Visual Literacy Research: Where to Start

There is much research yet to be done. As mentioned, the literature about visuals and visual literacy is overwhelming. This author is asked from time to time where a neophyte researcher interested in visual literacy should start. The temptation is to answer, “with the meta-analyses and reviews of the literature” (e.g., Levie, 1987; Levie & Lentz, 1982, Moore & Readance, 1984; Winn, 1987), but that is not a very helpful response. The best advice would be to read carefully three books: those of Moore and Dwyer (1994), Pettersson (1993), and Willows & Houghton (1987). Add to that list the dissertation of Baca (1990), if it is easily available. Another recommended early read would be Dwyer’s 1987 book, with its 37 articles describing PSE research. Then the new researcher should select the meta-analyses and reviews of the literature relevant to his or her personal interests.

The best advice regarding research methods would be to design quantitative studies rather than qualitative ones. The aesthetic aspects of pictures, film, and television are real. They are also the bait to encourage qualitative methods. However, visual literacy is seen somewhat as a field of inquiry that lacks rigor, and even an excellent qualitative visual literacy study would be greeted with a general lack of respect. In terms of need, research is overdue that addresses longitudinal image effects, electronic imagery related to visual literacy constructs, and interaction of cue summation theory and dual-coding theory (as complementary or conflicting). Those interested in finding a research topic, who don’t have the time to read all of the recommended books, would be well advised to consider Baca’s (1990) list. Visual literacy research is needed to:

• Identify the learnable visual literacy skills
• Identify the teachable visual literacy skills
• Develop implementation of visual literacy constructs
• Validate implementation of visual literacy constructs
• Provide a rationale for visual literacy implementation in our society
• Provide a rationale for visual literacy implementation in our educational system
• Supplement research conducted in other fields, including psychology, education, learning, visual perception and eye movement studies, print literacy.

Baca also lists a dozen or so other possible research options. As an eclectic field, visual literacy provides many avenues of investigation. Fortunately, many resources are already available to facilitate future scholarly activity.

- Roberts A. Braden,
California State University at Chico

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