Using Images in Course Materials


The photo shown above came from the site Unsplash and was edited in Picmonkey (to add the text to it and to resize it).

I feel like that might be all I need to tell you about adding photographs to course materials. If you use these two sites as your go-to resources, you almost can’t go wrong.

Unsplash provides gorgeous, high quality images for free. They are licensed under Creative Commons Zero, which means that you are free to use them however you want with no fears of copyright violations. Unsplash is the best thing that ever happened on the Internet. I see their photographs on websites and in advertisements and on book covers all the time. I just can’t even express how much I love them. I use their photographs on a regular basis in my Canvas course shells and in my classroom handouts. A great photograph can turn a blah set of instructions into something visually exciting, and sometimes that visual appeal is the little nudge that is needed to lure students in to reading the instructions.

Picmonkey is also full of awesome. It is just a basic photo editor (with pretty and creative filters), but it is very easy to use, and it is free. There is a paid version of Picmonkey, but it is very affordable, and the free version does almost everything you might need. Most often I use Picmonkey to do just what I did with the photo above. I took a large file and resized it to something more suitable for sharing in a blog post, and I added my own text to the photo in order to use it to send across a message.

Keep it weird. Keep it real.

And keep it visual.

That’s a good basic philosophy for making class materials engaging.

Other sites of interest for accessing free-to-use photographs are Morguefile, rgbstock, and Flickr Creative Commons.

It’s always better to assume that photographs we find online are copyrighted and should not be borrowed for our own purposes unless we are specifically told otherwise. These are just a few sites that do tell us when and how it is okay to download and use their images. There’s no reason we shouldn’t be borrowing the heck out of these images to bling out our courses.

Sharing Assignments Via Scribd

Scribd is a social sharing tool that allows you to upload documents to share.  It’s a great way to push assignments out to students because they can download documents from Scribd in a variety of formats, including those used by mobile devices.

If you use Blackboard, and you want to upload your class notes to Scribd and then share them in Blackboard, all you need to do is to copy the embed code from Scribd and paste it into your Blackboard course.  Don’t forget to toggle your editor over to html mode first, or you’ll just get a bunch of jibberish.

Otherwise, your embedded content from Scribd something like this:

Toward a Theory of Me

Posterous is My New Best Friend

Seriously, give Posterous a try. It’s the blog platform to which you email it all in. I’ve been seeing it around. Various friends have tweeted their Posterous entries, and I’ve thought “cool,” but what would I really do with that? I’ve also thought, “Why would I possibly need another blog? I have them scattered all about the cyberverse as it is.”

Posterous really is different, though (you say pah, I say poh). Emailing it in means this is for on-the-go blogging. You don’t have much control over the formatting of your blog post. All of that is done automatically. But this also means you don’t have to put any time into it.

You just grabbed some great video on your Flip Cam, but you don’t have time to upload to YouTube and copy the embed code over to your blog? With Posterous, you just email the video straight to the blog. Posterous formats and posts it as embedded video. Zero learning curve involved (presuming you already know how to email an attachment).

I’m excited about the possibilities for podcasting. I’ve done some podcasting for my students and a little for my personal blogging, but I’m always looking for a more efficient way to go about it.

To podcast on Posterous, you just email the mp3 file to your blog. It is automatically posted and formatted with its own visual player. It’s also automatically sent into a feed that can be accessed through iTunes. This is perfect for class podcasting because I get both a permalink and an iTunes feed with no set up time. Students can access it in whichever way works best for them, and I can link individual recordings into particular units within my Blackboard course.

This is easy and free for up to 1 GB of space. That means it’s a good way to have students do podcast assignments as well.

Basically, we have a very effective trade off here. What you lose in control, you gain in convenience.

I’m going to use it for linking audio files to my regular blogs and for mobile blogging. I can email or text in an entry from my phone. There’s also a PicPosterous iPhone app that posts any pictures taken through it directly to your Posterous blog.

Oh, yes, Posterous, I’m so glad we got to know each other. I will be your bff right up until you say I’m out of space.

Is Facebook Irrelevant to Schools?

Joshua Kim writes about the irrelevancy of Facebook for Inside Higher Ed, bringing up some salient points. Twitter is typically more useful for discovering information, he says, and students don’t really want their teachers in their Facebook business.

That may be true. I tried creating a Facebook account just for communicating with students this past semester, and it didn’t work out as well as I’d hoped, but that was entirely my own doing. I ran out of steam. I couldn’t keep up with multiple Facebook accounts, plus Blackboard, plus everything else. I did encounter some students who said they preferred not to friend a teacher or classmates on Facebook. I had others who used the Facebook chat function to ask me questions about class.

I don’t think Facebook is irrelevant. I do discover plenty of professional articles and ideas amongst the silliness. I also think there’s a way to make it work for teacher/student interactions. Like everything else, that’s probably a matter of trial and error.

What I do believe is that this isn’t a Facebook v. Twitter standoff in which one will rise clearly victorious over the other. Students use a variety of social media. Schools should too.

Everything depends on what you need the tool to do. Do you want to disseminate information? If so, you need both Facebook and Twitter. Think about using a service like Tumblr or a Twitter application like TweetDeck to simplify pushing the same information out to multiple accounts.

Do you want to help students build projects or portfolios? Think about using Twitter with a blog as I wrote about yesterday.

Do you want to hold virtual office hours? For me, Facebook works best for that, but I’ve seen it happen on Twitter.

Do you work in a situation where Facebook and Twitter are both blocked by your school? In that case, you might want to ask your IT people to unblock Ning so that you can make a social network just for your class. This way you won’t have to worry about whether you are intruding on the students’ social spaces.

We’re only just starting to think through the impact of social media on education. We’ll see a lot of shifts and turns along the way. Sometimes those turns will mean one phase is ending as another begins, but sometimes they just mean a particular phase is rearranging itself.

Facebook has not yet worked the way I wanted it to with students. I don’t think that means it doesn’t work. I just think it means I need to keep rearranging the way I approach it. I also think it means I need to see Facebook as “a” way to communicate with students, not “the” way. For the foreseeable future it seems we’re going to be broadcasting our classrooms in multiple directions at once. And that’s okay.

Teach them where you find them, I was told as a new teacher. They’re everywhere now, and that’s where we’ll reach them.

Cool Tech Tool: Visual CV

Visual CV is a must for job seekers.   It’s an online resume building tool that provides space for uploading portfolio artifacts and gives custom options for publishing the portfolio as a website.  CVs can be saved or  emailed as pdfs.  This is a must more robust tool than resume templates or wizards in word processing programs, and it produces a fine looking document.  It’s an easy answer for teachers and students covering job search units, and it’s an easy answer to portfolio building.  NCTE recommends electronic portfolios for all students, and indeed they will need them on the job market.  This is a great way for a student to set up a web presence to impress potential employers and potential graduate schools alike.

Cool Tech Tool: Tumblr

Tumblr is possibly the coolest of cool.  It’s for blogging, micro-blogging, audio-blogging, video and photo sharing, pushing content to social networking sites, and possibly things I haven’t figured out yet given I’ve only just now joined.  It seems to be a wonderful option for keeping an audio journal.  It allows you to upload one mp3 of up to 10 mb per day.  Given that this is a free site and that’s the only restriction, this is a fantastic answer to audio blogging.  Most free blogs don’t allow enough file storage space to keep going all that terribly long at the rate of 10 mb per day.  And if you need life to be even simpler than an upload, you can phone in your voice recording.  Nice.

Tumblr doesn’t host videos, but it does provide an easy way to link to them in YouTube.  It does allow for uploading photos into posts.  With themes that show one post at a time with clickable arrows to scroll through to subsequent posts, it looks like a very promising place for gallery style photo-blogs.

The built-in Facebook and Twitter connections mean Tumblr could be used simply as a way to manage content being pushed out to other systems, but it might also serve as a space for a full blog.  Like I said…nice.

See me on Tumblr.

Cool Tech Tool: Picnik

Picnik is absolutely one of my favorite online tech tools.  It’s a photo editor and so much more.  Mostly, though, it’s incredibly easy to use, and it is free…unless of course you want the premium service.  If you just need to resize and crop a little, or even if you need to overlay some text on an image, but you lack the time or inclination to use a complicated photo editor, this is for you.

It offers simple ways to send photos on to Flickr, Facebook, and other popular sites, and the ease of use means even the most rank amateur can photo blog or at least photo share.  If you plan to do any kind of photography projects with students, and you aren’t teaching graphics design, this one’s a must.

Cool Tech Tool: UberNote

Ubernote is an online notebook program that could be a very useful research project management tool.  It allows for saving bookmarks, copying in clips from web pages, and writing notes.  You can even email in notes to yourself, making it a convenient place to store information found during a library visit.

You might even consider it as a journaling tool if you want to keep a private journal online where you can access it from multiple computers or even from your mobile phone.  Because notes can be tagged and organized, finding specific entries again when you want to read them should be a snap.

Try it out, and if it’s sort of what you’re looking for but not quite, read this article at Mashable to find out about other online notebook tools.