06 SES 06, Educational Games and Educational Media
This paper investigates learning-related challenges posed by images and image-text combinations in geography textbooks and explores why visual literacy is a crucial competency in geography education.
The ‘pictorial turn’—already postulated by Mitchell in 1992 —is associated with a growing relevance of images for communication, meaning-making, and knowledge acquisition in our society (Felten, 2008; Mitchell, 1992). Consequently, Felten (2008, p. 60) states: ‘The problem of the twenty-first century is the problem of the image.’
Schlottmann and Miggelbrink (2009, p. 2) put forth a similar argument, stating that ‘images are powerful means to create worlds.’ It is therefore unsurprising that, in recent years, the number of images depicted in geography educational materials has significantly increased (Janko & Knecht, 2014). An analysis of contemporary geography textbooks reveals that they contain complex image-text structures and varied forms of visualisations (e.g., photos, infographics, maps, and satellite images).
However, knowledge acquisition from pictures is a complex process that requires crucial competencies, such as the capacity to decode images, and the ability to interlink images with related content, visual attention context, and/or task-relevant images depicted in learning materials.
Consequently, numerous studies in image-text research have revealed that today’s students have difficulties in interlinking complex, image-text relations and processing information from visuals in educational media (Schnotz et al., 2011; Mason, Pluchino, & Tornatora, 2015; Schnotz, Mengelkamp, Baadte, & Hauck, 2014).
Moreover, images represent holistic information and can be interpreted in many different ways. There is great potential in utilising images in learning contexts, but there are also challenges. More precisely, one challenge is to identify and select the content- and/or task-relevant information from the images in a textbook spread in order to decode and interpret the information according to the respective learning context, organise the decoded information into a coherent representation, and integrate this representation into existing knowledge (de Koning, Tabbers, Rikers, & Paas, 2010; Schnotz et al., 2014). As a first step in constructing knowledge from pictures in learning media, visual attention to content- and/or task-relevant images is a crucial factor in the learning process.
Nevertheless, well-designed textbooks have the potential to make learning more fun, lasting, and meaningful, and may actively engage learners’ cognition in many ways (e.g., visual processing, analytical thinking, posing questions, testing hypothesis, and verbal reasoning) (Morgan 2014). Therefore, the instructional design of image-text combinations and the design of visualisations utilised in textbooks could be crucial factors that may influence their educational effectiveness (Janko & Peskova 2013; Peeck 1993).
Furthermore, assumptions from pedagogical psychology, such as the emotional design hypothesis, suggest a relationship between learners’ positive emotions (e.g., designs preferred by learners) and the effective cognitive processing of information (e.g., from textbooks) (Mayer & Estrella 2014). Moreover, studies have reported that positive emotional design may reduce the perceived difficulty of learning tasks, may increase motivation, satisfaction, and perception towards learning materials and may foster content comprehension (Park et al. 2015; Plass et al. 2010; Um et al. 2012).
Hence, the aforementioned aspects indicate the importance of further research regarding the design and utilisation of visuals in geography textbooks.
This paper thus investigates how the design components of current geography textbooks may influence students’ attention processes by examining the following questions:
With what visual intensity do students utilise visuals in geography textbooks while completing a task?
How does textbook design influence students’ visual attention to depicted graphics and photos?
To answer these questions, interdisciplinary observation methods were applied to connect aspects of geography education and visual communication with aspects of text-image research and textbook analysis. Eye tracking as a visual method of data collection and analysis is utilised to examine the degree of visual attention students devote to depicted images in geography textbooks. In an exploratory study utilising random sampling, the eye movements of 20 students (secondary school students 15–17 years of age and university students 20–24 years of age) were recorded. The research entities were double-page spreads of German geography textbooks covering an identical topic, taken from five separate textbooks. A two-stage test was developed. Each participant was given the task of first looking at the entire textbook spread to determine what was being explained on the pages. In the second stage, participants solved one of the tasks from the exercise section. Overall, each participant studied five different textbook spreads and completed five set tasks. After the eye tracking study, each participant completed a questionnaire. The questionnaire aimed to analyse participants’ preferences with regard to textbook design, The eye tracking data were aligned with the questionnaire, the written task evaluation and a textbook analysis of the textboo spreads. Hereafter, the research results. Hereafter, were affiliated with educational psychology insights and insights derived from visual communication and textbook analysis. Based on eye tracking documentation, a questionnaire, and textbook analysis, learning-related challenges posed by images in textbooks will be elucidated and related to educational psychology insights and findings from visual communications. Based on the findings of this exploratory study utilising random sampling, a supplementary eye tracking study with a larger sample and improved research design is currently in preparation.
The eye-tracking investigation revealed a disparity between the number of visuals depicted in the analysed geography textbooks and participants’ visual attention to depicted graphics and photos on the tested textbook spreads. Graphics were often looked at rather superficially; exceedingly little attention was paid to the depicted photos, and a marked focus on text elements was observed. The data evaluation of the questionnaire and textbook analysis revealed that participants’ ratings for design and comprehensibility of the tested textbook spreads corresponded in many aspects with the results of the textbook analysis from a visual communication perspective and with findings from educational psychology. It can be concluded that, notwithstanding the omnipresence of visuals in everyday life, todays students face challenges when learning with images. Findings from the current study may verify design as one crucial factor (amongst others) for successful learning textbooks. How coherently a textbook layout is organised and clearly the content of depicted visuals is designed might influence the degree of visual attention paid to learning and/or task-relevant textbook elements. Consequently, competencies in decoding and analysing images (i.e., visual literacy) should be taught more intensely and practised regularly. In addition, visuals and image-text combinations in learning media should be designed and utilised in a manner more conducive to supporting learning
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