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Cultures across the globe are increasingly visual—whether this be due to the popularity of video streaming, advances in the graphic arts, or the rise of accessible software, apps, and other technologies. In fact, while globalization endures as a prominent force, it seems that the rather universal languages of images and numbers do as well. Visualizations—in particular data visualizations—are valued for their efficiency in communicating messages and their efficacy in spurring emotion and instigating action. This gives such images great power.

Although all media consumers must ultimately be accountable for their own ability to interact responsibly with the visual media, educators have a duty to prepare students in higher education for the unique burdens and challenges that accompany their disciplines. However, instructors rarely focus on visual literacy when it comes to the learning outcomes of many programs even when source evaluation and the use of reliable research is prioritized and expected. According to the Association of College and Research Libraries:

"Visual literacy is a set of abilities that enables an individual to effectively find, interpret, evaluate, use, and create images and visual media. . . . A visually literate individual is both a critical consumer of visual media and a competent contributor to a body of shared knowledge and culture."

When visual literacy is covered in the curriculum, there is a tendency to emphasize the state-of-the-art technologies, artistic process, and proper methods that accompany the creation of such imagery. Yet, the skill set of abilities listed in this definition is more heavily weighted toward the consumptive aspects rather than the productive. To better equip our students for both their professional and personal lives after academia, it is imperative that we give them the tools and skills to critically read data visualizations

This panel will address questions regarding the implications that various forms of data and information visualization have on the pedagogy, research, culture, and public face of their respective academic fields:

Dr. Dale Edwards is the Program Coordinator and a Professor of Journalism & Media Studies at the University of Northern Colorado. The practices of journalism and the mass media have perhaps the furthest public reach and highest influence when it comes to the effects of visual information on the public. Appropriately preparing and balancing the responsibilities of the producers and consumers of this content is a longstanding problem with new dilemmas and complications.

Dr. Rob Reinsvold is a Professor in the School of Biological Sciences and the Coordinator for the Biology Secondary Education Program at the University of Northern Colorado. The proliferation of large amounts of data in the sciences has led to concerns of misinformation as seen with the recent climate change skeptics and flat earth theorists. Dr. Reinsvold strives to develop data-literate science educators that will in turn teach others how to effectively access, interpret, and communicate data.

Maggie Shawcross is an Assistant Professor and the Health Sciences Librarian at the University of Northern Colorado. Maggie has previously worked as a Consumer Health Librarian and a Public Librarian focusing on health programming and health literacy. She is keenly aware of how imagery affects the work of healthcare professionals and consumers, and she instructs students on how to use reliable and credible resources in the ever-changing environment of health information.

Jingying Crystal Zhen is a graduate student studying Digital Media at the University of Northern Colorado and Computer Graphics at Shandong Normal University. Crystal’s work focuses on digital illustration, and she is interested in how data visualization can help data be communicated more clearly.

In discussing this topic from the vantage point of their respective disciplines, participants offers specific issues, experiences, and suggestions that help define the current context of visual literacy and illuminate a path forward for responding to this modern state of affairs.


The 2020 Society for the Interdisciplinary Study of Social Imagery (SASSI) conference was planned to be held face-to-face on March 13-14, but it was transitioned to an asynchronous virtual conference due to COVID-19. Presenters were invited to submit their content to the virtual program available at