Visual Literacy and Science Education: Results of a Qualitative Research Project


  • Regula Fankhauser Pädagogische Hochschule Bern



visual literacy, science education, aesthetics, epistemology, constructivism


In the didactics of science the role of pictures—mainly photographs and diagrams—as learning media and their function in the acquisition of knowledge have been discussed. However, the specific problems understanding pictures have seldom been reflected systematically. The aim of the project described in this paper was to address this deficiency. In a first step I refer to theoretical concepts of understanding pictures that were generated within the context of qualitative social research. Next I generate a theoretical model of visual literacy. The focus is on the understanding of pictures used in science education. The model includes aesthetic, epistemological, technical, and pragmatic dimensions. This model was then empirically tested. Thirty-five students were interviewed regarding their reception of scientific pictures. The results reveal that students have difficulties in describing the aesthetic features of pictures. The interviews clarified the epistemological frame theory on which picture understanding is based: most of the students consider the picture as a realistic copy of the object represented. Only a few students showed a more constructivist frame theory. Furthermore, the results revealed no connection between the epistemological theory and the technical knowledge of the students. The discussion of the design and the method of interpretation reflects the results of the study; the students' patterns of picture understanding are surprisingly homogeneous. On the one hand this could be reduced to the method of content analysis; on the other hand it could be an effect of the single sided view of the design. I explored only the subjective reception of pictures. Further research must consider other perspectives and focus on the way teachers work with visual material in classroom teaching. URN: urn:nbn:de:0114-fqs090129


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Author Biography

Regula Fankhauser, Pädagogische Hochschule Bern

Regula FANKHAUSER, Dr. phil., Studium der Germanistik und Philosophie in Bern, Berlin und Zürich, wissenschaftliche Mitarbeiterin am Institut für Weiterbildung der Pädagogischen Hochschule Bern, Lehrbeauftragte an einem Gymnasium. Arbeits- und Forschungsschwerpunkte: Ästhetische Bildung; Rezeptionsforschung; Literalität und Bildmedium.



How to Cite

Fankhauser, R. (2008). Visual Literacy and Science Education: Results of a Qualitative Research Project. Forum Qualitative Sozialforschung Forum: Qualitative Social Research, 10(1).