Visual Networks – Learning and photosharing by Guy Merchant (DIY Media, Chap. 4, 2009) is a comprehensive introduction to photosharing as a social network, and in particular, the photosharing service flickr. Merchant introduces us to the idea of flickr as a “folksonomy…a body of knowledge can be built democratically through participant-users without recourse to the traditional authority of a discipline, a body of experts, or an established tradition of practice.”
Merchant also makes clear that photosharing as a social network is open to all, and that each can participate only as much as they feel comfortable sharing their images with others. The person sharing doesn’t need to be a professional photographer, or even a serious photographer. Many people on flickr just share photos of events and/or activities that are important to them. But the social network aspect of flickr allows the users to see and explore other people’s photos, possibly introducing them to new ideas, innovative techniques, or interesting topics. And another important aspect of the photosharing network is that other people can view and comment on the photos posted by participants. This back and forth sharing helps create new friends and strengthen old bonds, or as he says in the text, “Over time you can build up quite a complex web of interactions through photosharing.”
The author also has a great deal of information about how to sign-up for flickr, how to upload photos, how to tag photos, the importance of tagging photos, and a variety of other useful information for a new user. But perhaps most useful is his discussion about the educational and learning aspects of photosharing. I particularly liked the perspective he shared about how research is showing that learning can some times be much more effective when there is a visual component, or as he shares, “the inter-relationship between the verbal and the visual helps to create new meanings (Duncum, 2004)”.
Merchant focuses on 5 areas of learning that are pertinent to flickr and photosharing through social networks.
- Learning through seeing – Through the use of social tagging of photos, the person doing the tagging is participating in, “attentive noticing”. Their understanding of the world around them is greatly enhanced by the labeling of the parts.
- Learning through reflection – Thoughtful reflection of photos can often lead to a better understanding of topics related to the photos. Having students spend time reflecting on the photos will increase the diversity of their thoughts and actions related to learning.
- Learning about image – Students learn the importance of the different components of the images, including things like lighting, structure, focus, and other components. By learning to appreciate these components, they become more educated consumers of photos.
- Learning about multimodality – Photos rarely stand on their own in social networks. They are often accompanied by text, or music, or video, or a variety of other modes. The student learns to work in this multimodal environment.
- Learning about Web 2.0 – Flickr is an excellent example of a Web 2.0 application, and by using flickr, students would learn more about Web 2.0.
As an introduction to the value of social networking, flickr’s place in this environment, and its value in education, this chapter is a valuable resource that can be used as an introductory text or as detailed information for the experienced educator.