My specialisation at present would be what I am exploring in my PhD studies – learning visual literacy decoding skills in a ubiquitous, informal, and collaborative manner using mobile technology. A close examination of the literature on learning to analyse and decode imagery as to improve one’s visual literacy skills reveals a problem. The problem stems from image analysis being rooted in visual perception, and visual perception being a circular reference system. This is because perception and visual analysis require and are influenced by memories and experiences, which are gained initially through perception and visual analysis (Helmholtz, 1925; Huxley, 1943; Lester, 2011). This leads to a self-reinforcing loop, whereby perceiving increases our store of memories, and by increasing our store of memories improves our ability to perceive. Lester (2011, pp. 11–12) attempts to explicate this self-reinforcing loop as a series of assumptions on how we learn (i.e. pedagogical assumptions):
“The more you sense, the more your mind will select. The more you select, the more you will understand what you are seeing. The more you perceive, the more you will remember, as the image becomes part of your long term memory. The more you remember, the more you learn because you compare new images with those stored in your mind. The more you learn, the more you know. The more you know, the more you sense.”
The excerpt follows Lester’s argument for learning visual literacy skills by analysing images and is essentially the phrase ‘the more you know, the more you see’ and the formula “sensing + selecting + perceiving = seeing” (Huxley, 1943, Chapter 3) consolidated then reframed as a series of pedagogical assumptions.
Lester’s statement clearly highlights a problem novice learners will face when first learning visual literacy, as to sense and select you must first know, but to know you must first sense and select. One can see this creates a circular reference. In the class room or on field trips this can be overcome by an expert or community pooling knowledge to highlight (directing a person’s sense) what to select to begin the process, and knowledge is transmitted or constructed adding to student’s schema. This provides a scaffold within a student’s zone of proximal development they can pivot off. This however limits the opportunity novice learners have to develop visual literacy skills when outside a learning environment or separated from learning materials or support, despite being subject to imagery almost every moment their eyes are open. This also may explain why, many are visually illiterate and why novice learners struggle to learn visual literacy. This aligns with Vygotsky’s theory on the zone of proximal development; that what learners can achieve alone and with assistance are two separate things.
At present, I have found little information on overcoming the circular reference problem of learning visual literacy skills that rely on perception when separated from support is difficult. A review of literature reveals a lack of scholarly information that discusses or attempts to overcome this specific problem. However, research does exist on supporting learners (not specifically those of visual literacy) when physically or temporally separated from traditional support in the form of m-learning. M-learning, described as anytime and anywhere learning (Traxler, 2011a), is a well-developed field that most likely can be used to overcome lack of support for novice visual literacy learners.
My specialisation therefore lies in the application of m-learning to visual literacy skills in an informal and collaborative manner. While I have yet to get the technology working for this as of yet, I have invested considerable time into exploring how this may happen and begun to test the technology (see image below of me in a pair of Jet Recon heads up displays) and begun designing the app (see logo below). I hope in the next couple of years I will be able to prove my thoughts and ideas by completing a working smartphone and i-wear app that embodies the knowledge I have uncovered on this subject.