Learning to see the infinite: Measuring visual literacy skills in a 1st-year seminar course

Michael S. Palmer, Tatiana Matthews


Visual literacy, defined as the ability to interpret, negotiate, and make meaning from information presented in an image, was a stated learning objective for the fall 2009 iteration of a first-year seminar course. To help students develop visual literacy skills, they received formal instruction throughout the semester and completed a series of carefully designed learning activities. The effects of these interventions were measured using a pre-/post-semester methodology where students were asked to look at two different—but stylistically similar—paintings and write a response to the following two questions: what do you see and what do you think it means? Students’ responses were analyzed based on the visual evidence recorded, and 2) the strength of their arguments using Toulmin’s argument model. After instructional interventions, paired t-tests indicate that students made significantly more basic and advanced observations, offered more supporting visual evidence for their best-supported claims, and made stronger connections between their claims and the visual evidence.


visual literacy; first-year seminar; Toulmin’s argument model

Full Text:


DOI: https://doi.org/10.14434/josotl.v15i1.13089