Silence as presence: Integrating meta-cognitive practices in visual studies

Cronin, James G. R., Blackshields, Daniel, Cronin, James, Higgs, Bettie, Kilcommins, Shane, McCarthy, Marian and Ryan, Anthony (2015) Silence as presence: Integrating meta-cognitive practices in visual studies. Integrative learning: International research and practice. pp. 96-106.


Intentional looking "demands penetration, understanding, mediation," wrote Thomas Merton, American author and Trappist monk. This chapter will discuss the integration of silence and slow time in the teaching of visual literacy. Silence and slow time are more commonly employed as techniques for teaching textual criticism. Here, the technique is adapted to scaffold reading images as visual "texts." Meta-cognition, or the awareness of process, is intrinsically integrative. Intentional looking scaffolds how students can communicate visual representation as textual analysis. Such decoding supports a transdisciplinarity for visual studies as advocated by James Elkins at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Elkins proposes that an art history department that integrates the totality of visual practices can foster links beyond the arts to the sciences, medicine, geography, and engineering, all of which have their own image-making practices and traditions. Meta-cognitive practices are frequently subtle and difficult to capture and measure precisely. This difficulty may account for why these processes have received only slight attention in the scholarship of teaching and learning. In this chapter, an application of a "silent pedagogy" paradigm of metacognition as proposed by Ros Ollin at Huddersfield University in England will be critiqued. Ollin's paradigm considers "silence" not merely as quietness or absence of sound, but as a range of meta-cognitive tools fostering reflective opportunities in teaching and learning. Engagements with Ollin's "silent pedagogy" paradigm will be discussed within the learning and teaching of a 2-year part-time diploma in European Art History in Adult Continuing Education at University College Cork, Ireland. The challenge here was to encourage students to foster a disposition of intentional looking whereby they become aware of the process underpinning visual analysis, enacted through a moment of sustained observation (a "pause moment"), as integrated within the protracted activity of "slow looking." This aligns with a "silent pedagogy" paradigm. Lifelong learners, similar to undergraduates, initially find it difficult to articulate intentional looking for visual analysis. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2016 APA, all rights reserved) (Source: chapter)

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