Published: June 24, 2015

Kendra GaleKendra Gale, PhD, is an instructor in the Communication and Society Residential Academic Program at CU Boulder.  Gale completed the Fall 2014 ASSETT Teaching with Technology Seminar.  She introduced a social media page into her class as a mechanism for sharing and discussing interesting images in the media.


I teach introductory communication courses in the Communication and Society Residential Academic Program (Comm RAP).  These are all course with first year students, taught in the residence hall in sections of 19 or less.   The enduring idea of the courses is social construction through communication, i.e., how we communicate shapes our understanding of reality.

I used the Teaching with Technology Workshop to explore image delivery mechanisms for students in my Visual Literacy course. One of the goals of the course is for students to master basic vocabulary of semiotics, design, photography and film to use in the discussion of images.  But learning a new vocabulary requires practice and repetition.

While I have literally thousands of images in my electronic archive, using them to create exercises for students has been a challenge.  I use images on D2L for quizzes but the process of uploading and labeling images for that format is extremely cumbersome and inefficient.  While I will continue to use the quiz function for quick learning checks, it is not feasible for uploading large quantities.

In the past, I have posted PowerPoint slides online with questions on the slide and answers in the notes section, created binders of images for students to peruse and practice and required students to create a portfolio of images examples for terms.  All of these approaches are extremely labor intensive for me and the interaction is primarily one to one where I am providing feedback individually.


The goal for using technology is to create a “space” for students to apply the visual vocabulary to a range of images.  My vision was to create the equivalent of a “language lab” or sets of electronic flashcards for practice outside of class time.

The tool I choose to explore was a closed group on Facebook because:

  1. Students are already adept at using Facebook so, unlike creating a blog site, there was no learning curve for a new technology;
  2. It is a site they already visit frequently;
  3. A closed group allows students to practice without all of their friends being notified every time they post an image or comment so it respects the boundary between academic and social life. But knowing their classmates would see the posts creates some performance expectation;
  4. Posts and comments are dated;
  5. It is fast and easy both to upload images and to comment on posts on Facebook.

Learning Exercise

Students were required to post 4 times, roughly once every 2-3 weeks, and to comment on at least eight posts from classmates. I provided a list of terms for select modules in the course (semiotics, intertextuality, camera terms, and design choices) and asked students to select one of the terms, provide a visual example of the term in use and briefly discuss how that particular choice contributes to a preferred reading of the image.  I also required them to use images that hadn’t already been used.  That compelled them to look at all the previous posts before contributing their own as did the requirement to comment on other posts.

Evaluation of the posts was based primarily on completion:

  • 0 = no post or late post
  • 1 = student posted but didn’t complete all the requirements or the post was duplicate of what someone else has already posted
  • 2 = posted and completed all the discussion requirements

Assessment of the Technique

Student Self-Assessment

Students were asked about the Facebook posts and assignments in a peer evaluation of my teaching as well as in an anonymous end-of-semester survey.  On scaled items students strongly agreed on the ease of use as well as the benefit of having additional examples outside of class (4.5 out of 5).  There was less agreement on the number of required posts with some students suggesting that more posts be required in the future.  Several also commented on the value of my comments in response to other students posts.  They also appreciated the validation when I used their examples in class.

From my perspective, this was also successful as a formative assessment,

  • I was able to detect patterns of misunderstanding quickly and address them in class.
  • My feedback on individual posts and comments was visible to the whole group so the learning experience extended beyond the individual.

Unexpected Additional Affordances

  • Having students contribute images from their own lives provided me with a range of images to which I wouldn’t normally be exposed. It allows me to easily update some of my own examples, to incorporate their images into class discussion and to use the same image several times to help them understand multiple ways of analyzing an image.  Analysis and commentary on images from their own lives  helped connect daily experience with larger social discourses.
  • Generally the students who posted first were some of the more successful and high achieving students in the class.  They set a high standard for the posts that followed.  But that also meant that those who procrastinated until the last minute had to review all the previous posts.  Often times, the last-minute-students are not as strong and I suspect the extra review was beneficial for them.
  • Since students mostly used their real names and faces in the profile pictures, it helped everyone learn the names of all their classmates.
  • Because they set their social media accounts to notify them via text when anything is posted, notifications about classmate postings helped remind the potentially less organized students that something was due soon.  The immediacy of the social media platform also encouraged conversations to continue after and between classes.
  • Instant cross-platform connection also allowed students to post from both phones and computers.  It seemed easier to post images from daily life when they didn’t have to download it from a camera to the computer and then upload it again.
  • Their comments to each other sometimes strayed away from discussion of the images, but I believe some of the light banter, commentary on each other’s musical preferences, etc. helped them bond more as a community of learners. They were generous with their praise of each other for posting unusual images, original photographs or enlightening commentary, and disagreed respectfully.

Overall, using Facebook as a site for posting and commenting moved this class closer to the kind of learning partnership I would like in all my class.  They help each other learn and I am learning from them as well.

The workshop also exposed me to several other easy to use technologies that I have adopted in other courses.  In addition, the conversation with colleagues was enormously beneficial for troubleshooting problems, generating new ideas and tapping into collective expertise.