Learning to see the infinite: Measuring visual literacy skills in a 1st-year seminar course

Main Article Content

Michael S. Palmer
Tatiana Matthews


Visual literacy, defined as the ability to interpret, negotiate, and make meaning from information presented in an image, was a stated learning objective for the fall 2009 iteration of a first-year seminar course. To help students develop visual literacy skills, they received formal instruction throughout the semester and completed a series of carefully designed learning activities. The effects of these interventions were measured using a pre-/post-semester methodology where students were asked to look at two different—but stylistically similar—paintings and write a response to the following two questions: what do you see and what do you think it means? Students’ responses were analyzed based on the visual evidence recorded, and 2) the strength of their arguments using Toulmin’s argument model. After instructional interventions, paired t-tests indicate that students made significantly more basic and advanced observations, offered more supporting visual evidence for their best-supported claims, and made stronger connections between their claims and the visual evidence.


Download data is not yet available.

Article Details

How to Cite
Palmer, M. S., & Matthews, T. (2014). Learning to see the infinite: Measuring visual literacy skills in a 1st-year seminar course. Journal of the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning, 15(1), 1–9. https://doi.org/10.14434/josotl.v15i1.13089


Arslan, Rumiye, & Nalinci, G. Z. (2014). Development of visual literacy levels scale in higher education. The Turkish Online Journal of Educational Technology, 13(2), 61-70.

Avgerinou, M., & Ericson, J. (1997). A review of the concept of visual literacy. British Journal of Education Technology, 28(4), 280-291. doi: 10.1111/1467-8535.00035.

Brumberger, (2011). Visual literacy and the digital native: An examination of the millennial learner. Journal of Visual Literacy, 30(1), 19-46.

Debes, J. (1969). The loom of visual literacy: An overview. Audiovisual Instruction, 14(8), 2527.

Felten, P. (2008). Visual literacy. Change: The Magazine of Higher Learning, 40(6), 60-64. doi: 10.3200/CHNG.40.6.60-64

Hollman, V. (2014). Promoting visual literacy among undergraduate students in geography: teaching a visualized Latin America. Journal of Geography in Higher Education, 38(1), 136147. doi: 10.1080/03098265.2013.836626.

Linenberger, K. J., & Holme, T. A. (2014). Biochemistry instructors’ views toward developing and assessing visual literacy in their courses. Journal of Chemical Education. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1021/ed500420r

Little, D. Felten, P., & Berry, C. (2010). Liberal education in a visual world. Liberal Education, 96(2), 44-49.

Palmer, M. S. (in-press). Learning to see the infinite: Teaching visual literacy in a 1st-year seminar course. New Directions for Teaching and Learning, 141, 19-29.

Toulmin, S. (1969). The uses of argument, Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press.

Wineburg, S. (1999). Historical thinking and other unnatural acts. Phi Delta Kappan, 80(7), 488-500.

Yeh, H. (2010). Towards evidence of visual literacy: assessing pre-service teachers’ perceptions of instructional visuals. Journal of Visual Literacy, 29(2), 183-197.

Zull, J. E. (2002). The art of changing the brain: Enriching the practice of teaching by exploring the biology of learning. Sterling, VA: Stylus.