Visual Literacy Assessment – postdoctoral research grant

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Starting from January 2018, I will work on the postdoctoral research grant from the Alfred Kordelin Foundation from Finland. I received this grant for six month, and during this time I will be affiliated with the Finnish Institute for Educational Research, University of Jyväskylä, Finland. Thus, I will change working environment from communication studies into education. Although I will carry out my postdoctoral project independently, I will also become a member of one of Institute’s research teams — Teaching and Learning in Higher Education, lead by Professor Päivi Tynjälä. The title of my project is: Assessment of Students’ Visual Communication Competency in Finnish Higher Education and is initially planned for three years.

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Why Visuals Matter? Using Images as Data

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On 30th of May, during the two-day Methods Festival (30-31.05.2017) at the University of Jyväskylä I organized the seesion Why Visuals Matter? Using Images as Data.

By organizing this session, I aimed to create a space to discuss the importance of using visuals and visual research methods in contemporary scholarship. Visual research methods are those that incorporate some kind of imagery into the research process. Images can be used as data or as a tool through which data is analyzed or collected, or finally disseminated. Using visual research methods has recently become even fashionable in some way (just to mention be-annual Conference on Visual Methods, or the so-called post-disciplinary journal Visual Methodologies, and a number of recently published handbooks). Thus, the session aimed to get closer to the question Why Visuals Matter?

The session was possible thanks to my three colleagues that presented their approaches to working with images or using visual research methods. I am really greatful for their input and interesting discussion that followed, including really a lot of questions from the audience!

Presenters within the session:

  • Asko Lehmuskallio, Senior University Researcher, Docent, University of Tampere, Chair ECREA TWG Visual Cultures. Title of his presentation: It’s not about the looks, but about the look.
  • Jenni Mäenpää, University of Tampere, postdoc researcher. Title of her presentation: Photographs as research tools in studying photo-journalistic work practices.
  • Mari Pienimäki, University of Tampere, postdoc researcher. Title of her presentation: Informant generated photographs as research data.

I am always very happy when events like this can take place, esepcially when visual studies get its place within broader streem of research. It is also very encouraging seeing such interest in the image-based research among the audience. I think that there is an urgent need to bring together scholars within Finnish academia to discuss their appraoches and experience in visual methodologies.

Visual Pedagogies Workshop at IVSA Conference

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On 19th of June 2017 I am going to run a workshop on Visual Pedagogies. The basic idea for this workshop or a roundtable is to meet fellow academics that this time will focus on their teaching practice. In particular, we are going to share our teaching experience in using images and/or visual methods in teaching.

The workshop is organized during the 35th IVSA 2017 Conference in Montreal, 19-22 June, Concordia University, “Framing/Reframing Visual Sociology, Goffman and the Everyday”. The link to my and other visually driven workshops can be find here.

At the same conference, I am also going to present a paper Assessment of visual literacy skills: Towards more visually oriented higher education?

Doctoral dissertation defence

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Dissertation: 10.12.2016 MA Joanna Kędra (Faculty of Humanities, Journalism)

Start date: Dec 10, 2016 12:00 PM

End date: Dec 10, 2016 03:00 PM

Location: Seminaarinmäki, H320, Historica

MA Joanna Kędra defends her doctoral dissertation in Journalism Interpretation of journalistic photographs as an instrument of visual literacy education. Opponent Professor Emeritus Terence Wright (Ulster University, United Kingdom) and custos Professor Epp Lauk (University of Jyväskylä). The doctoral dissertation is held in English.

Contemporary culture is increasingly visual. Images are everywhere: private and commercial photographs, news images, billboards, leaflets, diagrams, road signs, pictorial instructions, drawings. However, the everyday encounter with images is not a sufficient condition for becoming visually literate, but any kind of visual training can help to develop visual literacy skills.

Thus, in her dissertation, Joanna Kędra designed teaching guidelines that can be used for visual training in higher education. The visual training that she proposes is based on the interpretation of journalistic photographs.

Why we need visual literacy?

– My study was driven by personal observation that the more images people create and disseminate – the less they are able to see. And seeing is crucial in the times when high volumes of information are mediated to us visually, Kędra says.

The visual literacy skills of reading, understanding, and interpreting as well as thinking and learning in terms of images are essential skills for the 21st century. Yet, contemporary higher education often takes them for granted. Therefore, students are usually poorly equipped to smoothly move in a visually stimulated environment and efficiently and effortlessly communicate visually.

– The need for visual literacy education is urgent. Visual literacy is important for all students, irrespective of discipline or major, because studying images teaches the skills to think critically and creatively, Kędra underlines.

The joy of seeing

In her dissertation, Kędra proposes four different models and approaches that can be used for exercises for interpreting journalistic photographs. Models can be used both in an individual or group-work assignments and are aimed to facilitate training in visual literacy in higher education.

– In my approach to visual education, I mostly favour the joy of photography interpretation, rather than any final result of such interpretation. Thus, my models are based of viewers’ personal experience, cultural background and knowledge. They also use journalistic photographs as images of multi-level meanings, Kędra explains.

More information:

Joanna Kędra, joanna.kedra[at]jyu.fi, tel. +358 40 7753 614
Viestintäharjoittelija Katja Ketola, tiedotus[at]jyu.fi, tel. +358 40 805 3638

Joanna Kędra obtained her diploma of Master of Journalism and Social Communication in 2009, and Master of Comparative Studies of Civilizations in 2010, both from the Jagiellonian University in Poland. Kędra worked as a grant researcher in the Department of Communication, University of Jyväskylä in 2010-2016.

The study was funded by the Kone Foundation, Department of Communication at the University of Jyväskylä and VITRO Doctoral Programme.

The dissertation is published in the series Jyväskylä Studies in Humanities number 297, 56 p., Jyväskylä 2016, ISSN: 1459-4323; 297 (nid.), ISBN: 978-951-39-6796-3 (PDF). It is available at the Soppi University Shop and University of Jyväskylä Web Store, tel. +358 (0)40 805 3825, myynti[at]library.jyu.fi. E-publication: http://urn.fi/URN:ISBN:978-951-39-6796-3

Abstract

Images are produced, used and distributed on an enormous scale. However, the skills of understanding, interpreting and using images as well as thinking and learning in terms of images are taken for granted, and thus, they are not sufficiently taught and developed, especially in higher education. The need for introducing visual literacy into the curriculum was identified in late 1960s, but no concrete guidelines have followed. This study proposes to apply interpretation of journalistic photographs as an instrument of visual literacy education. The main focus is on the image interpretation process and the kinds of meanings viewers apply to a photograph in the interpretation process. In each of the four articles included in this study, a model or approach to photography interpretation is proposed. The first method is the model for press photograph story analysis, immersed in visual semiotics. This model was simplified and improved and became the model for the interpretation of journalistic photographs. Both models were created as a synthesis of some of the visual research methods, including classical theories (elements of visual semiotics, visual rhetoric, Barthes’ concept of studium and punctum), approaches having their roots in the analysis of paintings (Barrett’s principles for interpreting photographs, compositional interpretation, iconological context analysis), methods dedicated to analysis of photographs in the press (quantitative content analysis). The concept of context of journalistic photographs is also critically discussed, indicating a context of production, context of medium and page context, and arguing for the decontextualized interpretation of journalistic photographs (proposing an intertextual approach) with a context limited to the caption. In addition, the study compiles the genre typology of journalistic photographs as an instrument for visual education. The study calls for changes in a largely textual higher education curriculum towards a more visually oriented one, which can serve as a start point for future research on the assessment of visual literacy skills.

Great collaborative publication!

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It was one of the nicest collaborations ever. It started by deleting an email with the call for papers by each of us since it did not sound relevant to our work. However, once we started discussing the topic, we came with a common ready framework for the book chapter that you can now read here.

The chapter A Competent Participant in the New Media Landscape: Promoting an Interdisciplinary Perspective was written in collaboration with Melodine Sommier, Anne Laajalahti and Panu Uotila. All of us has been working at that time in the Department of Communication, University of Jyväskylä (Melodine is now in the University of Rotterdam) and we are also alumni of the ECREA Doctoral Summer School. The book Politics, Civil Society and Participation: Media and Communications in a Transforming Environment (ed. by Kramp et al.), where our chapter is published, is the annual publication of this Summer School, but first time it included chapters by SuSo alumni.

Genre typology of journalistic photographs

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Finally, my article, in which I propose the genre typology of journalistic photographs has been published in “Journal of Media Practice” (the journal even used a photograph from my article for the cover). The article is titled Enhancing visual literacy through interpretation of photo-genres: toward a genre typology of journalistic photographs, and you can find it here. The article was inspired by my study that I conducted in November-December 2014 at the University of Warsaw, Poland, thanks to the mobility grant form the Science Council of the University of Jyväskylä, Finland.

At this point I would like to one more time thank Merja Koskela and Mari Pienimäki for their patience in reading and commenting earlier versions of this article.

Helsinki Photomedia 2016

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This was already the 3rd edition of Helsinki Photomedia Conference, 30th March – 1st April 2016. I was those lucky to present my research at all three editions. This year, however, organizers introduced a new panel – Photography Education that was chaired by Professor Liz Wells. This was my first experience of having such a good chair that made the whole panel (split into two sessions, four papers each) very cohesive. After my presentation, we had very interesting discussion on the current condition of photography education and new approaches that it requires. Looking forward to similar panel in the next edition of Photomedia Conference in 2018.

4th International Visual Methods Conference

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This is rather a kind of retrospective view on the 4th International Visual Methods Conference in Brighton, UK that took place 16-18th of September 2015. I have my paper presented there, titled Interpretation of journalistic photographs as a tool for visual literacy education.

The Conference was itself very exiting and I think that it was the very first time for me when I met so many friends and colleagues on the spot that I did not even have time to get to know new people. However, this was something that I appreciate very much – getting to know who is doing what at the moment and imaging some new ideas for possible collaborations.

I must also admit that visual methods or visual methodologies, or visual research methods still surprise me. There is so many different approaches within visual studies! At the conference I had the first time encounter with digital story-telling (even though I am quite confused by this kind of “study/research”). And my other new fascination is multimodality (although not encountered at the conference, but at some other occasion, that is, at the workshop on multimodality with John A. Bateman). Hence, my excitement in visual studies is constantly growing.

Methods Festival 2015, Tampere

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Finally, after a few editions of the Methods Festival (Metodifestivaali), organized interchangeably in Jyväskylä and Tampere (Finland), there was a slot about visual methods this time (Tampere, 19-20.08.2015). What is more, among keynote speakers was Professor Gillian Rose! This all may sound as nothing in particular, but I feel that for the Finnish academia it’s already a lot, or at least a step forward.

The keynote speech organized the main issues about visual methodologies. For me, this was especially important as after reviewing couple of visual methods and their application to journalistic photographs (for the article, on which I’m currently working), I was totally lost.

Professor Gillian raised the question why should we work with visual methods/images? One, quite obvious, answer is that there is more and more visuals. But the other is that photographs reveal what is hidden in the everyday life (for instance, photo-elicitation). What is more, visuals can convey different information than text. And conducting studies with images can help to approach non-academic audiences.

I’m personally wondering towards which direction visual methodologies lead. Is it possible to still invent/describe new methods? Or should we systematize and conform existing approaches?

Mobility Grant to Warsaw University

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The Vice-rector of the University of Jyväskylä has decided to allocate me a mobility grant for 7 weeks research visit to the University of Warsaw, Poland. The purpose of the grant is to strengthen strategic partnership and career development among researchers and PhD students.

I’m going to start my research in The Institute of Journalism, Warsaw University, already next week. The main objective of the visit is to write a joint international publication with Joanna Szylko-Kwas, PhD, from the Institute of Journalism, who has similar research interest. In the article we will create and evaluate the typology of press photography genre. Poland has long tradition in studies on genre in journalism. However, just a few scholars have currently investigated the concept of photo genre, both in Poland and worldwide. Among these scholars is doctor Szylko-Kwas with whom I will be working on the joint publication. Most probably, I will also have opportunity to receive scientific feedback to my ongoing postgraduate research from professor Kazimierz Wolny-Zmorzyński, who is another scholar working in the field of photography, especially press photography genre, and who was a supervisor of my Master thesis (back in 2009).

During the visit, I have been asked to teach a short, two hours, lecture about press photography from the perspective of my dissertation work. This opportunity may give me a new insight to my own research. Part of the visit will be also dedicated to compile ideas for the joint project application, which investigates press photography, its definition, genre and the reception process.