Issues to Consider: Helping Students See the Bigger Picture
The right picture is worth a thousand words. Used well, visual images are more than just “icing.” Consider how images help meet your
learning goals and objectives:What kind of images does your discipline use to make meaning? Will your students bring to class experience with that type of image, or do you need to teach students the basics of reading that visual form?
It’s important to play fair. Wondering how to display and share images in ways that are feasible at your institution and that meet copyright restrictions? Librarians and instructional technologists at your campus can help you navigate Fair Use and multimedia composition. They also can work with you to access visual resources such as ArtStor, a rich database of images that is available by institutional subscription.
To search for relevant visuals on the Web, you might reach beyond generic tools for specialized image search engines like Sprixi and Cool Iris. Many public and discipline-based organizations also have rich image archives, including the Library of Congress’s American Memory site and the social and environmental science SPACE site.
For composing with visual or multimedia sources, you and your students could use ubiquitous tools like PowerPoint, Windows Movie Maker, or iMovie. You also might experiment with visual presentation programs like Prezi, with a Visualization Motion Chart that displays how multiple variables change over time, or with the open source video platform Kaltura.
Learning from images is often not self-evident. What you see isn’t necessarily what your students will see. Experts see meaning and
patterns quickly, particularly when that expert has spent hours preparing to teach with a visualization. Students have to learn how to look in disciplined and disciplinary ways. A combination of reading and writing about visual images produces the best results. Analyzing, selecting, and creating visuals develops students’ visual communication skills while helping them retain information and make meaning of data in new ways.
Scaffolding assignments helps students develop expertise. Have students practice visual communication skills early in the term with more straightforward images or assignments and progress to more complex ones. Troubleshoot by assessing what they learn along the way. If you are teaching with images across the curriculum, consider how students’ interactions with images build from an introductory course to more advanced ones, or how work with images in different disciplines can be complementary. Through exposure to varied, increasingly complex images and thoughtprovoking discussions of them, students learn how to make meaning of and meaning with visual
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