Flickr: The world at your doorstep

Flickr to me represents the good, the bad and the ugly of the Web 2.0 phenomena. Before I consider whether if facilitates interactivity , which is our killer question, I have been reflecting on my own use of it in the past. Yes, I have rummaged, often tirelessly, through the rubble, to find something I could use that represented what I had to say. In my own blog, just recently, I have used the flock of birds image to highlight the metaphor of “spreading my wings” (travelling to new places, cognitively speaking), being in a flock (Wenger’s Community of Practice) in the hope of getting a “bird’s eye perspective”, seeing different view points through online discussion and analysis.

Attribution:  Some rights reserved by etgeek (Eric) under Flick CreativeCommons

All this means sense to me, when I wrote my blog on how I was feeling and where I wanted to be, but whether it conveyed the same message to my readers is another thing. See the example below. What do you see?


Technically, even though I have sourced this from an educational website I still feel I need to check for copyright.

When I think of Flickr in the context of writing our blog I harken back to days of research when we studied journals on the efficacy of multimedia for teaching and learning. Mayer’s (2003), Clark and Lyons (2004) and even Albion’s heuristics (1999) of good educational design all spring to mind.

Why? Because now when I support colleagues on how to use images in Teaching and Learning I ask them to think more carefully about what they are going to do with the images and why. Even popping an image into the VLE shouldn’t be done without some thought. Vrasidas (2004) explores the limitations of the VLE for constructivist learning and warns tutors to..

“select the learning strategies and appropriate media that will be more likely to help students achieve the desired outcomes. For example, decide when to use a visual illustration, a video clip, an audio strip, or an animation, and how it will support learning” (p.913).

Hence my focus, when thinking about Flickr, is not what you find but what you do with your find that matters. Once the practicalities of copyright and creative commons are out of the way, and without going into details about Mayer’s research on using images I do draw tutor’s attention to the “decorative eye candy” concept (Clark and Lyons, 2004, p.8) which can actually hinder learning. Considering this, I wonder if my use of the flock of birds from Flickr was just this, decorative eye candy. BUT, then scratching my head further and asking one of Feuerstein’s killer questions “why did I do it?” the answer is that it really did help me to focus on the purpose of writing my blog. So in this respect my use of graphics was significant and relevant, if only for myself.

I used the Gin and Tonic imagery in my blog “Gin and Tonic Anyone?” for humour, to add lightness to an already weighty blog that was beginning to groan with too much academic pampering. Clark and Lyons allow for this, warning against extraneous graphics but acknowledging that some images can be useful for their “aesthetic, humorous or motivational purposes” (p.19). In hindsight, this is a useful technique. I also remember advice from a colleague who commented on one of my first blogs which was to use a catchy heading to draw your audience in and although a G & T might not appeal to everyone it is perhaps more inviting than some of the titles of my other postings for eg. Reciprocity Quandary. In this latter blog I also used an image to promote the feeling of being a bit lost in a thick fog and perhaps I was trying to draw empathy from readers by using this. By reflecting in my blog I was hoping to lift the fog.

 Some rights reserved by gmayster01
Some rights reserved by gmayster01

The picture of the lolly stick in my post “Who stole the lolly stick and why?” was used to intrigue my audience though I doubt the graphic had much relevance or impact as the question itself was all that was needed. So, I have queried my own use of graphics in the blog and I could evaluate it further by applying the aforementioned heuristics of well known research. And so, in regard to Flickr, for me the question is less about the site itself and more about what educators do with the images once they have been sourced. We are a long way from enlightening our educators here.

Look at this photo by daveblume. He is obviously a commercial photographer and he has rights reserved on some of his images but wants to showcase many more of them in Flickr. He belongs to groups of photojournalists but chooses to allow this image to be used by others under a creative commons licence. The group he is in probably offers him levels of interactivity by collaborating and sharing with other like-minded people.

What would a tutor do with an image like this? I have used similar images for pastoral care programmes for young learners in FE. Such an image is provocative enough to promote debate but a tutor must facilitate this process to allow for interactions amongst the learners.
Attribution: daveblume’s photostream

Some rights reserved by daveblume

What a unique image too. This one of the “good” sides of Flickr: users have access to millions of images, which were hitherto difficult to find, under the creative commons licence for Teaching and Learning. Not everyone understands that Flickr is a social networking site (SNS) like Facebook but communities do grow by a shared interest and relationships are nurtured. Holiday snaps are viewed amongst families and friends and budding artists can showcase their work. The rise of social media pivots around sites like Flickr. Tufekci (2008) differentiates between what he terms the instrumental internet which is the interface of online banking, shopping and seeking out the weather reports and the expressive internet, one of social interactions and what he terms “social grooming”  where users engage in “gossip, small talk and generalized, non-functional people-curiousity” (p.544). In this respect Flickr firmly belongs to the expressive internet.

The bad side of Flickr is its marketing strategy which Andy so lucidly highlights in his post Tied up and Tied in. This is the method by which Flickr is free…up to a point before heavier users feel compelled to subscribe due to Flickr’s limitations. Also, there are a wide-range of images of different quality to have to sift through without the relevant metadata which makes the job of finding something all the more difficult. Other sites like wikimedia creative commons offer images of higher quality though this site still dwarfs Flickr.

The ugly side of Flickr is that all the images are not appetizing or age-appropriate. Some images may be culturally insensitive and searching the site for specific images may bring about surprising results – so don’t try this in class. Also, images cannot be removed easily so it can lead to online abuse of unsuspecting victims.

I personally do not see the advantage of uploading images to Flickr myself. Any holiday snaps are shared (very minimally) on Facebook where I have more privacy settings. I would, perhaps be more inclined to use that other commonly used multimedia site, YouTube, to upload material.

So to the killer question does Flickr promote interactivity. If you are a community member of the site who needs feedback within the information loop that Yacci (2002) refers to then yes, of course, it can. It is a social network site which users can interact with: user-content, user-interface, user-user. More importantly, though, we need to ask ourselves how to incorporate such Flickr images into our eLearning design more innovatively to support learning.

I couldn’t resist using Animoto to showcase a few images from Flickr and Wikimedia. They are all landmarks in different countries. If anyone has even got this far in this labyrinth of a blog post… can you name the countries represented? That is my challenge!

Where’s the magic carpet?.

Clark, C. & Lyons, R. (2004) Graphics for Learning (Course Reader)

Mayer, R.E (2003) The promise of multimedia learning: using the same instructional design methods across different media. Learning and Instruction Vol 13, Issue 2, p.123-139

Tufekci Z. (2008) Grooming, Gossip, Facebook and MySpace. Information, Communication and Society, Vol 11, Issue 4, p.544-564

6 thoughts on “Flickr: The world at your doorstep

  1. Beth, this is an interesting angle on the use of Flickr and one I’d not really considered. From a teaching perspective I think you make a good point, Too often images are used merely as eye candy because that’s how it should be done. Yay Multimedia! And, I’ve witnessed some highly inaccurate, inappropriate and potentially damaging uses of images in PowerPoints. For example a colleague used an image of an Indian call centre in a presentation on IT support with a class dogged by racist attitudes. Perhaps not wrong in itself but all she succeeded in doing was to provoke a self reinforcing and rather bigoted discussion which she simply wasn’t equipped to handle.

    On the the other hand I use Flickr, or rather my students use Flickr in a rather different way, as a resource for obtaining images for Computer Graphics and Web Design lessons and find it invaluable, especially now that there is a creative commons, Flickr section. I think there is real potential for them to establish connections with photographers posting on Flickr and even engage in collaborative projects. This extended community of practice would then create a very practical context for peer to peer interactivity.

    • Thanks for this reply David.
      The more I blog the more I think I am on the wrong side of the Digital Divide. Can I ask, have you or your learners ever received any negative, critical or downright abusive comments using Web 2.0 and if so, how have you dealt with it?

  2. This is a very good post. I love your references to Clarke & Lyons and the concept of eye candy. However, I do support their statement that some images can be useful for their “aesthetic, humorous or motivational purposes” and feel thet often in the devlopment of teaching material, finding and deploying that “killer image” is an almost impossible task. However teh use of some imagery still adds an element of engagement to the material. Imagine a poster for a film that comprises of words alone. Would you go and see it?

    • Oh yes, I agree Andy. Just like real candy though, too much and it becomes unappetizing!

      I also think imagery can really break up the monotony of a VLE interface, don’t you? Even if there is an image to represent your subject area, posting this on the front page of your VLE and “changing” it every now and then can simply make the interface more tolerable. I also try to promote the use of the LightBox gallery in Moodle – especially if it is showing work or a project in progess. Such a shame the VLE doesn’t have this capacity for learners to share resources with each other – links yes, but not actual files. However, perhaps this is a good thing because it might encourage tutors to look to web 2.0 to dovetail into the VLE.

  3. Great post Beth. Brilliant synthesising. I love the way you blog and the connections you make. I can really here your voice 🙂 Great use of links to promote this VCoP. Mmm, could I use this post as an example of how things might be done in my Development Project?

    What I always like about your use of images is that they illustrate a concrete thought you put into words through writing, yet, paradoxically, the same image makes that thought abstract, allowing us to open up our thoughts to our own experience and situations. Coming from a visual art background, this is something I very much appreciate 🙂

    I agree with you that Flickr can be useful for promoting interactivity and, therefore, potentially a sense of community. However, As you say, for me, Yacci’s feedback loops are essential here. So the question for me is, even if we incorporate the use of Flickr in out into our e-learning pedagogy, do we need to ‘train’ students to interact and feedback in order for an image to act as a springboard for discussion and learning? I suspect so, as we are learning here. What do you guys think?

    Beth, you obviously have a great interest in using images. Have you read John Berger’s ‘Ways of Seeing’. I think you should. I read it when I was 17 in my first year at art school and it changed everything for me. Here’s the first few lines:

    “Seeing comes before words. The child looks and recognizes before it can speak. But, there is also another sense in which seeing comes before words. It is seeing which establishes our place in the surrounding world; we explain that world with words, but words can never undo the fact that we are surrounded by it. The relation between what we see and what we know is never settled”.

    Berger also wrote ‘Another Way of Telling’, a collaborative project with Jean Mohr, and is a mix of photographic essays, written texts, and image and text combined essays. Here’s Berger’s take on one of their photographic essays:

    “There is no single “correct” interpretation of this sequence of images. It attempts to follow an old woman’s reflections on her life. If she were suddenly asked: What are you thinking about? She would invent a simple answer, because the question, when taken seriously, becomes unanswerable. Her reflections cannot be defined by any answer to a question beginning with What? And yet she was thinking, reflecting, remembering, recalling, and doing so in a consecutive manner. She was making sense of herself to herself’ (p.133)

    And for me, that last line reveals my attraction to the use of images in any learning situation. I mention these because you might be interested in using multiple images together.

    Ramble, ramble, ramble. You got me thinking …


    Berger, J. (1972). Ways of Seeing. London: Penguin.

    Berger, J. (1995). Another Way of Telling. New York: Vintage Books.

  4. Thank you for the offer of the book. I look forward to it. It is interesting that you are so engaged by the imagery because you are a visual person. After our discussion on Skype I think you should reflect on your interpretation of the flock of birds image. I am amazed you did more research on it – ie that starlings only move in a flock with 7 others in close proximity. The outer starlings then move with their 7 and so on so that the ripple effect means the whole flock moves in unison. Wouldn’t it be great if we could bring this into the classroom? As tutor’s we’d only need to concentrate on the first 7! Not sure it would stand up in an observation though. Hey hoy!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s