• Visual communication in the 21st Century: A study of the visual and digital communication experiences of post-Millennial university students

      Maheshwari, Vish; Moss, Danny; Lyon, Andy; Sillitoe, Kathleen L (University of Chester, 2018-08)
      Higher education (HE) visual communication students, who are considering careers in the creative industries of advertising and marketing, need a high level of skills in visual and digital literacy. However, students born after 1995 (post-Millennials), now entering HE, appear to present with fewer visual communication and digital skills than previous cohorts. This research provides a case study of post-Millennial students and examines the extent to which they are learning visual communication skills through their use of widely available digital media technologies. Four groups of post-Millennial students were investigated: one group of Level 4 Computer Science students; two groups of Level 4 Advertising students, from different years; and one group of Level 6 Advertising students. The students were surveyed using interview, questionnaire, observation and focus group. The resulting data was coded and analysed to extract themes. A further layered analysis, using a Cultural-Historical Activity Theory (CHAT) framework, was then carried out. Using this CHAT framework, deviances were found within the activity system of this HE advertising programme delivery. The most fundamental change was in the dissonance found between the student participants’ and HE’s learning objectives. This was in the context of a complete reversal of the relative importance of the communities within the students’ activity systems. They had become ‘flipped learners’. These CHAT related findings are arguably relevant to wider HE settings. The research also found that the students in the focus groups had a high dependency on the Internet. They used it to search for, and download, images and text. They also preferred to use the Internet to source knowledge or information, rather than to approach staff. Their visual literacy skills appeared to be weaker than those of previous cohorts. Despite their weaknesses, many students had a high level of confidence in their own ability that was not reflected in their work. A strong theme of ‘need for speed’ was highlighted, with many students believing that speed of production was more important than the quality of an artefact in professional work. The systemic changes highlighted by the CHAT framework, together with the research’s other findings, suggest potential implications for the teaching of HE students of visual communication and for the future of the creative industries. Further research is indicated in the areas of the effects of young people’s: use of the mobile phone on visual literacy skills; perception of industry needs; increasing dependency on the Internet for the acquisition of knowledge; and their need for speed.