Developing Visual Literacy Skills in Teacher Education: Different Ways of Looking at the Visual Images

September, 2021

Source: Educational Policy Analysis and Strategic Research, 16(3), pp. 67-88

(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

This study focuses on the assessment of the process of the “looking” activity of a teacher training workshop on visual arts.
This activity focused on developing visual literacy skills by making use of different looking practices during the production and interpretation of visual images.
The aim of the activity is to encourage teachers to look at visual images from different angles and provide students with learning environments that will enable them to navigate visual information, evaluate visuals, create meaning, and encourage critical and creative thinking by establishing connections between these visuals and their daily lives.


Research Design
In order to examine the main purpose of this research in a holistic and in-depth manner, case study method, which is one of the qualitative research approaches, is used in this study.
According to Patton (2015), case-oriented elements in case studies can be analyzed in a holistic approach, and how the participants have been affected by the case researched can be revealed.
Holistic multiple-case design, which is a type of case study, is used in this study.
In this design, classroom and visual arts teachers are considered as one unit of analysis.
The case in the study is reflected in a holistic way of how both groups of teachers interpret visual images in different ways of looking.

508 teachers who teach visual arts at primary and secondary school levels from provinces selected from seven geographical regions of Turkey participated in the teacher training workshops organized within the framework of the project carried out within the scope of TÜBİTAK 4005 Science and Society Innovative Education Practices support program.
284 of these teachers are visual arts teachers, and 222 are classroom teachers.
To determine these participants in the research, the authors used typical case sampling, which is one of the purposeful sampling strategies.
The purpose in typical case sampling is to inform the individuals, who do not have sufficient information regarding a certain field, subject, application, or innovation (Yıldırım & Şimşek, 2013, p.138).
Informing two groups of classroom and visual arts teachers about visual literacy skills through different ways of looking at visuals was effective in the selection of this sample.

Data Collection Tools
In this study, document review method (Yin, 2018), which plays a significant role in case studies, is used as data collection method.
Worksheets, artistic drawings, and participants’ diaries were used within the scope of the document review, since the authors wanted to see how multiple resources complement each other within the data analysis process.

Data Analysis
The research data were analyzed by inductive analysis, one of the qualitative data analysis techniques.
According to Patton (2015, p. 792), inductive analysis involves exploring patterns, themes and categories in data.
During the analysis phase, all the data of the research were read many times.
Then, codes were taken from the data, and the codes that were thought to be related to each other were brought together to reach the categories and from there to the themes.
This process, which progresses from codes to themes, summarizes the inductive structure of the research.
The themes obtained as a result of the analysis are named bi-directionally.
1) Definition: Analyzing visual elements,
2) Interpretation and reflection: Contextual approach to visual,
3) Evaluation: Determining the contributions of visual experience.

As a result of the analysis of the data, three themes were created: analyzing visual elements, contextual approach to the visual and determining the contributions of visual experience.
The content information for these themes is as follows:
Analyzing visual elements; includes defining the elements that structure the visual images regarding what the figures, objects or texts in the visual images represent, what they promise, the art elements and principles that make up the visual composition, and the effects that the images create on them.
Contextual approach to the visual;
includes teachers' visual interpretations of the contexts in which visual images are produced and their reflection on artistic works.
Determining the contributions of visual experience;
As a result of the examination of the participant diaries, the teachers' evaluation of the assumed contributions of the process to themselves, the learning-teaching environments and their students.

Description: Analyze visual elements
Teachers critically questioned metaphorical and symbolic meanings of the formal elements (people and objects) in visual images.
Mostly female and male representation styles are discussed in advertisements and posters and it was seen that these interpretations of representations often addressed a global problem such as racial discrimination coupled with gender judgments.
In addition to that, teachers reported that the white race were portrayed as clean, superior and good while the black race was portrayed as dirty, bad, slovenly and second-class person.
The symbolic meanings of the objects are represented through contemporary artworks in a way that address different emotions, social and experiential concepts.
Accordingly, many symbolic narrations were identified.
For example, coffin was regarded as death of nature, sadness and anxiety; plant was regarded as rebirth, life, immortality, peace and hope; sculpture, was associated with simplicity, perfection and holding on the past; pile of clothes were considered as chaos, consumerism and disorder; puppet were associated with the manipulated possession; mask were associated with confidentiality, shadow was associated with fear and nudity was associated with sexuality and desire.
Teachers emphasized the use of colors on highlighting objects or figures and describing emotional situations; geometric structures of shapes such as rectangles, triangles, squares and forms like cubes as wells as stressing symmetrical balance, horizontal-vertical lines and light-dark values.
They also mentioned illusions created by light-shadow objects and shapes and the contrasts resulted from the use of different (hard-soft) materials and textures together.
The participants also stressed the repetition of units and shapes and irregular and wrinkled textures.
Visual literacy includes cognitive functions such as critical thinking, visualization, make and create meaning and utilizes the affective domain that reveals emotions and attitudes as well (Avgerinou & Pettersson, 2011).
During the workshops, teachers were asked to share their ideas regarding how these images influenced them and which imagery made them feel discomfort while analyzing the visual elements.
The teachers described the images projected in contemporary art works as thought-provoking, questioning, developing different perspectives and impressive.
When it comes to emotional effects of images on themselves, they highlighted positive and negative emotions such as pessimism, hope, fear, calmness, sadness, anxiety, depressing and unhappiness.

Interpretation and reflection: Contextual approach to the visual
Teachers interpreted the contexts affecting visual production as capitalism and society, culture and society, environment and society, personal and experiential.
According to Anderson and Milbrandt (2005), context focuses on the surrounding conditions rather than the physical qualities of images and their impact on individual perceptions.
Teachers most frequently commented on capitalism consumer culture through advertising and poster images.
In the workshops, some groups discussed major current social and environmental issues such as violence against women, animal rights, war and environmental pollution with respect to their inquiries about images in the context of environment and society.
Questioning these issues, some teachers embodied the meaning of images using concepts such as natural balance, slaughter, protection, chaos, and social peace using images.
Some groups of teachers interpreted visuals in terms of personal and experiential contexts.
In this respect, some of them examined the concept of death related to human existence for the continuity or end of life, and some teachers questioned human fears, religious teachings, traumatic memories and dreams.
Briefly stated, the teachers created artistic works by producing meanings in social, cultural, economic and psychological contexts.
Such a practice in the workshop contributed to the teachers in terms of creating meaning from visual images, approaching them from different perspectives and looking critically.

Evaluation: Identifying the contributions of the visual experience
In the workshop, both teacher groups found the process effective in terms of raising visual awareness.
This process allowed teachers to realize what was seen did not have a single meaning and that meaning could change according to individuals and go to multiple perspectives, to build connections between images, to create meaning by questioning sub-meanings attributed to visual images.
In addition, it was observed that the visual experiences provided by the process also enabled teachers to construct ideas regarding their own teaching environments.
Especially classroom teachers mentioned that they should incorporate more visual content across learning activities.
Further, both groups of teachers stated that they would teach their students different ways of looking at visuals in their classrooms, and they would create an opportunity for them to make critical inquiries by enabling them to create dialogue through visuals.
During the workshops, teachers expressed their opinions about how they could contribute to students when they applied different ways of looking approaches to visuals in their classes.
They concluded that this would contribute to the development of visual literacy skills among students in terms of gaining different perspectives, critical and creative thinking, being a conscious consumer, being sensitive to art and respecting different opinions.

Discussion, Conclusion and Recommendations
In this study, classroom and visual arts teachers interpreted various visual forms that were accompanied by questions about different ways of looking at visual images.
In this process, teachers constantly communicated with the visuals.
They perceived and coded what the figures and objects in the images represent, and defined the artistic components that make up the visual composition.
It can be said that this situation helps them to recognize the elements and principles of visual design and to develop an aesthetic perspective.
Similarly, in the studies conducted by Williams (2019) and Yeh (2010), it was concluded that the participants were able to interpret the images by using various art and design elements and developed aesthetic sensitivity while analyzing the images.
Teachers made evaluations about the consumption culture created by the capitalist system in their advertisements and posters, and expressed the situations they were disturbed by social and environmental problems.
Among these, they mostly focused on global issues such as gender and racial discrimination.
Contemporary works of art, on the other hand, were thought-provoking and questioning, and based on these works, they referred to different emotions, social and experiential concepts.
As a result of these, teachers have produced artistic works by making inquiries in social, cultural, economic and psychological contexts.
This helped them to create meaning from visual images, to approach them from different perspectives and to look critically.
Seeing the world from a broad perspective, being able to interpret what we see through visual communication in the context of visual culture, and learning how to transfer these skills to others are the keys to academic success in our visual world.
For this reason, it is important for both classroom and visual arts teachers to review traditional approaches in visual arts teaching practices and turn to a literacy that includes visual texts and multiple perspectives.
In this regard, it is important to provide teachers with in-service training on their ability to acquire visual literacy skills and use visual communication technologies.
In addition, it may be beneficial to add courses on how to develop visual literacy skills to teacher candidates in the teacher training programs of universities and to create an opportunity for them to design activities.
Classroom practices can include computer games, film criticism, visual inquiry through mass media, contemporary art practices, and online websites.
In cooperation with online museums or galleries, visual literacy skills can be developed with questions about different ways of looking at visuals.
Contemporary artists can directly affect students' lives as they often make visual references to daily life and social problems.
For this reason, teachers can encourage their students to seek information on contemporary works of art and to make inquiries through different ways of looking in their classroom practices.

Anderson, T., & Milbrandt, M. K. (2005). Art for life authentic instruction in art. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill.
Avgerinou, M.D., & Pettersson, R. (2011). Toward a cohesive theory of visual literacy. Journal of Visual Literacy, 30(2), 1-19
Patton, M. Q. (2015). Qualitative research and evalutaion methods. (4th ed).Thousand Oaks: Sage Publications.
Williams, W.R. (2019). Attending to the visual aspects of visual storytelling: Using art and design concepts to interpret and compose narratives with images. Journal of Visual Literacy, 38(1-2), 66-82
Yeh, H. (2010). Towards evidence of visual literacy: Assessing preservice teachers’ perceptions of ınstructional visuals. Journal of Visual Literacy, 29(2),183-197
Yıldırım, A., & Şimşek, H. (2013). Sosyal bilimlerde nitel araştırma yöntemleri [Qualitative research methods in social sciences]. Ankara: Seçkin Yayınları.
Yin, R.K. (2018). Case study research and applications: Design and methods. (6th ed).Thousand Oaks: Sage Publications.

Updated: Jun. 08, 2022