UT, TMA expand partnership, incorporating visual literacy

A number of courses offered at UT will soon utilize visual literacy modules currently being developed by the university and the Toledo Museum of Art. 


The initiative began more than a year ago by Dean Heidi Appel of the Jesup Scott Honors College and gained momentum with the help of President Sharon Gaber and Toledo Museum of Art Director Brian Kennedy. 


The entire collaboration focuses on enhancing visual literacy across all disciplines.


“The ability to look deeply at something, observe it carefully, to think about its meaning, including all social and cultural context, and then to use images appropriately with that understanding,” Appel said.


Many different modules will be integrated into courses to teach different aspects of visual literacy. They will come in pairs, with one version for student use and another for the instructor - flexible for use across multiple disciplines. 


UT’s webpage for visual literacy says the modules will be available campuswide. The curriculum will give all students the opportunity to master the skill of “speaking visually.”


There are currently two courses that have incorporated the curriculum, Visual Literacy, an Honors seminar, and Art and Medicine: Using Visual Literacy to Improve Diagnostic Skills, said Appel.


She added more than 20 different courses will be added in the next semester and the courses will only grow with every following semester.


“We’re hoping that the idea is so compelling, and the value is so high, that it will be adopted broadly into curriculum through these modules,” Appel said.


The “Infographics Interpretation and Creation” module is already completed and accessible on the visual literacy webpage. 


“[It is] designed to provide students with an understanding of the use for infographics for communicating complex ideas efficiently and effectively,” as mentioned on the website.


The module conveys promising facts, including that “Visuals are known to improve learning and retention by 400 percent,” and, “90 percent of information transmitted to the brain is visual.”


The dean discussed the involvement of the museum faculty, who helped with the effort.


“They were a part of the planning process the entire time,” Appel said. “My counterpart, Mike Deetsch, who is director of Education at the Museum, and Kate Blake, who runs most of their visual literacy education programs for the public and K-12, have been very involved in it,” she said. 


Kate Blake, the assistant director of Education at the Museum, has been co-teaching the Visual Literacy Seminar with Professor Mysoon Rizk this semester. 


“We have a fantastic group of students that have really embraced the subject and are looking at it in very exciting and insightful ways,” Blake said. “Because the students in the class come from a variety of different disciplines outside of the visual arts, they really bring a unique perspective and it’s exciting to listen to them talk about the connections they see.” 


Blake expanded on the benefits of integrating two major institutions in the city.


“We have in Toledo, these two great educational institutions, the University of Toledo and the Toledo Museum of Art, and I think that it is going to be a really powerful thing for them to partner using the great works of art in the museum’s collections to help students achieve success broadly across the curriculum,” Blake said.


The museum has long been a proponent of visual literacy.


“This whole collaboration was done with the idea that as an urban university, UT should have strong partnerships with the cultural institutions of the city,” Appel said. “To me, this is a prime example of how an urban institution should be partnering with other institutions in the city.”

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