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Seeing Is Believing

Visual Teaching an Learning


By Deandra Little, University of Virginia and Peter Felten, Elon University

“Images are central to our lives, and it is time they become central in our universities.”—James Elkins

We live in an image-based world. Visual information fills the screens, pages, and spaces that surround us through the day. Research into human learning demonstrates the power of these visuals in shaping our understanding of the world. Not only do people process images more quickly than text, we tend to rely on our visual experience even when it contradicts our conceptual knowledge of a topic (Hoffman 1998). As the saying goes, “seeing is believing.” 

Step into most classrooms, however, and you enter a different world. We might illustrate our PowerPoint slides with a few pictures or the occasional graph, but the work that students and faculty do together rarely takes visual information seriously. As Carmen Luke has written, the classroom is the only place where today’s students are not “blending, mixing, and matching knowledge drawn from diverse textual sources and communication media.”

We have an obligation to help students make sense of the complex images that shape our world. Today’s visuals are more than just entertaining eye-candy; in many academic disciplines, cutting-edge scholarship includes visual representations of data and meaning.

Images—everything from traditional art to innovative motion charts—are powerful tools for teaching and learning that should be infused deeply into the curriculum.

Meet Deandra Littleand Peter Felten

Deandra Little and Peter Felten have presented on visual literacy at national conferences and facilitated, with Chad Berry (Berea College), “Learning to Look,” a teaching seminar for faculty from text-based humanities disciplines. When not working together, Deandra is assistant director at the University of Virginia’s Teaching Resource Center and teaches American literature; Peter directs the Center for the Advancement of Teaching and Learning, and is an associate professor of history at Elon University. Deandra can be reached at and Peter at

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Published In


  • anc_dyn_linksSeeing Is Believing
  • anc_dyn_linksTales from Real Life: Seeing it Differently: Digital Storytelling
  • anc_dyn_linksLearning to Look
  • anc_dyn_linksBest Practices: Words as Images
  • anc_dyn_linksIssues to Consider: Helping Students See the Bigger Picture
  • anc_dyn_linksReferences and Resources

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