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Questioning, Digital Images, and Students’ Digital Literacy Learning

By Vicky Zygouris-Coe
 | Jan 11, 2019

questioning-digital-imagesTeaching students how to evaluate online sources (i.e., for usefulness, accuracy, and reliability) is what I refer to as “nonnegotiable” for developing students’ 21st-century literacy skills. Questioning the author’s purpose, making personal connections with the image, raising questions about how to use the information communicated in the image, negotiating meaning with others about the image, and questioning how relevant and adequate the information is to a topic under study are skills that can shape students’ online reading comprehension and digital literacy skills.

Following are examples of digital images and a set of questions from a unit I recently developed on the topic of global crises. My goal with the unit was to search for digital learning experiences that would expand my students’ online reading comprehension and critical literacy skills. My search focused on credible, reliable, and complex digital images on a topic that is current and relevant.

Accessing digital image collections

The first collection of digital images on Refugee Camps in Europe is from the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting—an innovative, award-winning, nonprofit journalism organization dedicated to supporting in-depth engagement with underreported global affairs. As part of this digital text, students read and analyzed how a journalist used images, language, and tone to represent multiage refugees’ experiences with seeking asylum in Europe.

The second collection of digital images is from The International Rescue Committee—an international organization with the mission to help people whose lives are impacted by conflict and disaster to survive and recover. Many of the images are about the more than 50,000 refugees in Greece who are not legally allowed to travel from Greece to other European countries.

The third collection is called Drawings by Refugee Children, an edited collection of children’s drawings about subjects such as the Syrian war and the deadly crossing of the Mediterranean Sea from Turkey to the Greek islands of Lesbos and Chios.

Asking questions that inspire learning and digital composition

Students can interact with these image collections in several ways. For this unit, I chose to focus on student engagement through a series of questions that prompt students to evaluate the sources I selected. You might also use the following questions to begin small-group or whole-class discussions, asking students to provide evidence from the image to support their assertions.

  • What is the image about?
  • Who is the author of this image?
  • When was the image published?
  • Where was the image published?
  • What do you see in the image?
  • What words would you choose to describe the image?
  • What is the tone of the image?
  • What three adjectives describe how the image makes you feel?
  • What questions do you have about this image?
  • What is the author trying to communicate through this image about the experiences of the refugees who are trying to relocate to Europe?
  • What additional images would you like to have about the topic?
  • What headline would you write about the topic using information from the image(s)?

To further develop students’ digital literacy skills, you could encourage students to engage with a range of extension activities as they use technology to recompose what they are learning about the topic through their reading and discussions about the images.

Reading digital texts and images requires much more than just reacting to what is visible. Through careful and deliberate selection of digital texts followed by scaffolded questioning about the digital images they encounter, your students will enjoy exploring new topics while also learning how to apply a range of digital literacy practices.

Vicky Zygouris-Coe is a professor in reading education at the University of Central Florida, College of Community Innovation and Education.

This article is part of a series from the International Literacy Association Technology in Literacy Education Special Interest Group (TILE-SIG).

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