Visual displays of data, images of subatomic to planetary-scale features, and animations of geological processes are widely used to enrich our disciplines. However, their communicative power may be dramatically different to a student and to an expert because of the need for prior knowledge and inference when interpreting visuals. To “see” equivalent visual information, the non-expert must learn the visual language of the expert. Teaching visual literacy is important to instruction at all levels and is as fundamental to a discipline as its vocabulary. The underlying foundations of visual literacy and the recognition of what one “sees” and interprets in a visual depiction are critical for enhancing student learning and for effective communication in our visually rich discipline.

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