Visual literacy is the ability to analyze and derive meaning from information presented in image form. Under this definition, images can be "read" and through the process of "reading" these images, meaning can be derived and subsequently communicated.
One of the seven recommendations made in a report from the Office of Educational Technology (U.S. Department of Education, 2004) for continuing to improve the use of technology in schools is a distinct move toward digital content.
Moving Toward Digital Content
Anyone that has had a student in college recently knows first-hand that textbooks are becoming more expensive each semester, not to mention how quickly they become outdated. A move toward increased use of education technology and its digital content (multimedia and online information), and away from such textbooks, offers many advantages. In addition to the cost savings, it also means improved accessibility, increased efficiency, and enhancing learning opportunities in a format that engages today's internet-focused students.
Because of the unprecedented rate of recent advances in educational technology, this move toward digital content also means that educators must increasingly promote visual literacy as indispensable to day-to-day life. Educators are just beginning to recognize the importance developing students' visual literacy so they may survive, communicate, and succeed in a highly complex world.
Preparing Students for the Workplace
The DOE report makes it clear that educational technology consists of a set of strategic resources that improve a student's "ability to sense, measure, question, understand, communicate, and learn." These resources enable students to become scientists, focused on active learning, rather than passive consumers of textbook-delivered content. Students find it easier to learn core concepts because they are offered visual representations of ideas that provide more precision and clarity. Boring, passive memorization of content transforms into a dynamic, hands-on investigative process that exposes them to many of the same tools and processes that they will encounter in the workplace as adults.
Teaching visual literacy in the classroom means providing activities for students to critically analyze the images presented to them through media. It also means equipping students with the tools they need to present their work in a way that effectively communicates the content. More and more students are looking for educational technology to enhance their individual learning environments. As educators, it is our duty to provide it.