Master's Research Project
ViraLiterate: A Web-Based Visual Literacy Teaching Resource for Undergraduate Virology
BMC faculty supervisor:
Dr. Derek Ng
Prof. Michael Corrin
Master of Science in Biomedical Communications, Institute of Medical Science, University of Toronto.
Dr. Martha Brown,
Department of Molecular Genetics, University of Toronto.
What is visual literacy?
Visual literacy is the ability to interpret visual messages as well as generate images for
communicating ideas and concepts. Acquiring visual literacy involves learning the visual conventions and vocabulary of a graphic, and relating the visible elements and their arrangement in space to the invisible concepts that are embedded in the diagrams. Fostering scientific visual literacy is critically important due to the ever-increasing volume and complexity of scientific data and associated graphics disseminated in the primary literature.
Identify the visual problem.
Currently, visual literacy education is not formally taught in undergraduate life sciences, yet students are expected to interpret sophisticated figures present in scientific research papers and make meaning of the underlying data. For instance, the course materials in a third-year undergraduate virology course at the University of Toronto, Microbiology II: Viruses, primarily relies on up-to-date research findings from primary literature instead of using textbooks. However, graphics from these research papers can be challenging for students to interpret due to their visual and conceptual complexity compared to the more didactic illustrations found in textbooks. Students in these courses would benefit from instruction specifically designed to address this visual literacy gap.
ViraLiterate will be an online educational resource designed to help undergraduate virology students interpret and create a complex diagram that is employed many times in the course readings: viral transcription maps (TM). This resource will be incorporated into an upper-level undergraduate virology course in the Department of Molecular Genetics at the University of Toronto.