Multi-sensory visual literacy in online education


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During the last two years, I was writing about screen-mediated family communication. Now, I’m trying to bring what I learnt to the educational context, specifically, to my never-abandoned area of visual literacy. A couple of weeks ago, I have been (re-)exploring the concept of digital literacy as one of the topics in the international online course on e-learning in higher education — the Open Networked Learning (ONL211), which I have recently joined. As it always happens with the concept of digital literacy, also this time the reference to already extensively criticized Prensky’s ideas of digital natives and immigrants couldn’t be avoided. However, this time we were introduced to something else, regarded as (more accurate) alternative: Davide White’s ideas of being/acting as visitor or resident in an online environment. White situates these two concepts on the opposite sides of the scale, but considering the relationship between them as a continuum. The place where we are, i.e., closer to visitor or resident mode in our online and digital encounters depends on our motivation to engage. This model doesn’t really speak to me, because I perceive as yet another way to classify and situate the practices, which cannot be defined by simple binary oppositions, but are more complex than that.

Nevertheless, there was a couple of thoughts on digital literacy, or specifically on teaching in digital habitats that I would like to note here. Davide White points out that the current, forced by pandemic, shift of higher education into online teaching requires different way of thinking about our teaching practices. He suggests that we need to reimagine rather than replicate our institutions online. Teaching online is not the same as in the physical space, and thus, I think that even the learning objectives of a course should be changed and adjusted to the specific practices of online teaching and learning. White even goes that far to suggest abandoning thinking about teaching as ‘contact hours’, but shift into thinking about education in terms of ‘presence‘. In this sense, online education, according to White, is ‘desituated, but not disembodied‘ — thus, we (teachers and students), although being geographically desituated, we need to be physically present in the teaching and learning process in the online context. And I think it isn’t simply about turning on the camera in synchronous teaching (btw, seeing a video of myself is really destructing, it’s like carrying a bunch of mirrors to the classroom and situate them at my desk). This is more about engagement in the learning (and teaching) process. And this is especially challenging in education at the distance, when we cannot feel the presence through all our senses.

And here I can jump back to visual literacy. I wrote elsewhere that today, visual literacy needs to be understood as multi-sensory experience of the visual, and thus, visual literacy education is about developing competencies in visual reading and writing — but, considering the visual as multimodal entity; a visual, which engages other senses, not just vision. Thus, presence (’embodiment’) in online education is not only about turning on the camera, but to engage other senses in the teaching-learning process. How to do this? I’m yet there to experiment and discover this!

“Teaching Visually” – a book project


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This is a book that I have been long waiting for to work on. For the past few years I have had different concepts about it and rather than sitting down and thinking about it – I kept engaging in other publication projects (some successful and some not).

Now came the time when I got really excited about this book, and thus, I can also picture it (finally!) in my head. This will be an edited collection with the working title “Teaching Visually: A Guidebook to Visually Immersed Higher Education”. Excellent contributions from more than ten authors, with various teaching experiences (nationally, culturally and subject wise) will form its core. This will be complemented by an extended Introduction, in which I will elaborate on the key concepts related to visual education in the university context. The book is to be completed with a year, by December 2021, including two review rounds (one of which will hopefully be a publication workshops with all involved authors). The book is contracted with Brill/Sense for their series “Advances in Teaching and Teacher Education”.

Virtual proximity and transnational familyhood – new article!


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In the study published in the article: Virtual proximity and transnational familyhood: a case study of the digital communication practices of Poles living in Finland I use a concept of virtual proximity, meaning the emotional closeness between individuals afforded by digital technologies and mobile communication. Through ethnographically driven inquiry among five Polish-speaking families living in Finland, I identified four thematic patterns in participants’ practices in digital habitats: (i) children’s agency in creating family WhatsApp groups, (ii) the use of family in-app communication for language learning purposes, (iii) digital caregiving strategies and arrangements, and (iv) the use of digital photo-sharing as a form of visual co-presence.

The study is part of the project ‘Whats in the App? Digitally-mediated communication within contemporary multilingual families across time and space’ supported by the Academy of Finland (grant number: 315478). And the article is open access!

Interactive collage as elicitation technique – new article!


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Enjoy reading my article discussing some of the results of my fieldwork among Polish transnational families living in Finland: Performing transnational family with the affordances of mobile apps: A case study of Polish mothers living in Finland, published in the Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies.

In the auto-driven visual elicitation interviews with Polish mothers, I look at family constellations and technologically mediated communication practices. Applying the technique of an interactive collage, study participants visualised kinship relations, using colored cards showing silhouettes of adults and children and icons of mobile apps. The technique of an interactive collage is my contribution to enrich visual elicitation methodology.

The study presented in this article was supported by the Academy of Finland [grant number 315478] and conducted as part of the project: What’s in the app? Digitally-mediated communication within contemporary multilingual families across time and space (2018-2022).

Education Development Award for 2019


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…for collaborative and diverse development of teaching and learning at the department.

obrazek JPEGI received this award in collaboration with my departmental colleague, Dr. Judit Hahn, with whom we have collaborate in recent year quite intensively on various initiatives related to teaching development. The award is granted by the Vice Rector of the University of Jyväskylä, Prof. Marja-Leena Laakso, upon recommendations from the Educational Council of the university (more on the award: here).

Everything started one day in the coffee/break room in our department… We haven’t yet known each other with Judit as I joint (back) my department after two years since I completed my PhD. During this time, the unit has grown as a result of merge of two departments, these of communication and languages. So, yes… the coffee-room… we got to know each other by simply complaining on a lack of equal treatment in university policy (and thus also on department’s and faculty’s levels) the two main activities, that is, ‘research’ and ‘teaching’. Those who succeeded in research received recognition, but small and big achievements in teaching practice remain silent. As a consequence, raising an issue to develop quality of teaching in the department (or university) seems not be a popular activity or topic for discussion.


Me and Judit, with the Teachers’ Chat Room’s mascots, after receiving the award.

I am not experienced teacher, but Judit is. I do not have much opportunities to teach, so I research topics related to university pedagogy and teaching practices, especially in a context of visual education. As a team, we introduced the Teachers’ Chat Room (TCR), a space and a time for all members of the Language Campus/Department who are involved, or interested in teaching to share their ideas, good practices, excitement, frustrations, accomplishments, and questions related to teaching and education. The TCR is a place for both junior and senior members of the university community interested, or involved in teaching. During the TCR meetings we have opened up the following topics:

  • the first lesson: lesson planning, icebreakers, tips and tools for a good start;
  • digital tools in teaching;
  • object-based learning and visual literacy (guest: Dr. Olivia Meehan, Melbourne University, Australia);
  • trial lecture: preparation, performance and evaluation (forthcoming TCR);

The main idea behind the TCR is to create an informal meeting-place for sharing, peer-support and learning from each other. Thus, to develop university teaching and pedagogy in a community spirit.

We are also involved in few more initiatives related to teaching development (e.g. The First Year Experience development group; making teaching visible on department’s website; extensive publishing on topics related to pedagogy), hoping that in the future, teaching, and thus, excellence in teaching will receive more recognition. I also hope that in the future, faculty members receiving this and similar awards will hear ‘congratulations-words’ from the heads of their units as they would have heard if this would be an award for the research merits…


The Teachers’ Chat Room’s mascots.


Today’s visual literacy is multisensory – notes from the IVLA 2019 conference


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The IVLA conference in Leuven, Belgium (16-19 October 2019) started from a provocative, or even quite arrogant keynote by Brian Kennedy. He suggested that within the current condition of the visual, the IVLA should even consider changing its name! I don’t think it needs to go this far. Many papers presented during these two days have, indeed, indicated that the visual is currently understood more broadly – more as a (multi)sensory experience.

What is more, seeing does not only happen through our eyes. Instead, looking and seeing is fully embodied experience. I would like to know, however, where in our bodies we experience ‘seeing’?

Regarding the image, the act of seeing employs a number of senses as well as our (life) experience, knowledge, history, etc. However, what we see is not always ‘what’ and ‘how’ something is (as Nettie Boivin indicated in her paper). In another keynote, addressed by Alva Nöe, I noted a similar point: we do not achieve ‘seeing’ only by opening our eyes.

One of the most interesting initiatives toward development of visual literacy and reported at the conference is the “Power of Pictures” program in the UK. Charlotte Hacking, program leader, talked about the project that brings back picture books to primary education curriculum. The focus on visual literacy had positive impact on children’s literacy skills development. Elsewhere during the conference, it was also mentioned that children are naturally visually literate. This can be particularly observed in the drawing activities.

The conference provided me with a lot of inspiration, ideas for some new teaching activities as well as with more understanding where we are in terms of visual literacy theory and practice. I finally met people that I knew before only from online collaboration. Let’s see where this ‘embodied’ experience will lead me/us in terms of today’s and future visual literacy.

Visual prompts and visual methods in multilingualism research


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A real eye opener to practiced-based visual research methods, variety of approaches and innovative ideas – a 3-day workshop “Visual prompts and visual methods in multilingualism research”, organized by the MultiLing Research Center at the University of Oslo, Norway, that took place 17-19 June 2019 (and that I was lucky to participate in).

I must confess to my initial skepticism regarding the content and context of this event: visual research methods and language studies brought together… I know, of course, that visual methods are multidisciplinary. However, my initial encounter with VRM scholarship within the discipline of linguistics raised many questions and doubts. These mainly concerned an issue if the methods applied and referred to are, actually, visual research methods (in a way I used to know them). In this context, the Oslo workshop truly enriched my knowledge about VRM. It also demonstrated that VRM can be, indeed, applied across disciplines.

The paper that I found particularly interesting and “absolutely visual” in approach was a study of sign language in a form of auto-driven visual elicitation. Maartje De Meulder and Annelies Kusters used a well-known (in language studies) method of a language portrait (a method that I would have questioned the most, based on my initial readings). However, examples of data that they showed were very reach, with a variety of participants’ approach to the idea of “drawing the language”. In addition, and as a common practice in sign language research, they presented extracts from video interviews. Here, participants could really explain and present their relationship with language(s). I was truly surprised by how the language can be embodied – that was both showed in the drawings of language portrait and in the video interviews.

In addition to many interesting papers, I was also positively surprised by a new format of a material session. It can be understood as a more relaxed and even more engaging variation of a traditional poster session. In this case, presenters were introducing their cases, or actually the methods they applied, in a form of a variety of materials they could have brought to the table (so there was no actual posters, but table-spots with a scholar you could approach for further explanation of her/his research).

In addition to the regular paper, I was also presenting my auto-driven elicitation method of an interactive collage in the material session. A method of an interactive collage, I have recently applied in the fieldwork with Polish-speaking families living in Finland (as part of the ‘WhatsInApp’ project). And again – I was positively surprised by a high interest in both the method and my project. I came to this workshop as a sort of “outsider”, visual scholar with a background in communication studies. I thought I will not be able to find a common language (sic!) with language scholars. And it turned out to be the opposite – actually, here, I finally talked to researchers who are very practice-oriented. They also really kept the focus on visual methods, which I could not always observe with my visual cultures/studies colleagues on some other occasions. At the “Visual prompts” workshop there were, of course, some papers and discussions that I was not able to follow and engage in, having no background in linguistics. Nevertheless, these three days were very refreshing and particularly important in bringing new ideas and motivation for my further fieldwork in the ‘WhatsInApp’ project.

Workshop summary with a focus on researcher position in the research process (in a fieldwork) and in relation to images.

Special issue editorial: “Visual literacy practices in higher education”


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I learnt a lot. I made some mistakes that now I know could have been avoided if I would have had at least some editorial experience that I have now, when the process is over. Nevertheless, I am very proud that we both, i.e. me and my friend and colleague, Rasa Zakeviciute, made it to this point. Editing this (double) special issue of the “Journal of Visual Literacy” was a true adventure. Starting with issues with the Editorial Manager that we tried to solve when we both were on holidays in different countries; including looking for reviewers across academic context (and thus getting to know when they all have holidays); up to hours of editorial meetings along with long evening phone-calls trying to solve disciplinary disagreements between communication studies (me) and social sciences (Rasa) paradigms.

At the same time we experienced a lot of academic freedom in the editing process from Maria Avgerinou, editor-in-chief of the journal. We did not simply put the papers together, but we really worked with each single contributor to make this special issue happen. Thus, we acted both as guest editors as well as reviewers (in addition to the double blind peer-review process). You can enjoy an extensive introduction to this special issue in the Editorial, just being published ahead of print.

In order to read all eleven contributions, we still have to wait before they appear online, but here is the list of what you should look forward to:

  1. Asko Lehmuskallio. The look as a medium: A conceptual framework and an exercise for teaching visual studies.
  2. Gary McLeod. Rephotography for Photographers: discussing methodological compromises by post-graduate online learners of photography.
  3. Terry Loerts and Christina Belcher. Developing visual literacy competencies while learning course content through visual journaling: teacher candidate perspectives.
  4. Wendy R. Williams. Attending to the Visual Aspects of Visual Storytelling: Using Art and Design Concepts to Interpret and Compose Narratives with Images.
  5. Jeeyoung Min. Visual literacies in a U.S. undergraduate writing course: A case study of transmediation.
  6. Suriati Abas. Reading the world – Teaching visual analysis in higher education
  7. Dana Statton Thompson. Teaching students to critically read digital images: A visual literacy approach using the DIG Method.
  8. Choon-Lee Chai. Enhancing Visual Literacy of Students through Photo Elicitation.
  9. Vered Heruti. Reading Personal Photographs: A Case Study at an Israeli Art College on Multiple Identities.
  10. Gyuzel Gadelshina. Arrian Cornwell and David Spoors. Understanding corruption through freehand drawings: a case study of undergraduate business students’ visual learning in the classroom.
  11. Rosalina Costa. iPhone, iResearch. Exploring the Use of Smart Phones in the Teaching and Learning of Visual Qualitative Methodologies.

WhatsInApp Project & Postdoc Post


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From January 2019, I have started a new two-year post as Postdoctoral Researcher in the project “What’s in the App? Digitally-mediated communication within contemporary multilingual families across time and space”. The PI of this project – WhatsInApp – is Prof. Åsa Palviainen. Project is financed by Academy of Finland (Sept 1, 2018 – Aug 31, 2022) and is conducted in the Department of Language and Communication Studies, University of Jyväskylä, Finland, with an extensive international collaboration. More information about the project can be found here.

What does it mean to be visually literate?


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We should close the debate over the concept of visual literacy and do something about its implementation in education. I draw this conclusion by actually coming back to the roots of visual literacy movement and Fransecky and Debes’s (1972, p. 5) call: ‘If you really want to understand visual literacy, you will have to do something about it’.

In my recently published article: “What does it mean to be visually literate? Examination of visual literacy definitions in a context of higher education”, I intended to avoid either compiling a corpus of visual literacy definitions or advancing its theory. Instead, I selected several visual literacy definitions that can be useful for education practitioners, particularly within university education. The selection includes both the more established as well as some recent definitions. I further aimed to translate them into concrete learning and teaching objectives. As a result, I constructed lists of skills (abilities, competencies) that a visually literate individual should be able to demonstrate.

The figure below shows three categories of visual literacy skills with thematic groups of skills, based on the review of eleven visual literacy definitions published between 1969 and 2013.

Figure_VL skills