Everyone’s a Visual Learner: Workshop Recap (#PODHBCU)

Jose Vazquez of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and I co-facilitated a 75-minute session at the joint POD Network / HBCU Faculty Development conference in Atlanta last week on using visual thinking in the classroom. Jose and I met briefly at the POD Network conference last year, bonding over our shared interest in visual thinking after a session I co-facilitated there on a completely different topic. When the call for proposals for this year’s conference came out, I asked Jose if he wanted to put something together on visual thinking, and he was game. He and I hashed out our plans over email, Skype, and Prezi, and it all came together last week in a well-received session.

Here’s the Prezi we used:

You’ll notice on that first frame that we provided not one, but two Twitter hashtags for the session. The #podhbcu hashtag was the one for the entire conference, and the #vizthink hashtag was one I’ve seen on Twitter frequently for tweets about visual thinking. Thus, #vizthink wasn’t so much a session-specific hashtag as it was my attempt at “crossing the streams” (Ghostcatchers!) of two existing Twitter communities, the educational development community and the visual thinking community. I was pleasantly surprised to see participants in our session tweeting with the #vizthink hashtag during and after our session about visual thinking!

Early in the session, I made the point that there’s no such thing as learning styles since the research in favor of learning styles is weak at best. See my summary of Linda Nilson’s 2010 Lilly Conference keynote on this topic for some details. To my complete surprise, my assertion was met with a round of applause. There’s certainly been some pushback on the learning styles idea in recent months, but the idea is still a very appealing one for educators, and I really thought that the educational development community would still be on board with it. That wasn’t the case with this group of educational developers!

I also qualified the title of the session, “Everyone’s a Visual Learner.” During Linda Nilson’s keynote on learning styles last fall, I had an interesting conversation with Eric Stoller on Twitter. He pointed out to me that not everyone is a visual learner because some learners have visual impairments. I noted this in the session and moved on, but I hope in the future I’ll get the chance to explore the challenge of adding visual thinking to one’s teaching when students with visual impairments are involved.

Although Jose and I have very similar thoughts on the role of visuals in learning in general and in presentation in particular, I noticed that he and I had somewhat different Prezi styles. Last year at the POD Network conference I had the chance to develop a Prezi with two co-presenters, but we didn’t try to integrate our Prezi elements, instead isolating them in three separate areas of the Prezi canvas. This year, with Jose, I worked to integrate our Prezi elements, and I’m pretty happy with the result. But that meant merging our styles, which made me more observant of the different ways Jose uses Prezi.

For instance, Jose uses boxes more than circles and adds more white space between elements. Jose also likes to play with hidden frames in Prezi, such as when he showed a photo of his dog, then panned to the right to reveal a description of the image, then panned to the right to reveal a different description. I’ve noticed that Ian Beatty uses that same technique to great effect, and it’s one I want to experiment with.

During our session, Jose and I led two activities, one in which participants searched for Creative Commons images they might use in presentations and one in which they created “visual minute papers,” doodling their ideas for using visual thinking in their teaching. I’ll share some highlights from those activities in a future post. In the meantime, check out our session’s page over on WikiPODia, where I’ve listed some of the resources mentioned by participants on the Twitter backchannel.

Image: “Looking for (Visual) Metaphors,” by me, Flickr (CC)

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