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Engaging Students with Images Using VisualsSpeak

Posted by on Monday, May 17, 2010 in News.

[This is a guest post by Kate O’Doherty, graduate student in psychology & human development and 2010-2011 CFT Teaching Affiliate.  We welcome contributions to the CFT blog by others in the Vanderbilt teaching community!]

I consider myself pretty familiar with the typical classroom tools.  PowerPoint?  I’ve got it down-even those custom animations.  Video? Sure, I can download a clip or two.  But these tools just feel like more of the same-students sitting in their seats while I show them things from the front of the classroom.  My concept of classroom tools was dramatically altered after I attended a workshop on visual learning at the CFT. I was introduced to so many new tools to try-concept maps, Flickr, Prezi and more. I decided to try out VisualsSpeak, a collection of well-chosen photographs useful for activities in which students use images instead of words to express ideas.

I borrowed a set of VisualsSpeak photo-cards from the CFT and set off to my Educational Psychology class.  The topic that day was “Understanding the Self” and I used VisualsSpeak images for a small group project examining students’ working self-concepts.  The focus of the class that day was how a good self-understanding (including strengths and weaknesses) can be linked to academic success. For example, a student with a good understanding of their interests and strengths in a domain can use that knowledge to choose a major (more interest = more effort = academic success).  If they also know their weaknesses, then they can identify the subjects in which they should get extra help.

To examine their own self-understanding, my Educational Psychology students were asked to choose images that represented their current selves and their future selves in the academic, physical and social domains.  VisualsSpeak was the perfect tool; not only did all of the students (even the quiet ones at the back of the class) show great enthusiasm for choosing and sharing their images, but they (and I) really enjoyed hearing each others’ explanations for how their chosen images represented themselves.  The range from literal to abstract representations was great.  One student chose an image of a small child – she hoped to be a mom someday.  Another student chose an image of a woman stretching in a yoga pose – she explained that she was at the “finish” of four years of Vanderbilt and felt a sigh of relief and a sense of accomplishment.  VisualsSpeak was a great tool for the students and for me, and I am excited to add it to my tool kit.

[If you’re interested in borrowing our set of VisualsSpeak cards, just call the CFT at 322-7290.]

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