If you are a librarian, it’s pretty much guaranteed that you know the ACRL’s definition of information literacy by heart. Or at least something pretty close to it. The ACRL’s definition of visual literacy though? Maybe not. If you were unaware that the ACRL even had a definition of visual literacy, you’re not alone. Here it is:
Visual literacy is a set of abilities that enables an individual to effectively find, interpret, evaluate, use, and create images and visual media. Visual literacy skills equip a learner to understand and analyze the contextual, cultural, ethical, aesthetic, intellectual, and technical components involved in the production and use of visual materials. A visually literate individual is both a critical consumer of visual media and a competent contributor to a body of shared knowledge and culture. (ACRL, 2011)
So, the question becomes, should we be working to merge information literacy and visual literacy together? I say absolutely!
Why? Because images and visual media are essentially information, and visual literacy itself requires information literacy skills, along with an additional set of skills. Another reason is that students communicate visually now more than ever. And, the ability to communicate through visual media will be expected of them when they get out into the work world. (Putting a PowerPoint presentation together barely scratches the surface of visual literacy.)
How can information and visual literacy be merged? Infographics are one solution. Creating an infographic requires both a high level of information literacy to find, understand and evaluate data; and a high level of visual literacy to display that data clearly. A number of free tools exist for generating infographics, such as Glogster, Piktochart, Infogr.am, and Visual.ly. Some infographics can be embedded in research papers. Others can be included in digital research projects. Infographics also make good stand-alone projects for any course that utilizes statistics. Check out Kathy Schrock’s guide to using infographics in the classroom.
Most importantly, when you are putting together a guide for designing research assignments, you should be considering the role of visual literacy in the design of assignments as well.