Visualizing Community

by Kabir Singh (he/him), VTS Trainer & Manager of Online Learning

From July 12–16, 2021, 41 attendees from around the world joined the Online Summer Series, a virtual conference hosted by Visual Thinking Strategies (VTS). We designed the schedule to accommodate global time zones. During our U.S. West Coast morning, participants joined from locations in the Netherlands, Poland, and Canary Islands. In our late afternoon, participants joined from Japan, Australia, and New Zealand. Sessions that were early afternoon for us met a sweet spot that seemed to work for all of our community that spans across North and South America, Europe, the Middle East, and the Asia/Pacific region, with dedicated people up late or early in their respective time zones. Our theme for the week was Visualizing Community, which we saw manifested in several different ways.

A visual note by Miho Oka representing a VTS image discussion at VTS Look Club – Online.

Miho Oka, the first and only certified VTS facilitator in Japan, helped us literally visualize our community through a Visual Notetaking workshop on the first day of the Online Summer Series. She shared with us her own practice of visual notetaking (which can be seen on her website and on her Instagram @mihoru__oka/), which she does herself each week when she comes to VTS Look Club – Online, our free program with image discussions on Zoom that takes place weekly throughout the year. Miho also shared with us a number of tips that demystified drawing for anyone who may or may not identify as an artist.

Throughout the week of the conference, participants who took Miho’s workshop on Monday took notes on various VTS image discussions and then created their visual notes that showed our community members in dialogue. On Friday, the final day of the Online Summer Series, Miho invited participants to share their work in a virtual gallery. I shared mine and it was so affirming because Miho directed the other participants to type their appreciations for each person’s work in the Zoom chat, thus creating what she called a “compliment shower.” It was so wonderful both being the recipient of a compliment shower and telling my fellow participants all the things I loved about their drawings when it was their turn. You can see some attendee notes and some by Miho herself by looking at the hashtag #vtsvisualnote on Instagram.

In a presentation called “VTS Look Club – Online: What We’ve Found,” VTS coach and frequent VTS Look Club – Online host, Kris Grey, presented on the work that all of us at VTS have contributed to since the March 2020 COVID-19 pandemic closures moved our work from schools and museums into Zoom meetings. What stuck with me from Kris’s presentation was their assertion that the changes we made were not an “accommodation” to simply make the VTS method work remotely, but in fact a “different approach to access and needs”—one of “transformation and evolution.” 

As Kris shared this assertion of “transformation and evolution,” I could see it manifested on my screen in the faces of our global community in gallery view. In the past sixteen months, VTS has been able to keep our community together through VTS Look Club – Online, a weekly gathering every Wednesday that changes times each month to accommodate different time zones. Prior to having this weekly offering, we often didn’t see people after they participated in VTS practicums. Now, every week we have the opportunity to connect with VTS practitioners and enthusiasts by having image discussions together on Zoom. It is also through VTS Look Club – Online that we first met Miho, who helped us visualize our community through artistic practice. VTS Look Club – Online is a transformation and evolution of our work that we will keep offering in the future as we are able to do work both online and in person.

We dedicated this Online Summer Series to one of the people responsible for our community, Dr. Abigail Housen, the late co-founder of VTS whose research is the foundation of the VTS method. Her daughter, Tara Geer, along with VTS Trainer Amy Chase Gulden, presented a mini-workshop on Appreciating Aesthetic Thinking and Growth, which offered a renewed look at Dr. Housen’s work and legacy. I learned so much from their presentation about metacognition and meaning making and cannot wait to incorporate what I learned into my VTS facilitation in image discussions with our global community.

In the follow-up survey from the Online Summer Series, one of the questions we asked participants was “What surprised you about the week?” Here are what a few attendees said in response:

  • How welcoming the VTS community is. intellectually, I know its is a welcoming space, but it always feels so affirming to be immersed in it!
  • Something that surprised me was the geographical diversity of participants. I had no idea how international the VTS community was. So that was a really cool thing to experience.
  • I missed seeing everyone in person but it was still so social and engaging! It’s the most engaging and fun online PD I’ve had so far.

I have so much gratitude for all my VTS colleagues who have contributed to this transformation and evolution of our work. I want to give special thanks to Em Miller, VTS Trainer & Operations Manager, who is the program manager for the Online Summer Series. They saw the need for a conference to visualize our community and supported our whole team to make it happen. Thank you to Robyn Muscardini, VTS Director, Trainer & Web Administrator, for her leadership, collaboration, and eloquence. I am especially grateful for our community members, like Miho, who come to VTS Look Club – Online week after week, which makes our work possible.


Curious about VTS? We encourage you to register for this month’s series of VTS Look Club – Online, which we offer for free every Wednesday. Times change monthly to accommodate different time zones. Use the same Zoom link to join as many or as few sessions as you would like to attend in one month.

If you would like to donate to Visual Thinking Strategies to support its programs, you can do so here.

Top image: Miho Oka’s visual representation of the VTS community in conversation during the VTS Dublin residency at VTS Look Club – Online.