Lessons for a New Year

Well, the New Year is off and running, and today is the first anniversary of Dr. Nagar’s death. I had always written my annual State of the Soul address to him, and this is the first time he is not here to receive it. So this year, instead of a letter, I have an offering (puja) for him. It is work that could have been done long ago, but as he often consoled, “Better late than never.”

I like to think another of his favorite sayings applies here as well—a proverb found in Laukikanyāyāñjali, the book we published together nearly 20 years ago: “A thing done at the wrong time might as well be left undone.” So maybe now is finally the right time to present my first real lesson in Comparative Religion for Children.


For EdTech 506 I designed a unit of instruction on nonduality, a key concept of Advaita Vedanta, the philosophy by which Dr. Nagar lived. Another proverb from Laukikanyāyāñjali can be used to illustrate this concept: the snake and its coils. “Viewed as a whole, the snake is one. If we view it in regard to its coils, hood, erect posture and so on, differences appear. Compare: ‘a forest and its trees, a lake and its waters.’ ” You will find in Lesson 2 an activity based on the fable of the blind men and the elephant, which is also included in the book we published together.

I enjoyed conceptualizing and creating graphics as part of my unit of instruction. After creating them according to the graphic design principles we studied in class, I was able to organize them into three categories to facilitate learning: (1) images that helped illustrate the concept of parts equaling a whole, (2) illustrations of how names and forms, especially when taken out of context, can lead to confusion, and (3) graphics demonstrating the concept of nonduality in the context of three different religions/philosophies.


For more on how and why I created this instruction, please read my justification paper. My son enjoyed the first two lessons and seems to have a good grasp of the concept of oneness and nonduality. I am happy to share this instruction with anyone who might find it worthwhile, and I welcome all comments or suggestions. I can only hope that Dr. Nagar would have seen this as a noble attempt—a small step in the right direction.

Om Shanti and Happy New Year!

A Question of Balance

White space. It’s a good designer’s best friend.

As an editor, I am often mistaken as its enemy, but the fact is, I love it as much as any designer. Unfortunately all those words get in the way.

So, in order to distance myself from “the dark side,” I must constantly think of ways to make writing more concise—to say something in as few words as possible, and to let the design do some of the talking.


As the text suggests, good instructional design marries words and images to make meaning, and white space plays a key role in the presentation. For this week’s assignment, I used the principle of asymmetry, “a visual arrangement in which elements appear to be thrown off balance,” to present both textual and visual elements in a way that tends to achieve more visual interest than a symmetrical design (Lohr, 2008, p. 275).

This graphic is intended for K-12 students enrolled in an extracurricular Comparative Religion for Children course. It will be presented in the first lesson of a unit on nonduality as both a way to introduce the organization of the unit and an illustration of the key concept.

Consider first the organizational purpose. The lessons of the unit are represented in the three leaves of the shamrock as:

  1. A: Analyzing Concepts—In the first lesson we explore how a thing, though composed of many parts, is considered as a whole.
  2. U: Understanding Context—In the second lesson we explore how the essence of a thing can be confused when its parts are viewed out of context of the whole.
  3. M: Making Meaning—In the third lesson we examine the concept of advaita (nonduality or nondifference) in the contexts of Hinduism and other religions and make our own connections.

The design itself is an illustration of the concept of nonduality in that it demonstrates how, although composed of three distinct leaves, the shamrock is one plant. Saint Patrick, Ireland’s patron saint, is well-known for using the shamrock as a visual to explain the holy trinity, a concept that will be explained in greater detail in the third lesson: Making Meaning.

A user test revealed that this graphic was easier to understand than others I have created so far because it contains text explaining the image. All of the other graphics will be presented as part of a lesson that will examine their meaning and relevance, but as a stand-alone graphic, this made more sense to my user.

One change I might make based on the user test is to rearrange the A, U, and M on the shamrock’s leaves. My user said he thought the A should be placed on the left leaf and the U on top because he would read from left to right in that manner. I know that American readers typically read from left to right and top to bottom, but I don’t know which is more important here. My thought was to place the A at the top, followed by the U at left and then the M. Plus, the A just looked better up there. I would appreciate input regarding how others would read the letters, which spell AUM, a transliteration of the “OM” symbol in Devanagari script in the center of the shamrock.

I hope that I have achieved “a good balance between the white space and the other elements that make up the visual” (Lohr, 2008, p. 275). Any and all comments are welcome!



Lohr, L. (2008). Creating graphics for learning and performance: Lessons in visual literacy (2nd ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson/Merrill/Prentice Hall.

One Melon to Fill Them All

This graphic illustrates a story told by Svami Rama Tirtha as part of a lecture titled “The Secret of Success” on January 26, 1903, in the Golden Gate Hall in San Francisco. The tale is of three boys who are given a dollar and quarrel over what they will buy with it. In the story, there is an English boy, a Persian boy, and a Punjabi boy who do not realize that they all want the same thing (a watermelon to share) until someone points out to them that they are all asking for that same fruit but in different languages. The lesson accompanying this graphic has been modified to represent three major religions as well as three languages associated with the modern characters—Hindi/Hinduism, Spanish/Christianity, and Japanese/Buddhism—as part of the larger Comparative Religion for Children curriculum.


A user test of my graphic revealed that it was unclear that the labels under the three watermelon slices were names for a watermelon in other languages. Although this will be explained in the lesson, as a result of the user’s confusion, I added in parentheses the language for each translation. I chose not to use the word “watermelon” because American users will naturally fill that in when looking at the graphic. I believe that this realization will aid with their understanding.

The target audience of this curriculum is English-speaking students in grades K-12 who do not necessarily have any background in other languages. The task for this assignment was to create an image that uses words and symbols to imply hierarchy. I feel that I have achieved hierarchy with both size and placement of images and text. It is clear that the three slices are but portions of the whole watermelon, and likewise that the labels are simply three of many translations for the same fruit with many names.

The whole watermelon at the top acts as an entry point to the graphic. This vertical alignment demonstrates how, “in general, items on the top are assigned a status of more importance” (Lohr, 2008, p. 128). The slices of the watermelon are clustered, or chunked, into a related group, which indicates that they are equal parts of the whole (Lohr, 2008, p. 125). The arrows encompassing the graphic in the color of the whole watermelon are meant to show that the slices and their associated terms are part of the whole—and thus to illustrate the key concept of nonduality.


Lohr, L. (2008). Creating graphics for learning and performance: Lessons in visual literacy (2nd ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson/Merrill/Prentice Hall.

Pink (and Blue and Green …) Elephant

This week’s assignment gave me the opportunity to try something in Fireworks that I always knew was possible but never really acknowledged … like the pink elephant in the room.


Turns out, it wasn’t as simple as I thought it would be. I found an elephant image labeled for reuse with modification and proceeded to slice it up into sections to represent how different parts of the elephant, when considered separately without context to the whole animal, can be misidentified.

This illustration of nonduality, or advaita, is based on a proverb that most likely originated in an ancient Buddhist scripture about six blind men and an elephant. Each blind man felt a different part of the elephant and deduced that it was something other than what his fellow blind men concluded. If my graphic were working correctly outside of Fireworks, the learner would click on each colored segment to see what each blind man thought that particular part to be:


The links in the slices work (currently they are all going to a jigsaw lesson I created on the topic for EdTech 502), but you can’t see the colors (hence the screenshots above).

When this graphic is working as it should, it will help K-12 students enrolled in the comparative religion class visualize how parts can be misinterpreted and misunderstood when taken out of context of the thing as a whole. My primary purpose for using color was to label the different parts and differentiate information (Lohr, 2008, p. 265).

Related to my graphic, other research-based advantages for using color—as outlined by Misanchuk, Schwier, and Boling (2000) in our text—include the ability to:

  • Locate information
  • Aid in differentiation and discrimination among elements
  • Facilitate identification (Lohr, 2008, p. 266)

When I conducted a user test by showing the layers and the design with color in Fireworks, the concept of separate parts was clear to the users. When they read the alt text explaining what each part was thought to be, they understood how the two items were similar. However, explanation of the blind men and the elephant proverb was still required to make the connection to this as yet another demonstration of nonduality. Changes I will make as a result of the user test are (hopefully) making the colored slices interactive and linking each to a stanza from a poem explaining what that blind man “saw.”

Please let me know what you think of the idea … and contact me if you happen to be a Fireworks guru! There is no shame now that the pink elephant is out in the open! Thank you!

pink elephant flowers

More pink elephants!


Lohr, L. (2008). Creating graphics for learning and performance: Lessons in visual literacy (2nd ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson/Merrill/Prentice Hall.

Within You and Without You

This week’s assignment really got to the heart of my unit’s theme of nonduality. By using the selection principle and the concept of figure-ground, I was able to illustrate the key concept in Advaita Vedanta of the integral nature of Atman, the “individual” self or soul, and Brahman, which is everywhere and inside of each living being. The Sanskrit phrase “Tat Tvam Asi,” originally appearing in the Chandogya Upanishad and translated as “That Art Thou,” means that the Atman is, in reality, no different from the Brahman.

I chose to emphasize the word “Brahman” by setting it in big, bold type as the figure of the graphic. The word “Atman” is repeated many times in a much lighter typeface in the background, indicating that there are many “individual souls” comprising the whole. The contrast of light and dark helps emphasize the key concept, and the boldness of the black around the circle is meant to connect visually to the word “Brahman” and to represent how that ultimate reality extends beyond the boundaries of the circle.


The concept of “That Art Thou” is similar to the idea of a world spirit, or Weltgeist in German, which philosopher Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel weaves into his explanation of “absolute idealism,” presenting the thinker and the thought—the subject and the object—as nonseparate.

Another German word, gestalt, loosely translated as “configuration,” appeared in this week’s readings, and the Gestalt Theory further illustrates the concept of an all-inclusive whole:

Max Wertheimer explained Gestalt Theory: “The fundamental “formula” of Gestalt theory might be expressed in this way: There are wholes, the behavior of which is not determined by that of their individual elements, but where the part-processes are themselves determined by the intrinsic nature of the whole. It is the hope of Gestalt theory to determine the nature of such wholes.” (Graham, 2008, p. 1)

My graphic is a solid example of figure-ground, “the fundamental law of gestalt that helps us identify objects (figure) as distinct from their background (ground). This law of perception is dependent upon contrast” (Graham, 2008, p. 3).

Contrast plays a major role in the graphic I designed. My original version of the graphic did not have the black area surrounding the circle, and the contrast was confined to the boldness of Brahman and the circle outline, compared with the white space and lightness of the word Atman repeated inside. When I asked two users with no previous exposure to the words which of the two versions indicated that the words inside were part of the circle, both voted for the one with the black background, so I decided to scrap the original. Other feedback I received was that the black around the circle makes it “pop” more.

This graphic, like the others I have created for this unit of instruction targeted to children in K-12 with no prior background in these concepts, definitely requires explanation within the lesson. But, judging from my user test, once the terms are explained, the graphic can be easily understood. Therefore, I believe I have succeeded in delivering an optimal figure-ground balance by creating “a clear distinction between the figure and the ground” and “helping learners by doing some of the brainwork for them” (Lohr, 2008, p. 108). Perhaps ironically, that distinction is ultimately an example of the unity of the whole.

Now to end with a stanza from George Harrison’s “Within You, Without You”:

“When you’ve seen beyond yourself then you may find
Peace of mind is waiting there
And the time will come when you see we’re all one
And life flows on within you and without you.”



Graham, L. (2008). Gestalt theory in interactive media design. Journal of Humanities & Social Sciences, 2(1).

Lohr, L. (2008). Creating graphics for learning and performance: Lessons in visual literacy (2nd ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson/Merrill/Prentice Hall.

Trinity Squared

This week’s assignment gave me the opportunity to compare and contrast a key illustration of the concept of nonduality. In both Hinduism and Christianity, there is a trinity of divinity, demonstrating three aspects of God or the Absolute that, together, constitute a whole.



Trimurti_Final_Page_2Perhaps not coincidentally, this week I attended the funeral of a former coworker. It was a Catholic service, and the priest pointed out the concept of the Holy Trinity. He said that Catholics believe in the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost (or Spirit), even though they could not be seen. He also said that, although they could not be seen, they could see us—just as this woman, who died far too young, could see all of us at the service.

I hadn’t thought about that aspect of the Trinity, also called the Trimurti in Hinduism, but it’s a good point. As Saint Patrick illustrated with a three-leaved shamrock, we don’t see the leaves and think of them as separate; rather, we see them as one plant. But in the graphics I created this week, I strive to make each element of the trinity visible, while also indicating unity through the use of a Venn diagram.

Depending on their age, students in this Comparative Religion for Children course may or may not be familiar with a Venn diagram. It will be explained how the three elements in each graphic overlap in the center to illustrate how they are all part of God. All students should be familiar with a triangle, which also serves to illustrate the concept of three parts making up a whole, as a triangle is made up of three sides.

Using the four “action elements” of CARP (contrast, alignment, repetition and proximity), I set out to show in my visuals how the Christian and Hindu trinities are parallel, differing only in name (Father/Brahma, Son/Vishnu, and Holy Ghost/Shiva) and appearance (how these characters are portrayed in art). I employed these action elements in the following ways:

  1. Contrast: Overall, these graphics strive to show similarities vs. differences. However, if one thinks of contrast in the sense of coherence and excluding extraneous information (Lohr, 2008, p. 199), then I believe I have achieved this by including only the basic, most recognizable names of each aspect of the trinity and labeling the middle as simply “God.”
  2. Alignment: Although I could not place the two images side by side in my blog and still have them large enough to be legible, I would align them side by side in the lesson plan. Alignment is a key action element within and across these two graphics. The images are shown in the same order in each graphic (Father/Creator, Son/Preserver, then Holy Ghost/Transcender), and labels are aligned accordingly. The Word “God” is aligned in the center of each.
  3. Repetition: I repeat key words in my graphics (Creator, God) and repeat the shape of the Venn diagram. I also use the same typeface in each graphic.
  4. Proximity: Each of the three elements in each graphic lies is in the same general proximity to the unifying element in the center: the word “God.” I made sure to overlap the image in each of the three intersecting cells in such a way that they would carry equal weight and value. I hope that I have achieved the sense that these elements are related but, as the white space in the middle indicates, still distinct components (Lohr, 2008, p. 207).

Based on a user test with my 6-year-old son, these graphics will require a good deal of explanation, especially if students do not already have a religious background in Hinduism and/or Christianity. Originally, I had placed the OM symbol in the center of the Hindu Trimurti, but changed it to “God” when I realized from the user test that OM and GOD were not intuitively parallel. Brahman may have worked in place of the OM symbol, but that too requires explanation and will be the topic of a separate lesson.

It did help to show my son a shamrock to illustrate three leaves being attached to the same stem. Interestingly, instead of agreeing that the three leaves were actually one, he argued that they are actually four, with the stem being the fourth. There is much truth to that as well, but let’s save elaboration for a future lesson.



Lohr, L. (2008). Creating graphics for learning and performance: Lessons in visual literacy (2nd ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson/Merrill/Prentice Hall.

Pulling It Together

Well, this week’s post is not nearly as exciting as last week’s—but, then again, neither is the moon. Here I have created a graphic introducing my unit of instruction on nonduality, part of a K-12 Comparative Religion for Children course. Before starting this assignment, I did not have a clear plan for the sequence of lessons in this unit and how the graphics I proposed in my initial outline would fit into those lessons. After following the ACE (Analyze, Create, Evaluate) design process and focusing on PAT (Principles, Actions, Tools) during the Create phase, I have a much clearer picture of how my graphic design will advance learning.

Lesson Scope & Sequence

As a high-level overview of the instructional unit, my graphic serves the purpose of organization, making “information easier to understand logically” (Lohr, 2008, p. 75). I believe that it accomplishes this by explaining in text the main ideas of each lesson under a visual illustrating that concept. Students in this course likely will not have prior background knowledge in the subject and probably won’t initially understand the visual, as it has not yet been explained in the lesson. However, they will make an association to it every subsequent time they see this graphic organizer at the start of the next lesson.

I used horizontal arrows in the graphic to indicate the lesson sequence and down arrows to show the learning progression within each lesson. One change I will make based on a user test is to actually write “Lesson 1,” “Lesson 2,” and “Lesson 3” either above each visual or above the current headers. It was unclear to the user that these were three lessons. Another change I will make is to frame the third visual because the user read that as a header. It is actually a graphic illustrating the core concept in Advaita Vedanta that the true “individual” self or soul (Atman) is actually one with the absolute reality (Brahman), which is everywhere and inside of each living being.

The arrows at the bottom are intended to show learning progression across the three lessons—progressing through the levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy. As the third instructional step under each down arrow indicates, students will be asked to: (1) first demonstrate understanding of nonduality by coming up with their own examples, (2) next make interpretations about the concept by playing a game, and (3) at the end of the unit create an original project based on what they have learned. I am not sure whether this—or any of the other arrows in the graphic, for that matter—complicates or contributes to the overview.

The more I look at it now, the more I wonder if this graphic is a bad example of the overuse of organizational cues, as shown in the first boxed graphic at the bottom of page 82 of our textbook (Lohr, 2008). Honest opinions and constructive criticism are more than welcome!



Lohr, L. (2008). Creating graphics for learning and performance: Lessons in visual literacy (2nd ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson/Merrill/Prentice Hall.