Young people today are surrounded and even bombarded by digital images, from social media and television to pictures sent in messaging apps. So, for students to be good digital citizens they need to be able to ‘effectively find, interpret, evaluate and use images and visual media’.

Today, the internet is packed with unreliable and misinformed pictures, with technology making it easy for anyone to create and share images at the click of a button. This makes visual literacy skills particularly important.

However, even though visual media is a big part of students’ day to day lives, some struggle to critically assess the images they view…

Evaluating image sources

A clear example of this struggle is illustrated by The Stanford History Education Group’s study, Evaluating Information. The study tested students ability to ‘judge the credibility of information that floods young people’s smartphones, tablets, and computers’  and included a question on evaluating evidence.

170 students were given this image post from Imgur, a photo sharing site, entitled ‘Fukushima Nuclear Flowers’.

Students were asked whether the image provided strong evidence of the large nuclear disaster at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant in Japan, 2011.

40% of students argued that ‘the post provided strong evidence because it presented pictorial evidence about conditions near the power plant.’ These students judged the trustworthiness of the claim simply by looking at the picture, without taking steps to evaluate the image itself.

Images and copyright

Understanding the ‘ethical, legal, social, and economic issues surrounding the creation and use of images’ is another important part of developing strong visual literacy skills.

When searching for images online, students need to be aware that there are many images out there that they can’t use. This is because they are not copyright cleared. Students need to understand how copyright effects the way they can use the images they find online and how not all images are free for them to use.

Images are subject to the terms and conditions of individual creators. This means students shouldn’t be copying and pasting them into their work, which many do without a second thought.

How to support students using images

Investing in an image database helps schools to provide students with copyright-cleared images from trusted sources. This supports the development of students’ visual literacy skills and allows them to confidently use images in their work.

Artstor Digital Library contains over 2.8 million images and provides a safe research environment for students to search and analyse high quality images across a range of subjects.

Unlike images found through search engines, all images on Artstor Digital Library are from reliable and authoritative sources and come with detailed source information, and citation details. They are all also copyright cleared for educational use.

This video demonstration will take you through how Artstor can be used. Here, we’ve focused specifically on how an English Literature student can use Artstor to research Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet.

To explore Artstor for yourself, request a free 14 day trial here and find out more about Artstor here.