Saturday, October 26, 2013

Graphicacy And Teaching The Art Of Seeing

Source: PBSoffbook
As we continue to explore data visualizations with our students, we are particularly aware of the importance of graphicacy to the modern learner. Tommy McCall hit the nail on the head when he called “graphicacy the neglected step child in the classroom” in his TEDx East talk on Literacy, Numeracy, And Graphicacy. In the new e-cology to design and create digital content that is transmitted, interactive, and shared, it is even more vital to incorporate graphicacy skills in our lessons.

Today, learners need to analyze information that is interconnected with society and the environment, and that is continually transmitted, remixed and shared. This comingling of content using text, images, and data in multiple formats shapes the way we interact with visual communications.

By training kids to thoroughly study what they see, we reinforce their visual acuity, attention to detail, and ability to notice conspicuous absences of information. We want them to develop a keen eye for seeing, to detect problems, and to understand the message inherent in the design. With the enormous influx of data visualizations, infographics, motion graphics, and more, educators need to build in opportunities to incorporate graphicacy skills beyond maps, charts, and diagrams in textbooks. Now more than ever, students need to practice visual decoding and encoding in an active way to articulate what is seen and not seen.

The PBSoffbook video, The Art of Data Visualization, reinforces the multifaceted aspects of content delivery and the role of design in the process. It features commentary by data visualization pioneer Edward Tufte, Julie Steele from O’Reilly Radar, Josh Smith from Hyperakt, and software artist Jer Thorp.



Each discussion describes the role of design, content, and audience. Tufte talks about the need to respect your audience and know your content. For him, no amount of style will make up for poor content. His closing comments on wanting to see to learn something and not just to confirm it, particularly hit at the heart of why we need to teach students the art of seeing. As educators, we want our students not to look at content to confirm what they see, but to see to learn.

Source: PBSoffbook
Some of the takeaways from the others are equally as validating in supporting this idea. Julie Steele talks about the relationship between the designer, the viewer, and the data that make up visualizations. For Steele, designers use visual patterns to make decisions in order to trigger emotional reactions from the reader. Josh Smith describes how data tells a story and how the visualization is a narrative around it, and Jer Thorp sees a strong connection between data and culture.

As with any other literacies, we need to make sure that the core underpinnings of graphicacy seamlessly enter our classrooms. Visual forms of communication challenge the very nature of how we look at content, because they are social, organic, interactive, and constructed. This is why it’s important for our learners to have a solid foundation in the art of seeing, and we need to teach them how.

For other posts on graphicacy, please see:


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