|Teaching and Learning Forum 2005 [ Refereed papers ]|
Wellington College of Design, Fine Arts and Music
Illustration can be described as the clarification of information into a pictorial form. Its most significant generative source is the written word. Thus we see a crossover of domains, from the verbal to the visual. What takes place when written text is interpreted into a visual form? What perspectives do design students have on this? What is their understanding? From an educator's perspective, can changes to the delivery of a design problem given to a group of novice students affect the quality of outcome? Specifically, can extra emphasis on text comprehension strategies and the formal inclusion of analogical reasoning enhance student's design processes and lead to better design solutions? These questions were the basis for a pilot study carried out into the approaches tertiary students took towards the interpretation of written text into illustrations.
One of the issues for novice students to overcome in text interpretation is that of being able to discriminate between information of greater or lesser importance. Without being able to accurately comprehend a written text, a student's visual concept can actually amplify a relatively insignificant aspect of it, suggesting a significance which does not reflect a writer's intention. This aspect of novice student approach to designing is less apparent in the more experienced student who has developed greater expertise in interpretation. Nevertheless, it is hoped that this research will ultimately assist novice students to develop expertise earlier.
Helping design students gain expertise is one of the main functions of design education. As Nigel Cross points out "We still need a much better understanding of what constitutes expertise in design, and how we might assist novice students to gain that expertise". (Cross, 2001, p98) Goldschmidt (2001) puts forward the view that design, because of its 'ill-structured' nature is well suited to the application of visual analogy to allow a problem to be analysed from a different perspective. Schön, as early as 1963 was pointing out that concepts can be transferred from one situation to the next. Gentner and Medina (1998) have put forward compelling evidence that similarity-based reasoning is an effective way to look at and solve numerous types of problems. (Cited in Goldschmidt, 2001) The cognitive mechanism, according to Goldschmidt, 'responsible' for visual analogy is mental visual imagery. As with sketching, analogies allow for clues and unexpected consequences, which might not otherwise be found. Design problems are often described as 'ill structured' in that multiple solutions to a given problem can be found. This compares to the more systematic 'well structured' problem common in science. We are endowed with two cognitive systems of reasoning. One system is associative and similarity based, while the other is symbolic and rule based. They are both independent but interact with each other. ( Goldschmidt, 2001, Gentner and Medina, 1998) Text comprehension fits with the rule based system, while analogy sits well with the similarity based system.
Marton and Saljo's seminal work (1976) on student approaches to learning demonstrated that in a task such as reading a written text and articulating an understanding of it, students would approach the task in what is now commonly referred to as either 'surface' or 'deep'. What students thought was required of them would play a role in how they went about the task. Comprehension itself was not the focus of this well known study. Svensson (1977) describes different levels of textual understanding as either 'atomistic' ie where students focus on the parts of the text, or 'holistic' which relates to students who engage in understanding the overall meaning of a text. Van Dijk and Kinsch (1983) developed one of the most influential theories on reading comprehension. Their theory describes the whole reading process, from recognising individual words all the way through to representing the meaning of a whole text. According to their model, the process of comprehension has three phases: a verbatim representation, a semantic representation, and a situational representation.
Maria (1990) provides a constructivist interpretation of how meaning is derived from words. Comprehension is a holistic process where the reader brings (1.) word recognition ability, world knowledge and knowledge of linguistic conventions; (2.) their interpretation of the language used by the writer in constructing the text and (3.) the situation where the text is read. Metacognition, when applied to a reading task requires the ability to distinguish important ideas from unimportant ones. (Nits and Mealey, 1991) Schema theory espouses the view that all new experience is understood through the use of categorical rules or scripts to interpret a new situation. We use these schemas to not only interpret but also predict what may be about to happen. Schemas are unique to individuals and based on life experience. They are also context specific. This explains in part why novices perform less well than experts who have had more exposure and experience of a subject. As a consequence, experts have more developed schemas in a particular domain and are therefore more able to accurately predict and interpret information.
Twelve students out of a possible pool of twenty five volunteered to take part and they were split into two groups of six. All participants were second year students and their placing was determined by previously assessed grades in design papers. As the second year of a four year degree is officially the first year of specialisation, students are categorised as 'novices'. Gender was mixed and both groups were evenly matched in age and expertise. The task itself required all students to interpret a text extract. Group 1 were asked to interpret the text into a visual image which conveyed the writer's message. Group 2 were also given that task but in addition they had to create a visual analogy and read some information on reading comprehension. These two specific changes; additional text information and application of analogy, allowed for comparisons to be made between the groups. The task itself lasted only thirty minutes. The visual work required from both groups was initial exploratory sketches, commonly referred to as thumbnails. Normally a project would spread over a matter of weeks, but this study sought to look at the early phase of ideation.
A previous study by Atman and Bursic in 1996 examined the effect an introduced text had on a group of engineering students. The intervention did not significantly affect the quality of the design solutions but it was noted that the group of students explored more alternative solutions and went through more design transitions than a second group not supplied with additional explanatory text. (described in Atman and Turns, 2001) No further design studies have been recognised which furthered this line of inquiry.
A university lecturer of English and Media studies was given the role of 'expert' and she was asked to interpret the text. The text chosen is a two paragraph excerpt from an essay written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (1907). Titled Through the Magic Door, it is an example of expository text. Most of what we read is expository. It is to be found in essays, speeches, instructions, journals, documents, newspapers and magazine articles. According to Williams (2000) it is more difficult to comprehend than narrative (fictional) text as the structures of expository text are varied. Heller (1995) lists seven distinct expository structures; definition, description, process, classification, comparison, analysis and persuasion. The sample text by Doyle is 'persuasive'. Persuasive text is characterised as being about compelling the reader to accept and view a topic from the same viewpoint as the author. (Heller, 1995) The expert described Doyle's argument as being about "the tremendous resource that is available to the human mind in the shape of books, which we seldom utilise. He sees books as having an almost fantastical power with the reader: they can soothe, transport, provide company and sympathy, promote thought and imagination". The expert separated out each paragraph, describing paragraph one as focusing on books transporting us "out of the everyday world, with the author's like magical spirit guides". The second paragraph suggests our appreciation is dull because "we're just too familiar with books - if we really appreciated them, we'd be so enthralled that our engagement with day to day life would come under threat". In summing up the text, the expert said books provide us with a "thrilling magic escape from dull, day to day life". The analogy created by the expert was that books are analogous to flying carpets and time machines. Like magic, they can take us anywhere in time and space.
A semi-structured interview was carried out with each student shortly after the thirty-minute design task. All design work was handed in at the end of the task.
|Group 1||Student 1||Just to illustrate a piece of text, conceptually maybe. Just getting an idea from it, illustrating an idea.|
|Student 2||I think it was trying to show what the, what the author was trying to say.|
|Student 3||Sketches to show what was in the text.|
|Student 4||It wanted me to describe what the writer meant through the text but using image.|
|Student 5||Sort of look at the pattern, to me it felt like it didn't really look at what I was, the ideas I came up with but how I came up with it.|
|Student 6||I gave that it was just to create some kind of interesting visual image, like to go with what the writer, the author was trying to get across.|
|Group 2||Student 7||The purpose of the brief was to create an analogy from reading a piece of text that we were given... follow the procedure and come out at the end of it with an illustration, a conceptual illustration for the text.|
|Student 8||To create an analogy regarding the author's opinion on reading books.|
|Student 9||As far as I could see it was to create an illustration for maybe a magazine... I think it was to bring the main idea of the text across.|
|Student 10||To read a piece of text and creatively interpret it I guess.|
|Student 11||It wanted me to analyse a text and define my own comprehension of it down to basically the essence of it...and then to interpret it into an analogy and create the best way to describe the text in visual form.|
|Student 12||To read through the given text and illustrate my take on it and from there create an analogy and pulling those two ideas together to create a visual to represent it.|
|Group 1||Student 1||I guess, maybe books are like a key to the portal to escaping reality.|
|Student 2||Books are great, books are great because there's such a big resource of them and they're a great tool for escaping.|
|Student 3||I tried to define it as the richness in books in terms of knowledge and how that was enlightenment.|
|Student 4||Maybe that you can find another world in a book.|
|Student 5||I think that the writer was trying to say that your mind can explore in any direction it wants to.|
|Student 6||I don't know, I'm still a little confused by this passage.|
|Group 2||Student 7||Escape into books to get away from the monotony of life.|
|Student 8||Reading books can be, or is an escape from reality or monotony.|
|Student 9||Books are a container holding someone else's world which we can jump into.|
|Student 10||This text was about how humans as a race avoid difficult problems in life by creating forms of escapism through our fantasies that can often be enjoyable. We become ignorant and selfish at times.|
|Student 11||Familiarity has blinded us to the full and magical power that is within books. They hold within them worlds of all types to escape to, far better than our own. Each book is a door into the minds of great people long gone. They are so powerful that we could lose ourselves in them, but it is a risk we should take for it is far better than the world we live in.|
|Student 12||We take for granted the escape that books provide us from the real world.|
The expert summed the text up by saying "The author argues that books provide a thrilling, magic escape from dull day-to day life". Escape is the key term in the passage. Two students from group 1 mention it specifically, while five from group 2 use the word in their summary. The one student from group 2 who didn't refer to escape demonstrated an unresolved conception of the design task and in the interview said that he a had disregarded the information of 'how to read text', saying "I went about it my way".
Goel describes successful designing as the application of two types of knowledge, "explicit, articulate, domain-specific knowledge, and inarticulate, domain independent, procedural knowledge". (Goel, 2001, p221). Goel also refers to these two types of knowledge as Type 1 and Type 2. Type 1, declarative knowledge is technical in nature and can be easily articulated, 'the picture is too dark, the figures need more colour'. Type 2, procedural knowledge deals with the processes of designing and is not easily measured or articulated. This partly explains why students find it difficult to explain their design processes. Type 2 knowledge cannot be taught or learned like a formula; it is not knowledge in the conventional sense and yet, without it, designing cannot take place. It is acquired and developed in the design studio, through giving students design problems to solve. (Goel, 2001)
Further research to be carried out will focus separately on text comprehension strategies and the role of analogy in concept creation. This pilot study combined the researcher's two areas of interest. It is therefore hard to determine whether it was better approaches to comprehension or the formal application of analogy that led to more novel ideas. It may well have been a combination of the two. It is the goal of the researcher to develop these areas of inquiry and ultimately implement them into future curriculum planning to assist students in developing design expertise. Creativity, it is argued here, cannot be taught, but procedural knowledge can be developed in an explicit manner. Better design procedures can therefore facilitate a more creative output. Ideas generated by students vary in their suitability. Current thinking might seek to explain this as a result of differing levels of creativity. However, this research suggests that different levels of comprehension may have an effect on the quality of ideas generated and that analogical reasoning can assist in developing novel concepts which visually communicate. While there is a theoretical basis for analogical reasoning, (Schön, Gentner and Medina, Goldschmidt) much of the research carried out in the design field has been in the areas of architecture and engineering. Little has been done in the visual communication area of illustration and text conceptualisation. The researcher has spent many years teaching illustration and has previously considered that prior knowledge and a student's unique perspective on the world was sufficient for good interpretation. This research has changed that perception.
Example 1: Group 1 image. Creates an environment but the sketch doesn't focus on the writer's message.
Example 2: Group 1 image. This sketch visualises a part of the text which mentions dead author
Example 3: Group 1 image. This image directly relates to a piece of text which says "There stand your noble, silent comrades, waiting in their ranks".
Example 4: Group 2 image. The analogy that books are like TV is made through the use of a remote control. The popcorn adds meaning through its association with being entertained.
Example 5: Group 2 image. A book, in the shape of a boat is helping an individual to escape.
Example 6: Group 2 image. Here the analogy is that books are like drugs, they help you escape from reality.
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|Author: Mike McAuley is a lecturer in illustration and design research at Massey University in Wellington. He has been a practicing designer and educator in Scotland, Australia and New Zealand. His PhD in design learning has engendered a whole new way of looking at how he teaches. Where before there was only intuition, there is now a strong theoretical underpinning to his work. The price of his immersion in PhD study has been a correspondingly hefty rise in his golf handicap.
Department of Visual Communication Design
Wellington College of Design, Fine Arts and Music
Buckle Street, Wellington, New Zealand
Tel +64 4 801 2794 Email: M.P.McAuley@massey.ac.nz
Please cite as: McAuley, M. (2005). Written text into visual text: An investigation into novice design students' approaches to text interpretation. In The Reflective Practitioner. Proceedings of the 14th Annual Teaching Learning Forum, 3-4 February 2005. Perth: Murdoch University. http://lsn.curtin.edu.au/tlf/tlf2005/refereed/mcauley.html
Copyright 2005 Mike McAuley. The author assigns to the TL Forum and not for profit educational institutions a non-exclusive licence to reproduce this article for personal use or for institutional teaching and learning purposes, in any format (including website mirrors), provided that the article is used and cited in accordance with the usual academic conventions.