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A Simple Starting Point for Visual Assignments

posted: 11.17.09 by Traci Gardner

It’s easy to give students assignments that ask them to create posters, magazine covers, and billboards. It’s somewhat harder to make sure they have the technology support that they need to complete the project. If you’re looking for a very simple starting point for this kind of visual assignments, BigHugeLabs’ toys and utilities is a good option.

On the BigHugeLabs site, you’ll find templates that make very basic images that you can save as JPG images. Some of the utilities offer printing services, but you do not need to purchase anything to save the images. Once saved, they can be added to word processing documents, slide show presentations, or Web pages.

Any of the following tools could be useful in the writing classroom:

In addition, the site has a number of handy utilities if you’re using Flickr extensively in the classroom, such as Flickr DNA and Mosaic Maker. If students are designing a slide show or Web page around a particular photo, the Color Palette Generator can “Automagically create a color palette” for them, based on that image. If you’re up for some fun and mischief, there’s even a Lolcat Generator.

For lots of classrooms, these basic tools are all you need to get students going on a visual assignment. Others, however, will dismiss these utilities as unsophisticated. It’s true that they give students a limited range of options. That limitation can be an actual benefit, however:

  • Use the tools to create “rough drafts” before moving to more sophisticated programs like PhotoShop or Aviary. They allow students to sketch out their ideas and get a mock-up without getting bogged down with the many possibilities of a blank document in more sophisticated tools.
  • Compare and choose the best text or image for a project. Students can quickly mockup multiple versions of their project with different headlines and ask peers which version best catches their attention. Or try the reverse and have students swap in different background images with the same text. This strategy also works if you want to discuss different students’ work.
  • Talk about the limitations and their effect on the rhetorical strategies students can choose. Ask students to think about which limitations would stand regardless of the graphical tool. For instance, the width of a billboard and the size of a magazine cover are fairly standard. You won’t get more space by switching to another program, but you can get more sophisticated layout options, for example. Use the limitations to teach students the value of choosing the tools you use wisely.

Regardless of how you decide to use the tools on the BigHugeLabs site, they’re a nice option for visual rhetoric activities—both when students create texts and when they are exploring the strategies behind how visual texts are made.

Categories: Assignment Idea, Document Design, Visual Argument, Visual Rhetoric
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