Visual Language, Learning, and Explanation

Now that the fall term is complete (whew!), I have some time to think ahead and plan a bit, particularly on what I’d like to teach next summer.

Here above are some books I’m considering using in a special topics course on visual language, learning, and explanation.  In this course, that I’d like to teach this coming summer, students would learn (1) the basics of visual thinking, (2) the grammar of visual language, (3) how images can be used to record and promote learning, and (4) how images can contribute to successful explanations.

“Hey! Ain’t you an English professor?” you ask. “What’s this got to do with English?”

“Well, I’ve been using visual thinking and drawing in my literature and writing classes for many years now to help my students better understand my lectures, to uncover and express their ideas, and to record their responses to poems, stories, and essays I’ve assigned.  For example, I ask students at the beginning of each class to draw a picture of what happens when they read so that I can get a better sense of their attitudes toward and history with reading literature.  I’ve also written a book called Handmade Thinking that provides students with 21 visual formats for expressing their responses to literary and non-literary texts.  Plus the State of Texas has just mandated visual communication in first-year writing.  And of course, we also offer in our department a major in Technical and Business Writing that could do with a course on visual communication.  So I guess I’d say that a course focusing more directly on the value of visual learning, language, and explanation follows the trajectory of my own work and of the ongoing integration of visual, written, and animated texts fostered by the advent and expansion of digital communication.”

So, in such a course, I would begin with Mike Rohde’s The Sketchnote Handbook, followed closely by Dan Roam’s The Back of the Napkin, then The Art of Explanation by Lee Lefever, and end with Infographics by Lankow, Ritchie, and Crooks.  Edward Tufte’s Visual Explanations would be integrated throughout; on a MWF schedule, perhaps we would have “Fridays with Tufte.”

There would also be supplemental readings, blogs, and videos in visual thinking, basic drawing, elegant design, graphic facilitation, creativity, and comics–calling upon the work of Jessica Hagy, Ed Emberley, Sunni Brown, Milton Glaser, Brandy Agerbeck, Dave Gray, Nancy Duarte, Austin Kleon, and Scott McCloud.  So it would be a big big party of visual awesomeness.

As for the work of the class, students would (1) compose a sketchnote learning journal for the course based upon Rohde’s guide, (2) develop an individual live explanation following upon Roam’s book, (3) work in teams to create a collaborative animated explanation following the good advice in Lefever,  and (4) create a visual analysis of two infographics according to values promoted by Lankow, et. al. and Tufte.

These are my early thoughts on this, if you have some ideas of your own, or others to invite to the party, let me know.