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NewsSep 7, 2017

Global forum shows our visual-literacy leadership

Lesley faculty, other experts convene in 49th annual conference Sept. 14-17

A larger than life Irving Penn photo of red lips taken from outside Lunder Art Center

As Lesley University hosts the 49th Annual International Visual Literacy Association Conference this month, we are reinforcing our leadership in this important field of teaching and communicating with the language of images.

This global conference runs Sept. 14-17, in the Lunder Arts Center of our College of Art & Design, bringing together international scholars and researchers, teacher and students, artists, scientist and other professionals for an exciting exchange of ideas about visual literacy.

The conference follows the 2015 Davis Educational Foundation award of $175,000 to Lesley for a 2-year-long Visual Literacy InFUSION Project to design a professional development program to increase the creative teaching and assessment of learning in visual literacy to transform undergraduate learning experiences. The relocation of the College of Art and Design to Cambridge served as a catalyst for the project, bringing our two undergraduate schools into close proximity, thereby facilitating collaboration between the art and design school and the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

“For Lesley University, visual literacy was an obvious avenue to pursue because of our unique history and atypical strengths related to the College of Art and Design,” says John Kim, assistant professor of psychology.

Lesley’s Creativity Commons facilitated the project, working with sixteen faculty fellows, eight each from the two undergraduate colleges, to create new approaches to teaching via visual literacy.

According to Creativity Commons Director Dr. Martha Barry McKenna, the first year of the project involved reimagining teaching and learning experiences by integrating visual and textual literacies, thus providing new openings for students to create, interpret and express their knowledge through both images and words.

The second year, McKenna adds, the fellows shared their knowledge with their peers.

“This cross-pollination has had an impact on the institution,” she says, “leading to a continuation of innovative ideas and generative thinking; cross-disciplinary integration of arts; designing integrative pedagogy with the physical and social sciences; building critical inquiry and engaging participants actively with social change.”

The conference affords Lesley a chance to demonstrate the work going on here, while also serving as evidence of Lesley’s visual literacy leadership.

“Our university could be the leader in this field of visual literacy,” says Brandon Strathmann, associate professor of animation. “There are opportunities to explore master’s (degrees) in visualization or visual thinking, along with what is possible to expand within our existing majors.”

This year, conference attendees will explore the theme, “Designing Visual Literacy Experiences,” through presentations, workshops, exhibitions and museum experiences as scholars from four continents will discuss their visual literacy practice and research.

At the September conference, Lesley’s visual literacy fellows will discuss the collaborative model of professional development and provide examples of projects that integrate visual literacy across the curriculum. Among the presenters, in addition to Strathmann (“The Creation and Understanding of Artwork is an Important Achievement in Developing Visual Literacy”), are:

  • Kazuyo Kubo, assistant professor of sociology — “Visual Ethnography: Participant Photography and Social Illustration”
  • Ellen Schon, adjunct faculty, fine arts — “Learning to Look, Looking to Learn: Using 2D Images and Video to Reflect on 3D Creative Production”
  • Andre Ruesch, — professor of photography, “Counter-Narrative to Alternative Facts”
  • Heather Shaw, associate professor of design — “Ready, Set, Play! Using Physical and Digital Prototyping to Teach Complex Systems in Interactive Design”
  • Janet Sauer, associate professor of education — Designing Visual Literacy Experiences from a Dis/ability Perspective”
  • James O’Keefe, professor of mathematics — “Visual Literacy Experiences that Enhance Student Understanding Concepts in Mathematics”
Three people are talking to each other.


In addition, keynote presenters for the conference include:

  • Lesley University Professor Emeritus George Hein, who initiated the university’s doctoral programs and founded the Program Evaluation and Research Group that has evaluated numerous museum programs and exhibitions. He is the author, with Mary Alexander, of “Museums, Places of Learning,” “Learning in the Museum” and “Progressive Museum Practice: John Dewey and Democracy.”
  • Social scientist Sarah Kuhn, a professor in the psychology department of the University of Massachusetts Lowell, is working on a project, Lowell Tex, a hands-on curriculum that uses textiles and fiber arts to teacher STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) concepts. She is also completing a book tentatively titled “Thinking with Things: Remaking Learning in College and Beyond.”
  • Phillip Yenawine, co-founder (with Nicholas Gardner) of the Watershed Collective, which develops programs that prepares teachers to use art to teach visual literacy, thinking and communication skills, has spent the last 25 years developing curricula and professional development tools for hundreds of schools around the world. His most recent book, “Visual Thinking Strategies,” was published by Harvard University Press in 2013. A new book on VTS for preschools is forthcoming.

“We’re excited to host this conference to showcase our work over the past two years in infusing visual literacy across teaching and learning in Lesley University’s College of Art and Design and College of Liberal Arts and Sciences,” says McKenna

The conference is co-hosted by the Harvard Art Museums, with a special event there: Object-Based Teaching and Learning, a conversation about designing visual literacy experiences for students, faculty, and the broader community. Panelists include:

  • Martha Tedeschi, the Elizabeth and John Moors Cabot director of the Harvard Art Museums.
  • Jessica Levin Martinez, director of academic and public programs at the Harvard Art Museums.
  • Martha McKenna, director of the Creativity Commons at Lesley University.

Participants will also join a student-guided tour and discuss the experience of object-based teaching and learning with Shari Tishman, lecturer at Harvard Graduate School of Education and a senior research associate at Harvard Project Zero, and David Odo, director of student programs at the Harvard Art Museums.