Why Embed Images & Videos

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.

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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 getting an of 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 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 in my research 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. 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 use 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 previously experienced something relevant to what was being discussed by the class, and then 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, add a text box 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.  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 this graphic.
  • 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 yourself 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 at any point.

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, this is where all my photos came from.

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    The license filter on Flickr.com allows you to search only CC licensed images

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.

Why A Course Hashtag

Collaborative Curiosity: Designing Community Engaged Research, VCU’s openly networked connected course, had its first twitter chat last Thursday with the course hashtag, #curiouscolab.  It was an AMAZING first Twitter chat, particularly since so many people were new to the concept.  However, many of us sometimes forgot to use the hashtag (including me) or used a course mention (@curiouscolab) instead of the course hashtag (#curiouscolab).

What’s the difference between a hashtag and a mention?

In Twitter, a “mention,” is the @ symbol followed by a specific Twitter handle.  For instance, if you wanted to mention me in a tweet you’d type @Googleguacamole.  It’s how you direct a comment towards me.  Imaging you were at a chatty cocktail party and you wanted to make sure I knew you were talking to me.  You’d say my name before you made the comment (e.g.”Laura, how was your day?”). A mention on Twitter has the same function as saying my name at the cocktail party.

When you put @Curiouscolab in a tweet, you’re directing the comment to whichever one of the course instructors or assistants happens to be manning the account at the moment. It’s kind of like calling the phone company and talking to a customer service provider – someone you know is affiliated with the company and is trained to offer some help or information, but is kind of faceless and nameless on a personal level. (Aside: tweeting @CuriousCoLab should be a better experience than calling @Verizon, though cable and phone services are notoriously better with customer service when you do it in public through tweets then in private over the phone.)

When you use a hashtag on Twitter, you are employing a keyword system that facilitates searches, so that people can follow conversations around topics rather than around people. Entire communities (I prefer the term affinity groups, technically) emerge around certain hashtags: #BlackLivesMatter. #ConnectedLearning. #DataViz. #CuriousCoLab.

Therefore, when you include #CuriousCoLab in a tweet you are adding a keyword that allows anyone interested in #CuriousCoLab tweets to see your tweet through a search.

Why is it important to put the course hashtag in the tweet?

  • Course hashtags allow the people in the course to see the entire conversation in a twitter chat. This is particularly important in larger courses where students don’t know each other, or in courses where students might read the conversation after it has occurred, or in courses where some students might be big tweeters who follow many people other than the other students.
  • Course hashtags allow for easier curation.  Collaborative Curiosity, like many online learning experiences, uses Storify to archive the conversation for documentation, later reading, or reflection.  Here’s an example from last year’s course. Storifying a Twitter chat can be a great experience because it allows you to read through all the tweets, reorganize however you like (chronologically? thematically?), add other explanatory pieces (ex. blog posts, images, or videos, or free text to help tell the story), and discover all the things you missed the first time around. However, Storifies are only possible if most of the conversation is hashtagged with the course hashtag.  A Storify creator can’t be expected to poke around all the corners of the Internet looking for stray pieces of the conversation.  That’s not reasonable.
  • Course hashtags are part of the mechanics of academic Twitter. It’s like indenting a paragraph or using an Oxford comma. As Academic Twitter continues to grow (FYI: Bonnie Stewart is my favorite Academic Twitter researcher if you are interested), it behooves us to learn a bit of the mechanics so that we can better engage in professional conferences and digitally mediated professional development.
  • Course hashtags allow for easier documentation. As I wrote last week, Collaborative Curiosity is designed to help you reflect on your connections – connections across ideas, people, and time. Reflection requires documentation, because – Schon aside – reflecting in action is notoriously difficult.  The appropriate use of mentions and hashtags allows us to automatically capture and visualize your conversations through social network analysis.  On the course website, we use TAGS Explorer.  In my research, I use NodeXL.  This crazy map was created with netlytic.org.

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Social network analysis is a way to visualize interactions in space. By pushing a few buttons, I collected all #curiouscolab tweets from last week.  Netlytics.org mapped out who was talking to whom on Twitter via their mentions.  The dots (“nodes”) are people, and the lines (“edges”) are the connections.

For the purpose of participant privacy, I hid all the node labels other than my own (@googleguacamole) and that of the lead instructor (Valerie Holton).  Later we’ll get into what I could have done to make this a much more meaningful piece of data visualization, but my point right now is this…See how big I am?  Yeah, I talk frequently to a lot of people using the #Curiouscolab hashtag, but my prevalence is also related to the fact that I captured many of the other participants’ unhashtagged Twitter chat contributions and retweeted them with the hashtag.  I got credit for their work.

Collaborative Curiosity does not grade based on number of tweets.  However, the lack of adequate documentation matters because later on in the course, we are hoping that participants will start to engage in (hopefully deep) reflection on how they engage others on social media platforms.  Are you good at networking? Do you seek out new voices? Do you only talk to the instructors? Do you spend time mostly talking to a small cluster of people? These social network analyses, when properly created (and not my mess shown above) can help people see who they engage and how often.  It’s a tool for self reflection that only works if course tweets are hashtagged.

How can I remember to use the course hashtag?

“Practice” is the most accurate but least useful piece of advice I can give you.  So here are some strategies for remembering to use the course hashtag:

  • Type it (or copy/paste) at the beginning of a tweet?  That way you know you have enough characters and you don’t forget it in a fit of passionate microblogging.  It’s perfectly fine to leave it at the front of the tweet (because in a sense you are addressing the #curiouscolab community as if it were a collective mention).
  • A sticky note to the computer screen?
  • A ribbon tied around your wrist?
  • Do whatever works for you.  The point is…course hashtags are important because they enable community, documentation, and self reflection.
Sylwia Bartyzel
Remember that course hashtag! Photo by Sylwia Bartyzel (CC BY 2.0)

Greetings from the #CuriousCoLab Connected Learning Coach

A quick shout out to all the participants – enrolled students, open participants, and curious observers – who are starting Collaborative Curiosity: Designing Community Engaged Research this week! Collaborative Curiosity (or #curiouscolab on Twitter) is a open online course (I hesitate to call it a MOOC because it is NEITHER massive NOR what most people think of when you say ‘mooc’) sponsored by the Division of Community Engagement at VCU and taught by Valerie Holton and Tessa McKenzie.

If you check out the course website closely enough, you’ll see that I’m on there too, designated as a “Connected Learning Coach” (goofy and self-aggrandizing name, I know and apologize – it’s entirely my fault and not that of Valerie or Tessa).  Since MOST courses don’t have a connected learning coach, I thought a little clarification might be helpful.

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From the course website.  That’s me being goofy. Really.

I am a resource  – not an instructor (i.e. I have no input over things like assessment) – and my goal is to help you forefront the nature of digital thinking and practice for learning and forming community.

Connected learning is a progressive educational approach (think Dewey) contextualized for the digital world. Connectedlearning.tv does a great job of describing it through examples, short videos, and infographics; Mimi Ito and colleagues’ agenda for connected learning research and instructional design goes into a bit more detail.  If you read through all of these things, you’ll see that the purpose of connected learning is to create inclusive, creative, social, authentic learning environments meant to help students recognize, strategically reflect on, and forge new connections between people, contexts, ideas, and personal experiences.

I’m not a huge .gif fan, but…Dewey.

That definition I just dropped on you – learning through connections across people, space, things, and time – comes shockingly close to the description that CuriousCoLab participant Kedaly gave for community in her first blog post. I got really excited when I saw that, because it opens the door to the question…what is the relationship between learning and community?  

Emerging digital pedagogies (by which I include open education, connected learning, and networked learning) tend to look at learning through the lens of digital participatory culture, defined rather iconically by Henry Jenkins as one with:

 1. relatively low barriers to artistic expression and civic engagement, 2. strong support for creating and sharing creations with others, 3. some type of informal mentorship whereby what is known by the most experienced is passed along to novices, 4. members who believe that their contributions matter, and 5. members who feel some degree of social connection with one another (at the least, they care what other people think about what they have created). (p. 5-6)

And digital pedagogists tend to examine how the digitally networked structure of the web supports the formation of connection.  At Virginia Commonwealth University, we have been supporting something I’ve called openly networked connected learning:

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Slide from my keynote that I gave at University of Edinburgh’s eLearning@Ed conference earlier this month; it was on connected learning at VCU & Collaborative Curiosity was a featured course.

So…During this class – usually in the form of blog comments or tweets – I will be asking you to consider how you can use the affordances of the web to enhance your communication and learning.  Two examples:

  1. What is a hyperlink and what does it allow you to do?  Click through the hyperlinks in this blog post and you will see that I made connections between my current thinking and the course website, other participants’ ideas, my past work, references, and other descriptive materials.  How does that sort of thing align with this?
  2. What is the role of embedded images and videos and what are our responsibilities when we use others’ images? How do we make our own? On the image above I captioned it to give it context and went out of the way to credit the photographer…and on top of that, it was a CC-licensed image.  Why? What does it all MEAN? Why use the image in the first place?  (Note – I can help you with image crediting and digital making if you need it..love the stuff but I’m no expert and we can learn together.)

There are many more things to consider, but two examples do for now.  Digital spaces – particularly public digital spaces – allow you to do certain things that you cannot do on paper or in a closed classroom space. Of course, the reverse can be true as well…and we can reflect on that too. It is my HOPE, my genuine hope, that you will join me in exploring the digital nature of Collaborative Curiosity with curiosity as a truly unusual learning space that has captured the imagination of several international scholarly communities already (check out this story map – not only for the content, but as an example of telling a story…digitally).

Thanks – you’ll see me around 🙂