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IDEAS: Integrated Disciplinary Education for Academic Scholarship: Speakers

Mercer Hall and Patricia Russac

Visual Thinking: Where Learning Meets Design

Sixty-five percent of people identify as visual learners. The brain processes optical inputs 60,000 times faster than text. Amid the contemporary world of smartphones, television, Internet, and video games, visual media undeniably dominate the input stream for life and learning. The prominence of visual stimuli places a heightened emphasis on the design of information. Thinking like a designer, therefore, can change the way students engage with concepts and retain essential ideas.

The skill of parsing pictures, decoding diagrams, and encoding images is known as graphicacy. Graphicacy stands with literacy, oracy, and numeracy as one of the four indispensable corners of education. It represents the marriage of visual literacy and visual thinking. If visual literacy is about learning to look, how to internalize and deconstruct the images that the brain sees (input), then visual thinking is about learning to design, how to imagine graphic representations based on the mind’s creation (output).

Professors across all disciplines can incorporate visual tools and theories to enhance the effectiveness of instruction. Elements such as typography, color, layout, and pre-attentive attributes all elevate the value of charts, infographics, animations, and slides to engage students beyond linear learning. Via today’s technologies and media, the visual image can inspire thought and literacy in a range of design-based investigations.

This presentation will explore the theories beneath visual scholarship, including illustrative examples, video clips, and group exercises. Our collective dialogue will probe about how cognition and perception can have real-world impacts on critical thought and creativity. Using one's visual imagination to approach educational problems - historical, literary, mathematical, or scientific- can yield tremendous dividends in student motivation and collaboration. Finally, participants will apply these tools and thought-processes to their own experiences and pedagogy.

Mercer Hall and Patricia Russac are the co-founders of The American Society For Innovation Design In Education (ASIDE). They are also authors of “theASIDEblog,” an award-winning online portal for leading-edge resources and pedagogy in the use of visual interfaces to transform student learning. With over 30 years of combined experience in education, they have conducted workshops and written articles for local, national, and international constituencies. They have also been featured as speakers, consultants, and radio guests for their expertise in learning design and visual thinking. Patricia is a TED Educator, a nationally recognized Teacher Of The Future, a media specialist, and an award-winning, practicing artist. Mercer is a five-time honoree as Teacher Of The Year, a TESInnovates scholarship winner, and a writer in educational policy and technology for Al Jazeera America and EdSurge.

Susan Kravitz

Just Pictures 

I am one of those standing in the museum, shielding my eyes from the annoyingly lengthy wall label adjacent to almost every work of art on almost every museum wall. An ever-growing compulsion on the part of museum and gallery curators is to use words to describe the history and pedigree of what the viewer is experiencing with his or her eyes. I won't even mention the icon and numeric code at the bottom of the explanatory blurb which then requires that you activate your earphones to listen to words that embellish the words on the wall label. Whatever has happened to our perceptual intelligence?

Teaching students to make and/or view visual imagery without first processing it in words is an exciting classroom challenge. To then provide students with the tools to expand their perceptual intelligence is both daunting and wonderfully liberating. Using photographs from my upcoming book, I will explore the complexity of experiencing visual imagery and the deconstruction of that experience within the context of visual literacy.

Susan Kravitz is a fine arts photographer who has explored the traditions of studio and documentary photography in her photographic projects over the past thirty years. Her work has been widely exhibited in galleries, museums and universities in the United States and abroad ( Susan taught photography in the Art Department at Nassau Community College for twenty years. She served as Chairperson of the Art Department from 1995 to 2004 and as Chair of Chairs in Summer 2004. Appointed Dean for Arts and Humanities at NCC in 2004, Susan helped establish the Center for Arts and Humanities, the LINCC program, and the IDEAS project. Susan returned full-time to her work as an exhibiting photographer after retiring from NCC in 2010. Her photography was featured on the NY Times Lens blog ( and in the International New York Times, Paris edition, Fall 2014. Her book of Cherry Grove Invasion photographs will be published Spring 2016. Susan has an M.F.A. in Photography from LIU Post, and a B.A. in Sociology from Barnard College. She is a founding member of fotofoto gallery, Huntington, NY ( and a past Co-President and current member of the Women's Fund of LI Board of Directors (

Birgit Woelker

Visualizing the Invisible 

Art and Science are deeply connected. The beauty of the living world has inspired countless artists. However the world of Molecular Biology has typically lacked compelling images and has been reduced to drawings or computer models. Many students, especially, visual learners do not find this appealing. Now it is possible to shed light on the invisible world with confocal microscopy and fluorescent imaging techniques. The results are mesmerizing and astonishingly beautiful.

Dr. Birgit Woelker is a full-time faculty member of Biology Department at Nassau Community Colle. She holds a Doctorate in Biochemistry and a Masters in Biology from the Free University of Berlin (Germany). Prior to her appointment at NCC, she was a research scientist at SUNY Stony Brook, Cold Spring Harbor Laboratories and the Max Planck Institute for Molecular Genetics in Berlin.

Since early childhood, Birgit has been fascinated by nature. She drew and painted in pencil, ink and tempera. Later she designed clothes, jewelry and created colorful silk scarves. Seeing fractal geometry in many organisms and natural systems, her love for connecting art, math and science emerged. The beauty of nature fills her with compassion to preserve it.

Kim Ballerini

Leading Lines: Photography for Scholarly Formation & Revision

My students and I use digital photography as “Leading Lines” in the freshman composition classroom to rethink our conventional ideas about the purpose and definition of composition, and to cultivate creativity and the personal narrative through visual literacy. Recognizing our students’ innate ability to use their visual aptitude allows them to “re-envision” their writing. This multi-media presentation incorporates excerpts from a student essay and original student photography to highlight alternate modes of understanding and creativity by teaching and writing from a multi-sensory perspective to create and recreate fluid texts.

Participants will pull up a personal photograph on their electronic devices- or recall a personal photograph- write about it in response to a variety of prompts, and share their writings and photos in small groups. We will then collegially exchange our ideas about narratives, photography, and technology’s role in the revision process in our classrooms and teaching practices.

Kim Ballerini is an Associate Professor of English at Nassau Community College. She is also a freelance photographer whose work has been featured in galleries both on Long Island and in the New York Adirondacks. In order to help her students hone their analytical skills, Professor Ballerini combines her interests in photography and personal narrative in the classroom. She guides students to draw parallels between the structure of visual and written composition, ultimately encouraging them to create meaningful fluid texts.

Alison Guest and Christine Faraday

Imagine That: Combining Creativity & Critical Thinking to Engage Students

This presentation will discuss the collaborative techniques we developed and applied to engage Art students in a project that advanced both their creativity and critical thinking skills. Of special focus will be a case study that explores methods of infusing intermodal components into any course design, within the Humanities and beyond. The implementation of these techniques was crucial to fostering the tools students needed to further both their intellectual curiosity and academic success.

Alison Guest has a B.A. in English Literature from Leicester University, England and an M.A. in Art History from the Ohio State University, United States. Her special areas of research have been the painted reliefs of Ben Nicholson from the 1930’s; the art of the modernist writer and filmmaker Jean Cocteau; and the relationship between children’s art and modernism. Over the past twenty years she has taught Art History in colleges in San Antonio, Texas, Los Angeles, California and presently at Nassau Community College, New York where she is Assistant Professor, Art History.

Christine Faraday is an Assistant Professor in the Library Department of Nassau Community College. She is also the administrator for on campus. She received her master’s degree in English literature from Hofstra University and her master’s in Library Science from C.W. Post. Her research interests lie in the area of information literacy- particularly issues of plagiarism, emerging technologies and digital media literacy. As of April 2014, Christine is the mother of the Cutest Baby Ever.