Flickr Visual Rhetoric Assignment by Eileen McGinnis

Flickr Logo: with blue and pink letters

Image Credit: topgold 

For a handout, download the PDF document outlining this assignment.


At the start of the semester, my students in “The Rhetoric of Science Writing” read an excerpt from Pale Blue Dot, Carl Sagan’s prose meditation on a grainy image of Earth taken from the Voyager One mission. Without the accompanying text, the photograph is pretty unimpressive. However, after reading Sagan’s words, it would be difficult for readers to question the value of that image, since at stake is nothing less than our definition of what it means to be a human occupant of Earth, an argument for our responsibilities toward each other and toward the planet.

For their final short assignment, students themselves try on the role of “science writer”: they are asked to find a scientific image, contemporary or historical, and write a brief (500-600 word) argument that attempts to persuade a non-scientific audience of their image’s value. Their goal is to convince readers that their chosen image warrants a closer look and to leave them with a more informed appreciation of its contents.

Rather than submitting the assignment and accompanying image to the instructor, they will post both the image and text to the photo-sharing site Flickr. Using Flickr to collect students’ work will then enable them to present and discuss their images on the following class day. In addition, the relative “publicness” of this assignment will hopefully foster a sense of community and shared purpose (students can use content-specific tags to make their visual arguments more easily searchable by a broader audience).

Of course, this exercise doesn’t necessarily have to come attached to formal assessment. 

The broader idea here is to use Flickr to create a class “image gallery,” which will facilitate discussion about both individual images and trends across a group of images. Flickr would also work for a more informal homework assignment or even an in-class activity on visual rhetoric, in which students retrieve and analyze visual artifacts for class discussion. 

Pedagogical Goals:

  • To practice considering audience, establishing ethos, and finding voice.
  • To appreciate the ways in which visual and textual information can combine to create a powerful argument.


Rather than walking through the details of my particular assignment, I’ll provide a couple of logistical tips that are more broadly applicable to using Flickr in class:

  1. On the day before the assignment is due, one would likely spend a class period on visual rhetorical analysis. So, using Flickr to post one’s own images for that class discussion might help to model how Flickr can be used in a rhetoric classroom. It would also make sense to leave time for students to set up Flickr accounts on the class computers.
  2. Make sure that students “tag” photos with the unique number for the course, so that you can easily search for the images later. You might also link your course site to the unique-number search results on Flickr, so that there is a record of the group project.
  3. Note that Flickr allows students to annotate photos directly, which might be helpful for students’ presentations of their images.


The “Groups” feature on Flickr might offer another way to organize your students’ posts versus having them tag the photos. If you were concerned about access, it would also allow you to control who gets to view the images and/or comment on them. 


Thanks to John Jones for helping me figure out the logistics.

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