Technology Education and the Visual

All these views suggest the centrality of visuality in modern life. Whether we are dealing this off screen or on screen, “human experience is now more visual and visualized than ever before,” (Mirzoeff, 1999, p. 1) If this is the case, then our teaching programs should provide our students with opportunities to look how society, both in the present and the past, has attempted to visualise experience, as well as providing opportunities for them to do so.

The second point is that even if Mirzoeff’s claim that we now interact predominantly with visual material on screen is exaggerated, it is nevertheless the case that more and more time is being spent looking and interacting with the computer screen. But what form should these interactions take in an educational setting? Developments within digital technology have certainly presented educators with new opportunities to engage students with their visual world. Technology has given users an unprecedented freedom and flexibility in a whole range of information and communication practices. From this perspective, the digital computer can be seen as a powerful tool for the storage and manipulation of digital data. Students can access and use a diverse range of media. Sounds, texts, image both moving and still, all become media that can be combined in different ways to communicate.

However, how should all this unprecedented access to various types of media be embedded into an educational program? Should we, like Jameson, be wary of the siren call of the visual, which in his view, is at odds with a rational and deep approach to learning? This is of course at the heart of Gombrich’s argument that images work primarily at the emotional level. Furthermore, isn’t this is the very basis of the success of the MTV style of presentation which seeks to bypass the rational:

Our core audience is the television babies who grew up on TV and & roll. The strongest appeal you can make is emotionally. If you get their emotions going, [make them] forget their logic, you’ve got ‘em. (Cited in Poynor, 2001, p.51)

Visuality is the mechanism by which we engage with the world around us. In every act of looking we are gathering and arranging sensations, but even at this level, looking never occurs without knowledge, even if it is only “tacit knowledge.” (Schirato, 2004, p. 41) This is knowledge which occurs in an automatic manner. Another level of visuality occurs when we need to engage with our world in a more direct way. It is a level of attention where we move beyond taking in the bare minimum and function at a level of alertness where knowledge shapes the visual input in more direct ways. However, the highest stage of attention is where we consciously decide what to look at and see. The visual experience here involves a mixture of seeing and interpretation. The descriptions provided by Gombrich, Emmison and Smith, and Mitzoeff, all highlight this stage. The power of their observations lies in their conscious attempts not to automatically respond to their visual world but to look at it in a deliberate way. What they see is influenced by their social and cultural frameworks, but they are also able to draw upon it to produce a rich visual description. Their accounts in turn make us see the visual in new and different ways.

This is what John Berger was challenging his readers to do in his book Ways of Seeing. He wanted them to rethink the ways in which they viewed the many images that made up their world. Every image embodies a way of seeing, but it is the way the viewer responds to the image that is central to Berger. For him there is not one way of seeing, but there are approaches that are more rich and rewarding. Each individual needs to create the circumstances whereby looking is transformed into seeing. This involves a process where our encounters with the visual become moments of intense, personal reflection.

Nick Sidoyrn
Marden Senior College

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