Book Reviews

Book by: Deandra Little, Pete Felten, & Chad Berry
Review by: Kasey Swanke
College of First Year of Studies 
University of Notre Dame

 

Visual arguments dominate students’ lives outside of the classroom. Videos, info-graphics, architecture, and the night sky each communicate meaning that students learn to interpret and evaluate. Equipping students with the tools and skills necessary to become critical consumers and producers of information is central to a liberal arts education, but curricula rarely focus on developing students’ visual literacy. This is troubling since of all the images in students’ perceptual fields, negotiating between the many stimuli by discerning what to focus on is learned rather than intuited. This readable book provides a guide for how university-level practitioners can successfully build students’ visual literacies across diverse curricula and subjects. 

As they stroll through the various chapters, advisors learn about how students sharpen their visual literacy in various disciplines, including astronomy, foreign languages, history, the social sciences, and first-year seminars. Each chapter is written by a faculty member in a specific field (e.g., French, history, sociology, chemistry), who offers insight into how her or his curriculum utilizes visuals to help students better understand the subject material and sharpen transferrable visual literacy skills. Advisors can read only the chapters that cover programs of their personal interests; however, collectively, each chapter provides insight into how students can gain visual literacy through a diverse yet complimentary set of classes. The final chapter concisely offers seven strategies gleaned from the preceding chapters that can quickly guide practitioners through designing and implementing a curriculum that promotes visual literacy.

This book is geared towards educators who are teaching in the classroom and/or developing curricula. The material can also help advisors in their work with and for students. First, the book offers a language and context to talk with students about the visual literacies they are sharpening through their classes so that students can become aware of their own development. Through these conversations, advisors can help students hone their skills and make connections between their classes with greater intentionality.  Second, the book offers plentiful examples for how visuals in class can bridge the gap between the substance in a specific course and the substance of students’ personal and professional lives. Third, the book offers advisors an eagle’s-eye view of cross-discipline educational trends that can help advisors contribute to conversations of curricular influence. 

One transferrable take-away for advisors regards the authors’ continued focus on the gap between how experts and novices view a stimulus very differently. Each chapter author explains how she or he as a professor learns to become aware of this gap in order to identify where a student is and where the student should be. Advisors can apply these strategies during any interaction with a student, regardless of whether it involves talking about visual literacy.

The editors of this book underscore the pedagogical importance of developing visual literacy, and the chapter authors provide case studies from which readers can imagine and implement visual literacy development in their own curricula. Veteran and novice advisors at any school can use this guide to talk with students about their classes, brainstorming connections between them, and the skills they are transferring to other domains in their lives. Moreover, advisors can use this book as a guide for measuring their institution’s curriculum as it prepares students for the various literacies necessary for their futures as professionals and lifelong learners.


Looking and Learning: Visual Literacy across the Disciplines. (2015). Book by Deandra Little, Peter Felten, & Chad Berry. Review by Kasey Swanke. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, 99pp. Price $29. ISBN 978-1-119-06338-4 

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