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Teaming up with Faculty to Teach Visual Literacy

Posted on August 14, 2020 at 3:00 PM by Lilah Anderson

University Museums’ is dedicated to serving ISU students and faculty and integrating the arts and a basic understanding of visual literacy into curricula across disciplines. In this pursuit we develop relationships with faculty and departments that are invaluable to this mission. As Educator of Visual Literacy and Learning I oversee all curriculum programs as well as public programming for University Museums. In these areas I rely heavily on faculty to help engage students and to use the University Museums’ many resources. In the process, I have formed many positive relationships and connections with faculty and their courses.

It may be surprising to learn that one of the largest groups of students we work with each semester are from the English 150: Critical Thinking and Communication course. Each semester hundreds of students take this course and a large percentage of classes experience a museum visit where they go through a visual literacy exercise. This practice not only informs students’ writing and focuses attention on reading visual content but also introduces a valuable campus resource. The partnership between the English 150 course and the University Museums proceeds my tenure by many years, beginning in the 1990s, however I have enjoyed the active engagement with this course since my first days on the job.

This fall presents more challenges than usual and requires unique and creative methods for delivery. I have worked with Abram Anders, Director of ISUComm Foundation Courses and Associate Professor of English in the past few months to make sure we can retain a strong emphasis on visual literacy in the English 150 curriculum and still offer a museum experience even as courses move online. After discussion on the best approaches we decided that I would create a customized video presentation highlighting the mural Breaking the Prairie Sod by Grant Wood that walks through looking closely and carefully at an object and the process of developing interpretations, as we would have done in person. The video will be utilized by English 150 sections this fall. Some class sections will still visit the museums in person and I will offer virtual training to all of the teaching assistants on how to effectively use visual materials to expand critical thinking and generate dialogue.

Even though hybrid approaches to looking at art can be less than ideal, I am thankful for the commitment of the English department and Associate Professor Anders. Together we can ensure that students are introduced to thinking visually in the English 150 program. I look forward to continuing this partnership in years to come.

IMAGE ABOVE: Lilah Anderson, Educator for Visual Literacy and Learning, describes Breaking the Prairie Sod by Grant Wood for an upcoming virtual class for English 150 students.

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