Tiffin University faculty publishes study on students using photography to foster intergenerational understanding

Staff report

Associate Professor Lee Fearnside and Dr. Matt Bereza’s article, “Using Photography to Foster Intergenerational Understanding,” was published in the Journal of Visual Literacy (JVL).

Professor Fearnside and Dr. Bereza conducted a study using approximately 86 Tiffin University students to determine if interviews and visual arts may reduce anxiety, build empathy, and improve visual literacy skills when interacting with senior citizens. TU alum Gabe McConn (2012) assisted with the study and article. Photos by students Chen Li, Scott Williams and alum Lauren Stewart (2013), who all also participated in the project, were featured.

The JVL is a refereed, scholarly publication that encourages interdisciplinary explorations of the empirical, theoretical, practical, or applied aspects of visual literacy and communication.

According to Lee Fearnside, Associate Professor of Art and Director of the Diane Kidd Gallery, “The students were asked to visually translate someone else’s experience after they spoke with residents of Autumnwood and Elmwood nursing homes in Tiffin, Ohio. “They discussed their life experiences, and then the students created photographs about what they heard,” Fearnside said. “This academic experience helped mitigate students’ fears over aging, as well as establish intergenerational communication.”

For some students, the project did, indeed, generate empathy. Several students said the project made them think about the elderly members of their family.

One student said that this project made her think about nursing homes and the living conditions there in ways she never had before. Another said the experience made him want to visit his older relatives more frequently. One international student commented on the different treatment of the elderly in his culture, and remarked that there was a greater tradition of multigenerational households there.

Through creating visual interpretations – most of which were dramatic and symbolic — students not only developed empathy for their conversation partners, many created budding friendships. When the students returned to show their images to the nursing home residents, conversations were more animated and engaged. Both parties enjoyed seeing the images and having something specific to talk about.

Staff report