Using Images to Encourage Visual Creativity, Display Comprehension, and Application of a Lesson

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Educators can use a creative way to encourage students to explore how they can represent a humanities or social science concept through images. Some students have interesting ideas, but are unable to express them through essays or conventional discussion because many of our instructional activities do not lend themselves to such ways of thinking (Drapeau, 2014, p.ix).

Our world has moved so much from writing to a visual society. The assignment that is detailed below challenges students to use the visual medium to explain a complex issue or concept that was covered in a lesson.

Link to example artifact(s)

Course Title: EGEE 120: Oil: International Evolution

This assignment was used in Karen Jensen’s course, which is completely online, with 100-150 students each semester from all around the world. Topics of the course include historical, oil industry specific, and social issues. This assignment can be applied to many social science or humanities courses. The assignment requires observing the world around and/or applying historical information presented. It is intended to encourage the students to find 5 visuals that explain the lesson the assignment is attached to.


Give me an oil story focusing on only one of the lessons. Find 5 visual images beyond what is in the text, lessons, and videos provided to add visual illustration to one specific section of the readings.  The limit to five images, with only three restrictions, allows students to start with easy or classic images for a comfort zone search. “Form or structure also serves as a “safety net,” an assurance that assessment is not arbitrary but has real and measurable components“ (Pederson, 2015).

Must keep all 5 pictures on one topic. These can be historical, from Flickr, online, scanned from a book, scanned from a newspaper, charts, graphs, something simple, or flow charts. One has to be something modern – taken / created in the past year.  One has to be something you created – photo, drawing, graph.

Identify the section topic from the lesson that you are giving visual representation to. Use PowerPoint to compile your visuals, and include a sources list that explains where each visual came from and/or who created it.

Jensen created a checklist that allowed students to check off specific requirements and know what their grade was before an instructor even looks at it. The checklist includes completion criteria: 5 images included, personal image included, modern image included.

Concept Behind the Requirements:

  • The classic image is not a requirement; however, the use of the image helps the student establish what the norm is on this topic or concept.
  • The personal image, “centripetal – inward pulling” aspect, (Pederson, 2015) invites the student to move inward as they search and become a part of what they are studying. By personally creating the image, they are adding a visual to the overall discussion of the topic. Several students drew a cartoon, some were art publication worthy, while others were not as artistic; but both types fulfilled the personal image requirement.
  • The challenge image, “centrifugal – outward driving” aspect, (Pederson, 2015) stretches the student to find a view of the topic that is not an basic or classic find. They have to think about the broader implications of the topic and ways that it impacts beyond what is presented or a classic view of the topic. The challenge image asks the student to evaluate the classic views of a situation, and find a visual that relates to the topic without being normal perspective.
  • The modern image encourages students to look around at what is going in the world. Where do they see the lesson being played out many years later? Their review of modern images, from the newspaper or online, encourages them to explore the ramifications of the lesson.

Instructor Example for a more modern topic- Football

Classic images for this topic would be the players, the fans, and the score. The challenge image could be the trash left behind the fans, the medical team waiting in the wings for when someone gets hurt, the lines outside the bathrooms, or the grass on the field. These challenge images are intended to stretch their view of the situation or topic.

Student Example 1

Student Example 2

This activity opened up new conversations about the topic.  It added depth and personal reflection, beyond just dates, people, and places. The broad scope of visuals allowed many possibilities open for students to express their understanding on the topic. I did not want to limit their creativity, but focus it on seeing new images about the topic, that I may not have chosen.

Link to scholarly reference(s)

Drapeau, P. (2014). Sparking student creativity: Practical ways to promote innovative thinking and problem solving. Alexandria, Virginia, USA: ASCD.

Peterson, J. L., & Graham, L. (2015). Teaching historical analysis through creative writing assignments. College Teaching, 63(4), 153-161.


Jensen, K. (2017). Using images to encourage visual creativity, display comprehension, and application of a lesson. In B. Chen, A. deNoyelles, & A. Albrecht (Eds.), Teaching Online Pedagogical Repository. Orlando, FL: University of Central Florida Center for Distributed Learning.

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