Teach Smart with Technology: Visual Resources for Teaching

By Cecilia Lo

Why and when to use visual resources?

“A picture is worth a thousand words.” When used appropriately, images, illustrations and graphics can enhance student learning by:

  • Illustrating concepts and providing visual memory cues, thereby helping students see how ideas are connected and realize how information can be grouped and organized.
  • Making abstract concepts or groups of data more concrete by externalizing mental images
  • Guiding students to engage in cognitive processes essential for comprehension
  • Detailing and bring to the fore dynamic, salient relationships
  • Providing experience with the unobservable, e.g. gain understanding of a geographically or temporally foreign culture

Images can be used effectively in all disciplines, not just art history or the sciences. For examples:

  • Mapping out Dante’s journey through the realms of the dead in his Divine Comedy can help students grasp overall narrative depicted by the 100 cantos.
  • A painting about music making from the 16th century can help students understand the social dynamics, location, technique and manners of playing music then.

Below is a video show casing a few visualization projects Dale Mertes, our Sr. Visualization Specialist, worked on with faculty at UChicago.

Caption (in order of appearance) :
(0:00) Clear synaptic vesicle fusion to plasma membrane, for Prof. Peggy Mason, BSD, Neurobiology; (0:09) City of Ouro Preto, for Prof. Michael P. Conzen, Social Sciences; (0:17) Sergei Eisenstein's Glass House, for Prof. Yuri Tsivian, Art History, Cinema & Media Studies, Slavic Languages; (0:24) Tetrachordal Voice-Leading Space, for Prof. Richard Cohn, Music and the College; (0:32) Flow, Particle and Deflector Simulation; (0:41) Brick wall, Physics Engine Simulation; (0:47) Drop, Physics Engine Simulation; (0:49) Simulation of Brain Aneurysm, for Prof. Javad Hekmatpanah, BSD, Surgery, Neurosurgery; (0:55) Antarctica Elevations Flat to Mass, for Prof. Doug MacAyeal, Geophysical Sciences; (1:01) Cylindar Seal, for Wendy Ennes, Head of Public Education, Oriental Institute; (1:08) Chemical release from muscle into blood stream; chemical release into brain; steps of spreading depression and changes in cell membrane, for Dr. Richard Kraig, MD, PhD, Dept of Neurobiology; (1:23) 3D illustration of the Luca Cell in 'What is Life?", for Prof. Jose Quintans, M.D., Ph.D., Biomedical Sciences; (1:32) Custom map focusing on Muslim Empire 950/1500, for Adrain De Gifis Ph.D., Graham School of Muslim Languages; (1:42) Custom map focusing on migration of African Americans by railroad in the late 1920's, for Prof. Thomas Holt, Social Sciences Division, History; (1:51) 3D reconstruction of the Temple of Poseidon in Athens Greece, for John & Peggy Sanders, Oriental Institute.

Some Tips

As with any other assignments, the success of any assignment depends on meaningfully integrating them with the learning goals of your course. In other words, all the images you use should illustrate a point and how this point is meaningful in your course should be transparent to your students. In addition,

  • Visual material needs to be presented effectively.
  • Be aware of copyright and fair use issues: Make sure you are in compliance with copyright and fair use law when you use visual material, especially if you are posting them online or using 3rd party tools.  
  • Students don’t always see what faculty are seeing. What students see and learn from visualizations is built on what they already know. Don’t be afraid to talk through the obvious or help your students analyze an image.

For more tips, see “What Makes an Effective Visualization?” from On the Cutting Edge

Visual Resources at UChicago

ASTS can help you with creating new or editing existing illustration, 2D- and 3D-animation, or data visualization for your course or research. Here are some additional examples of our past projects. To get started, email ASTS at academictech@uchicago.edu.

Staff at the Visual Resource Center (VRC) (Department of Art History and Division of the Humanities) is also available to help instructors and their students find, create, and use images. Contact the VRC for more information about their services.