As the Connected Learning coach for Virginia Commonwealth University’s Collaborative Curiosity: Designing Community Engaged Research, I need to talk about the role of images and videos in digital communication – specifically blog posts – sooner rather than later.
Traditionally, academics have been taught to privilege text over other forms of communication for many reasons. Paper-based essays and standard word processing programs really aren’t designed for images, let alone videos. However, in Collaborative Curiosity we blog, and blogging takes place on the web. Furthermore, one of the purposes of our writing assignments is to practice being engaging and accessible to non-academics. This is NOT the place or the time to practice lingo (in fact, the rubics specifically downgrade for lingo). If no one understands what we are saying then we might as well not say it at all.
Why do we embed images and video?
My daughter, Sydney, is an advanced and adventurous reader. She is also a tween and hesitant to do anything that might be considered “babyish.” However, she still prefers books with pictures to those without. I asked her “Why pictures?” during a recent visit to the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts and here is how she answered (this was impromptu and unscripted, first take)…
If you listen to the one minute clip, you’ll hear her hit several big ideas: images help readers grasp the big picture, understand difficult concepts, build a mental picture they can remember, and bring stories to life.
Her answers come shockingly close to the findings of my dissertation research in which I analyzed student use of images, video, and hyperlinks in 500 blog posts from four different graduate and undergraduate courses. When students inserted images and videos (which they did often), it seemed to serve the following purposes:
- To create an aesthetic. Students often add a featured image to their posts – something to set the mood or capture the flavor. Note my featured image at the top of this post. It’s a picture I took of myself taking a picture. It’s meant to warn you that in this post we are going to talk about images and do-it-yourself-style creative composition. You can also think about these “aesthetic” photos like the pictures on book covers. They draw people towards them. Take a look at a screenshot I took of the Collaborative Curiosity bloggregate earlier today.
You can see that some of these have images and others do not. Which capture your attention? Which would you prefer to click on and read?
- To illustrate specific points within the narrative. This gets to Sydney’s point that sometimes we need help understanding what’s happening in the blog post. An image can go along way in securing things in our memories – especially if you are writing about something that is abstract or unknown to your reader. In my research, effective student explanations and descriptions were often accompanied by images or video demonstrations.
- To advance the narrative. Sometimes you cannot say what you want to say effectively without videos or images. Many students included infographics, tables, or graphics so that they could speak to the image rather than describing it all in text. Several made their own “how-to” videos since they could not find what they wanted on YouTube. Finally, images can provide evidence or support arguments, as they did in my recent StoryMap of the impact of Collaborative Curiosity on international educational research communities.
- To demonstrate connected learning. Students used images or videos to support the documentation of connections they were making across contexts, disciplines, people, and time. For example, they would include personal photographs to show how they had experienced something relevant to what was being discussed by the class. Then they would describe the connection. These were particularly powerful examples of connected learning and almost always occurred when the student had made the image/video/graphic themselves.
What do I need to know?
- The technical stuff. Embedding images and videos on blogging platforms such as WordPress is fairly straightforward, but if you need a tutorial google it. You’ll find things like this and this and this.
- The citation stuff. You need to credit creators of images and videos just as you would authors of text. It’s best/safest to use public domain or Creative Commons licensed work. VCU Libraries has published some very useful information on creative commons licensing. Alternatively, use or make your own images, infographics, videos, etc….That’s always safe and can lead to some of the best learning too. Linking back to the original source can be the easiest way to give excellent credit – you can do this in the caption of the photo or in the body of the surrounding text. If you cannot insert a caption (say, for instance, we are talking about a featured image), then you can always insert the information onto the photo using Paint or Powerpoint or any number of image annotation apps. In the case of YouTube or Vimeo videos, the video itself provides a link back to the original posting…in other words, it self-cites. If you go back to my previous posts (here or here) you’ll see that I made a special point of adding citations on my images. I think most of these are images I uploaded to PowerPoint, added a textbox for credit information, and then exported as a .JPEG.
Where do I get good images or videos?
My first and best answer is to MAKE THEM. Ultimately, you will spend less time hunting around for exactly what you want and attribution is A LOT easier. This is just the beginning of a list, but easy places to make things include:
- Your camera phone. I made that video of Sydney on my iphone and uploaded it to iMovie for the captions, though I could have just uploaded it directly to YouTube if I hadn’t wanted to get fancy.
- PowerPoint. You can make some fine graphics on PowerPoint (or Keynote) and download the slide as a .PNG or .JPG file. Examples? Check out the graphic in I blog post I wrote about my dream job. It was made in PowerPoint.
- Draw a picture on paper then take a picture of it. I’m serious. Add some filters, crop the edges. It’s old school, but still you can make a nice concept map or picture or stick figure cartoon that way. This idea is a definite “DO IT” for you doodlers and artists out there.
- Canva.com. Easy, free graphic design tool. Last year’s #curiouscolabbers got really into using it, and I’m more than happy to help anyone with it at any point. I’m a little obsessed with Canva.com.
I know it is tempting to search Google Images for art. However, it is extremely difficult to tell in these searches what might be available for public use and what is off limits. Therefore, I do my best not to use Google Images for my blog posts unless there is an obvious reason to do so. For CC-licensed or publicly available images and videos by others, I recommend…
- YouTube or Vimeo for videos. Of course.
- Unsplash.com for some of the most beautiful and eclectic images available for free use. You need to read the “use” info on this site, but most of these images are available to use without giving credit to the photographer…as a rule I credit the photographer, because I am a photographer and I would want my work credited. Also, don’t get confused by the language on the site that says you should sign up to receive 10 free downloadable pics a month…that’s only if you want them to email you ten photos a month…I guess so that you don’t have to search and pick them? You can search the site and download at will without signing up for anything.
- Flickr.com. Check out the screenshot below. Search for photos with your keyword, then filter by license to show only CC licensed work. Until I stumbled upon Unsplash, all of my CC licensed photos came from Flickr.
There are so many reasons to consider embedding images and videos into your blog posts, but consider this argument: Learning how to do it well will not only enhance your ability to express yourself, but it will enhance the likelihood that your audience will find your work accessible and engaging. So embed images and videos. Please. It’s not an accessory, it’s an essential part of blogging.