Questions prompted by the Image Conference 2014

Conference booty

Conference booty

I’ve just got back from a great weekend in Cordoba visiting friends and attending the Image Conference. This event, organised this year by IH Cordoba, comprised a full day of talks – 8 in total, including the opening and closing plenaries – interspersed with coffee breaks and a delicious lunch. There was a great range of talks to choose from, dealing with different aspects of images in ELT.  I decided to up my conference game by making more comprehensive notes on what I heard, along with any questions I had.  Below is a summary, not of what each speaker said, but of the main thoughts and questions that occurred to me with regards to using images in ELT, along with answers that were presented by speakers – as I understood it.  Any opinions expressed are my own; discussion welcomed!
 How can images aid language learning? (Or, what have images got to do with me?)

For me, as a first-time attendee of the Image Conference, this was the most important question. Pictures and films are fun to look at, watch and create, but how do they help us achieve our aims?

  • Images (both still and moving) can be used to perform a variety of roles in the classroom. Ceri Jones had us make up our own list during her talk Into, Through and Beyond; mine included the following:
    • stimulate interest
    • activate schemata
    • provoke a response
    • provide context
    • provide a comfort blanket
    • provide opportunities for personalising, comparing, describing, empathising (encompassing intercultural competence, as Carmen Herrero focused on in her session), and critical thinking.
  • Images facilitate deeper learning, according to Paul Dummett: images are memorable and tell stories, stories demand emotional engagement, emotional engagement is the key to deeper leaning.

Developing narrative intelligence aids language learning in a whole host of ways, including integrating what is new with what is already known and exercising the brain’s ability to focus on the big picture and detail at the same time (Does that have anything to do with interactive processing? Is that even an actual thing? It brings to mind my favourite non-fiction book, The Master And His Emissary: I think it’s time to read it again. If you’re at all interested in the brain, or philosophy or literature or history or Western civilisation, you should read this book!), and again, understanding different perspectives. Paul pointed out that the image may be in the mind – for example, when reading or listening.

Apparently, it’s not just learners who benefit  from developing their narrative intelligence: according to a study by Reza Pishghadam, “narrative intelligence plays a significant role in EFL teachers’ effectiveness”.

  • The brain creates images to make sense of the world, Daniel Barber told us in his engaging talk, which was given with imaginary slides instead of a powerpoint, thereby proving his point. We even say “I see” to show we understand.

On being heckled after mentioning “visual learners” (rightfully so, in my opinion), Daniel pointed out that we are all visual learners – aural activities like listening to stories, cause us to ‘see’ what we hear in our mind’s eye, and kinaesthetic activities such as guessing the letter your partner traces on your back are accomplished by picturing the shape of the letter. Yet more reason to forget all about learning styles forever (Cambridge DELTA examiners?).

Daniel makes no claim to being a neuroscientist, (and neither do I), but the point is – if we can learn new language better by conjuring images in our minds and connecting them to new words or phrases, we should all be taking advantage of it.  Here’s a question, then: Is there more learning potential in using images created by the brain than photos or film? Do we know this about the brain yet? I wonder if there’s a danger in relying too much on the passive watching/presenting of images.

What is visual literacy and why do we need to promote it?

I’ll admit I’m still unsure what visual literacy is – is it making films or being able to critique them? The latter seems to me to be a skill akin to literary criticism, if not the same.  We don’t generally teach literary criticism as part of General English courses; should we start?

Making a film is a great project, providing you and your students have the time, space and technology to do it.  How is film-making different from any another project where students collaborate to create something?  In his session, Jamie Keddie answered this question by showing us three short videos made by a group of young people: each clip was progressively more complex than the previous one, showing that their narrative intelligence developed each time. Added to that, if students are making something their peers and teacher will see, it motivates them to do their best.


If you can answer any of my questions, please do! I’d be delighted. Thank you to everyone who was involved in organising the event and all the speakers – it was inspiring and thought-provoking, and I hope I have the opportunity to attend again.



  1. Hi Emma,
    I really enjoyed the conference too – good to meet you. I love that question you ask: Is there more learning potential in using images created by the brain than photos or film?
    My experience creating my own flashcards to learn Greek, including funny pictures that help memorise difficult words, suggest to me that we should be wary of online flashcard apps that provide anodyne images of things for each lexical item, and make our own instead. The creation of image is part of the memorable learning moment. This post by Philip Kerr is a brilliant summary of the cognitive demands for effective learning:
    He doesn’t mention images specifically, but I think that we could include image generation under the technique he calls ‘elaboration’.

    Thanks for mentioning me in your excellent blog!

    1. Thanks, Daniel! I will definitely check out Philip’s post.

  2. Reblogged this on STUDY CENTRE IH and commented:
    Si queréis saber un poco más sobre The Image Conferance os recomiendo que leáis este artículo que Emma Gore-LLoyd ha publicado en su blog

  3. Hi Emma

    I was intrigued by your reference to Jamie’s talk. Did he really say that the students’ narrative intelligence developed each time they made a short video clip? I’m aware that ‘narrative intelligence’ is a current buzz word, but it’s not unproblematic. Rather like ‘interpersonal intelligence’ or ’emotional intelligence’, there’s a problem defining it … and, therefore, an even greater problem in measuring it. The claim that a learner’s narrative intelligence (whatever that might be) can develop over the production of three short videos seems (1) highly improbable, and (2) almost certainly unsupported by any evidence. The increasing complexity of the videos is not evidence of anything at all, apart from the fact that the videos were increasingly complex.

    You ask what is ‘visual literacy’ and why do we need to promote it? I’m afraid I can’t answer your questions, but the second question obviously can’t be answered before the first. I think that there may be some similarities between ‘visual literacy’ and ‘narrative intelligence’ (besides the fact that they’re both buzzwords!). There’s an article by Maria Avgerinou and John Ericson in the British Journal of Educational Technology (28 / 4, 1997, pp. 280 – 291) called ‘A Review of the Concept of Visual Literacy’. They have this to say in their abstract: “Many people from very diverse disciplines have attempted to define the concept of Visual Literacy (VL), but with little general consensus so far. This is probably due to the fact that those representing the different disciplines and paradigms are each wanting to interpret Visual Literacy in a way that reflects and flatters their contribution or way of thinking. As a consequence, a theoretical concept with seemingly little practical value has been created, but cannot be used productively until an agreed definition is established. It is self evident that if a concept does not have a broadly accepted definition, if the theory behind it is confusing, and if its viability on practical terms is a matter of continuing controversy, then the only reasonable way to cope with it is to abandon it.”

    Best wishes

    1. Hello Philip, and thanks for taking the time to comment!

      No, Jamie didn’t use that term. I heard it in Paul Dummet’s talk and applied it what I understood as a related idea in Jamie’s. I may have misinterpreted what Jamie said or misunderstood narrative intelligence, however! I think Jamie’s point was that the stories were more skilfully told each time, and I would interpret this to be the case in any medium – you practise something, you get better at it.

      I didn’t realise narrative intelligence was a current buzzword – I hadn’t heard it before Saturday. I even felt a bit silly for not knowing it, but now I see it required further investigation!

      Thanks for that quote – I’m glad it’s not just me that isn’t sure what it’s about!

  4. […] with my post on the Image Conference in Cordoba a year ago, I don’t intend to relate the content of someone else’s talk in this post but […]

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