In a classroom setting, photographs can tell a story, serve as prompt, round out a project or inspire play. This is not news. Though modern tools make it easier than ever to find and share high resolution photos, images have been part of classrooms for centuries to that inspire and instruct. As we speak, there are legions of lead learners beginning to think about how they will uses images to tell their school’s story and inspire students to tell their own.

Educators put up photos on walls, halls, blogs, social media, class sites, LMSs, instructional materials and bulletins. Students have even more outlets: trifolds, blogs, webpages, Spark pages, memes, social media, infographics, videos, research papers, and more.

So, you might ask, why take this up now? If image is the medium students live and breathe, do we need to dig deeper? As they themselves are creators and consumers of images, isn’t there a natural equilibrium? I would respond “Yes!” and “No!”

First off, we all benefit from reminders about fair and proper uses of images–their impact and possible copyright infringement. Second, as more people create and propagate images, we should be aware of authenticity and attribution.

Below, I list guiding questions related to fair and safe usage (Section 1), useful resources (Section 2), and tools to retouch or remix images (Section 3) provided the licence of the image allows to you to do so. I will focus on four points: IMPACT, copyright INFRINGEMENT, AUTHENTICITY and ATTRIBUTION.

Please note: I am targeting these sections based solely on academic use, specifically in a K-12 setting. While many of the same principles can and do apply for social media outside school, that realm deserves its own treatment.

Section 1: Questions

Guiding questions:

  1. What, if any, licence is connected to the image? How can we find out?
  2. Can the image be used for commercial and noncommercial purposes?
  3. Can the image be used for commercial and noncommercial purposes with modification?
  4. What, if any, attribution is necessary to use the image? What are the standards for image attribution?
  5. Is the image authentic and/or accurate? Has it been modified or manipulated in a way that makes it unreliable?
  6. How does this image contribute to productive discourse in my class and school community? Why or why not?
  7. How does this format–meme and GIF mostly–complement or contradict what I am trying to say? Are the tone of the message and the medium at odds?
  8. What level of formality is required in the digital space I hope to use this image? How is Snapchat different than a schoolwide message board?
  9. From the tested, and I’d say not tired, “T.H.I.N.K.” construct: Is it true? Is it helpful? Is it illegal? Is it necessary? Is it kind?

Section 2: Resources

Useful resources:

CC Search – Per their own language, “ is not a search engine, but rather offers convenient access to search services provided by other independent organizations.” These include Pixabay, Flickr, Google Images, Wikimedia Commons. CC Search is a more efficient way to source images safely.

Pixabay – Pixabay is a searchable hub for over a million photos, vectors and illustrations. Licences are clearly labeled, for instance “Free for commercial use. No attribution required.” Users can login–required for highest resolution renderings–but also achieve beautiful results sans login. (Sending contributors coffee via PayPal is appreciated too.)

Unsplash – Unsplash is my most recent discovery in this realm. It makes available “Over 200,000 free (do whatever you want) high-resolution photos brought to you by the world’s most generous community of photographers.” Crediting isn’t required, but there are easy ways to show appreciation for photographers and help them gain exposure.

Google Images – Most students will be familiar with Google Image search, in fact it’s probably their instinct to jump there first. This can be dangerous, as a “blind” search will produce a hodgepodge of copyrighted, CC, high resolution, and horrible resolution images. I instruct students and teachers to navigate to Images > Tools > Usage rights. This brings up five options: “Not filtered by licence,” “Labeled for reuse,” Labeled for reuse with modification,” “Labeled for noncommercial reuse,” “Labeled for noncommercial reuse with modification.” Select the option that best fits your needs. Note, this also works for Images > Tools > Color / Type / Size.

PhotoPin – PhotoPin is a free tool that helps bloggers and designers find high quality photos with Creative Commons licensing. A one stop, one click solution, PhotoPin is a rising star in my estimation. Bonus points, of all these resources, PhotoPin does the best job of explaining copyright and Creative Commons licenses.

Noun Project – The Noun Project offers a wide varieties of icons to use in any project. Icons here mean “flat” detailed drawings. Whether as the main attraction in a vocabulary game or as a supporting part in a more elaborate project, these Nouns are nice! A recently announced partnership with Microsoft allows users to add images to Word and PowerPoint via an add-on.

AutoDraw – Part drafting board and part Pictionary, AutoDraw can complement icons from sites like Noun Project. I have dreamed up eight ways to use AutoDraw. I suspect there are many more, especially if one exports these images into another editing tool. [See section 3.]

Internet Archive – A non-profit library of millions of free books, movies, software, music, websites, and more.

Public Domain Review – A collection of images, audio, video and texts that are all available in the public domain.

Section 3: Postproduction

Tools to retouch and remix, provided the licence of the image allows to you to do so:

Photoshop – Photoshop continues to be the gold standard for image editing. Professional photographers and publications trust it to execute the most elegant editorial work. Don’t let that scare you though: a layman can learn enough about Photoshop in hours to create images that make an impact.

Google Drawings – The unsung hero of the G Suite for Education, Google Drawings provides a respectable set of imaging tools. These include filters, layers, text, shapes, and effects. For more on advanced functions of Google Drawings, see this previous post.

Canva – Canva is a cloud-based powerhouse for editing and creating images. Equally robust in the app or a browser, Canva allows users to edit their own images or choose from among thousands of stock images. It is a freemium platform–many images cost $1–but the free version will serve you well. Canva’s Design School is a course unto itself, covering layout, typography, color theory and more.

Adobe Spark – If slides are passe, then the scroll of Adobe Spark represents the present. Featuring drag-and-drop functionality and numerous effects, Spark is a superior alternative to Powerpoint and easier to edit than a web page. An Adobe ID get you tools to creates Photostories, Journals, graphics, memes, Pitches and more. Spark also has a fantastic Blog and Inspiration Gallery (Education and more.)

Over – Over is an iOS app to edit images and overlay–hence the name–text and simple graphics. Options are limited and some of the stock phrasing and be stifling, yet there are many times when Over gets the job done on the fly.

Google Slides – Packed with many of the same editing tools as Drawing, Slides can be used as a serviceable image editing tool. Add the collaborative element and the ability to easily “app smash,” or move files from one platform to another via the Camera Roll or Desktop, and Slide becomes something more. Call it a variation on a theme.

Powerpoint – Powerpoint has become synonymous with endless, text-heavy slides–the antithesis of artful, engaging content one would hope to put before today’s learners. Still, if one views PPT as editor rather than slideshow, powerful things can happen. The partnership with the Noun Project can help. Call it a twist on a template.

Microsoft Paint – After it appeared MS Paint was headed to the big paint bucket in the sky, Microsoft announced earlier this week it would make it available via the Windows Store. Though it may be less powerful and more pixelated than more modern tools, Paint is product that proved that all this was possible to amateur artists in the first place.