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Distributed August 5, 2005
Contact Mark Nickel

Mesa CC, Brown receive NSF Advanced Technology Education Grant

Supported by a three-year, $600,000 grant from the National Science Foundation, Mesa Community College (Mesa, Ariz.) and Brown University (Providence, R.I.) will develop pioneering curriculum modules for teaching digital visual literacy. As international culture and commerce become increasingly reliant on visual communications, visual literacy is becoming an essential skill for college graduates.

PROVIDENCE, R.I. — Mesa Community College (MCC) in Mesa, Ariz., one of the nation’s largest community colleges, and Brown University in Providence, R.I., a prominent research university, have received a three-year, $600,000 Advanced Technology Education (ATE) Grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to bring a pioneering digital visual literacy (DVL) program into community college education.

Just as the invention of the printing press turned textual literacy into a necessary societal skill, so computer-based graphics are making visual literacy into a skill required of almost everyone in the modern workforce. DVL – the ability to create and interpret computer-based visual materials effectively – has become a key aspect of virtually every field, from the sciences to commerce to communication and entertainment.

Pinny Sheoran, executive director of the Business and Industry Institute (BII) and a faculty member in Computer Information Systems at MCC, will serve as principal investigator for the grant. “In an era in which visual computing affects everything from business presentations to medical diagnosis, DVL is becoming as important as textual literacy,” Sheoran said. “We are delighted to be working with Brown University, a leader in computer science research and education, to help prepare students adequately for today’s workplace.”

Work supported by the NSF ATE grant will focus on creating and testing instructional DVL modules for use in basic computer literacy and concepts courses. Initial modules will be used in courses at MCC, other Maricopa County community colleges, and selected venues educating American Indian and Hispanic students. The grant’s evaluation component will provide data on effective adaptation and adoption of content that address the essentials of DVL.

The module content is based on research and teaching by Anne Morgan Spalter and Andries van Dam, both in Brown University’s Department of Computer Science. Van Dam, a pioneer in computer graphics and co-principal investigator for the project, is Brown’s vice president for research and the Thomas J. Watson Jr. University Professor of Technology and Education. “I am thrilled to have a partnership with MCC, an innovative community college that has already proven itself a leader in technology education. Dr. Sheoran has already helped to create several new curricular thrusts at MCC and we look forward to working with her and her team at MCC and the BII.”

Spalter, also a co-principal investigator for the project, is a visual computing researcher, adjunct faculty member and computer artist. “I never imagined it would be commonplace for people to carry a mobile phone capable of taking pictures and recording video,” Spalter said. “We expect to understand and communicate visually now in all domains, from personal correspondence to business and the sciences.”

The grant will bring together several years of research at Brown on the multidisciplinary roots of DVL. This work culminated in a spring 2005 experimental DVL course in Brown’s Department of Computer Science titled “Visual Thinking/Visual Computing,” funded by Atlantic Philanthropies. An educational software environment developed at Brown called the Graphics Teaching Tool (GTT) will help instructors bring DVL concepts to life. The GTT and Brown’s instructional research have been funded by the National Science Foundation and Sun Microsystems Inc.

Initial courses using DVL modules are scheduled for spring 2006 at MCC. The corporate relationships that have been developed by BII will be used to identify linkages between DVL skills and specific knowledge-worker job functions. The DVL project is expected to affect tens of thousands of students enrolled in courses in community colleges in the short term and hundreds of thousands in the long term.

Further information:
DVL course:
Instructional research “Exploratories:”
MCC’s Business and Industry Institute:


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