Why #openlearning17 should consider embedding visual elements in blog posts

As the connected learning coach for the AACU Virginia Faculty Collaboratives Experience, #OpenLearning17, it is my pleasure to wind my way through the open learning hub,  focused predominantly on how participants are making connections through their blog posts and tweets.  There has been a lot to love in the first two weeks of blog posts.  As I mentioned in my greetings and hyperlinking posts, connected learning takes place when learners network their current learning/thinking across disciplines, contexts, people, and time. Digital platforms have unique affordances that allow us to make and reveal our connections.  As Autumm’s #openlearning17 post on digital citizens, fake-news, and microtargeting demonstrates, hyperlinking is an amazing way to connect ideas and build infrastructure around a post; if you need additional convincing, check out how she used hyperlinks to define, cite, provide examples, and contextualize.

What do visual elements add?

Hyperlinks are important.  However, blogging also allows for the embedding of visual elements (including but not limited to photographs, images, data visualizations, videos, and gifs). Visual elements can enhance the message of a blog post by establishing mood, illustrating points, and extending the narrative. I’ve created an infographic on the topic, but I have also found many wonderful examples among the #openlearning17 blog posts.

Aesthetics. Images can establish or consolidate a mood within a post.  Use the same type (meaning color, theme, style etc) of image across multiple blog posts and you can establish a personal brand: a way for your readers to recognize your work in a glance.  In #openlearning17, Erin Crane, creator of the Crane Librarian, has established a clean and compelling aesthetic across her blog posts. Check out her most recent post in which the meandering intermingled color flumes in the large centered image match her title, Are We There Yet? perfectly. Camille Freeman has also created an aesthetic around beautiful photographs in her introductory post. Her choice of the partially unfurling plant aligns well with her self-described “tentative toe dip.”

Additionally, check out an example of my own: As the connected learning coach for #CuriousCoLab, I created digital letters from my own photographs to use as featured images for all of my coaching-specific blog posts.

Two blog posts by the author, each with a featured image that includes a large letter filled with an image
From my blog posts. Note the pattern in the featured image.

Illustrations. Images, videos, and gifs can help illustrate the point of your post. John Stewart’s post, Open Note Databases and the Promise of the Memex, not only incorporates the relevant #openlearning17 video panel discussion but also offers readers several compelling visual examples from open note databases.

Outside the realm of #openlearning17 (but juxtaposed with it in my Twitter timeline), are the social media hashtag phenomena of #dresslikeawoman and #actuallivingscientist. Take a moment to reflect on how the addition of an image impacts the power of the message.

Extending. Finally, bloggers can integrate images, data visualizations, and videos into the posts so that they extend the narrative of the post beyond the text.  In the #openlearning17 hub, check out the way RaptnRent incorporated a song and music video into the post….Making the connection between the song and the week’s readings is the primary theme of the post.  Also check out Alan Levine’s post in which he moves seamlessly between text and illustrations – it’s hard to tell where one begins and the other leaves off.

Alternatively, check out my first post on why embedding visual images into blog posts makes an impact, in which I interviewed my eldest daughter who explained everything you need to know over a slice of pizza at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts. This video basically served as an advanced organizer for the rest of my post.

What about the learning?

With all this talk about using visual elements to express oneself, it might be easy to forget the learning aspects of using embedded images and videos.  How does going to all of the extra work to embed non-text based elements into your post contribute to your learning?

Making connections across books, music, maps, photos, charts, and .gifs means making connections across disciplines, contexts, people, and time. Consider that adding visual components takes time: time that is mostly spent on considering what you are trying to say and how you might express it through other avenues.  Reflecting on what you are trying to say and considering it in other contexts is always a good thing for learning.

What about the technicalities?

If you need more specific details on how to embed, how to create your own images, or where to go to find CC-licensed or public domain offerings, check out my previous blog post on visuals.

As always, please remember to cite your image sources. Videos that are embedded from Vimeo or YouTube are self-citing…click on them and you automatically go to the original video publishing platform; photos and images are different.  You must give credit to the image creator and provide a url somewhere in the post. Caption, hyperlink, integrate it into the post text – just do something!  And consider this, I know that CC-0 and public domain images do not technically require citation, but you should consider doing it anyway for reasons of karma and transparency.

Additionally, please add alt text to your images so that it can be read by text readers.  A little description is fine, just enough to keep those who use text readers in the loop.  It’s a good practice.

11 Comments Add yours

  1. Thank you for the shout out above! Great point about citing CC-0 images for karma’s sake 🙂


    1. Laura Gogia says:

      Thanks Camille :). My approach to these sorts of nuances around citing have evolved over time and with the influence of others in the open education community. If you were to dig through some of my earlier posts and twitter convos, you’d see me getting gently and kindly chided by my friends for not citing a CC-O photograph. It went something like this: “Laura, you’re a photographer. Wouldn’t you want your stuff cited even though you have it listed as CC-0?” Yeah, these open educators are really good like that 😉

      Liked by 1 person

  2. rrdaniel2 says:

    Hi Laura.
    Excellent piece. I don’t disagree. But just as some folks are more visually oriented, others are more textually oriented. It’s not that I oppose the notion of interlacing visuals with the textual content of my blog posts. Rather, it’s that I don’t necessarily think along those lines, or — if I do — I don’t necessarily have a sufficient range of digitized visual material on hand to be able to make the points that I want to. (To search the web for royalty-free, “open access” or Creative Commons free-to-use images would take longer than I’d prefer, or at least that’s my impression after a few attempts to match readily available images to ideas that I was attempting to communicate.) Just my way of thinking about this. Sorry no visuals available. Except, maybe this:



    1. Laura Gogia says:

      Hello Robert, thank you for your thoughtful reply. Regarding your concerns over the time spent looking for creative commons images – I used to get frustrated with this as well until I understood how to use the creative commons filters on Flickr…and then I got frustrated with that, so I started curating my own photos…and started using sites such as http://www.unsplash.com. There are many options, each with it’s own sort of mood or niche. It’s not as difficult as one might think. Also, the more you practice thinking in metaphor, the easier it gets to expand your ideas of what would fit. Also, making your own graphics are really easy on canva.com…so many things we could discuss here, if you are willing. Second, your statement that some folks are more visually oriented while others are text oriented. Couldn’t agree more with you. Really, truly. As scholars, educators, or people who are just trying to communicate ideas, we need to mix up our own style so that we can engage with all of our potential learners/audiences/conversation partners…some of whom are text-oriented and others who are more visually oriented. Therefore, I challenge you to think about readers as well as authors…Finally, #openlearning17 is a low-stakes opportunity for all of us to practice things that make us uncomfortable. A connected learning experience is the *perfect* opportunity to try new things. As a physician-turned-educational researcher, I don’t have any formal design training at all – just practice in environments such as these. This is all just my way of thinking about this. Thanks for the emoji smile, it was nice :). Best, Laura


      1. rrdaniel2 says:

        Laura, Thanks for the suggestions. I can assure you that I’ll make a real effort to follow them. As a teacher, I go out of my way to vary modalities and to encourage students to stretch by expressing their thoughts or presenting research results in a variety of ways. So, yes, I ought to be more sensitive about visually-oriented readers’ needs. Will do! Thanks. Best, Robert


      2. Laura Gogia says:

        Sounds great, Robert. Please ping me on Twitter (I’m @googleguacamole) if I can help you in any way – brainstorming about or actually finding images, providing feedback, suggestions for pull-out quotes to be made in canva…anything.


  3. sjoyerickson says:

    First of all, Sydney is very smart and articulate! Second, What you have said about the process of selecting images to enhance your writing being a way to reflect on your learning resonates with me. Regarding hyperlinks, I have to add that as a reader I can find them distracting in the same way that I sometimes find footnotes distracting. I find that I need a strategy for reading that involves ignoring hyperlinks (I.e. Not clicking on them) and footnotes in the first read through and then going back follow certain ones of interest. If I click on the hyperlink as I’m reading a piece, then I’m off in another context and might not ever get back to the original piece. In self-guided learning that’s okay, but if it were regular course content I might be missing important ideas.


    1. Laura Gogia says:

      Hello! Thank you, Sydney has very strong opinions about reading and books – I always find her insights helpful for seeing the big picture when I get mired down in the weeds of the literature :). As for your points about hyperlinks – I agree that they are a form of digital footnoting and marginalia…a very powerful way of drawing you into related things that over time get further and further away from the main point :). One of the most fascinating things about hyperlinks (to me, anyway) is the fact that they put the onus on the reader to control their own experience…and yes, Sydney and I have had this conversation too, and she concurs. In a paper book, unless it is a choose your own adventure (and even that is just a clumsy, pre-digital experience of a hyperlink), the author controls the experience. In a hyperlinked article, they are giving up some of that control. Therefore, as readers, it becomes our responsibility to take charge of our experience…to recognize the time and the place for exploration versus “just powering through.” I don’t see this as a pitfall; I see this as standing up and being accountable for ourselves. Coaching and scaffolding around this experience is required. Having the conversation with our students is required. But ultimately, it makes us more intentional, more powerful consumers. Sydney does this well. Thanks for your comment – it was a great one :).

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Debbaff says:

    Wow laura … loving your site and this post in particular … just checking out the rest of your stuff too.. thank you so much for sharing ….from a fairly grey and dismal Swansea … 🙂


    1. Laura Gogia says:

      Hello and thanks for stopping by. Here’s hoping a little sun comes your way soon!


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