In chapter four of Bolter’s (2001) Writing Space: Computers, Hypertext and the Remediation of Print, the evolution of pictures to support the written word is outlined. He suggests that ‘words no longer seem to carry conviction without the reappearance as a picture of the imagery that was latent in them’ (p.67). I found it fascinating that subconsciously I had many moments when reading where I wished there was a picture or a graph to help support the text. Furthermore, I realized that before reading many educational papers, I quickly look ahead to see if there are any pictures or graphs to help support my understanding. My focus therefore will be on exploring the scientific benefits of visual enhancements and if it is something that educators should focus on in their educational practice?
While print was revolutionary for the purely oral cultures, the remediation of print to include pictures has caused new forms of literacy to become important in the education world. Even though it is still a relatively new concept, the impact that pictures have on text has become important in course design and lesson planning. Ultimately, teachers decide which visuals they will include in their lessons and need to be educated on what is the best way to incorporate them.
Goldstein (1983) set out to determine if students were able to remember the pictures they viewed in textbooks. The ability to actually test this can be somewhat controversial, but they did find that students were able to remember pictures fairly accurately. This idea that pictures are playing a major role in learning is something that not only educators need to be aware of, but also curriculum developers and creators of instructional materials. Goldstein states: “surely if students remember pictures which they learned ‘incidentally‘ they should be able to profit even more from illustrations which are both integrated carefully into the text and are also called to the attention of the reader instead of simply ‘being there’” (p. 4).
In a search for a study to determine exactly how pictures can aid our learning, Woodward (1986) analyzed 28 chapters of a textbook containing 257 photographs, 62 charts, and 28 cartoons. Their goal was to try and determine the relationship these visual aids had to the ‘content and presence and effectiveness of the captions’. They concluded that a ‘substantial portion of the photographs were poorly selected, did not relate to chapter content in any meaningful way, and were often used as fillers or decoration’ (Woodward, 1986).
Even though the study by Woodward was completed in 1986 a more recent study of American History Textbooks published from 1950 to 2000 found that the ratio of visual content to text has not changed much over the years (Lowman, 2006). They suggest that visual content has represented a significant portion of volume in the textbook for a long time now. Bolter on the other hand suggests that there has been a change in ratio of images to text (2001). This may be a reflection of the internet and other forms of print rather than educational textbooks. Furthermore, researchers stress the need to focus on visual literacy skills so that learners gain an ability to use the pictures as an information resource (Lowman, 2006). However, they did not discuss how relevant the images were to the text and therefore it is still unclear as to the impact that the pictures can really have on the learning.
Clearly pictures have gained momentum in an education setting. Bolter (2001) suggests that some web pages have begun to resemble ‘magazine advertisements, with striking visual metaphors, display fonts, drop-shadowed texts, color gradients, and the pixel-by-pixel construction of gridded spaces’ (p. 83). Ulbig (2010) found that simple, visually appealing material resulted in increased student engagement. These findings are significant for educators because it solidifies the concept that pictures play a role in learning, especially those that are more visually orientated. If students are exposed to visually appealing graphics on a regular basis they are going to expect them during learning activities. As educators, we are not trained graphic designers, so even if we had the expertise to create these types of graphics for our students, the time involved would be a great undertaking. It is reassuring that even simple graphics can have an impact on student learning and something we should strive for in our lessons.
Not only are pictures important to include with text, Bolter also discusses the phenomenon of Ekphrasis, a process where words can describe vivid scenes simply by using imagination. This is a strategy that we teach students when reading to help them understand what they are reading and to also remember their reading. When students are writing, we ask them to reverse their role and become the reader to try and have them understand the need to include details and elaborate on ideas. With the evolution of pictures containing more details, one can only hope that it would translate into a higher level of writing.
Pictures have grown to become a part of our culture. Not only have we evolved to expect advertisements and web pages to have well designed graphics, our exposure to them are increasing at phenomenal rates. It is understandable then that it will impacte students’ expectation to also see them in the classroom. As well, it has redesigned strategies for reading and writing by using imagination and well detailed pictures to strengthen both skills. The significance in the evolution of imagery is something that needs to be taken seriously by all those involved in education.
Bolter, J. D. (2001). Writing space: Computers, hypertext, and the remediation of print [2nd edition]. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.
Goldstein, A. G. (1983). Do students remember pictures in psychology textbooks? Teaching of Psychology, 10(1), 23-26.
Lowman, K. (2006). The necessity of pictures: Illustrating history in textbooks, 1950–2000. Northern Illinois University). ProQuest Dissertations and Theses, , 285-285 p. Retrieved from http://ezproxy.library.ubc.ca/login?url=http://search.proquest.com/docview/305299407?a
Ulbig, S. G. (2010). A picture is worth what? using visual images to enhance classroom engagement. International Journal of Instructional Media, 37(2), 185.
Woodward, A. (1986). Photographs in textbooks: More than pretty pictures?