Visual media

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Visual media can be used in different ways: to provide alternatives to traditional written assessment or to enhance and extend existing written assessments. Both of these allow students to demonstrate higher-order learning and metacognition in novel, authentic and uniquely challenging contexts. With the near-ubiquity of internet-connected mobile devices, most students will have access to phones, tablets or laptops that are able to capture, edit and publish to the web a variety of different video and photographic media. Additionally, there are dedicated photo and filmmaking kits available to borrow from the Eden Digital team, to support use of visual media for assessment. Through use of visual media for assessment, students engage with the challenges of presenting academic work for different audiences and explore opportunities of visual communications.  

Advantages of visual media for assessment

  • Can function as a standalone assessment: photo-essays, photo montage, documentary shorts, filmed interviews, ethnographic observational video, digital storytelling, illustration and visualisation.

  • Can be integrated alongside other assessment approaches, such as reflective written work, production diaries, reports or essays.

  • Can produce reusable assets that have a value beyond the requirements of assessment, and which can enrich course materials for future student cohorts.

  • Saves valuable class time by having students self-record what would otherwise have been a traditional in-class assessed presentation. Mark it in your own time, or even make it available online to other students for peer assessment and critique.

  • Students can develop broader communication skills, and consider how to tailor an academic argument to different media and audiences.

  • Visual media assessments can be easily shared publicly via online platforms and made available to prospective employers, to demonstrate a diversity of academic and academic-related skills.

  • Visual media can be an ideal partner to group assessment. With careful scaffolding, students can experience a variety of roles related to the conception, research, planning, production and critique of types of visual media, accessing different critical perspectives and developing further skills in the process.

  • Regardless of vocation, visual media are pervasive across corporate environments and are commissioned and deployed to support activities as diverse as training and development to corporate social responsibility. Experience of engaging with, producing and critiquing visual media provides students with a highly transferrable set of skills and experience. 

Challenges of visual media for assessment

Challenge #01 – Any use of visual media for assessment must properly prepare students by providing a basic introduction to fundamentals of aesthetic and visual culture theory. This is to ensure that student engagement is theoretically grounded and that the outputs of assessment are at an appropriate academic level.

Mitigation #01 – Many classic texts of aesthetic and visual culture theory are available within LSE Library and there are a large number of existing resources from around the School to draw upon. Add a selection of texts to your reading list or direct students to one of the many relevant resources available via the BoxOfBroadcasts service, such as John Berger’s influential classic “Ways of Seeing” (BBC, 1972), available to watch in full.

Challenge #02 – Developing a visual fluency and vocabulary is challenging and students may find it difficult at first to engage with this aspect of visual assessment.

Mitigation #02 – Setting a simple formative assignment that focuses students on visual practice can be hugely helpful here.

Challenge #03 – Students may not have prior experience of creating visual media.

Mitigation #03 – The Eden Digital team have resources and guides to help students quickly get to grips with various aspects of creating photo and video for academic purposes.

Challenge #04 – Can academics who are not photographers/filmmakers/illustrators support their students?

Mitigation #04The Eden Digital team work with academic colleagues across the School who are active in using visual methods for research purposes and have jointly delivered training for PhD students, GTAs and academic teaching colleagues. Contact them via if you have a training requirement.  

How students might experience visual media for assessment

The Eden Digital team have supported numerous projects across the School using visual media for assessment, as part of the wider Students as Producers initiative (examples below). Every pilot pursued so far has progressed to long-term sustainable practice and has been positively received by students. While the prospect of developing entirely new skills in the context of a summative assessment is initially daunting for some, students have been observed to very quickly progress to positive and productive engagement with assignment tasks, and explore how to express ideas and arguments through visual means. Students appreciate the opportunity to apply their academic skills in a different way. 

The reliability, validity, fairness and inclusivity of visual media for assessment

Careful alignment of assessment objectives with overall course learning objectives is always advisable. Assessment rubrics are a useful way of providing clarity for students as to how a piece of work is to be marked and how you will award marks and with what weighting (technical, creative, substantive, collaborative). It may also be useful to provide students with an outline framework for how to approach and present the assessed work and/or you may also consider sharing an exemplar. 

How to maintain and ensure rigour when using visual media for assessment

Visual media for assessment can be used as a standalone assessment but, if you are concerned as to how to ensure academic rigor when first introducing visual media as a new form of assessment in your course, then you might consider planning a written assessment that includes a visual component. This might take the form of a piece of reflective writing or you may ask students to produce a diary of how they researched, planned and produced a piece of video work.  

How to limit possible misconduct in visual media for assessment

Here, the inherent nature of visual media themselves provides some insurance against plagiarism. Images and video files have embedded metadata including time, date, location, capture device, author and copyright information which can be queried, if you suspect that students are submitting work they have not produced themselves. By limiting student use of archival images or footage, or by insisting that what they submit is entirely self-produced, you can reduce the risk of students’ overreliance on the work of others, of improperly citing or referencing, and of plagiarism.

LSE examples

Further information

Education Literature

Allain, R. The Best Way to Test Students? Make Them Explain It On Video. WIRED. 2017 Available at:

Gold, Anne U., David J. Oonk, Lesley Smith, Maxwell T. Boykoff, Beth Osnes, and Susan B. Sullivan. "Lens on Climate Change: Making Climate Meaningful Through Student-Produced Videos." Journal of Geography 114.6 (2015): 1-12. Web.

Kearney, Matthew. "A Learning Design for Student‐generated Digital Storytelling." Learning, Media and Technology 36.2 (2011): 169-88. Web.

Schmoelz, Alexander. "Enabling Co-creativity through Digital Storytelling in Education." Thinking Skills and Creativity 28 (2018): 1-13.

Schultz, Patrick L, and Andrew S Quinn. "Lights, Camera, Action! Learning About Management With Student-Produced Video Assignments." Journal of Management Education 38.2 (2014): 234-58. Web.

Sheafer, Vicki. "Using Digital Storytelling to Teach Psychology: A Preliminary Investigation." Psychology Learning & Teaching 16, no. 1 (2017): 133-43.

Xiang, Catherine Hua and Moon, Darren, “Current Affairs in Mandarin: A Student-Led TV Talk Show at LSE”, in Cases on Audio-visual Media in Language Education. IGI Global, 2017.

Visual Methods for Social Science Research

Banks, Marcus. Visual Methods in Social Research. London: SAGE, 2001.

Pauwels, L. Reframing Visual Social Science: Towards a More Visual Sociology and Anthropology. 2015.

Rose, Gillian. Visual Methodologies: An Introduction to Researching with Visual Materials. Fourth ed. 2016.

Image and Visual Culture Theory

Azoulay, Ariella. "Getting Rid of the Distinction between the Aesthetic and the Political." Theory, Culture & Society 27, no. 7-8 (2010): 239-62.

Barthes,R., Rhetoric of the Image, in Evans, J. & Hall, Stuart, 1999. Visual culture: the reader,

Benjamin, W. Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction, in Evans, J. & Hall, Stuart, 1999. Visual culture: the reader

Berger, J. & British Broadcasting Corporation, Ways of seeing : based on the BBC television series with John S Berger, London: British Broadcasting Corporation and Penguin Books. 1972

Bruzzi, S. New documentary : a critical introduction, London: Routledge 2000

Minh-Ha, Trinh T. Documentary Is/Not a Name, in Stallabrass, J. (Ed.), Documents of Contemporary Art: Documentary, Whitechapel 1990

Mirzoeff, N. How to See the World. Pelican. 2015

Mitchell, W. J.T. "Showing Seeing: A Critique of Visual Culture." Journal of Visual Culture 1.2 (2002): 165-81. Web.

Plantinga, C. What a Documentary Is, After All. Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism, 63(2), pp.105–117 (2005)

Rancière, Jacques. The Politics of Aesthetics: The Distribution of the Sensible. Pbk. ed. London; New York: Continuum, 2006.

Sontag, Susan. On Photography. London: Penguin, 1979.


DS106: The Digital Storytelling Course, University of Mary Washington. Available at: [Accessed 22 Feb. 2019] 

Digital Capability Activity Cards, JISC 2018. Available at [Accessed 22 Feb. 2019].

IR318 Student Films on Vimeo. Available at            

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