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Posted 11.17.06

Report Shows Impact of Digital Imaging on College Teaching, Learning

Digital images are changing the way professors teach at colleges and universities, but often only after the huge expense of personal time and resources, according to a new study titled “Using Digital Images in Teaching and Learning,” published on Academic Commons, a Web journal that Wesleyan’s Michael Roy helps to edit.

The study, commissioned by Wesleyan University and the National Institute for Technology and Liberal Education (NITLE), suggests ways of how the teaching profession as a whole can harness these new resources in a more efficient manner.

“The big story here is that we’ve still got a long way to go before we realize all of the educational and scholarly possibilities afforded by digital images in particular, and new media in general,” says Michael Roy, director of Academic Computing Services, Digital Projects and Academic Commons founder. Roy is pictured at left.

“Using Digital Images in Teaching and Learning” details the results of an intensive study of digital image use by more than 400 faculty at 33 liberal arts colleges and universities in the Northeast. The report makes a set of recommendations for optimizing the deployment of digital images on campus.

Wesleyan and NITLE undertook the study in 2005 in response to questions about how digital image use might be changing teaching practices in higher education.

The impact on teaching is at the heart of the study. One third of participating faculty reported digital images had changed their teaching greatly. Those teaching image-based subjects found that having anytime/anyplace accessibility to a “vast variety of images from a variety of sources,” has given them greater flexibility and creativity in the classroom. With new access to images provided by the Web and other sources, faculty teaching non-image-based subjects are often using images for the first time or using substantially more, and are more likely to build them into the core substance of their teaching. New relationships to images stimulate ideas about visual thinking and visual learning that are themselves changing approaches to teaching.

“Faculty, however, often feel like lone pioneers in their transition to using digital images as because support, resources and infrastructure at local and national levels in many cases are not sufficiently in place to allow them to use these new resources to their full potential,” Roy explains. “In addition to the pedagogical interest of the report, related issues of image supply, support and infrastructure make up much of its fabric.”

Key findings include:

1. Tools and services are badly needed to assist faculty organize, integrate, catalog and manage their personal collections. Most faculty use images from their personal digital image collections (91 percent), assembled from many sources, rather than from licensed (30 percent), departmental (19 percent) or library collections (14 percent). Campuses should define and enhance the relationship between individual faculty collections and emerging institutional collections.

2. Available resources need to be made easier to find. Faculty are often unaware of digital image resources on campus and as a consequence expensively-produced, often licensed resources go underused. Similarly, while faculty call for high-quality, dependable and free online databases of images, these often do exist, but evidently need to be better publicized and more easily discoverable.

3. Fair Use is vulnerable on many campuses. For several reasons, visual resource curators and instructional technology departments are often risk-averse and shy of exploring the possibilities for faculty to legally use copyrighted digital images in their classrooms and on closed course websites. Creating institutional copyright policy, with full community participation and expert copyright legal advice, is an important first step for campuses to be clear about legal responsibilities and the rights of intellectual property users.

4. Image “literacy” skills need to be developed for optimum use of digital images by teachers and students. As digital images become widely used, many faculty need pedagogical support, especially for ideas and assistance in how to use images most effectively, as well as for opportunities to share pedagogical needs and discoveries with their peers. In addition, students often fail to grasp the skills needed to work with images. Many need training in image literacy (analyzing or reading images, including maps), digital literacy (handling and manipulating image files), and image composition (creating and communicating through images).

5. Transitioning to digital image resources affects every level of an institution. Few appreciate the cross-institutional implications of creating digital image resources and the production and presentation facilities required to satisfactorily work with the new medium. Empowering and funding cross-department, cross-functional groups to make coordinated, informed decisions is one good way for laying the right foundations. Dedicated imaging centers can highlight issues, focus decisions and bring disparate parts of the campus together around the benefits that coordinated digital image production and delivery can bring.

This report is rooted in the faculty experience of going digital, as shown in 400 survey responses and 300 individual interviews with faculty and some staff at 33 colleges and universities: 31 liberal arts colleges together with Harvard and Yale Universities. Two-thirds of the survey respondents worked in the arts and humanities, 27 percent in the sciences and 12 percent in the social sciences. Faculty were self-selected.

The report is online at http://www.academiccommons.org/imagereport.