L. Sokirkina

Sultan Qaboos University (OMAN)
The presentation analyzes the correlation of visual literacy skills with several generic skills which are important for university students to acquire during the Foundation Programme year. It will also provide practical suggestions how to develop visual literacy skills and help students to use them in different formats of communication, presentations, team building, and critical analysis.

Textual habitat has experienced remarkable changes in recent years. Today we University lecturers and our students live in an information environment saturated with visuals. Some studies estimate that the young generation acquires 50 percent of their knowledge from visual texts rather than from written sources. Though this percent could differ in different countries, it is very obvious that texts are becoming increasingly multimodal in their incorporation of images with written language.

Not only Internet and other multimedia sources but also textbooks in all subject areas show a great shift to images that have a significant role in communicating the essential information about the topic. Many university science textbooks are now only one third verbal, two thirds are visual materials. Our analysis of modern English language textbooks shows that the use of visuals does not serve also only illustrative purposes but they are critical in the discourse exploitation of materials.

Since students in Oman and other Gulf countries use textbooks that are published in UK and US both in EFL classroom and their major classes, it is no longer enough for them to read a text, they must learn to process both words and pictures and move fluently between them which is not often easy for our students.

Omani students belong to a culture that traditionally does not give priority to vision over other senses, the opposite typical to Western cultures. There are many examples in the English language when thinking is associated with visual metaphors. Arab/Muslim cultures are comparatively more dependent on the sense of hearing.

Visual literacy is rarely included in the school curriculum anywhere, and Oman is not an exception. That is why it is not a surprise that this generation's ability to assign meaning to the visual texts of others is passive and not critical, so they could be easily manipulated as students, citizens and consumers. Images are never natural or neutral but they are always constructed representations of the beliefs and values of people who constructed them. People from different cultures don’t see the world differently, but they think differently about what they see. Our research confirms that our students see as their culture teaches them to see.

Among many suggestions discussed in the presentation is the idea to explore new not traditional texts in the classroom, for example, icon texts, altered books, etc. Among the many advantages of theses texts is the fact that they are of tremendous use for highly reluctant English language learners.

Though more studies should be done in the Arab region as well as in the rest of the world to see how modern language is affected by visual input, it is clear that visual skills affect other generic skills development, the way how learners learn, and also how lecturers teach.