A (Properly Licensed) Picture is Worth 1000 Words

Posted by Christopher Stormer on October 23, 2015

One of the most common concerns about online course materials is that they are very text heavy. Course readings, articles, and books are, of course, based on the written word—but when all a student sees in a course is what looks to them like a wall of text, they can easily lose their place, feel overwhelmed, or check-out before they’ve even finished checking-in!

When you post reminders and instructions in your course, you can help students orient themselves by including images that help students find their way around a page. A well-chosen image can provide a visual clue to the content you’re presenting, and give students another way not only to remember what they’re reading, but also to be able to easily find it again in the course.

Take a look at these two examples—when you’re taking a look at the page, which one catches your eye? Which one gives you a clue as to the content? Which one could you more easily find if you were to return to the course looking for this specific information?

Sample Image displaying course content with and without an embedded image

The key to an effective image is one that is relevant to the content—if you’re talking about due dates, an interesting calendar image can help students connect with that information. If you are describing an assignment with the topic of 1950’s era US transportation, a nice picture of that ’57 Chevy might be the right choice. But don’t go overboard; one or two well-chosen images on a page can help divide a longer text into easier to understand chunks, but too many images can become a distraction.

Image Permissions and Licenses

Wanting to add images to your course is one thing—but where do you find images to use? A common tendency is to go to Google and do a quick search for images relevant to a topic. You’ll certainly find a lot of images, but do you have permission to reuse those images in your course? Of course you wouldn’t even consider copying the text from someone’s site into your own course without attribution! The same holds true for images—most images you’ll find doing a regular Google search are copyrighted and need to be licensed or purchased in order to legally reuse them. Remember there are photographers and artists out there working hard on creating those images—they may not want you to use them without payment.

Luckily, there are several sites that are designed to help you find images that are licensed specifically for you to use in your courses and presentations for free. These sites provide images that are either in the Public Domain, and therefore free to use for everyone without attribution at all, or by using a Creative Commons license, which means the creator has specifically given permission for you to repost their image, as long as you include a credit line.

Here’s a nice list of sites for finding images that you can reuse:

    • http://www.morguefile.com -- user uploaded and categorized photographs that are free to use
    • http://pixabay.com – user uploaded photographs and artist created graphics, all Public Domain licensed
    • http://compfight.com -- this is a specialized search engine for Flickr, the image sharing site; when searching using this tool make sure to choose “Creative Commons” as the license type to limit your results to reusable photographs

Magnifying Glass over the word SearchAll of these sites provide some information on how to download the image files, and also some instructions on how properly cite the image, if this is required. Once you have downloaded an image file, you can place it in your course in Blackboard, or in your course materials in Word. If you're looking for tutorials on the mechanics of adding images, check out Blackboard's Adding Images page, and GCLearnFree.org's Adding Images in Word 2013 pages.

Happy Image Searching!


Images aren’t the only things that are often overlooked when providing citations in your course materials—for a short discussion and a list of citation guidelines and gotchas, see Dr. Miki Crawford’s article on Faculty Focus.