CCCC 2001 in Review: L.25 Issues and Directions in Visual Rhetoric: A Roundtable, chaired by Anne Wysocki

Presenters: Tharon Howard, Stephen Bernhardt, Charles Kostelnick, Susan Hilligoss, Greg Wickliff, Karen Schriver

This session talked about the ways in which education needs to change to adapt to the shift from verbal to visual rhetoric.

Howard:
Two major factors are driving the changes toward more attention or need for knowledge of visual rhetorics:

  1. "tyranny of audience" Vitanza's term. We need to pay attention to how representations are impacting audiences.
  2. "grammar" or grammars of visual rhetoric; need empirical research on usability-testing of visuals for audience reactions.

Bernhardt:
Large pools of data and texts in organizations can often cause problems. Visual scanning of those large data sets by readers can cause misunderstandings and misinterpretations. We need to learn how to help readers orient to information better, and we need to help writers "tell the story" with graphics better.

Kostelnick:
This speaker was interested in exploring how communities of users develop specific visual practices. How are members of those communities enculturated? How do students acquire visual fluency and literacy in their disciplines? WAC should include visual instructions as should first-year composition. We need to explore more thoroughly the concept of visual literacy within academic communities.

Hilligoss:
Information design studies are not the equivalent of Web production studies. Often design studies tend to be prescriptive and rule-bound. Cultural studies and critics of visuals are needed in the mix from rhetoric. We also need to study enculturation and emotional responses in advertising and industrial designs. We tend to over-simplify viewer's motives. The profession needs a Web-based clearinghouse on Web design.

Wickliff:
Historical studies can inform visual dialogues. Photography--its development technologically is culturally constructed--is a product of human craft. We need to take care not to separate the product (or producer) from the product (or technology). "Save as" feature on Web-manipulation of image is even more possible and open to abuse.

Schriver:
How do practitioners develop their expertise? Experts can articulate the strengths and weaknesses of visual artifacts where novices cannot Whose vision gets worked out depends on who can make the best case--articulate the actions needed--and the heuristics for actions. Language encompasses strategies to solve problems, so rhetorical skills are key in this process. Students and teachers need to develop a metalanguage for talking about these issues.

During the Q&A session, the following questions were raised and discussed:

  • Visual languages (plural) not language--this is an extremely complex field.
  • We need a canonical vocabulary but will never get consensus in research.
  • We can use many of the same concepts--vocabulary from print can be used as a metaphor for visual discussions, although there are differences.
  • Technical skill sets vary among students; visual rhetoric has a lot to offer other communities.
  • We need to allow students to practice and author their own visuals, to experiment, to make mistakes.
  • We need to incorporate visual education as early as K-3 grades rather than divorce words and pictures as is typically done in public education.
  • Visual design is an entirely new skill set for many students--they will often be "basic visual writers" even if they are expert verbal writers.
  • Reception and production are both important in visual education and writing classes, including first-year English.
  • Ethics of visual rhetorics? Use case studies and work through examples with students to discuss ethical questions.

Teaching ideas:

  1. reverse engineer graphics that have changed, teaching revision through revision
  2. comparative characteristics--first write visual, then write verbal, then combine and compare. Try to come up with a metalanguage to discuss or describe these outcomes
  3. grade for articulation, collaboration as well as ultimate production
  4. come up with 2 competing designs for the same audience and articulate their differences and why one is better than the other
  5. keep coming back to the rhetorical situation in the teaching
  6. Don't have students just "criticize" when they are critiquing. Help them learn to be diplomatic and to provide evidence and reasons for their judgments that can be supported.

The teaching of design should be multi-disciplinary and teachers should call on campus experts or community resources (e.g., architects or campus media relations folks) for guest speakers in their classes. No one discipline should "own" this field--rather it should cross-pollinate among many disciplines that can learn from each other.

There is a need for a Document Design Web Clearinghouse: several on the panel are currently working on this idea and are very much aware of its need. [CH]

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