virtual learning


Visual Learning – Seeing the Meaning

During the past ten years governments and education departments across the world have invested significant sums of money in a range of whole-class visual display technologies such as data projectors, interactive whiteboards and visualisers (Cuthell, 2005a; 2008). There have been many reasons for their adoption: the technologies have been seen as a way of meeting government targets for ICT implementation, for providing access to the latest educational resources or as a way of transforming and modernising the outcomes of educational systems (Cuthell, 2005a). The high capital cost of these technologies has meant that individual teachers and schools have rarely been able to specify or select the tools for themselves. One result of this has been that the technologies, and the changes that they produce, are often seen by teachers to be externally imposed on them and their classrooms (Cuthell, 2006). Staff development is often limited to a brief instructional session that focuses on basic ‘mastery of the controls’, rather than an exploration of how the tools can be integrated into teaching and learning (Moss et al, 2007).

However, expectations of these technologies are artificially high, and researchers are often pressured to produce findings that justify the high capital investment. Assumptions that the introduction of a new technology will per se achieve pedagogical change and an improvement in learning outcomes are difficult to substantiate through research, and research findings are often lost by politicians and misrepresented in the media (Kennewell, 2006). Many surveys produce results that are limited by respondents being given neither enough information, intellectual space nor time to make a useful judgement or evaluation of visual display technologies and visual learning (Smith et al, 2007).

These resources are based on a project at The Centre for Excellence in Work-Based Learning for Education Professionals (WLE Centre) at the Institute of Education, University of London that provides the opportunity to draw together a number of studies and assign a developmental typology of visual learning implementation and approaches to provide a unique resource to support further research and professional pedagogical development.

The Centre for Excellence in Work-Based Learning for Education Professionals (WLE Centre) at the Institute of Education, University of London, is an initiative to encourage excellence and innovation in Higher Education. The WLE Centre aims to develop new approaches in work-based learning through facilitating innovations in learning at work and through professional practice; teaching and assessment modes for work-related and work-located learning; uses of e-learning and digital technologies and developing new conceptual and theoretical approaches to work-based learning.

Current literature in the use of technologies that support visual learning tends to focus on the evaluation of government-supported initiatives to embed visual display technology in classrooms, the their impact on pedagogy. Averis, Glover and Miller (2005) examined IWB technology within the mathematics classroom; Cuthell (2005; 2006; 2008) examined IWB and visualiser use and their impact on teaching and learning, both in a UK and international context. Kennewell (2006) drew together research and examined the impact of the technologies on pedagogy. Smith et al (2007) and Moss et al (2007) conducted detailed studies nationally (Smith) and across London (Moss). Whilst some of these studies focus on the pedagogies and perspectives of the teachers there are no case studies accompanied by practitioner commentary that provide exemplars of practice of material for analysis. It is the aim of this project to provide just such materials.

The 2008/9 WLE project ‘Seeing the Meaning’ combined a metastudy of existing literature on the technologies of Visual Learning, an evaluation of effective models of pedagogical and curriculum development through professional learning and case studies, some of which were streamed video. A particular focus was on the ways in which work-based learning can support curriculum and institutional change.

The online multi-modal resource relates to the policy, theory and practice of all aspects of Visual Learning and brings together academic studies from international research; policy and best practice disseminated through Becta and other government agencies; case studies focused on classroom best practice and innovative technologies from industry. This is freely available online and forms a growing knowledge base for academics, students, schools and teachers. The project also provides video evidence that links to other work-based learning projects.

The 2009/10 project built on ‘Seeing the Meaning’ with a range of downloadable video resources. These examined the ways in which practitioners and their pupils use a range of innovative visual learning technologies and techniques in the classroom and focus on the ways in which they can support learners in a range of activities and outcomes. Video interviews explore the pedagogical and organisation strategies embedded in practice, and the ways in which these can support curriculum change both with and across institutions.

The case studies focus on classroom best practice and the integration of innovative technologies from industry. An important element is the ways in which teachers use the technologies and affordances of their personal learning networks – wikis, FlashMeeting, Twitter, MirandaMods and unConferences – both to advance their techniques and strategies and obtain feedback from critical friends.

Seeing the Meaning’ is a freely available online knowledge base for academics, students, schools and teachers. The project links to other work-based learning projects, and identifies:

  • a range of pedagogical strategies to support and reinforce Visual Learning;
  • the ways in which it can be integrated across age-related curricula;
  • models for deployment across institutions;
  • the integration of Visual Learning into assessment practice;
  • the role of work-based learning to support the integration of visual learning technologies into existing and developing pedagogical practice;
  • learner perceptions of the impact of visual learning on personal learning and progress;
  • the use of personal learning networks as a forum for development and dissemination.

Key issues of visual learning, its technologies and its pedagogies are illustrated, both in the video case studies and the practitioner commentaries. They explore and develop the relationship between technology, theory, pedagogy and learning; the relationship between work, learning and professional practice and the relationship between pedagogy, assessment and visual learning.

This project enhances the existing investment by the WLE Centre in ‘Seeing the Meaning’ and provides a resource for all those wishing to use findings and information on the subject of visual learning and its technologies to further their own professional development, or to implement it in the workplace. This project links to, and supports, the WLE aims of identifying and exploring:

  • the relationship between work, learning and professional practice with a particular focus on work-based pedagogies, assessment and self-evaluation strategies;
  • the relationship between pedagogy, assessment and learning with innovative technologies;
  • the role and use of new technologies (especially those of learners) across a range of curriculum areas;
  • conceptualising and theorising the workplace as a site for learning, and the relationship with industry
  • collaboration, partnership and innovation within and across institutions through personal learning networks.