Visual Pedagogies Project

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Each year UWE Bristol funds Pedagogic Projects across the University on a variety of themes. In this blog, John Bird and Dave Green discuss their 2020 project on Visual Pedagogies.

Cartoon of an eye

Re-enchant your teaching by using visual materials – photos, film, YouTube, Instagram – in teaching and in assessment…………….make your own visual materials……use found materials……help students to develop their own visual materials

Dave Green and I had been interested in the use of visuals – still and moving images – in teaching and learning for several years before we did the APD project on visual assessment.  We had tried using visuals in a number of sociology and criminology modules, starting with the teaching and moving on to visual assessment. The students seemed to like using the use of visuals and, when we moved on to assessment, were keen to use visuals in traditional assessments – images in essays, for example – but also in some more radical forms of assessment – mindmaps, photo essays. This led to a Faculty of Health & Applied Sciences-funded project on the use of visuals in teaching and learning which culminated in a university-wide Pedagogic Project on visual assessment. This project included a university-wide questionnaire looking at the uses of visual pedagogies; student focus groups across a range of programmes; and a small number of interviews with staff covering undergraduate and postgraduate provision.

Why visuals?  It is increasingly, for students, a visual world and a world in which the majority have  ways of engaging with visual materials and producing their own materials.  We found that students have the basics of what might be called visual literacy which just needs refining.

The use of visuals?  A large proportion of staff use visuals – photos, videos, you tube and so on – in teaching and learning.  Of that proportion, most use visuals to make their teaching resources more engaging; in a sense, the visuals are not integrated and are just forms of illustration.  A smaller proportion integrate the visual and the textual and, in some cases, the visuals become more important than the text; visuals stand on their own as a resource.  The majority of staff do not use visuals in assessment so that even where visuals are fully integrated into teaching and learning, they don’t form a component of assessment regimes. There a philosophical point to this – can we move beyond a point where the visuals we use require a textual explanation! To quote the jazz pianist and composer Thelonius Monk, “writing about music is like dancing about architecture”. In this visual age – that which Otto Neurath termed “The Era of the Eye” – the visual stands on its own and is not reducible to text. The effects of visual pedagogy?  Student focus groups emphasised the positive effects of visual pedagogy on their attendance and engagement and some staff said these pedagogies enhance performance;  students found visual assessment enjoyable and creative; the technologies students use allowing them to become prosumers, that is, producers  and consumers of visual materials which gives them the potential to be co-creators of curricula.

The range of opportunities for visual pedagogy – some things you could try:

  • PowerPoints
  • Pecha Kucha presentations
  • Photos as part of an assessment (what do these photos tell us about ‘X’)
  • Students taking photos to illustrate a topic/theme           
  • Infographics
  • Videoscribe lectures
  • Podcasts          
  • Box of Broadcasts
  • Instagram storyboard/comic strip/graphic novella
  • Selfie – get students to discuss self identity/self concept
  • Street photography project
  • Vlogging/video/photo diary             
  • Visual ethnography of a group
  • Pinterest page or wiki/wordpress                            
  • Cartoons, posters
  • Drama (e.g., group work writing and acting out a case study – social realism)
  • Image analysis: use a methodology, e.g., semiotics/discourse/content analysis to interrogate an image or series of images

Many of these – and there is a lot more things you could try – can be used as basis for teaching/learning and assessment.

It is difficult to sum up what we think we have achieved. What is clear is that a lot of people in UWE are using visual pedagogies – many more than we thought; that students see the visual as an essential element in their learning; that they take very quickly to visual forms of assessment. There are problems: access to technologies; making sure that visual pedagogies are appropriate for a world where there are neuro-diverse students; ethical issues in the making and using of visual images; for staff the time it takes to turn a non-visual form of delivery to one which uses the visual.


These links include a long film we used as a background during open days; some students’ views on visual pedagogy and some examples of visual work we do in sociology.

You can access our Twitter using #social_visual
Engagement with the Twitter account and the variety of Facebook posts, indicates an international interest in visual pedagogies; in addition, we have begun to use visual pedagogies in research, both in the carrying out of research and in its dissemination.  Our hope is that this will widen the public interest in and engagement with research

Contact us:
John Bird ( and Dave Green (

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