere it can possibly fit.

        I think visuals not only have the capacity to communicate, I think visuals influence our beliefs and decision making.
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        Nov 9 2011: I hate to post rumors or look like a fool, but one thing I heard was that advertising is a tax write off for companies. Is that true?
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          Nov 9 2011: It depends on the country you're in but generally, yes, advertising is seen a s "business expense" and can be written off.
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        Nov 10 2011: Wow Thomas! Who knew. You just surprised me with that information. Thank you
  • Oct 31 2011: It's too bad I won't be able to see this conversation live. I ALWAYS am made fun of when I'm trying to describe something to someone and have to resort to drawing it so they understand exactly what I mean.
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      Oct 31 2011: Tory, you just send those people to me. I'll handle them.

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      Oct 31 2011: I also have to visualize when I am talking and I often find that I begin to see far more clearly what it is I am trying to express as I make the picture. My claim to household fame is any time my wife and I are at a restaurant I usually have all the sugar packets out making a map with them as the representation marker. I do get some strange looks when I have 10 packets and just need 3 more
    • Oct 31 2011: Include me in this category too. There is a tactile quality to thinking, which is why I sketch. The benefit when I am done, is it is easier to remember when I can locate something visually in my mind.
  • Nov 1 2011: I am a visual learner, and I struggled with the way mathematics was taught at my school and university. I later did my own research into visual methods for learning the same things. For example, the water analogy for electronics, and ancient Greek (and older) methods for calculating geometries using shapes, which were more visual-based, and came before algebra. This really helped me and I think it would help other right-brained people if they were taught both ways.

    I think children should be taught both visually and verbally, to make learning more effective, and to reduce classroom problems that occur when teachers think in a different way to students. There is also the generation gap in brain structure caused by differences in environments while growing up - my generation grew up with computers, my teachers grew up with books - as a result, our brains are structured differently. Kids that think differently could fail classes just because the teacher isn't catering for different brain types. This puts kids off subjects like mathematics, science, engineering, electronics etc. which they could potentially learn if they were taught the right way.
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      Nov 1 2011: You are so on target!!!

      And ancient Greeks knew how to do it, just look at the Socratic school -the Maieutica- where a SMALL group of students were guided by a wise teacher through an inquisitive thinking process, questioning everything and reviewing all accepted knowledge inside and out. The assumption was that we do not really know anything yet, we have to discover all. Also, that everyone was able to access this truths through this process.
      Outside, under the trees, with visuals and tactile experiences... it sounds very avant-garde if you ask me.

      I can hear Cher now, "If I could turn back time..."
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      Nov 1 2011: Math history has been the most appealing approach to the subject for me. By telling a story it explains the 'why' portion so well. Where it came from, how it got there, and why we do it the way we do today. When I found out that algebra was done with two parallel number lines it blew my mind. All of these ties with Greek history you mention would be tied beautifully into myth readings. These combinations offer an in depth learning experience.
      • Nov 1 2011: Guys, I absolutely agree! Also, I think teaching things alongside other material and showing how they are related further reinforces long-term memory. If you teach mathematics on its own, numbers, functions and their relationships can lack meaning. Applying the relationships in real world situations, adding a background story and history to why it is done that way really helps students.

        Perhaps doodling looks immature, but studies I've read/heard about show doodling is really beneficial to memory and creativity (sorry about lack of references). Also, music is really beneficial to mathematical understanding, with all the harmonic relationships etc. Education and industry needs to catch up with science!
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        Nov 1 2011: Mr Froebel, the creator of kindergarten, also created the core of his program, called The Gifts. Look into that, worth it!

        It was a math set, ALL MANIPULATIVES, all visual and kinesthetic, that is admired even today. He favored open ended activities, LOTS of "play" time, where children explored and talked to discover natural laws. All rare things in today's education, by the way...

        I have never seen M. Bradley's version (do you mean a Hasbro game similar to the Gifts?)
        But I have been trained on the 1820 set (a replica), the progression of concepts, the goals, etc.

        Incredible material, challenging even for adults!
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          Nov 2 2011: Milton Bradley distorted Mr. Froebel's Gifts to the point that they were unrecognizable compared to their original version's intent. Sad to see this distortion pursued for the sake of profit.

          His Gifts do live on in many respects in Waldorf education, which is gaining in popularity worldwide.
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      Nov 1 2011: I have taught math for a long time, and we always have done it with sketching, making diagrams, and so forth. Even calculus involves sketching. It is a fundamental aspect of figuring out what the problem is really asking. Students are expected to have diagrams as part of showing how they did their work.I think math instruction is one area in which sketching things out has long been accepted as necessary.I have never taught writing, but it seems to me the way kids are taught to sketch out plots of stories also involves diagrams. And social studies involves lots of map-making and timelines done by hand by kids.
      So in my teaching career and watching my three kids in schools public and private, I cannot say I have seen a neglect of visual tools in learning and communication.
      • Nov 2 2011: Well said, Fritzie. I think we need to be very careful about not over-generalising on this thread. There is a lot of good education going on that makes extensive use of the visual.
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      Nov 2 2011: I can definitely relate with you. I excelled in Geometry and flunk badly in Algebra. Had to jump 10+ schools in my entire life.

      I'm glad that my kids are living in this day and age that schools are aware of the different kinds of learning although most don't do anything about it.

      It's the system that kills visual learning. Example: My kids take Math everyday and have Art once a week.
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        Nov 2 2011: Oliver, isn't it an oxymoron?

        The reason the curriculum pushes math is, in principle, because it is such a needed tool in many real life occupations today, such as computer programming, engineering, physics, etc.

        Yet, the way it is implemented keeps it disconnected from real applications in a formulaic confusion of rot memory data and useless required demonstrations. If it were hands on, deductive, exploratory and project based (e.g. build a bridge that supports X weight, or a robotic device for a given purpose) kids of any age and skill would feel at ease with at least the rudiments and practical use of algebra.
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          Nov 2 2011: Yes, problem-based learning! I had to discover this myself as a young student because it was not talked about or existed in my country during the early 80s.
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    Oct 31 2011: I have 3 children 5,9,12 and I am amazed at how easily they can learn a Playstation Game, or learn all the types of pokemon their evolved forms. Then how difficult it is for them to learn anything at school.
    The types of pokemon and their evolved forms ISTM has very similar meta data structure to the chemical elements. So if a child can learn all the classes of pokemon they should easily be able to learn the periodic table and the group of each element, because it is simpler. But this is not the case.

    I have come to the conclusion that the way information is presented to them at school is no longer compatible with children. (Assuming it ever was).

    I think education should shrug off all this "Playing Computer games" and "Watching too much TV" is bad, and take a LONG HARD look at what works, what form of presentation makes information easy for a child to absorb.
    We have the technology, advertisers know 100% how to get information into a child's mind.

    Give me history on a DVD, in cartoon format, let the kid watch it 20 times like they do with every other DVD they will learnt up, down, and sideways.
    Give me maths on a PS3 game where you have to get to level 10 to pass the year.
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      Oct 31 2011: In this case I would make note that the element of the GAME is also contributing heavily to your children's interest in and capacity for learning. I have a book called Gamestorming which was driven in part by the idea that games are powerful vehicles for learning. And I agree - most schools can't possibly keep up with the changing technology and expectations of children these days. They're swimming upstream while the kids are on hovercrafts carrying iPads. That's partly why I don't expect the vehicle for increased visual literacy to be schools or educational institutions. I think the learner is going to be largely responsible for how s/he manages and learns information. And that sounds daunting, but because visual language is so native to us, it's not a big leap to a quick fortification of our thinking skills.
      • Oct 31 2011: Sunni, it sounds like you're advocating more of a (re)validation for young people that, whatever expectations their teachers/educators/peers have, that this is a legitimate, even advantageous way of learning, thinking and communicating.
    • Oct 31 2011: I believe DreamBox turns math into a fun video game. Dreambox is a company that I believe is owned by #Reed Hastings, founder of Netflix.
  • Oct 31 2011: You'd think this would be a critical skill in a business climate so addicted to power point.
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      Oct 31 2011: The fact that it's not KILLS me. Business is operating in a hyper-competitive, global, socially-connected, incredibly complex space and YET here most of us are, trying to talk and inspire people using slides with clip art. I can't tell you how many business ideas are a direct result of sketching. Without them, we wouldn't have the Internet (thank you, Al Gore!), or the telephone, or moving pictures.
      • Oct 31 2011: "I can't tell you how many business ideas are a direct result of sketching." -Sunni Brown

        What many parents and teachers around the world discourage is EXACTLY what leads to the latest innovations and and most significant company ideas of our world! What a Paradox.
        • Nov 1 2011: Schools discourage what is needed in many ways. For example, nearly everything a school calls cheating is an essential skill in business. Such a paradox, then, should not surprise us, but that is a different topic.
          Back to your point about the value of sketches, you are right on. A lot of businesses start that way. Many others, though, start with a few sentences, which form an outline. All projects, business or otherwise, start out with an overview, then get into the details. If you sketch a construction project, that will eventually become a blueprint before a shovel hits the dirt.
  • Oct 31 2011: I'm seeing teachers at the elementary school where my wife works use graphic organizers more frequently. It excites me that these students are using visual elements to understand their world. Anyone have similar experiences?
    • Oct 31 2011: Yes.. wholeheartedly concur. I'm seeing students having fewer hangups about using any number of tools to help get their ideas down somewhere. I credit a lot of it to the growth of Web 2.0 where collaboration, invention and creativity are actually more encouraged. More opportunities to share with others one's talents, ideas and opinions. Problem for many is not knowing certain tools exist.
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    Oct 31 2011: Why does it disappear? I attended a lecture just two Saturdays ago, by David J. Lewkowicz, where he explained that development integration and differentiation (of the senses) appear to be simultaneous and needed processes, showing there are regressions of functional capacity when a perceptual ability is not stimulated. I had not related it to visual literacy, but now that you pose the question, it popped out in my mind.
    Maybe the lack of stimulation for visual literacy in main stream school systems leads to the regression of such a capacity. So that idea would lead me to ask myself (and others) why isn't it stimulated? Isn't it needed in further life? Or is an underrated skill?

    Maybe I was too technical, lol, I see no one answering. XD
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      Oct 31 2011: In my experience, it is a dramatically underrated skill. And not having heard Lewkowicz' lecture, I would likely agree that we lose functional capacity when this skill isn't nurtured or stimulated. It's like being born with huge, innate potential and then letting it wilt. For reasons that seem to have no real merit. Obviously, we can all get by without the capacity of drawing or sketching, but we can also get by without proper nutrition or sanitation. The question is: why would we want to?
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        Oct 31 2011: Usually it is considered brain economy, the brain lets go certain capacities to achieve mastery in others. The thing is, why is school to decided what capacity should wilt!!!
  • Oct 31 2011: One of the most important purposes of communication is not to express an idea so people can understand, but to express it so accurately that people can find fault. This is particularly critical in negotiations, but also in engineering, law, medicine, etc. It is my belief that visuals may convey a flavor or the borad picture, but it is hard to find errors in a visual representation. Not always, of course, but I think that is a common issue.
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      Oct 31 2011: Interesting idea... what about things like schematics, blueprints, scientific drawings?

      Really curious what visual leagalese would look like. :)
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      Oct 31 2011: Kenneth, I love what you said about expressing an idea so people can find fault with it. Visual depictions, like words, however, CAN and should be be critiqued. Indeed, the process of creating visual maps inherently empowers the creator to get a better understanding of the subject matter and then, upon presentation, gives the viewer an opportunity to scrutinize the information. It may be hard to find errors in visual representations precisely BECAUSE we aren't visually literate. It's much like our inability to determine a good commercial from a commercial that's full of shit. We don't have much media literacy either. :(( You might enjoy this article from Science:
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        Oct 31 2011: Media literacy or advocacy for that matter are absent from school wide education. This is a bit out of balance from the amount of time spent in school verses the amount of time a student is exposed to media. I vaguely recall the number of hours a student is engulfed in media is as much if not more than the number of hours in class at school K-12. This provides a dynamic challenge in gaining the attention of students, let alone competing with what media is saying to and guiding our youth to do. School's role is to teach people how to think, not what to think. Students need help being able to discern between the good, the bad, and the ugly in all the world portrayed by media, the classroom teacher, and the folks at home.
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    Oct 31 2011: I think the tide is turning, slowly, towards awareness of visual literacy. See the recent infographic trend. I'd like to think that in another few decades we'll be teaching visual literacy along with language literacy. I wonder how this will look in our classrooms...

    Until that day comes, I think it's going to take giving as many people a taste of the benefits and power of visual communication as possible. I find most people become "converts" once they get direct experience of visual notetaking, visual meetings, etc.
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      Oct 31 2011: Kelly, absolutely. I spent a LOT of time talking people through the value of visual communication and it takes almost NO time to show it to them. The experience is where the impact is.
  • Oct 31 2011: I think one aspect of the challenge is the notion that visual communication/processing requires "talent" from the genetic lottery while we expect, that everyone will be able to read and write regardless of talent. Yet that doesn't mean that everyone who writes will write good poetry or novels, but that doesn't stop us from using the tools of language. Similarly, if we move towards seeing sketching/doodling/visual communication as a critical tool and de-couple it from great works of art, it might seem more accessible.
    • Oct 31 2011: I agree and think we can trace this back to the 2-3 grade, prior to learing how to read and write most kids draw feverishly until they become conscious of the concept of a good drawing and a bad one.
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      Oct 31 2011: The "talent" argument is one of the four I hear most often. We have a miseducated belief that "art" is exclusive and that the visualization of content needs to be beautiful. While beauty is certainly appreciated in art and the mastery of form should be applauded, talent is NOT is prerequisite for visual literacy. In fact, the opposite is true. The impact of creating and processing visual information is available to anyone who dives in to the experience, regardless of perceived skill. That is one aspect of the Doodle Revolution that will never change.
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        Oct 31 2011: Curious - what are the other 3?
      • Oct 31 2011: Pictionary taught me one great lesson, and that was how unimportant a beautiful or accurate drawing was, and how important speed and clarity were.
        • Oct 31 2011: In order to qualify speed as an advantage to that game, you must be able to simplify and stylized whatever it is you are trying to draw to save time. This requires talent.
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        Oct 31 2011: Moreover, the actual quality of the drawing is irrelevant. Just as the only requirements for ones notes is that one can read them the same is true for graphic notes.
        Plus it does not have to be sketches, islands of text in boxes with arrows between them, geometrical shapes, different colors.

        Whatever works. Children should be encouraged to take notes in any format that works for them.

        The only way to do that is to show the class 4 or 5 examples of "non linear" note taking and let each student adopt a personal system that works for them.
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      Oct 31 2011: Great point, I couldn't agree more.

      I would love to see the day when lines/shapes/color are as democratically used as words and grammar. Where did this divide come from? When did we conflate mark-making with art-making?
  • Nov 7 2011: I believe there are a number of factors that keep us from moving forward as a culture focused on mastering visual literacy. First, sadly, drawing/doodling/etc. are not practiced everyday for communication in most social/learning settings, nor is it encouraged on a daily basis in classrooms/social settings.

    Second, many people are intimidated by creating art in any capacity because of the fear of failure and/or ridicule.

    As a social experiment, ask anyone over the age of 11 to draw an unfamiliar object or animal while you watch them. Take note of how many times each person does one or all of the following: erase, retry, make excuses for their short comings, give up, "x" out their work, or deny the challenge outright. I wonder how many people will apologize for their drawing not being "perfect" when they finally finish and show you.

    The arts are also commonly mistaken as a frill added onto our education system; not as something that will super charge it. But I believe the tide IS turning.

    Maybe people simply miss the fact that visual language is a system of patterns not too different from the patterns found in language arts, science, and math. All of which are used to report back our findings from observing our surroundings in nature to record history, help predict future patterns, or mimic them for our civilizations' better good.

    As a visual learner, I understand the basic form of visual language as a straight line and a curved line (a single letters/number) that can be manipulated into a shape (word/number) which we combine with other shapes and lines to create an image (sentence/equation) to serve a specific purpose whether it is to pose a question, answer a question, or explore a thought. Artistic process and the scientific process are the same to me. If we bring total awareness to these shared patterns, nonvisual learners may finally understand it.
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      Nov 9 2011: "Artistic process and the scientific process are the same to me."

      Short story... My old elementary school holds an art and invention show together in the same space every year. This is a collaborative effort between two specialists, the art teacher and the science teacher of a progressive school. (Yes, science is a specialist along with library, art, music, and sports [physical education]) Students get to show off their art works and share their inventions both kinds of work convey great ideas.

      The connections between art and science mirror each other. Theory, hypothesis, experiment, conclusion, and then repeat based on your findings are how artists and scientists inform their work. There is a lot of discovery, accidental answers to unasked questions, and unknown outcomes. Original ideas are crushed or altered by pursuing a painting or experiment. Some might damn this as 'failure' or as a 'mistake' and judge it to be 'bad.' I argue otherwise and find it essential to learning. Anyone who is free of error does not exist. The more mistakes a person makes the greater lived experience they have earned.

      Finding the strength to be brave enough to face failure is not as difficult as ridicule from others. Critical cruelty from the exterior world can work its way into the mind of anyone. Even lies can become beliefs after routine battery from peers especially during adolescence.

      Overcoming negative feedback from others and especially yourself is the greatest challenge we face in order to try. Shutting down and running away seem to be safe places to be, where these kinds of feelings appear to 'go away.' These feelings actually anchor in and dig deeper, keeping people from pursuing their dreams and ideas. The real struggle is letting go of them and not finding comfort or familiarity in their pain.

      My question at this point is how to address it? What can be done to alter, adjust, or advance through these challenges? Where does it come from, is it learned or taught?
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    Nov 2 2011: I agree with numerous contributors to this post that the situation is not as bleak as it may at first appear.

    In my corporate career with huge manufacturing firms, it is my experience that visual literacy is highly valued for many reasons. One reason is that visual images can represent complex relationships concisely, accurately and in a compelling way. Another reason is that visual images usually do not need translation the way text does. I worked in firms that operated in up to 90 countries so the time, expense of translation was significant.

    I am surprised that Edward Tufte has not been mentioned in this conversation yet. He has published at least 4 major books on visual literacy and conducts workshops around the world on this topic. In one of my former employers, training in Tufte's workshops was a common choice for professionals across different functions.

    Another phenomenon is the rising popularity of illustrated/graphic novels as serious communication forms. Nick Sousanis is a talented graphic novelist who creates remarkable works on a variety of topics, including the nature of thinking.

    Yet another interesting development is the field of data visualization which has become more and more valued as the sheer amount of information freely available rises exponentially.

    Finally, I believe that cultures with pictograph-derived written languages have a greater regard for visual literacy. I recall working hard to create aesthetically balanced characters when learning to write Chinese script. The feeling and skills I used to write such characters were markedly different from those I experienced when writing English words, even English script.
  • Oct 31 2011: This is interesting in that I guess I didn't realize it was being discouraged. I have but recently come into contact with RSAnimate, which I find an absolutely amazing and captivating way of transmitting ideas. So much so I am looking at developing some courses I am working on to incorporate more visual.

    I was also just watching to a TED presentation by Bruce Schneier, in which he made the statement "we are also a species of story tellers. We respond to stories more than data."

    This idea is driving what I'm working on in this very moment, and why I find this interesting that this is some how being discouraged.

    One thing which comes to mind, which Emmie Thomas stated in her post regarding the possibility of visual language being missing due to the difficulty in acquiring the skills to present it effectively. I too have to wonder if sheer presentation of an idea is easier in a non-visual format for many people. I know several people who are artistically inclined and who design things of beauty with a skill I don't even come close to having. For me, not having this advanced skill level has, in the past, caused me to hold back on even considering visual presentation of some of my ideas. But as I move forward with this project I am working on, I absolutely not only see the need, but the power of a strong visual component to the learning process.

    I have to wonder if there is a way to create a easy to use interface where people can display their ideas visually. First thing which comes to mind is mind-mapping. This concept has changed my life when it comes to how I approach the development of my ideas. Maybe accessibility to resources which make visual presentation easier would help.
    • Oct 31 2011: It’s interesting that Robert Cornell should bring up Bruch Schneier’s statement, “we are a species of story tellers. We respond to stories more than data.” This resonates with us very much. In our Knowji Vocab apps, we strived to teach vocabulary through the use of illustrations, stories and audio. We created a set of characters that interrelate with one another in the example sentences throughout the lessons. This provides learners richer context for learning. It also helps to elicit emotions from the learner, which also helps with learning and remembering. It is very difficult to learn obscure and abstract words and ideas with a simple short definition. Such de-contextualized learning is boring and makes developing a visual representation of an idea difficult in our minds.

      Robert, what is the name of your project?
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    Oct 31 2011: And oh, btw, completely on board with tool vs. skill differentiation. My point was that most people learned "how to make presentations" because of Microsoft Powerpoint. (Of course there are those (including me) who would argue that PowerPoint has taught us all bad habits! :) 'nuff said...)
  • Oct 31 2011: Visual Literacy in children in innate for most. Did you see a 3 year old playing with an iPhone and iPad? I am an artist, a visual multimedia designer and a teacher. Been surrounded by technology for many years and played a role in numerous visual design projects for large companies. I cannot compare the speed with which they can "read" a visual interface with my own. We are looking at a whole new generation of visually literate human beings. As teachers we should push this angle in our curriculums and practices. As parents, need to take matter into our own hands and stimulate it, endorse it, while the system is catching up. (oh so slowly )... After this session I am hoping to get an insight as to what can be done to promote visual literacy. Will there be a recap?
  • Oct 31 2011: About cost of illiteracy, I once read from a training journal that illiteracy costs U.S. businesses $60 billion a year in lost productivity. I can try to dig up the research if anyone is interested. Sunni, what you said about the ridicule of the use of visual language is very interesting. We haven't seen or heard of such before, so sharing references to this fact would be really instructive.

    I am wondering if the use of visual language is so often missing because the ability to illustrate our thoughts is a difficult skill to acquire, despite its tremendous learning value. When we illustrated pictures 1500 SAT words for our iphone apps (Knowji Vocab), it required an enormous amount of creativity, talent and time and the project took thousands of hours to put together. For instance, how would one go about drawing words like "abstract" or "conception"?
    • Nov 13 2011: Hi Emmie, I am interested to find this app? It isn't coming up on iPhone, I also know a way how to illustrate the words, the reason is, if you cannot read at all, you find a way!
      • Nov 14 2011: Hi Maxine: I would love to learn about your solution for illustrating words. Our apps can be found in the app store by searching for "Knowji Vocab". Or you can go to our site at My email is and I hope to hear from you. Best, Emmie
  • Oct 31 2011: What I find interesting is that we are discussing this as we ourselves (Americans) are shifting away from traditional literacy to sharing information visually. I find that as we undergo this shift, subtle yet important ideas are lost. There is value in literature exploring the abstract concepts which give meaning and weight to our words. Therefore, we should integrate visual imagery into society, but continue to maintain robust literacy.

    A picture does indeed speak a thousand words, but we still need to know the words and concepts behind every picture.
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      Oct 31 2011: Ali, I make a distinction between consumption of visual content and production of it. I believe people should be taught to do both. Intelligently consume visual content and intelligently portray it for their own and others' understanding and analysis.
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    Oct 31 2011: I want to stress that these are not random patterns. There's an evolutionary agreement between all earth dwelling beings, at least, as to what exactly a 'note' is. A single 'note' sets up a pattern of vibration in the airspace it occupies. A combination of notes with a common denominator between them sets up a swirling pattern in the airspace it occupies that is audible to the ear, visible to the brain. Also, color gets involved, inferred by emotional response.
    I know this is not your field, but it's the same is the arena of perception. Cousins in creation.
  • Oct 31 2011: Was an Art Educator in a public art gallery for 6 years. Focused on this very issue. My take on why it's taken for granted? Because everyone assumes that because they can "look" at things that they can "see" them. Most of us are encouraged to "label" what we look at rather than be truly critical about what it is we "see". We typically have a very tiny vocabulary of terms to describe what it is we do see ...

    Another take? We've had a difficult enough time trying to promote the concept and importance of full literacy (reading & writing) to be functional in today's society and we still haven't managed to include everyone. To suggest that visual literacy is a "must" is going to be a very hard sell.. unless we can prove the shortcomings of not doing so .. the cost of it to society... This simply points out the need for more research on the topic.

    How to overcome the problem?
    First .. use opportunities to increase public awareness of the issue .. and what's at stake as a result of having someone who is not"visually literate". The whole Gallery, with its Art Education community would seem to be a likely starting place for organizing and lobbying for this..

    Second the focus of that awareness should be on noting the cost of having that limited vocabulary. I'd suggest that we use the analogy of reading to help here. If we had the same limited vocabulary for reading books.. we'd also be limited in the number of books we could read .. and the extent to which we could understand the concepts presented in them .. and in understanding the world around us. I've found that for most people, the number of words used to describe visual objects or events is extremely limited .. and to complicate matters further.. with few opportunities to learn how to expand and practice that vocabulary.

    Third, get the research that's needed to know the true extent of people's visual vocabulary and detail the opportunities lost by it.
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      Oct 31 2011: I think you're right, we'll need to prove the cost.

      On a related note, I recently learned of a lawyer-turned-art-historian who began a program to teach police detectives and other law enforcement first responders how to articulate what they see better. She found that if these professionals didn't feel comfortable describing what they saw, often the information would go unexpressed. Crimes are solved based on tiny details that require precise observation.

      Other times it's not so clear cut, but hopefully more research will bear out the importance of not only being able to communicate with visuals, but articulate what we see in them.
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      Oct 31 2011: James, fantastic comment, thank you. My responses:
      First, visual literacy can actually be used to teach verbal literacy which, as you rightfully pointed out, is a problem in itself. I think that we may be missing an opportunity to use instinctive visual language as a gateway to teaching all kinds of other fundamentals kills.
      Second, calculating the cost of this illiteracy is so challenging to do. I can point to our declining scores on the Torrance Test as some evidence, but the request to show the cost is like requesting to show the cost of not being able to read. It is preposterously enormous. There are numerous other studies of declining ability (innovation, problem-solving, etc.) but I think your metaphor is one of the most powerful approaches to igniting people's concern and action. I will always compile research-based evidence to make the case, but the anecdotes and stories are what seem to move people to action.
      Last, "looking" versus "seeing." Two entirely different animals indeed. Thank you so much for your work as an Art Educator.
    • Oct 31 2011: With regards to the size of vocabulary, the average person uses 2000 words that encompass 95% of spoken communication. A well-educated native English speaker should have a vocabulary size of about 20,000 words by the time they are in college. I believe most people have a significantly smaller vocabulary than that – particularly given that 50% of American adults can’t read at an 8th grade level.
  • Oct 31 2011: Sunni, do you ever think that we can build a lexicon of images which are cross referenced with words and used much like fonts, where you can either write a word or draw an image and simply switch between literary and visual fonts? Simply a different way at looking at the same information?

    Perhaps if people had the same comfort that spell check gave them, they would draw more. That's what we need, a visual spell check
    • Oct 31 2011: Are you speaking of ideographs, as we see in written Chinese?
      • Oct 31 2011: No, it really has to be accessible...was simply dreaming of having a "Visual" option under Google Translator, to or from any other language.
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      Oct 31 2011: A visual auto-correct, hilarious! My first concern would be that it would start to homogenize visual representations, which scares me. But regarding a lexicon, I do have my own "graphic vocabulary", pieces of which I use to quickly convey something people are describing in a conversation. I encourage all students of visual literacy to start to develop their own lexicon for the purposes of rapid sketching or prototyping. There are books available for this purpose as well and Google Image search doesn't hurt to see what the collective societal metaphors are.
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    Oct 31 2011: WHY: Maybe because it is regarded as "caveman like" and when early colonizers thought of it as uncivilized.
    WHAT CAN WE DO: Listen and draw more. Read and write less.
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      Oct 31 2011: Hmmm...maybe we can blame the Puritans...prioritizing reading the Bible versus seeing/sensing the world (and inviting temptation via the eyes)? That would be my armchair anthropologist guess.

      Or maybe back to the Enlightenment and it's favor of reason...or the Renaissance perhaps...
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        Oct 31 2011: They forgot about how effective story telling is especially with pictures.

        Meditating on the Bible is a very creative process and definitely a right brain function just like doodling, drawing, and sketching.
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          Oct 31 2011: True. Thinking of cathedral stained glass panels...
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      Oct 31 2011: There is definitely a bias against visual language (a phenomenon I'm still researching) and yes, I think much of that bias was a result of the construction and distribution of written language. Being able to read and write was often a function of one's class in society, so the "peasants" relied on pictures and the intelligentsia had "evolved." But moving away from images and toward words is like throwing the baby out with the bathwater. They're BOTH incredibly valuable and they serve different functions. I want to live in a society that honors as much of human intelligence (emotional and intellectual) as is available to us.
      • Oct 31 2011: Now that you have brought up the issue of literature, I am thinking of the wonderful invention of moveable type, and how much easier printing became. Have you tracked a decline in visual representations that corresponds to the use of moveable type and the movement away from wood block prints? Today, of course, as in this conversation, we type. My own illiteracy prevents me from using a drawing. However, the computer I type on is perfectly capable of transmitting and printing drawings.
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        Oct 31 2011: You may want to consider personality profiles because I've observed that most people with dominant personalities prefer to read and write.
      • Oct 31 2011: I don't believe there is a bias against visual language. What I think is missing is the real-time unfolding of a line, a shape, an arrow, a bubble, a series of dots, a squaring, etc. that should accompany the drawing or illustration. Technology isn't there yet.
  • Oct 31 2011: It's silly because we are becoming a visual learning culture. With the introduction of phones, computers, tv, and technology, our form of learning is being steered more towards visual information processing, as well as auditory. But the visual representation has to be intact first for most people to even be receptive. People aren't whispering at the dinner table anymore, or passing notes. No, they are sending texts and videos and images to one another. The education system is snub-nosed and arrogant, out-dated and slow to recognize incoming trends, and they are failing us. More concerned with their unions and political prioritization than the actual quality of the education they are giving our children. And, because of their out-dated methods, they are not giving two-thirds of our children a chance. How dare they tell our children to get with it when it is them that are failing to recognize the innate capacities these children have to learn in today's day in age. Their lack of receptiveness makes me sad, and it makes me sick. Without giving these children opportunities for alternative method problem solving and information portrayal, you are giving them and our nation nothing for the progress of tomorrow.
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      Oct 31 2011: Less than 5 minutes ago: We are definitely moving at hyper-speed to visual consumption of content. My concern is that most children and adults don't know how to produce that content visually. We have always been visual creatures (try walking into a room with your eyes closed) but we are lacking any system by which we get better at creating, analyzing, and displaying information visually.
      • Oct 31 2011: I think we could look towards our most current example/resource: Advertising. With an intensive study on it's origin and tactics, I believe a small crack in a big door will be opened.
      • Nov 3 2011: i think we favor words over images because words allow precision far more than images which can be illustrative and be inspirational, but lack the rigor and precision of words and numbers. Can we "agree" on what a painting "means"? No, and thats the mystical attraction of imagery. Words and numbers allow us to engineer solutions that directly effect survival and the primary measures of quality of life. I find the increase in visual communication to be dumbing down children who are captivated by moving pictures but who cannot construct an argument.

        Did you do a TED Talk or a TED draw? your pictures hold the inspiration for me but the meaning, for me, is encoded in words. I am a big fan of your work :)
        • Nov 4 2011: What if kids don't want to argue? What if they just want to share? What if being "dumbed down" is the state of dualistic debate and arguments?
    • Nov 2 2011: Quote: "The education system is snub-nosed and arrogant, out-dated and slow to recognize incoming trends, and they are failing us. More concerned with their unions and political prioritization than the actual quality of the education they are giving our children...Their lack of receptiveness makes me sad, and it makes me sick."

      As an educator, I simply do not recognise this grossly inaccurate caricature you are painting here (if I may use a relevant metaphor!). If you are really interested in winning over others to the benefits of visuals (as I, again as a educator, most definitely am), then let me suggest that this overly generalised slandering of those involved in education is not the most effective way of doing this. Recognise the (already widespread) good practice; gracefully and passionately critique the less effective practice, and build from there.
      • Nov 2 2011: Again Allister, I'm not interested in politics. As an educator I think you should be the one critiquing your practice and going from there. And spreading what you've found in the benefits of visuals.
      • Nov 2 2011: Actually, as an educator, I think you should be finding what is working. And share your knowledge.
      • Nov 2 2011: And be going from there.
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    Oct 31 2011: I think doodles represent patterns that the brain produces to find creative solutions. To 'see' a solution, you have to rearrange the furniture, so to speak, and I believe the patterning underlying speech, drawing and music progressions is the dynamic to which you refer. I'm speaking of patterns that emerge from our brains, not patterns imposed on us.

    I use a mental pattern approach when I teach music instead of a written note driven code, and it's like reminding students of something inherent. Instead of teaching them external 'facts', they are remembering something they already know, or recognize. I don't believe it's MIA in adults, but it may be unconscious.
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      Oct 31 2011: Interesting. Music is definitely an apt parallel for doodling. Much of the discovery that occurs in the process of relaxed visualization is the same discovery that occurs for jazz musicians as they "scat" and for scientists and inventors as they "noodle" with concepts and tools. I think emergent patterns are uncovered while we doodle, yes, but they're also invented in the process. One of the reasons I think this behavior is so universal and relentlessly valuable.
  • Nov 13 2011: I found this article this evening, every day I search for new information on visual literacy in the hope that somebody has realised the importance of it and will have gone on to develop a suitable visual literacy reading programme! As I have found this question and read the answers I thought you may like to hear why it is so crucial. Imagine a child who is so disabled by his dyslexia that sounds mean nothing to him, despite years of specialist teaching and numerous phonic based programmes, his brain does not allow the sounds to blend, imagine recognising c-a -t but not hearing or seeing cat after 7 years of being taught the sounds systematically! Now, put a picture of a cat incorporated into the word, show it 3/4 times and the visual memory remembers the shape and pattern of the symbols! Imagine the importance of finding a visual approach to teach all words/ morphemes in this way, remember the picture/ icon has got to relate to the group of symbols! The obvious picture word cards is not enough in this case! The problem being, there does not seem to be such a programme which is accessible to all, the whole focus in schools is to teach children phonics! Due to this child's illiteracy he cannot lead a normal life, imagine having a high IQ but cannot access the written word, IF only there was an alternative. In fact imagine if there was an alternative and you absolutely knew 100% it would work and this child could learn in a different way using a visual literacy programme but due to years of failure and the fact he is to far behind, he and everybody involved in his education had given up on him! Unfortunately, this story is true and we will keep searching in the hope that soon, somebody in education will want to see the whole picture of illiteracy in children and adults and want to do something different to help. I have through research and desperation found a way to develop a programme but time and ability does not allow me to do so.Any suggestions? Yes please.
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    Nov 13 2011: I just found a TEDx Waterloo talk that I thiink will be of genuine interest to this group. I hope it is helpful to you. It is a talk by Miriah Meyer - Information Visualization for Scientific Discovery
  • Nov 13 2011: and yet the vsiuals live on in our minds...the day the towers no longer existed, the man walking on the moon, the convertible driving on a dallas street, the tanks on tiananmen square, the wall coming down....
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    Nov 10 2011: Do you not think it is deeply linked to the greater difficulty (for many in these establishments) to objectively assess progress and capability in visual areas? Equally, perhaps it is the stereotype of value of certain skills within business?
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    Nov 9 2011: With so much of the world even in developed societies still illiterate, visual literacy can feel as though it is primative or preliterate. It is not of course, but until we have become secure in our literacy, it might feel that way.

    I think people have worried so much about raising literacy that we have neglected to just communicate any and every way we can. Many times it is more effective to communicate in visual imagery. This TEDx talk, recently featured on TED because it is so excellent addresses clarity of communication and it reminded me of your question.
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    Nov 8 2011: Promote comic books for adults.
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    Nov 8 2011: The power of visual communication is that it triggers an emotional response almost immediately. Emotion is the key to real learning and stimulating commitment to action.

    As a business consultant, I've had the good fortune to put this insight to good use. I integrate a comprehensive suite of visual tools to engage teams in creative thinking and action planning. Using pictures torn out of magazines to form a collage of customer experiences. Filling giant, concentric circles with colourful sticky notes to represent lifecycle stages. Building operational solutions out of household items. Using metaphors as a visual device to establish hardcore corporate objectives. Plus dozens of other visual techniques.

    What I've discovered from working with individuals, small and large groups of people, in every type of industry, is that we all share the ability to communicate quickly, efficiently and most important, inspirationally using visuals. Whiteboards, flip charts and sticky notes, even napkins during lunch, provide the canvas to share ideas and spark new ones. It's really amazing how a mind map can provoke even the most linear individuals in the room to "see" the concept forming and triggering them to add incredible value by building the idea.

    More and more schools are equipping classrooms with smart boards, which is an awesome tool for creating, building and interacting with ideas in a very visual way. Companies are hiring consultants who bring a process for different thinking using techniques like the ones I described. Infographics are turning dry data into exciting concepts. The inclination to display and comprehend complex information in visual formats does not disappear with childhood. We only need a little stimulation to get us right back there, and I see it happening all around us.
  • Nov 8 2011: I think something have to be done to preserve this cause - i think technology have something it has contribute negatively to this...
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      Nov 9 2011: Using a stick in the sand to draw is free. Purchasing a tool or piece of technology is costly. To post this message involves owning a computer, an internet connection, and an electric bill. Plus all of the people and companies involved to make it happen. Artists end up using what is available to work with like a free ball point pen from TD bank and a napkin or two from the diner where you can get a cheap cup of coffee.
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    Nov 7 2011: Drawing is just the manifestation of deeper things.
    When we dont have yet developed the word, our natural way is drawing ... we us our conceptual natural skils.

    We grow, achieve the word (talk, write, read) then our capabilities are enhanced by a new way to see our world: the abstract thinking. We have to loose our first thets to loose our drawing natural capabilities when our brain separates in two well defined hemispheres. So on, we loose also our natural hability to learn other lenguages....and worst, our natural way to ashtonishment begin to close the door. (I'm sure that here at TED theres a lot of brain experts to be guided in this misterys.)

    As Picasso said, All childrens born artists.
  • Nov 5 2011: I am an artist myself…a wife of an artist, a daughter of an artist and a mom of an artist, in fact a 5 year old artist.

    I let my son believe he is an artist and not just a child who might grow up to be one. He is extremely good with his expressions. He is very good at learning things. Art enables him to create and retain information. I am doing research on visual note taking as well as art in education as a need to improvise my website, As a parent of an artist, I have always felt the need to cherish and document his art. This need took the shape of this website. I am constantly improving it.

    My son has now started 'making' his own 'books' that he illustrates with stories, that he tells me, and makes me write next to his drawings.

    This is the power of doodling and sketching. It empowers. It is amazing!!
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      Nov 9 2011: Excellent! I share your enthusiasm for having children and adults actively making art and being an artist. Not a maybe, could be, would be, but an is, an artist. Thank you for documenting and doing research. That's super important to get academic cred since the street cred is already there. Waldorf schools embrace making through out the school experience all the way to thirteenth grade. Students craft their comprehension into objects of questions asked and knowledge gained through making their own books about their exploration. It's important to note the absence of electronic technology in this process. It's all hands on inquiry and discovery. The classroom teacher belongs to the group of students for all of their years in school.
      • Nov 10 2011: Thanks Kristofer! I wish more and more parents understand this. They can really help their children learn in a better way. Thanks for letting me know about the Waldorf education system. I am reading up on it.
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    Nov 4 2011: We've been increasingly visually literate since the advent of TV. Schools have been slow to catch on to teaching it in the same way they have taught text literacy.

    It's been the recent advances in online and digital technology that has highlighted this and made it possible to teach.

    We have to give up some of our intense love for text and share it with the other forms of literacy.
  • Nov 2 2011: great post. like your efforts....

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  • Nov 2 2011: I was reading the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) and the Internation Reading Association's (IRA) joint position statement on Literacy recently. I am researching the links between aesthetic eduction and literacy development. While I respect their position and agree entirely with their assessment of the problems and need for a position on the topic....there was one statement in the paper that really confused me.

    The statement was, "Some teachers use Big Books to help children distinguish many print features, including the fact that print (rather than pictures) carries the meaning of the story, that the strings of letters between spaces are words and in print corresond to an oral version, and that reading progresses from left to right and top to bottom."

    So I agree that the use of Big Books do all of that except for the part that says..." including the fact that print (rather than pictures) carries the meaning of the story."

    I feel as if that should read that the print "as well as" the pictures carry the meaning of the story and that the two together create meaning. Young children can't infer meaning and context without the visual component. I just wish it were more of a both/and statement.

    Thanks for starting such a wonderful discussion. The title caught my eye as I have been reading tons of research lately on literacy and art. Good luck.
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      Nov 2 2011: You are absolutely right! NAEYC, however, only missed the point in that piece of paper, because all their guidelines stress the use of both, words and illustrations, as tools to derive meaning.

      I am currently teaching the little ones and make sure every time we pick up a book, as a routine, to remind the students that every good reader thinks, asks many questions as s/he reads, and can read both pictures and words. In fact we have a phrase that goes with gestures about it.
      If they can't read the content, we always do a walk through the book, were they tell me what the book is about based on what they see.
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    Nov 2 2011: Here is an example of visual literacy applied to teaching the factoring of numbers from 1 - 100 by Professor Schwartz at Brown University:

    What an effective and interesting way to learn math this visual way.
  • Nov 1 2011: Classically, text was seen as inferior to oration. The truth came in oration, and we recorded text as an imperfect monument to the oration.
    In such a world, visuals became meaningless. People wrote without the presence of a chalkboard, mostly. Now we use whiteboards and chalkboards all the time, and power point, and document cameras and projectors, so I think we are moving in the direction Sunni visualizes. Chalkboards gave way to whiteboards. Spreadsheets gave way to powerpoint. The party game of dictionary gave way to the party game of pictionary.
    I think the conversation could be titled "Visual literacy is coming. How can we prepare?"
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      Nov 1 2011: I like your positive outlook, I hope we open the way to it (although it should be here already, as is a natural element in learning)

      I personally can hardly function without visuals, so I provide lots as well...
    • Nov 2 2011: I tend to agree with your point, Kenneth. The emphasis should be on how we equip our students to make the most of the visual learning. In my experience, while they can benefit from it in the classroom setting (I used it extensively, and I make explicit references to how and why I am using it), the bigger struggle comes in getting the students to use it of their own accord. They are so wedded to the more traditional note making that they seem very loathe to choose any other strategy.

      Have you any thoughts as to how we might win students over?!?
  • Nov 1 2011: I have excellent spatial reasoning, probably better than my ability to verbally express myself, so that's why it's easier for me to draw things. Also because the people I know are a tad stupid (my co-workers), so I constantly need to explain things to them and they can keep the picture as a reference.
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    Nov 1 2011: I think it is because we set great store by efficiency. (usually, the cramming system is to improve efficiency.) This is obvious that for efficiency, to communicate via letters is better than via doodling, drawing, and sketching.

    And, yes, we have always been visual creatures---as for seeing. We have always been talking creatures---as for communication though. And for that communication, we are using phonograms that are combinations of letters that create unique sounds, and not drawing.
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    Nov 1 2011: I am very interested in this subject, thank you for putting the question out there, Sunni!
    I don't know how I have missed it till now. I have a debate going about creativity, and these two topics are deeply interconnected.

    I've been a doodler all my life, and didn't know it. This is how I take notes. However, I think as a student I was aware at a certain level of which teachers didn't appreciate it. I remember being a "selective doodler".
    There were classes where I automatically switched to traditional note taking, others where I could be myself. I didn't need to study for those, one quick look at my doodle/ summaries and I was ready for finals. With the others, memorization, and doodling while I reviewed (it had to be there) were necessary. The funny thing is, many friends asked to copy my "notes" or review them together before tests...

    Only very recently I found out that there is even a career, graphic recorder, that's all about this.

    I am interested in how our mind works and expresses in creative ways, and how we can turn that creativity into problem solving. While this process can be fascinating, the big pachyderm in the room is education.

    How do you see education and creativity (in this case doodling) working together from the early years?

    How can it be encouraged to support subjects without taking extra time (one of the things teachers are concerned about when writing things off the agenda)?
  • Nov 1 2011: I guess doodling reveals things that words don't express, perhaps something from the subconscious mind. Teachers and other adults don't want to go there....
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    Nov 1 2011: Wait, trying to follow this layered stack of text is making my brain go cross-eyed. Could someone get TED Conversations to add a whiteboard feature for diagrams? :-D

    I am very down with this whole project. In fact, I am a teacher and have worked at every level from K4 to college and taught subjects from English to math to philosophy. I am pursuing graduate studies in ed psych for the purpose of researching and rebuilding our classrooms (both the thinking and the physical spaces) around the visualization process, so please take energy and encouragement from the awareness that you are not alone.
  • Nov 1 2011: The idea of a lexicon for visual communication is fascinating to me. Maybe homogenization will be averted naturally the same way graphic designers develop fonts.
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    Oct 31 2011: Agree that a high level of skill isn't necessary, but unless schools have changed considerably, I suspect a lot of people grew up believing that without drawing skills they couldn't be visual communicators, so they grew up with barriers already in place. But I think technology is reducing the barrier
  • Oct 31 2011: The combination of the pictorial and the written as in mind mapping, to me is a majikal way of depicting, developing and recalling stories and ideas. Then there is the memory function that is greatly enhanced, sight, site and cite, by the visual for later recall.
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    Oct 31 2011: Maybe it's why so much ADD shows up in our classrooms... it's not the brain, but rather the environment that has become so restrictive. We forget that the artistic part of our brain solves real problems.

    It's my humble opinion that the arts are not valued and that we are socializing our creativity out of existence.
    Just my 2 cents before this thread closes.

    PS- ADD in adults is not as troublesome because adults can choose their environments to thrive and be successful. Schools tend to think that kids should be good at EVERYTHING (and the choices are limited) when that's now how we are organized in life. We choose the areas that we want to and can be good and satisfied with.
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    Oct 31 2011: I think visual literacy is more than the line, dot and ground. Words are always symbolic but images, especially moving images, are direct and can convey a lot of information. We rarely discuss the effect it may have on us, although we often talk about the story or the metaphor the images are presenting to us. I remember my design teacher discussing all the intense visual imagery in the Lord of the Rings and how that must affect a young child without intellectual buffers to interpret or categorize that kind of information. It would be like reading Tolstoy's War and Peace at the age of six and how often does that happen? So I think it is very important to teach how visual image is read, how it affects us, and how to be critical about what we are exposing ourselves to, particularly when there is often no choice such as a billboard or a bus ad which is in the public space.
  • Oct 31 2011: A lot of schools are overwhelmed with standardized testing which focuses more on literacy (reading and writing), math, and science. Other subjects, especially the arts are considered "add-ons." I find it fascinating that while our culture is becoming increasingly visual, schools tend to go the opposite way. What people don't realize is that visual literacy will actually make you more than competent in all endeavors.
    • Oct 31 2011: Please don't generalise so!! In my classroom (Geography and Critical Thinking) in the UK, I actively promote the use of visualisation as a fundamental means to promote the learning of content and the development of higher level cognitive skills of pattern spotting, problem solving and making connections between diverse elements!!
      • Oct 31 2011: Alistair, I don't mean to generalize. Your classroom sounds wonderful. Please keep doing what you're doing! My thoughts come from education news in the U.S. especially about high-stakes testing and merit pay. I firmly believe in a well rounded education in all subjects.
  • Oct 31 2011: I am a math educator and my focus is on incorporating visual representations of mathematical ides so that more people can have meaningful access to them.
    • Oct 31 2011: That's great! I teach Geography and Critical Thinking and make extensive use of visualisations with my students!
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    Oct 31 2011: As many scholars/researchers suggest non-verbal/visual learning is very important for both cognitive growth and memory (Eisner, Paivio, Lester). Words are, after all, merely symbols that represent sounds. Lester suggests that at some point in history when full images became too cumbersome to convey long messages drawings became simplified in order to be more portable and lost their visual links rooted in imagery.

    Regarding science and VL, science is one of the most heavy users of visual aids, I can't think of a science text book without them. A great multidisciplinary site that explores visualization is

    Today images seem to be more in demand and on the rise due to new media and technologies. We have become more reliant on IT and these new apps and icons have erased words from our screens. I think understanding what we see is more important than ever before.

    Some reasons for VL not being accepted as a course of study in schools is because it has no agreed upon definition and is often merged (or blurred) by visual communication and media literacy (none of which have any widely accepted theories written on them). I think part of the reason VL has not been welcomed in to the arts is an old battle of high vs. low art. VL is inherently linked with popular visual culture and visual culture has never been that 'popular' in fine arts because it encompasses all visual materials from packaging to advertising.

    I believe it is those in Art & Design who should be leading the charge to integrate visual learning strategies into our schools but this doesn't seem to be a priority. At the same time I don't believe that VL is necessarily something that should be restricted to art, visual learning should be a part of every subject/discipline as it integral part of how we learn.

    I'm currently doing image-based research on VL and VC:

    Thanks for postin
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    Oct 31 2011: Absolutely. In fact you took the words out of my mouth. Steelcase was uppermost on my mind...but I forgot to mention them. I am familiar with some of the work they are doing in the area of collaborative learning - and they would be a good partner!
  • Oct 31 2011: As we grow into adult hood, individuals seem to loose their inclination to convey thoughts visually- of course after years of conditioning through traditional education students are discouraged to simply "doodle." Tons of parents support this tradition by not taking their children seriously when it comes to anything that seems a bit more creative than algebraic equations, and the closest they get to maintaining visual literacy is Geometry class.

    The point is: this division of people who "let go" of their visual literacy and the people who maintain it separates the world's top innovators from the world's world's working class. Companies, Corporations, Media, Television, Broadcast, News, Advertisement, Computers, Technology, Touch Tablets, and Phones ALL operate on the premise of visual literacy. I often share the secret that understanding how to universally operate any new technology is a simple matter of iconography- that is just understanding what basic symbols mean! The dashboard in your car doesn't use "words" to indicate what the buttons do- it uses icons or symbols- and the same goes for operating thousands of other devices! Even navigating your way to the bathroom in a foreign country is a matter of iconography. Believe it or not, our world IS and HAS BEEN operating on the basis of visual aids for quite some time now.

    Steve Jobs accredited a typographic program for is innovative influences in creating such beautiful operating systems for Apple, Inc. This suggests that even comprehending text is based on some underlying laws of visual literacy. To realize the importance of visual literacy will ultimately expand our conscious knowledge 2-fold, and suddenly everyone might find themselves thinking like the greatest innovators of all time. To support this idea once more- might I mention that Industrial Design, Architecture, Pipe-fitting, and even City Layouts all began as a Visual Idea before they conceived the mathematical components used to manifest them.
  • Oct 31 2011: Sunni, you say below: 'The behavior pattern seems to be that when individuals are seen using visual language (doodling, sketching or drawing), they're either made fun of, asked to focus on the topic at hand, chastised or scolded publicly, or even punished. It borders on lunacy, quite frankly, and it happens all the time.'

    Let me give another perspective from the UK. I am a teacher and teach senior high students. I make extensive use of the kinds of visualisations you promote. I am not only a firm believer in them myself, but I actively encourage my students to make use of them too.

    But here's my challenge: the students themselves. Many (not all) are so wedded to the more conventional note making approach that I find it a constant challenge to win them over to using this kind of approach too.

    Have you any tips on how I might more easily win the students over to the benefits of visualisations? I make it with a significant number of them, but it can take some time. And with some others, we never really get there!!
  • Oct 31 2011: Isn't this rather a McLuhanesque question? Figure and ground? Literary literacy (a bit redundant to speak it) is privileged in a way that no other type of literacy is, and I judge this is so because of the malleability and extensibility of the medium (text, linearity, intertextuality, contextuality) in ways drawing and diagramming are not. But I think there is a petitio principii in the question: Where is the evidence in the claim that so-called visual literacy is discouraged in most cultures? The near death of the primary form of literacy (reading and writing) will not by itself bring about visual literacy or any other type such as the mathematical or the musical. But if there is anything out there to encourage visual reasoning (let's just place this without question in the faculty of the mind and not in some other organ), I submit that it is as simple as a matter of getting in touch with the child, at play with more important things. I must reckon that practitioners of visual literacy can have this child-like sense of their work. And by bringing it about in the consideration of problems which other forms of literacy are encumbered to handle or show or depict or break through, it will have honed an old skill or inclination and subjected to new challenges an inherently dynamic and evocative medium.
  • Oct 31 2011: I've always been interested in art: as a volunteer communicating with troubled teens, or getting input about visioning their future from all ages of school children in the Caribbean or Arctic (due to low literacy or other language issues). I found working in other countries that showing illustrations or examples was worth far more than thousands of words from my translators. But more recently, in starting up a regional nature conservancy, I found that connecting with culture 'speaks' more eloquently than words, inspiring, engaging, or generating passion. Thus we now have a Virtual Art Gallery ( and I'm working on connecting with other forms of communication - poetry, dance, music, cartoons et. (this may take a decade!). For successful communication, it seems clear we need to use different approaches for our complext brains, varied aptitudes, interests - and passions!
  • Oct 31 2011: You cannot prescribe the same level of thought to doodling as you would to any other ordinary motor function. Not everyone can draw or communicating their ideas visually, even as children. There are certain strengths and weaknesses that each person carries, and to lump sum it into saying that 'We need more doodling!' in earlier years that continues on doesn't address the particulars of having a unique persona/skills/talents/way of thinking.
  • Oct 31 2011: How do I Join?
  • Oct 31 2011: American Sign Language (ASL) is a perfect example of visual literacy. ASL has no written component. Why is there such resistance to teaching Deaf children ASL as a first language? Why is there such emphasis for the oral approach, mainstreaming and coclear implants (CI)? Why is enrollment declining for schools fo the Deaf? Here is an example of a bilingual program:
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    Oct 31 2011: To address the question of WHAT CAN WE DO TO CHANGE or encourage visual literacy: Sunni, you write that the way (or at least one way) to do it is to ARTICULATE THE VALUE. I would suggest that in our capitalistic society, things change most rapidly when there is someone to PUSH the idea. And the folks that should be naturally inclined to do so would be the ones that would directly profit from such an increase visual /artistic communication.

    So let's join forces and form a coalition of product and technology companies - that are in the business of visual communications.
    I can think of the "whiteboard" companies, the overhead projector people, the WACOM (digital pen) folks, and so on...

    Similarly, can we fund new product development in this space? Perhaps tools and technologies that would allow and promote e-doodling?
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      Oct 31 2011: A fine idea. I'm in conversation with Steelcase about a visual thinking + product partnership. It's important to note, however, that the tool isn't the skill, but yes, it does facilitate the need and interest in learning the skill. But that foundational piece (how does one take content and visualize it intelligently?) would ideally accompany the creation of a line of products. Agreed?
      • Oct 31 2011: How can we continue this discussion on after this forum is over?
      • Oct 31 2011: I concur, I am very disappointed by the fact that sketching remains a synchronous activity, much like a face to face meeting, and there are no really good tools to support multi-user sketching.
  • Oct 31 2011: Rain Fingerhut on FB said: "You said maybe there needs to be a new form of organizing our concepts. It is this that also needs to shift."

    That is interesting. However, I have yet to see something emerge which can deal with abstract concepts so well. When I think back to the periods in history that mainly used visual communication, the context of those images were fixed. People knew what was being referred, and all the definitions of the ideas were generally in place. They were expressing what they already knew. I wonder if visual imagery is only limited to scenarios where that is the case. If no one knew about Jesus' claims to be divine, or even who he is, then the picture of a baby Jesus with a halo around his head may not make sense. Someone else may misinterpret what the artist means to convey. Perhaps that is why so many resist this shift because they feel something vital is left behind.

    Many of us think in many ways, including words, so why make one form overthrow another? Perhaps we should try to utilize all forms of communication. It seems like it's an error to assume one form is as good as another. Maybe each form has its own strengths and weaknesses.

    As people opt for quicker forms of communication, like imagery I'm observing subtle meanings are lost. which mean we may lose those concepts, and IMO, social progress. Our reasoning is hindered because we cannot choose or reject the options we never knew we had. We deal with problems ineffectively because we do not even have the means to express what the problems are.

    What do you suggest that can deal with abstract and subtle concepts?
  • Oct 31 2011: I'm curious, what are your thoughts about people abusing visual literacy? For example, companies spend a great deal investing in their companies color and logo, couldn't learning too much about visuals mess up perceptions of reality? If one company says red feels sexy, and the other says red feels angry, which one does the brain try to read?
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      Oct 31 2011: Reminds me of political posters that messes with your subconscious.
      • Oct 31 2011: Combination of the Documentary Helvetica, The Devil and Daniel Johnston, The Greatest Movie Ever Sold, and Thank you for Smoking, will give some good insight into the world of advertising and manipulation.
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      Nov 1 2011: Color and its meaning is about the context in which they rest. If you want to see the power of color upon packaging take a look at Michael Albert's pop-art gallery page. These collages embrace enormous amounts of advertising effort into a hand cut manipulation. Some of the products shown still embrace the identity of the original even though it is totally reconfigured. That says a lot about the power of image, advertising, and color.
  • Oct 31 2011: Another take on WHAT WE CAN DO ABOUT IT?

    A hunch .. that more and more of what is being communicated to us is being done through visual means rather than text (i.e. web pages, television, consumer objects, advertizing, design, architecture, etc. ) and yet we are NOT learning more about how to be more critical in our review and judgement of the values, ideas and emotions that these things or moments have inherent in them.

    A need to validate that hunch... then we're armed and "dangerous". Ironically .. we're using text here to explore these ideas. Perhaps if we had available to us some collaborative visual tools we could be reviewing and experiencing this more ..
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    Oct 31 2011: See I would be curious if we would pick up "visual subtleties " the same way we would from a conversation, so for example you could look at someones diagram and based on how the images are placed or the variance in the lines the level of excitement being expressed. I love this concept of finding any means to define something for others to sample what is in our head mainly as my own words often fail to truly express my context.
  • Oct 31 2011: Is graffiti good or bad? I suspect it is good, there just are not that many places where it is acceptible. If we did provide a venue for graffiti, would people use it? What would Marshall McLuhan say, is it the excitement of making the graffiti or the graffiti itself?
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      Oct 31 2011: Okay, knee-jerk reaction: I do not love 95% of graffiti. Having read and watched a lot about it, I think it's most basic form is like peeing in public spaces. Not cool. But is the ACT of creating graffiti helping the tagger? Is that process of visualizing something beneficial to him or her? (Outside of the fumes.) Mostly likely, yes. I just wish taggers also came with a healthy respect for public property and a more evolved sense of content and aesthetics.
      • Oct 31 2011: Banksy must have the most horrible bladder control problem then. And why does graffiti have to benefit the tagger, and not the audience? Why does it have to benefit anyone or anything? If taggers had a healthy respect for public property then they wouldn't be a tagger.
        • Oct 31 2011: I don't think of Banksy as a graffiti artist, in the traditional sense. Many graffiti artists are claiming a neighborhood and Banksy is testing our sense of what belongs to all of us while making social commentary, doodles, and sharing his wit and perception.
      • Oct 31 2011: You are kidding right? Im not a fan of graffiti but I got to accept some of those individuals have an extremely well developed abilitie for painting, while I accept taggers must develop a respect for public property I totally disagree about your opinion that they should "evolve sense of content and aesthetics".
        I mean if you dont like it or to be more precisely if you dont understand it, then please do not critize it.
        And thats goes for any kind of art which finally is just a form human expression.
      • Oct 31 2011: I think one thing I would bring up is, logistically and semantically, there is a difference between graffiti and tagging. Tagging is a form of communication, traditionally used by street gangs, which often times involves an inherent message from the tagger. It is routinely used to mark turf and often involves the taggers Moniker, or street name. It is also used to warn rival gangs, and to market street level drug trade.

        In contrast, graffiti is more of a form of expression in my experience. While it may involve the individual's moniker, the sheer time which is spent on the creation of this expression generally, lends it to being more than simply marking territory or getting their street name out. Though I've never spoke with any of them to know their exact reasons for the amount of work they put into the creation of their particular mark.

        Dylan Jones quoted this on his blog, which he cited from He highlighted the final paragraph which I thought stated well what I was attempting to say as well.

        "The difference between tagging and graffiti is arguable, but some say it's a clear one: tagging is gang-motivated and/or meant as vandalism (illegal) or viewed as too vulgar or controversial to have public value; while graffiti can be viewed as creative expression, whether charged with political meaning or not." Dylan Jones on

        My goal is not to make this a discussion about tagging vs graffiti, but seeing that the two terms were being interchanged above, and having dealt with both in my career, I felt some clarification couldn't hurt.
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      Oct 31 2011: Also, no. When cities provide a public space for graffiti, it's almost never used. The element of rogue action is removed so it doesn't seem to attract most taggers.
      • Oct 31 2011: that is what I suspected, thanks for your candor.
      • Oct 31 2011: I don't think that is true. I come from a rich graffiti culture (Detroit) and while I am not an expert I have seen some amazing public sanctioned graffiti spaces such as Gent Belgium. I think knee jerking to graffiti is odd given that the topic is linguistic expression through visual modes, graffiti is almost the epitome of that.
        • Oct 31 2011: I do think there is something here and just hope visual thinking remains accessible to all, devoid of social structure or position
      • Oct 31 2011: I don't agree with you Sunni. Here in Holland, most legal graffitti places are used intensively. Just try googling 'irenetunnel delft' and you'll find thousands of results. Legal places often result in aesthetically more pleasing pieces, since graffiti-artists have more time to finish their piece. Also, see Robert Cornell's comment on the difference between tagging and graffiti.
        For many graffiti artists, the purpose in making a piece, is 'to be seen'. If public spaces for graffiti are not used, they are most likely not visible.
    • Oct 31 2011: If you provided a venue for graffiti, it would be not fulfilling the purpose of graffiti, which is to deface something you are not supposed to.
  • Oct 31 2011: We should bring back the arts in our elementary schools. Prop 13 did a lot to extinguish the Arts in public schools. Now, drawing, painting, coloring and the like are only experienced as 'Holiday" activities or something to kill time, instead of being a SUBJECT. I am an elementary school tutor and I've worked in classrooms since 2000. I was astonished that so few children felt at ease with crayons in the classroom, much less markers, colored pencils or chalk! Outside, like on the playground, they couldn't get enough!
    Also, there are styles of learning, of which doodling is a part. Many children 'learn' through this activity and when it isn't exercised, the child can find learning difficult. When my one of my children had to go to an Alternative School (a polite term for a campus where the school district puts 'last ditch effort' students), I witnessed an incredible out pour of visual arts talent from these students, from tribal art to digital to 'tagging' art!! Breathtaking and beautiful works of art was done by these students who didn't fit into the mainstream.
    I also remember a beautiful little 3rd grade girl, long blonde hair and impish smile, who had to hum to herself and often get behind her chair to spin or do a little dance and sitting down again, during workbook time. This was her way of 'working through' a new concept or a problem being presented in the workbook. She was an excellent student all-round, but the teacher recognized this learning style and rarely interrupted the student's process.
    I know my last comment was off subject, but it was such a blatant example to me of how learning styles, like visual learners, get so ignored so that our education system can remain unchanged and 'mainstream'.
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      Oct 31 2011: Your last comment isn't off target at all - all of us are complex learners and the act of moving around is, in itself, a method to trigger thought, just like doodling. Our lack of appreciation for these instinctive techniques to improve problem-solving and creativity is one of the things the Doodle Revolution is working to change. We should celebrate the ability of all learners to rely on, move toward and enhance their natural method of absorbing, processing and recalling information. Even if that requires doing a little spin. :)
    • Oct 31 2011: Remember, art doesn't make money therefore it is not viewed as beneficial to future millionaires.
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        Oct 31 2011: Art actually makes millions of dollars and is still a legitimate investment along with real estate and stocks. Go to a high end gallery some time and look at the price tags.
        • Oct 31 2011: I think you can look at art as the production of an "art object", in which case I agree that only the top 1% might make a substantial living from it. But if you consider art and design as a critical thought process, a way of working things out, then it becomes an extremely valuable tool and would be beneficial to anyone building a bridge or finding a cure. In short it allows one to work in a highly abstract way which is a necessary part of problem solving.
        • Oct 31 2011: I agree with Eleanor. I think the discussion above got pretty far off the point. Visual literacy is not just about creating art. Teaching people to think graphically touches all manner of disciplines. Look at Steve Jobs. He was so successful at computer design because he was a visual thinker. In fact, there are business books out today arguing the design is going to be THE MOST important difference between businesses that succeed and those fail in the coming years...

          Mixing up visual thinking with making art objects (regardless of whether it's a high priced museum piece or macaroni glued to a paper plate) is like thinking that the only reason anyone should learn to read is so they can write a romance novel.
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      Nov 9 2011: Remember the mainstream is a stream, small and narrow. A bit larger than a creek, but not even close to the size of a river. All of the rivers lead down stream to large seas and giant oceans. I find it difficult to imagine an ocean liner finding its way into a sea, going up stream through a river, and finally dropping everyone off at the mainstream.

      Multiple intelligences embrace eight different ways people have strengths in learning. It's been explored and researched at the university level and found to be real. An ocean of intelligence is wholly ignored to try and shape minds to float in only the main stream. I can envision a variety of sea ferrying ships strewn along the sides of a river bank like and ocean had dried up. Only a small stream remains with a few people in kayaks and canoes paddling about. So few win in this scenario even though everyone could have participated and succeeded in their own way.

      Even if every congress person strives to be president there can only be one at a time. There is no way each of them could ever be president in their lifetime. Fifty seats are in the senate and there have been forty-four presidents so far in over two hundred years. If the mainstream focus is so narrow, what do the rest of us do with our lives?

      Building on peoples strengths is essential for personal fulfillment. The variety is our power as people. With several billion of us here, pursuing our individual strengths is valuable. The depth and breadth can reach even further than ever before. The pursuit of big ideas, which has been at the forefront of art education for over a decade, will hopefully develop into a cohesive way to teach, learn, and explore all subjects in school.
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    Oct 31 2011: This might be a cultural thing. If you go to South American countries or even in Mexico, a lot of popular literature is in comic book form. My brother spent hours drawing in blue exam books, frame after frame, trying to work out his problems and emotions while he was in Ecuador
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      Oct 31 2011: Indeed, in Mexico, political cartoonists and visual imagery are a regular part of our news. However, in schools, such skills are not valued, while also not completely discouraged. Children actually are required at one point to draw cartoons. But try to answer an exam in doodles or showing your doodle notes to your professor. VERY frowned at. Oh, do I know that XD
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    Oct 31 2011: My recollection of 'art' at school was an expectation that to get good marks you had to develop a fairly formal skillset, and if you didn't have that naturally you were labelled as not artistic, so not expected to communicate visually. I wasn't 'artistic' in that I needed words to depict the pictures I was imagining, and I never developed much skill in depicting things visually. Something I've done a few times, and would like to do more, would be to collaborate with someone who has those skills, to get the pictures in my head on to paper.

    But having said that, I find that technology can help by giving me building blocks without the need for the manual skills. And with photo and video editing becoming more accessible, more barriers are being removed.
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      Oct 31 2011: May I join you in your label as "non-artistic?" I myself have zero arts education and have historically been very focused on the mastery of verbal language (both reading and writing). If you asked me to draw a visually accurate representation of a giraffe, a microchip or a human being, you'd be disappointed. But a high-level of skill in drawing is not what I think visual literacy is about. For me, it's about representing concepts in a way that is meaningful to the creator and/or to an audience. I learned to focus on visual language as a skill set only as an adult, after it became clear to me that it's absence was stifling my ability to think and communicate better. And I'm not unique. Almost anyone operating in the world without visual + verbal language capabilities is experiencing, whether they know it or not, a less-than-ideal cognitive state.
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    Oct 31 2011: I didn't know visual literacy was discouraged.

    Assuming it is, we can simply teach it and nurture it; it is a natural way to learn and to communicate.

    Tony Buzan's "mind mapping" is quite literally based on visual literacy.

    The graphic novels and comics, again are literally based on visual literacy.

    I use a form of mind mapping that is even more visual than Buzan's; mine is 90% visual with some labels. I use it if I want to remember something new I am learning.

    Whiteboards, PowerPoint, iPads, and lots of other stuff use visual elements; the graphical interface is ubiquitous.

    Movies and TV are visual and follow a unique "syntax" that is easy to learn and follow (an extreme close up of a wheel on a fast moving stagecoach foreshadows its imminent detachment from the coach, etc.)

    Chinese characters are "visual." Maybe we should teach everyone how to write in Chinese (a pretty good idea for lots of reasons!)
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      Oct 31 2011: Sadly, Thomas, yes, visual literacy in many schools in the U.S. and around the world is actively discouraged. I've received hundreds of stories of adults describing their tendencies to approach content visually that was either "frowned upon" or, in many cases, actively stifled. There are very few learning or working environments that even understand the value and application of visual language, much less advocate it. It is much more common to discourage the practice. The behavior pattern seems to be that when individuals are seen using visual language (doodling, sketching or drawing), they're either made fun of, asked to focus on the topic at hand, chastised or scolded publicly, or even punished. It borders on lunacy, quite frankly, and it happens all the time.
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        Oct 31 2011: I am more optimistic. I agree that visual literacy was certainly not encouraged in schools thirty years ago, but my (anecdotal) experience today with kids in US schools is that there IS in fact a lot of emphasis on visual literacy. Thankfully! And I have seen positive benefits of that in subjects as diverse as math, history and even language.

        Perhaps it is a good idea to reach out to companies and businesses who are directly or indirectly in the "visual literacy" business - and co-opt them to help promote this movement.
        Keep up the good work!
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        Oct 31 2011: QUOTE: "Sadly, Thomas, yes, visual literacy in many schools in the U.S. and around the world is actively discouraged. ... It is much more common to discourage the practice. The behavior pattern seems to be that when individuals are seen using visual language (doodling, sketching or drawing), they're either made fun of, asked to focus on the topic at hand, chastised or scolded publicly, or even punished. It borders on lunacy, quite frankly, and it happens all the time."

        I doodled my way through school. And it was not discouraged. Mind you, I grew up in Canada and it was a long, long time ago.

        I am not aware of any concerted efforts being made to discourage visual literacy but then I have not made it a focus of interest either.

        Naturally, you see this as an issue that needs to be brought into the public's awareness; and you seem to be doing a good job of that.

        If it is being discouraged, then simply talking about the benefits of visual literacy will help.

        But talking about it the "right way" will get better results: For example promoting it as a value, suggesting that "everyone" is doing it and so on will yield a more positive outcome than pointing out "most cultures" discourage it. (It's called "social proof" and has a powerful impact on collective behaviour - "we" are more likely to do what "others" are doing; whether it makes sense or not.)
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    Oct 31 2011: On another view, it might have been a developmental/evolutionist trend, to push humanity as a whole towards the massive learning of reading/writing and now it is starting to be accepted, in paradigm fashion, so new paradigms have to step up and older abilities, such as visual literacy, can jump right in the wagon.
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    Oct 31 2011: That's a great question especially at this point in visual human history. From cave paintings to Carson what we see tells as much of a story if not more than all that's said.

    I find this to be a struggle in my studies at the university level as well. I've read numerous articles about multiple intelligences and how to adjust the imaginary curriculum I need to draft for future art students. The part I find peculiar is how universities and education systems acknowledge but ignore or all out fail to validate visual communication as a viable source of understanding and communication. Only in the art department or fine art schools is it considered essential.

    What can we do to change it all? Perhaps keep students in the arts? Look at Daniel Pinks's delve into the creative class and what is needed to keep the United States afloat in both the near and distant future. I wonder if the requirement for physical education through out high school education makes for more sports fans? Perhaps there will be better drawing and ideas in boardrooms everywhere if all students had to continue with art making?

    There seems to be a direct correlation between verbal comprehension and drawing ability in early elementary age cognitive development. Perhaps all of that is held back or halted in the quest for conformity and perfection through the middle school years and abandoned by high school to continue to be 'cool.' Integrating art into all of the subjects would make visual literacy an essential element in all classrooms, not just the art room.
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      Oct 31 2011: One thing that we can do to change it is ARTICULATE THE VALUE. When I was growing up, there wasn't one adult in memory who explained or showed me the contribution of visual language to expression or thought. This sounds culturally deprived to many people, but this is a common reality of children growing up in this culture and abroad. I hear it all the time and the world over. There's almost no emphasis on visual mastery (outside of arts) perhaps because the adults themselves don't know the value. People focus on getting educated and getting a job, not recognizing that their cognitive prowess, comprehension of the world and consequently their options, are subject to this constraint on visual literacy.
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        Oct 31 2011: My Mom was always "making things" she would make artificial flowers, jewelry, candles, and so on. For a few years, she made wall art by cutting out wallpaper and creating scenes (ponds in the bathroom, gardens in the hallway, and so on.)

        Each one was a from of visual expression.
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          Oct 31 2011: Aside from being a wonderful memory, how is her visual work valuable? I struggle in explaining these things to people. I wonder if you spend any time 'making things' as a result of being her son? Is there an activity you find personally rewarding, not done in exchange for money, that you find fulfilling? Perhaps that kind of thinking takes a different form in your life than art? Either way finding a way to explain or express the value in these activities seems to be the question at hand. If we can explain to those in power the importance and why, all of us might get somewhere.
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        Oct 31 2011: If it's not shown, it's unknown. The slight of hand in advertising may be the only exposure most people have of visual literacy while plopped down in front of a television, computer, or bus window. Something which is nearly omnipresent has little acknowledgment. Advertising is a field of tapped psychology into the human psyche. Why we buy, feel less than other people, compete and kill are tied into mental manipulation. Most likely by those who will benefit financially in a a trade for a persons time at a job. Wealth plays a role in what is valued. The States are a capitalist society in which wealth is top priority.
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        Oct 31 2011: QUOTE: "Aside from being a wonderful memory, how is her visual work valuable?"

        Is this not self evident?

        Of course, how you define "value" may have an effect on how you perceive the behaviour (and the story.)

        QUOTE: "...If we can explain to those in power ..."

        Ah, I see we have created a false dichotomy: "Those in power" and "the rest of us ('we')"

        I do not see the world in these terms. In my life, I am the only one "in power" and feel no need to explain to others, for example, the value I see in my Mother's visual literacy.

        Of course, I am happy to share my experience and understanding but, I accept I cannot control how anyone will hear what I have to say.

        What pictures would we draw, what words would we speak, if we had no adversary to overcome?
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          Nov 1 2011: Apologies for any offense. Moms are magic!

          You're right about feeling "in power" about your own life.

          I struggle with my own personal power.

          I suppose, "What pictures would we draw, what words would we speak, if we had no adversary to overcome?" might be a response to how to adjust my mind set in asking for advice on how to perceive and experience a full sense of self power.
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        Nov 2 2011: Hi Kristofer,

        No offence was taken.

        QUOTE: "I suppose, 'What pictures would we draw, what words would we speak, if we had no adversary to overcome?' might be a response to how to adjust my mind set in asking for advice on how to perceive and experience a full sense of self power."

        Yes, I think we would be more open to learning about a lot of things: our self power, and "stuff" in general.

        I also think we would express a lot more surprise, more appreciation, and more gratitude.

        In the last words of the late, great Steve Jobs, "Oh wow! Oh wow! Oh wow!"

        How cool is that?
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    Oct 31 2011: I just discovered your doodling talk in the past week. I am trying to re-connect with this ability. I am an extremely visual person in my mind, learning, memories etc...And I am the mother of two extremely talented artists and therefore have felt intimidated to pursue any kind of drawing/doodling. However I believe this is truly holding me back and others as well. We need to access all the tools we have at our disposal for communication. And this is whether it is high tech tools or the absence thereof.

    Thank you for the work you do.
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      Oct 31 2011: Congratulate yourself for two talented children and then promptly stop comparing your work to them or to anyone else. This skill is for YOU. Don't judge it, don't criticize it. Just follow where it leads you. Mo, you go!
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        Oct 31 2011: Thank you. Your encouragement means a lot. I am going back to college at age 40 and will graduate next year. After that I want to be an inspirational speaker and creativity consultant. Just as you believe doodling/drawing is for everyone, I feel the same way about creativity. It is for everyone and in all areas of our lives.
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          Nov 1 2011: As high school came to a close I wanted to be able to draw the things I saw in my mind. Make them real outside, where I could see them. I took several years of college drawing classes to grasp perspective, light & shadow, form, and figure. It was scary, really difficult, and totally worth it. It's like over coming an impairment or a disability. There is no competition with anyone but yourself, that's your decision to embrace or ignore. Each artist has a point of view and has figured out some way to express it in the way they know how. Some may see other's images as inaccurate, sloppy, 'wrong,' or different than how they, the viewer, would envision such a thing. At that point make your own drawing to enjoy the way you like it. There will be new challenges in trying to master and comprehend what it takes to make something the way you envision it. Personally, I find my initial intension will alter greatly by the skills I have or are missing to achieve an initial vision and I am left with what I knew prior to the knowledge gain in trying something new by expanding my understanding.
  • Oct 31 2011: I thought historically (back in the day), not using visual elements for education was a sign of being a rich and educated. If you couldn't read, it was probably because you didn't go to school and if you didn't go to school it probably meant you were not rich enough to do so. I see reading as just another input mechanism to the mind so that you can take textual data, convert it into visual data. Come to think of it, visual elements are the way we learn. There is something to say about emotional elements as well, but that's for another conversation. I think the trend is changing, if the overall objective is to get a person to learn about "A", does the mechanism for teaching that concept really matter? Heck, O'Riley's "Head Start" series is focused on displaying programming elements and methods through the use of visual examples. I don't think it disappears, I just don't think enough of visual teaching is being performed.
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    Oct 31 2011: I think it's discouraged because people have a negative and uneducated perception abut how doodling and visual literacy can improve the learning process of a lot of kids and even adults. I think it ties into people and culture's lack of respect towards the arts versus science and tech these days.

    However, infographics have become very popular in the tech world over the last year. What do you think about them Sunni? I think they are one way that we can start to change people's perceptions on visual literacy. I find them very useful for dealing with the large amounts of social media data that people like to throw around. I also see them as a way to improve math skills as math is one subject that I've always had a difficult time visualizing.
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      Oct 31 2011: God bless infographics (even if many of them showing up are still inelegant in their portrayal of data.) Because you led me to one of my main points, which is that doodling is an innate skill that, IF VALUED AND ENCOURAGED, can lead to diagramming, prototyping, information design and absolutely, improved math scores. (See Vi Hart's Mathematical Doodling videos online.) Just like learning the alphabet and adding one letter to the next to create words, then adding words to create sentences and so forth, we can also use simple visual language as a platform on which to build more sophisticated literacy. Our culture's lack of respect for the arts could be subverted by approaching it from a different angle: showing the cognitive power of visualizing information and by extension, of visualizing expression via art. By the way, your hair still looks awesome.
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    Oct 31 2011: Those people can be termed as "visual" illiterates.. are destined to use "Constrained" figures(numbers and alphabets) ... the funny barbaric way to turn them into our way is to "Short Circuit" their "right" brains..atleast now they listen to their "left" out brains!!! Mission accomplished!!!
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    Oct 31 2011: Sunni - What's up? Where's the Doodle Revolution going?
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      Oct 31 2011: Hey there, Todd! The Doodle Revolution is going on a global campaign for visual literacy. This will take the form of workshops, webinars, public interactive art events, an annual Doodle event (first one held in Austin!), a doodle chain-letter and a book coming out next year. As you can tell, the Revolution requires people power and that is a slower build. Education and Movement need brains and hands to impress themselves upon.
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        Oct 31 2011: Awesome. Let me know how I can help with the workshops. Totally up my alley.
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        Oct 31 2011: Education and Movement needs brains and bodies, hopefully being used simultaneously. The hands are of importance aspect of movement and language skills.
      • Oct 31 2011: I think teaching people how to think visually is wonderful. I have seen you speak before Sunni and it is completely inspiring. I am wondering if the conversation could expand from learning to think visually, to teaching visually as well. Thoughts?
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          Oct 31 2011: Thank you, Celeste. I'm motivated by the learners! In the future, I'm looking to train a cadre of visual facilitators and visual thinkers so they can go forth in the world and educate. My current inspired book on that is called The Art of the Changing the Brain.