Sunday, September 26, 2010

Photo Sharing in the Elementary School: Is It Worth the Time and Energy?

(I am taking a Web 2.0 course through the University of Alberta's Teacher-Librarianship program. This week's assignment was to examine Flickr and other photo sharing sites and explore possibilities for our students. This post is cross-posted on this blog as well as the blog I created for the course called Web Tools for Schools.)
Photo by Brittney Bush on Flickr

I think many of us in the elementary school are overwhelmed by all that is possible with technology. We want our students to have great opportunities but we don't want to use technology for technology's sake. So, we have to be picky about the tools we commit to. With so much else to do in the elementary classroom, is Photo sharing worth the time for teachers and students? What are the benefits to our students?

I have always understood the importance of images and the need to have a "photo library" of sorts for kids. But until exploring Flickr this week, it merely seemed like one more thing--one more huge thing to add to my list of things to figure out.

I could never understand the reasons a Flickr account might be important for elementary students. Most of my work this week has been in trying determine the benefits of Flickr for elementary school. I went into the week wondering if Flickr is really a tool that is worthwhile for elementary students. With so many other tools available, is it really important that our students have access to photo sharing tools such as Flickr?

One article that impacted my thinking was “The Promise of Social Networks” by Derek E. Baird on Tech and Learning. In it, he says, "Today’s students have grown up surrounded by the digital world, and as a result they have developed new ways of understanding, learning and processing information. As new types of social media are developed, teachers will need to find new and innovative ways to harness the power of these technologies to enhance their curriculum, and support differing learning styles. Flickr holds great potential as part of a multi-faceted approach that blends learning theory and social technologies in the curriculum."

I have heard about many schools and libraries with Flickr accounts but they seem to be mostly for public relations purposes. Much of what I read about Flickr and libraries tended to talk about how Flickr could raise awareness and communication about your library or classroom . Although I see this as one possible use of Flickr, I think for it to be worth the time, it must have an impact on student learning.

Our students are using photos constantly. As I watch over their shoulders, they have somehow learned to take photos from wherever they would like. Because most image searches are blocked in schools, our young students are teaching themselves to pull photos from websites without regard for copyright or citation. Many of our students have no idea that there are photo-sharing sites available that provide great photos with a Creative Commons license. Many have no idea that what they are doing is not right. In my reading, I found that this is not so uncommon. In her article, "Teaching Students About Creative Commons and Appropriate Use of Images", Kathy McGeady states, "Little do many people know, you can’t just use any images off the internet in your blog posts. Not only is this ethically incorrect but you could leave yourself open to copyright infringement.”

My youngest daughter is a perfect example of this. She is in 5th grade and blogged quite a bit this summer. She has a blog called FUN THINGS TO MAKE and I was alarmed to realize how she had taught herself to take photos and put them right into her blog. I quickly showed her how Flickr worked and taught her to do an advanced search looking for Creative Commons photos. This box in the advanced search allows for searching of only photos licensed by Creative Commons.

I also showed her where to find the information on who took the photo. After the initial whining about having to do something that didn't sound fun (she had already found her photos after all) she realized how many great photos she could find on Flickr. After seeing how easy it was and how many great images were available, she went on to use photos from Flickr to create a birthday invitation and other projects. Now she would like her own Flickr account.

Teaching about Creative Commons is only one way I can see Flickr being used in school. If a school or classroom has a Flickr account, students can begin to build a photo library of the school year. Photosharing safety could be addressed in a very authentic way as students determine which photos from the field trip should be put into the Flickr account. With a Flickr account, students can learn about tagging items for future use and for sharing purposes. They can learn about citing sources and about licensing their own photos. I can see Flickr as a very easy way to teach so many of the skills we want our students to have when working with all kinds of media. And if we teach them early, our students will be able to use these skills for life.

Another thing makes Flickr or other photo sharing tools worthwhile for elementary schools is the global piece and the ways in which Flickr allows for global collaboration. Giving students ways to see and participate in projects like THOUSANDS OF PEOPLE IN 21 COUNTRIES WALKING IN STOP-MOTION- a project done by photo sharing site Blipfoto

As an elementary librarian, it seems critical that our students have access to photo sharing tools such as Flickr. So much of the work that they are doing relies on images and having access to a photo sharing site can help students learn to use these in an ethical, responsible, and safe way.

My vision for a Flickr account in the school library is a basic one. Since our students are young (grades K-5), I think that teacher management of the library account is important. I hope to set up an account so that we can:

-add photos from classroom, school and other events. When a group goes on a field trip, we can determine as a class which photos get downloaded and how to tag them. After we finish a science experiment, children can choose to include photos. For school events such as assemblies and art shows, a team of students can choose photos to be placed on the Flickr account. We can create sets and collections when appropriate. Over time, I see the library of photos building quickly so that students have a huge variety of photos to use in projects--photos that connect directly to the curriculum they are studying. Adding photos will also provide a great opportunity to help students understand district guidelines of not posting student faces online.

-learn about Creative Commons licensing. By adding photos to our Flickr library and learning to use the Advanced search options on Flickr, students will begin to understand the ethical responsibilities of using and posting images.

-tag photos and learn about tagging and organizing. This will be an important skill students can learn from participating in a Flickr account.

-have conversations around responsible posting of images of others can be taught as groups of students work with teachers to determine which photos from events to post. Determining which photos are acceptable for public sharing and how to stay within our school's guidelines and agreement will help students' see their own responsibility with their work.

There are definitely things to be aware of if using Flickr. First of all, it is a self-monitored site so there is the potential that an inappropriate photo will be found once in a while. Flickr is blocked in many schools, as are many image sharing sites, and although Flickr is listed in many articles as one of the most child-friendly photosharing ( sites, there are other options for educators. One such option is SMUGMUG. These other sites provide some different options but the Creative Commons tools are not as easy to navigate or as global as in Flickr. Flickr is a tool that is easy for young children to navigate and learn with.

I now see the benefits of a Flickr account for elementary schools and libraries. I think it is imperative that our students have access to safe ways to contribute and use images in this way. I agree with Will Richardson when he says, "Personally, I think Flickr is one of the best sites on the Web. It's true social software where the contributors interact and share and learn from each other in creative and interesting ways. And for that reason, it's educational potential is huge." (Blogs, Wikis , Podcasts and Other Powerful Web Tools for Classrooms, p. 102) I think the possibilities for teaching are endless and a school library account would be a great scaffold for our youngest students. By understanding the issues and concerns about images on the web and also seeing the possibilities for student learning, I am convinced that Flickr and other photo-sharing sites are not just one more thing to learn. Instead photo sharing sites like Flickr can support our students as they learn incredibly as they learn about creating and using visual images.


  1. Great post, Franki. I am teaching an undergraduate course on Children's Literature right now and one of our activities is to create a class voicethread to share poems they each found. Most of my students are preservice teachers and I asked them to find an image to put on the voicethread that somehow 'worked' with their poem. I talked about the importance of finding images that were licensed with Creative Commons attribution and very few of them knew what I was talking about. They didn't know how to search for this kind of image on Flickr and they didn't really seem to understand the importance of using images that were not protected under copyright. I was surprised, although I know I shouldn't have been--I figured this wouldn't be the first time they had had this kind of conversation. It goes to show that we need to be teaching the kids about this stuff, but it also needs to be part of education programs so that future teachers understand how to have these conversations with their students.

  2. While cleaning out my grandmother's house after she passed several years ago, I found a state report my mother had made in elementary school. As part of this very large project, she prepared several scrapbook pages with pictures of her state using pictures she had taken from magazines. There was no bibliography at the end, nor were there citations under the photos.

    My questions is how is that ethically different from what elementary students do today using advanced technology? (I also suspect it is the exact same learning style, but that's another issue.)

    At this point, I'm using more and more technology all the time, but I try to keep it to one or two big projects a quarter so I can manage the work involved. I do require that my students cite the sources of the pictures they use. I like the creative commons idea and will try to bring that up with them this year.

    Thanks for a thought provoking pst.

  3. I made those notebooks and scrapbooks too! I think the issue becomes bigger because of the ways Web 2.0 allows us to publish. I think when I was in school, images were so minor--and really more about decoration where today images provide a great deal of information. I think you are right that this has always been done by students but we have the ability to teach them differently now that photo sharing and remixing is so easy.

  4. Thanks, Joanne! I must admit, I didn't know much about this and didn't think it was a big deal until a few years ago.

  5. Great post Franki! We have a library Flickr account but have not used it much with students. I have tried to teach them about citation and copyright, etc. with photos but you are correct, it is so easy for them to find & grab photos that my lessons have mostly not stuck. The teachers don't understand it either so I think some professional development/faculty training is needed. It's an ongoing conversation. I think your ideas about using Flickr to teach about Creative Commons and responsible use are GREAT. I am going to pass this link on and keep the conversations going at my school. If we could get the classroom teachers to send kids to Flickr first, instead of google, that would be half the battle. Thanks!

  6. I haven't been good about tagging my photos in Flickr OR in iPhoto. It seems like such a huge job that I keep putting it off, but I just need to get started with the very next roll I load and then work backwards as I can. The more photos I accumulate, the more I know I need to do this!

  7. Franki - this is just what I needed to read right now. I just posted about attending Art Prize in Grand Rapids with my second graders. I want to make the photos accessible to parents and students for future projects. I love the context of your blog with a focus on the Creative Commons copyright understanding. This post was so relevant to my teaching right now.


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