Saturday, February 9, 2013

The Nature of Images


Behavioral geography is the study of the behavior of people in, and in respect to, space. The spatial environment in which a human being lives massively influences personality and resulting behaviors. One of the important elements of this environment is the image that the human being has of it and its pieces. This image is a mental picture and the associated ideas. It essentially is the world as perceived by that person. This image may be a simple picture of a mountain, say for Switzerland. It may also be complex with multiple frames and pieces. For example the image of Switzerland for one who has made multiple visits may involve rich images of mountains, towns, people, roads, flowers, and animals. It may have a detailed information base of business and personal activities involving he Swiss. All of this becomes a set of images and facts in the mind.

This image is the perceived world. It is of great importance because we act on our images and perceptions. The real world imposes limits that may force corrections when reached, but the image guides behavior, not reality. For example, Texans may perceive North Dakota as a frozen wasteland, but this is not the full reality. North Dakotans may perceive Texas in terms of the television program Dallas, or in terms of cowhands and cattle, but this is not the full reality of Texas. Yet people act upon these perceptions. A Texan will resist moving to North Dakota because of the image that there is nothing here. The reality to the Texan is what he or she knows, not what others might know.



Essentials of the Image Process

The above chart outlines the sources of images. The brain is constantly learning about places from travel, events, parents, information, movies, television, music, books, magazines, religion, friends, people, maps, art, and other items. These elements are interpreted in terms of personal and cultural filters. The image is built in the mind. Action results from using the mental information in situations. The personal and cultural filter is also used to adjust the nature of output so that the action is personally and culturally appropriate or understandable. Some details:

  • Sources. The sources of our images of places are varied. For any particular place we may have traveled to it and gained on-the-spot information. We may have seen it in movies, heard our parents talk about it, read a novel set in the location, fell in love with a song about it, seen it on maps, or dreamed about it after viewing a famous artists paintings of it. In all of these we are developing a perception of a place and building an image in our minds. On a personal level, my image of California is varied and complex, but it began with images generated by beach movies in the 1960's, the songs of the Beach Boys, Sunrays, Jan and Dean, and the Eagles ("Hotel California"), travel to San Francisco and San Diego, and a massive set of news events. California begins on a beach, slinks along in the sleaze and sex of Hollywood, builds to an earthquake, then smothers itself in a plethora of bad news. The pictures are numerous, yet they are the California I relate to and teach about.
  • Personal Cultural Filters. There is no objective world. We all see a subjective world that is influenced by our personality and our culture. Our view of any place is determined by the intermixing of our personality and our cultural perspective. Multiculturalist philosophy asks that we maintain our sense of ourselves and glorify our "original" sense of place. Our view of the world is that of our group, with leeway for the vagaries of our own development as a person. We subjectively view the world and build our image through our cultural lens.
  • Stereotypes. A stereotype is a regularized image, thought, symbol, or other form that a society holds about another person, group, thought, idea, or place. Part of the personal-cultural filter is the stereotype. With places, the stereotype is related to distance. Separated places, those with little regularized need to fully deal with each other, develop stereotypes to simplify the process of relating. One society simplifies another in order to grasp some essential understanding of the other society, yet not to mark it for detailed effort. Alternatively we might stereotype to make learning easier for children, or to ensure a unified knowledge base is held in common among a people. What is amazing is that stereotypes can be so widely held. The postmodern media makes this easy, yet such stereotypes predate the power of postmodern television and films.
  • Action. When we act, the same filters come into play. What we do rarely reflects a total letting go of what we feel. We control ourselves because we have learned this is socially required. We have also learned that our society expects communication to occur in certain ways. We have a set of words that define the nature of communication and the message. For example, Americans have a limited set of words to describe snow types compared to Inuit peoples along the north coast of Canada and Alaska. Our communication about snow is therefore limited. We will also express recognition and understanding of stereotypes. These aid communication within a group.

In the end, the images we hold are our understanding of places. Just as when our understanding of one we love is shaped by our image, we act upon the reality as understood by our mind, not the full reality of the world.

Perception-Image Examples

Our image is a very serious thing. Given that it is a source of action, its inaccuracies can be costly. Take the following examples:

  • The Prairie. Pioneers misunderstood the prairie. While the prairie has turned out to be a splendid productive resource, as settlers coming from the east first encountered it, they viewed it as worthless. They were people of forested areas. Forests were perceived as signs of good soil. Finding a treeless zone they assumed it was of no value. Their image varied from reality.
  • Deserts. Europeans faltered in their ability to interpret the world as they explored it over the last 500 years because early reports of the Sahara area conflicted with culturally held beliefs about the percentage of the earth that was well watered. Finding such a desert was fully observable, yet they discounted it because the cultural filter called it impossible.
  • Indian Markets. American firms have made differing investment decisions concerning India over the last several decades. Some corporate leaders have understood the giant potential of the Indian middle and upper classes, while other have seen it as a place of the poor. Executive images guided corporate policy on investment. Some correctly saw the large market for numerous goods, others failed to see these opportunities.

Thus our images and perceptions have great importance.

Simple Notes on Using Bulletin Boards in the Geography Classroom


Bulletin boards are a part of every classroom in the United States. Those bare walls need decorating and teachers for generations have covered them with educationally meaningful materials. Becoming even more important, is that with so many students with visual learning styles, the use of the visual media in education has grown.

Bulletin boards are a convenient way to handle visual-learning components in a classroom setting. They involve the visual presentation of a message using bright, colorful materials. While they have their own special features, they do share many graphic components with other presentation formats: posters, computer graphics and web pages, comic books, billboards, multimedia, etc.

Bulletin boards require that you have a focused message. Boards have a gross character to them, a lack of great detail. Just like comic books, they do not present a pictorial or fuylly detailed view of anything. They communicate a simple message to the passer by.

Bulletin boards can be a project for students as easily as they are one for teachers. The goal of this type of project is to produce bulletin board materials, fully appropriate for school use, that deal with topics from geography. The producer of the boards, you or your student(s), will integrate and manipulate class content while developing skills useful to teachers and of personal value as a creative activity.

The specific objectives of this type of project might be to:

  1. increase the learning of class materials through the completion of research and presentation activities.
  2. incorporate the skills and talents needed to organize and create bulletin boards into one's repertoire.
  3. integrate class materials with pre-teaching experiences such that the class materials are understood in terms of their expected use and positions in elementary, middle, junior high, and high school programs.
  4. accurately assess student achievement of the course goals and objectives using a methodology that reflects career-oriented practice (graphics use).
  5. engage the student in active learning through the production and presentation of appropriate materials for the audience.

At the completion of this project, the you or your student(s) will have met outcomes from among the following:

  1. produced a bulletin board that integrates class materials through a creative process, the result being increased learning of the course materials.
  2. presented a short address to the class about the bulletin board, thus becoming more comfortable with oral presentation situations and having increased the learning of class materials through teaching of those materials.
  3. developed bulletin board production skills through practice and reaction to criticism.

In a classroom setting, the teacher is normally the producer of bulletin boards. Teachers do let students take over this function as a project, and this is certainly to be encouraged. If students engage in bulletin board production as a project the following assessment criteria might be considered:

  1. The overall quality will be assessed, say on a on a scale from 0 to 10. Considered in this grade, but not limited to these factors, might be: (a) meaningfulness of the message, does your board have a message that is worth the effort?; (b) clarity of the message, does the board convey its message in an effective way?; (c) innovation, does the board show the innovative use of materials and concepts?; (d) originality, does the board use only original materials, as opposed to photocopied or purchased items; (e) size, is the board large enough and bright enough to effectively communicate a message in a bulletin board situation?; and (f) relative quality, can your board be considered a "quality" piece of work against the standards of local, state, and national peers?
  2. Excellence in artistic quality. The board shall display a sense of pride and artistic quality appropriate for display in a classroom. It shall be constructed of the best affordable materials and appear to have required some effort to complete. Pride should certainly be a part of this. Does the board display a sense of pride in workmanship?
  3. If an oral presentation accompanies the unveiling of the board then excellence in orally presenting a summary, etc. of the board's message to the class by the student(s) should be assessed. The talk should illustrate full understanding of the concepts and facts involved. For details on specific items within the above three categories, see the grading sheet attached at the end of this document.

Factors to Consider in Board Construction

There are numerous books and manuals available on bulletin boards. The following represents a synthesis and consensus of these materials about the construction of bulletin boards (see bibliography). Student-produced bulletin boards will be expected to follow these principles.

  1. Boards can be categorized into static-message and activity-message types. The static-message type acts as a billboard for some facet of learning. The activity- message type gives the same message, but involves the viewer in some activity. In the latter, the viewer is asked to participate through the movement of pieces on the board, the mental or oral answering of questions, or the filling in of question-answer sheets provided on the board in an envelope or by other means.
  2. The literature suggests that boards focus on one simple idea, rather than multiple concepts. Multiple goals tend to lead to boards that are crowded, unappealing to the eye, loaded with small print that is inappropriate to bulletin boards, and other errors.
  3. The literature suggests that a good board has balance, whether symmetrical or asymmetrical. The board's message should flow easily to the viewer because the board is organized to help the eye follow that message.
    • One must note that the non-linear (or MTV) style of presentation can be used, but such presentations can cause a severe loss of message impact under most circumstances. For this reason they should be avoided. By non-linear (or MTV) style, a board is implied that has jumbled pieces which force the viewer to work to assemble the message, or may leave it unclear in the viewer's mind.
  4. The literature suggests that bright colors and quality lettering are essential in making the board attractive to viewers. Small print should be avoided. If you cannot read and understand the board at a distance of six feet, it is too small. An exception can be made only for limited instructions on activity-oriented boards. These following hints will assist you:
    • DO USE construction paper. It is bright and attractive on the wall.
    • DO NOT USE plain paper with some ink or pencil color scratched across it. These materials have only a small chance of looking good.
    • AVOID using magic markers for small lettering. Markers work well for outlining and drawing on colored papers, but few people can use them well for small lettering. Most often they lead people to write too much. Be careful. If it cannot be read at six feet, it is too small.
    • NEVER use cursive writing (unless writing in cursive is the actual topic). It impedes the message and, for most people, looks sloppy. Cursive, for the most part, immediately tells the viewer you do not care what the board looks like.
    • DO USE big letters cut from construction paper. They really help a board's image.
  5. A multitude of materials can be used on boards. Sticking to the wall is the only limitation.
    • Styrofoam, crepe paper, cardboard, cloth wire, string, aluminum foil, grass, yarn, construction paper, pipe cleaners, cereal boxes
  6. Thou shalt not be boring. Boards are to be exciting.
  7. Stand back from your work and ask yourself if it actually says what you want it to say. Without any explanations is the message clear. This is a major problem for those new to making boards. The board has neat pieces of art, but together they do not mean anything.


The bulletin board has been a part of the classic American classroom. It offers the teacher a way to convey information in a visual way. It can be used as a project for students. It has an appropriate place in the geographic education program.

Selected Bibliography

Alton, Elaine, Judith Gersting, and Kuczkowski. 1978. Bulletin Board Learning Centers. Dansville, NY: Instructor Publications.

Bagan, Paula, and Barbara Forin. 1960. North Dakota Project. Bulletin of the Association of North Dakota Geographers 12 (April): 17-18.

Meartz, Paul D. 1995, 1999. Simple Notes on Using Bulletin Boards in the Geography Classroom. Brochure.

Miller, Lynne G. 1974. Ready-to-Make Bulletin Boards. New York: Scholastic Books.

Olson, Mary Lou. 1981. American Social Studies Characters. St. Paul, MN: Trend Enterprises. (TLC)

Phillips, Loretta. 1993. Bulletin board in a sack. NEA Today (May): 11. Bulletin Boards. Suggests using brown-paper sacks for small bulletin boards.

Smith, Seaton E. 1977. Bulletin Board Ideas for Elementary and Middle School Mathematics. Reston, VA: National Council of Teachers of Mathematics. (LIB)