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It would be interesting to open the floor up for discussion of one of the hottest memes in education presentation: the stock photo / quote combo. They’re inspirational. They’re ominous. They’re ironic. You can find them from the highest-trafficked level of edublogging to the lowest.

We collectively obsess over the tools to create these imagesPhoto source. Quote source. And, incidentally, yes, stock photography adds extra artifice to your image and, consequently, weakens your thesis. (Unless, for example, your thesis is that stock photography adds distracting artifice to a thesis.). We obsess over the technology that lets us publish them globally. Yet, if someone has asked the essential question, “Do these images distract from or enhance our theses,” I haven’t seen it.

I realize that, in the stadium of Essential Skills For Educators, visual literacy sits somewhere up in the mezzanine. There are many more important things to discuss than how best to use an image in the service of a thesis. But it sits much, much closer to the field than any of the publishing tools which depend on and amplify your existing visual literacy.

I’m trying to convey my frustration that you’re somewhere on the order of ten times more likely to find a post in the edublogosphere celebrating SlideRocket or Prezi than you are a post soliciting feedback on your pre-existing visual literacy condition which these presentation apps utterly depend upon.

Want to shut me up? Let me see you not just post the slidedeck of your last education presentation, but the audio also. Next, don’t just tell yourself that you’re open to visual literacy instruction but tell that to your readership explicitly. Ask for feedback. Describe your thesis — what were you aiming for with those slides? — and ask for criticism. Ask people to post alternative visual approaches to your own thesis. And then — because a lot of people equate “criticism” with “hurting someone’s feelings” — reward their criticism. Thank them.

And then hype whatever new tool lets you publish your slides through Twitter’s API (or whatever) with my blessing.

But first things first.

31 Responses to “Just One Example: Stock Photography”

  1. on 03 Apr 2009 at 4:50 pmDean Shareski

    As someone who advocates both for understanding visual literacy and has also created my own “slide quotes” I certainly do a self critique of the value, purpose and impact of any given visual. I literally can spend ours on finding the precise image that would advance my ideas.

    Since the majority of presenters I see haven’t even begun to consider using visuals effectively, I’m less hard on those who over use them. These are the small minority.

    I recently created a presentation using Cooliris and I have to say it did very little to advance the story. The fact that it’s online and shared isn’t even all that valuable since without the audio, it might be “perrty” but not all that helpful. Guilty.

    I have played around with Prezi and do see some great value it is storytelling abilities. It does a great job of taking a concept map and bringing it to life.

    I love feedback. The problem is there is currently a small number of folks with the ability to effectively provide it. Seriously, 96.9% of educators aren’t all that capable of providing constructive criticism when it comes to visuals.

    But if you’re willing, I’ll accept it from you.

  2. [...] recording my response to Dan Meyer’s challenge1 I might as well continue what I started the other [...]

  3. on 03 Apr 2009 at 5:56 pmTodd

    Ask for it? I beg for it as often as I can in whatever way I can.

    It seems that far too many educators just take what is given to them and put it into their lessons. It’s as if “it’s better than I could do on my own” equates to solid design. I’m not a designer but damn it if I don’t at least pretend to be so that there’s a reason for every mark on the page, every font, every shade of gray.

    There’s also a ton of bells and whistles for bells’ and whistles’ sake, mistaking the brief, brief awe of something different for actual engagement with the content. As I preach the gospel of Power Point as a visual medium to my students, the looks of shock as I tell them the opposite of what their computer teacher tells them frighten me. “Don’t write your main points word for word??” Yikes.

    And some educational superstore catalog is selling laminated posters with Wordles of famous lit — $11.95 each. Just saw it today before the thing hit the recycle bin.

    I wonder if the kind of feedback you describe that people should ask for is ideal for a wiki. Or maybe a Google Doc.

  4. on 03 Apr 2009 at 5:58 pmTom

    When I ask for feedback there’s usually silence, occasionally I get positive responses. Neither one is all that useful.

    That could be because only 6 people read my blog and my mom likes to help out my self esteem.

  5. on 03 Apr 2009 at 9:24 pmA. Mercer

    Ah, didn’t the initial winner of the winners of the four slide contest use stock photos (or something that looked like it) in a Keynote template? Sorry if that sounds like a gotcha, I assume this means that you’ve changed in grown in this area yourself (unless you think your thinking on this is absolutely the same then and now, then I’m calling b.s.)

    Look, I don’t want you to shut up, but I am posting my preso slides, and when I remember, audio. I do take a lot of time selecting photos (usually flickr) to make sure I’ve got the right image to convey the idea, not some banal wallpaper.

    I must have different folks in my reader. I see some folks lovin’ on Prezi, but as many saying, LET ME OFF THAT ROLLERCOASTER! I myself have compared the aesthetics to a TPain video (nice one time, maybe boring by the fifth time?)

    There is not a lot of critical feedback about visuals period. Here, it’s probably partially my fault for hacking off on you after the four slides, and when you did vis-crit on Vicki Davis’ preso on Flat Classroom.

    Look at the last Annual Report. You didn’t do a dissection of problems or possible improvements that could have been made. The comments entrants left on each others blogs about the entries were positive (deservedly so), or banal. Little negative (maybe the miscue about Sam Shah’s cartoonish American Gothic revival look, but that was all retracted when we got all the images to download).

  6. on 04 Apr 2009 at 5:26 amDavid Cox

    Dan
    After re-reading some of the recent posts/comments I have a question:

    When you say “presentation” do you mean actual classroom lessons or the sort of thing one might find at a conference or board meeting? If you are talking about the former, I am having a tough time wrapping my mind around what this might look like in a math classroom (you have any examples of this posted somewhere I have missed (with audio)?)

    If my thesis is “at the end of the period, you should all be able to solve 2(x+3) = 10, then my presentation is pretty much going to show how to solve 2(x+3) = 10. Nothing really fancy about it. Now, if there were a way to use images to push this concept, or even just introduce the idea of distribution and/or balancing equations, then I’m in. But if you are just talking about using pre done slides to show the process of solving the equation, I am not sure that I follow.

  7. on 04 Apr 2009 at 7:08 amTeacherC

    I guess I take a post-modernist view of the use of stock photos. I think the job of teachers (and all artists) is to engage in acts of assemblage – to remix what we take from the world into a new product that solves problems. Do professionals use stock photos carelessly? Of course. As you’ve reported many times, visual literacy is in the dumps. Professionals don’t see making presentations as graphic design – they see it as information dump. I think a good designer with limited access to technologies or time to take their own photos can become an expert at choosing appropriate stock images and editing them appropriately.

    I love designing my own curriculum, but as a new elementary teacher, it is IMPOSSIBLE for me to design 1500 minutes of instruction per week. I choose 1 – 2 subjects at a time that I can design and then the others I take from the school and remix them less diligently. I know that in 5 years I’ll have designed my entire curriculum. At this point, I don’t think it’s a good use of my time to invest in a photography or photo editing habit, instead of just using stock photos. There’s an opportunity cost to everything and I think my students are better served if I leave those details until later.

    I think a useful exercise would be to help teachers use stock photography in appropriate ways.

  8. on 04 Apr 2009 at 7:12 amDan Meyer

    @Dean, blog comments have helped sharpen my thinking even when the comments are simply novices asking questions about my process. In the same way, we need to see a lot more comments like, “Why did you select that image?” or “Did you have a reason for changing the color scheme from blue to yellow halfway through?” If people ask us for the rationale behind our visual process — even if they don’t have a clue themselves — it will either stand up to scrutiny or it won’t, either of which are useful outcomes for designers.

    And saying, “I’ll accept it from you,” in the comments isn’t the same as including a tag at the bottom of a presentation post saying, “Please criticize my thesis and the visual design which supports it. I need this. Seriously.”

    Unless it’s explicit I don’t know how many people will participate.

    @Alice, see, this is what I’m talking about. That Vicki Davis thing. I put together alternate versions of her slides using the same color scheme, layout, and fonts as the original. I complimented one slide I thought had merit and then put my own spin on it. I included a QuickTime Keynote tutorial of the process.

    And then commenters pile on like I’m just sniping at her. Like I didn’t put in hours on that critique. Like I’m the meanest guy in the world for daring to criticize poor, little, blogging-juggernaut Vicki Davis. Frankly, if we can’t use material publicly posted by one of the biggest edubloggers to drive our learning then this blogging-as-professional-development effort is well and truly screwed.

    Otherwise: Neil Winton won the design contest (initially) off a stock Keynote template. He used his own (awesome) photography. And me: I used a stock photo of a girl in that Vicki Davis post, which I don’t know if I’d use now. I should note, however, that the photo looks like a fairly natural photo of a girl, not extravagantly-lit or -staged or -angled like so much of what you have going on in edu-preso right now.

    And, per your note on the most recent Annual Report contest, I didn’t have time to run that contest much less critique the entrants. Other educators stepped to the plate in a cool way during that contest.

    @David, both. This post concerns presentations on education, but presentations on math follow the same rules: make it image-heavy. Make it about content, not form. Make the form disappear.

  9. on 04 Apr 2009 at 7:56 amDarren Draper

    Dan,

    Regarding your footnote (“And, incidentally, yes, stock photography adds extra artifice to your image and, consequently, weakens your thesis.”)…

    If my thesis is that kids should stay in school or they’re gonna end up flipping burgers all their life – are you saying that it’s stronger here than it is here?

  10. on 04 Apr 2009 at 9:41 amA. Mercer

    @Dan, the lack of critique in last annual report was not directed at you, and I think I was taking some responsibility for making you “gun shy” What I would suggest and did suggest at the time of the “Vicki” thing was ask people to volunteer, which you’re doing now. So will you accept my apology, and let’s move on?

    Look, I don’t think there was a lot of critique from the entrants in the last contest. I think we did a great job of supporting each other, but there wasn’t a lot of critical commentary (constructive or otherwise). We’ll have to agree to disagree.

    Who would do this? Do you really want to sign up to critique my work and the work of others who volunteer for this? You couldn’t fit in actively judging the annual contest (no critique, btw). Are the likes of myself and others at my level of practice where we can offer worthwhile critique?

    I think @TeacherC’s query is a good one, we can’t do all our own photography, and remixing can be good, what is worthwhile? You use flickr a lot and so do I, what are we looking for? I think you have some good points when you talk about finding stuff that is not too slick, and is well done aesthetically, but maintains authenticity.

  11. on 04 Apr 2009 at 10:32 amDan Meyer

    Alice, you don’t owe me an apology. Back then and right now, I was far less offended than I was befuddled at how tricky “criticism” is in the edublogosphere. I mean, I read left-wing and right-wing political blogs which quote and cite and disagree with and revise each other all the time as a matter of discourse. That is how bloggers there shape ideas. We need that here.

    Does this kind of discourse require prohibitive amounts of time? I don’t think so. Tom Woodward posted some slides and a transcript of his talk yesterday and I issued some thoughts this morning.

    As an aside, from my perspective, if I’m Tom, and I have spent an hour (or whatever) converting slides to images, resizing and posting them, and adding the transcript, I don’t want people to by shy about criticizing my work. What a lousy return on investment to post a slidedeck and not get, at the very least, questions about my process. I can’t be alone in that perspective, craving the kind of treatment I gave Vicki Davis.

    I think your last line does justice to the distinction between good stock photos and bad stock photos:

    stuff that is not too slick, and is well done aesthetically, but maintains authenticity.

  12. on 04 Apr 2009 at 12:49 pmA. Mercer

    Here’s CUE:

    Blogging in Elementary

    Tech in Tutoring

    For straight up aesthetics this preso:
    On PowerPoint that I did for my district would be most germane, but there is no audio, so you’ll have to guess what I say. The whole preso was a CF of tech problems from start to finish, so you just would have heard a lot of moaning about crashing computers anyway.

    With most of the presos I actually present off a PP, which means the fonts, etc. are slightly different than what you see in Google/Slideshare. The audio is missing my florid hand gestures, but otherwise, it’s almost like being there. Hack away dy/dan readers…

    I do ask a small circle of folks for feedback. I will share video with Mathew Needleman, blogging stuff with Gail Desler, and anything with ELD pedagogy gets some input from Larry Ferlazzo. I agree with Dean, I don’t ask some folks for input because it’s outside their area of expertise. I think Dean’s point about most not being able to provide it is a good one. My only feedback on the aesthetics of my presentations comes from my dogged participation in your contests. I take my lessons from that, and apply it to my slidedeck for the rest of year. Whether I get the right lessons or not?

    I always have a Google form survey for feedback. In general, people are shy to say stuff face-to-face, so the few survey responses I get back are more honest than what folks will say to my face.

  13. on 04 Apr 2009 at 6:34 pmAngela Maiers

    Dan, Dan, Dan-

    Have you not heard- “a picture is worth a thousand words?” We know that stories and images are stickier than bullet points. I and agree that audio would add an even greater value.

    In my process of being “Presentation Zen’d”- I struggled turning in my bullet points and animated clipart for more powerful photos and quotes. It has totally transformed the presentations that I give- moving the audience towards active construction of meaning. They are no longer rushing to write down every word on the slide and have become engaged in the conversations and the message the images evoke.

    Making this shift has helped me understand and communicate to students and teachers the power of visual literacy. The role that color, line, angle, contrast, font, and design have on the message conveyed.

    I concur with Dean, I have seen very few educational presentations or blog posts that have fully grasped the idea of how powerful image can be.

    As far as feedback- I am open to it, would welcome it, and would hope that it ignites a farther conversation about how to improve the way we communicate with one another.

  14. [...] flickr, presentations, tags: cliffatkinson, danmeyer, garrreynolds, visualliteracy Dan Meyer is at it again. Stirring up trouble and asking hard questions. That’s okay, in fact [...]

  15. on 05 Apr 2009 at 5:35 amNancy Bosch

    I’ve used old pictures for years everywhere from NECC presentations to the classroom, they make great starters and prompts for discussions. I don’t know if this adds to the conversation but I wrote about it here. http://averyoldplace.blogspot.com/2008/02/activities-using-old-photos.html

    If a photo is 100 years old is is ‘stock’? :)

  16. on 06 Apr 2009 at 6:09 amCarl Anderson

    @dan

    While your tone in this post seems slightly abrasive thus inciting, I believe, some of these push back comments, I completely agree with most of what you have said. I especially agree that the visual literacy skills are vastly more important than the presentation tool you choose to use. I also believe that the use of your own images or images directly related to the slide content are far more effective than stock images I question the need to criticize this practice. Stock photography use in putting together a presentation is largely driven by an economy of time. One must weigh the time it takes to capture that perfect image yourself versus borrowing one from an open database with how important the image is to convey meaning.

    As for your statement about where visual literacy skills fit among the pecking order of necessary skills, if you are simply stating the current mass priorities I concur, however, if you are making a valuative judgment on the value of visual literacy skills I have to disagree. Visual literacy skills are of crucial importance, especially given the nature of communication today. I believe this statement supports what you are saying in this post and I don’t quite understand some of these comments that interpret your meaning otherwise.

  17. on 06 Apr 2009 at 8:32 amDan Meyer
    I question the need to criticize this practice. Stock photography use in putting together a presentation is largely driven by an economy of time.

    If we’re forced to cut corners to better communication because of time constraints then, by all means, let’s cut corners. I’m not going to pretend that I don’t or that there’s enough time in the day to do everything right all the time.

    I fail to see the point, however, in not calling attention to a practice that (often) results in substandard visual communication. I mean, who does that help?

    Visual literacy skills are of crucial importance, especially given the nature of communication today.

    At this point we agree and we’re only splitting hairs on how crucial “visual literacy” is. I would say, “very,” but in my practice, I can identify a basketful of skills that are more important to student success than my ability to communicate with visuals or theirs.

  18. [...] course, as I drafted and composed this post, Dan Meyer has posted a few times about the effective use of images in presentations, and it has made me even more [...]

  19. [...] Just One Example: Stock Photography The post on Dy/Dan that got it started addthis_url = ‘http%3A%2F%2Fmizmercer.edublogs.org%2F2009%2F04%2F08%2Ffour-slides-on-stock-vs-authentic-images%2F'; addthis_title = ‘Four+Slides+on+Stock+vs.+Authentic+Images'; addthis_pub = ”; [...]

  20. on 08 Apr 2009 at 6:34 pmTom

    Just a data point – my presentation post asking for input has had 180 or so views (many referred from your site). Granted, not a huge amount but still.

    Yours is the sole comment.

  21. on 08 Apr 2009 at 8:04 pmDan Meyer

    That data point sucks. Alice Mercer feels your pain.

  22. on 09 Apr 2009 at 6:29 amSusan

    Sigh. and here I am, still trying to convince the people I work with that PP slides should not be pages and pages of text.

    I’d be happy if I could just bring my colleagues around to the concept that presentation software is really a visual medium in the first place! (let alone make the slides visually appealing, powerful, able to convey the meaning without lots of explanation…)

  23. on 09 Apr 2009 at 7:01 amNancy

    *sigh* Susan, love it! I always love the discussions here–Dan makes me think, but the reality is most elementary teachers barely USE ppt much less use it well.

  24. on 09 Apr 2009 at 7:57 amA. Mercer

    @susan and @nancy, I do see teachers using it to replace charts which involve words and I have done that myself, but you really have to think about it differently in PP, and that is the mistake often made.

    Here’s an example. This is a slide for a section of a language arts lesson on decoding and fluency from the publisher:

    Project it, and you can see its flaws immediately. There is too much text, and it’s too small. When I first started doing these “charts” I did them in the same format, I would just have them animate in line by line. These were intended to be used on O/H projectors and I didn’t adjust them for Power Point and projection. Next, how my design evolved.

    This still has many design issues, and the text at the top should be eliminated (hey, I did that slide 2 maybe 3 years ago, I’ve changed so have my slides), BUT it’s made an important evolution, I’ve only got what was on one line in the old slide on each slide.

    This need to cram a lot in could be that we are still using the old formats we had with paper and O/H transparencies. We’re trying to be cheap and save resources, when we can have slide decks with 80 slide with little added cost compared to using 20.

  25. on 09 Apr 2009 at 8:00 amA. Mercer

    Sorry, here are the links to visuals:
    @susan and @nancy, I do see teachers using it to replace charts which involve words and I have done that myself, but you really have to think about it differently in PP, and that is the mistake often made.

    Here’s an example. This is a slide for a section of a language arts lesson on decoding and fluency from the publisher:

    Project it, and you can see its flaws immediately. There is too much text, and it’s too small. When I first started doing these “charts” I did them in the same format, I would just have them animate in line by line. These were intended to be used on O/H projectors and I didn’t adjust them for Power Point and projection. Next, how my design evolved.

    This still has many design issues, and the text at the top should be eliminated (hey, I did that slide 2 maybe 3 years ago, I’ve changed so have my slides), BUT it’s made an important evolution, I’ve only got what was on one line in the old slide on each slide.

    This need to cram a lot in could be that we are still using the old formats we had with paper and O/H transparencies. We’re trying to be cheap and save resources, when we can have slide decks with 80 slide with little added cost compared to using 20.

  26. on 11 Apr 2009 at 12:26 pmStephen Downes

    > Want to shut me up? Let me see you not just post the slidedeck of your last education presentation, but the audio also.

    I’ve been doing this since 2004 but you still keep posting.

    Evidence here: http://www.downes.ca/me/presentations.htm

  27. on 11 Apr 2009 at 4:44 pmDan Meyer

    Posting your presentations isn’t but half my prescription.

  28. on 11 Apr 2009 at 5:07 pmA. Mercer

    I think he wants you to shut up Dan, lol. Good luck!

    @stephen: you have to volunteer for having your preso critiqued, which Dan will not do without permission because I, and others, gave him grief for doing an unsolicited critique of Vicki Davis’ preso last year. It’s a whole long story, not as interesting as say, “The Wire” but better than the gossip in the staff lounge.

    On a more positive note, I’ve gotten some nice feedback from others out of this, that I used here.

  29. [...] dy/dan » Blog Archive » Just One Example: Stock Photography (tags: slidedesign design presentations) [...]

  30. on 07 Jun 2009 at 7:01 pmLurking « The Slow Loris Online

    [...] and appropriate feedback seems to be the key. It can be critical (with some derivative thoughts here), supportive, or even just an acknowledgment of existence. Effective learning communities, whether [...]

  31. [...] though that isn't a given. Multimedia can have low information resolution. (I'm talking about your stock photography, your dogs in bandanas, etc.) But the information resolution on this single image of a ticket roll [...]