Visual Framing

As part of their strategies to create assessments that would require students to use higher-order thinking to evaluate visuals at varying levels of sophistication, educators can use the four-tiered model of visual framing developed by Rodriguez and Dimitrova (2011)
Briefly, framing strategies are like schemata of interpretation, or "frames" that people use to make sense of the information around them. Visual frames are the schema that people use to make sense of of images. These frames can be "audience frames" or "external frames." Audience frames refer to the strategies which viewers bring to the table based on their exposure to images and their experiences. External frames refer to those that are created by the organizers or presenters of images. An example of external framing would be juxtaposing or labeling images in particular ways to influence their meaning.

Rodriguez and Dimitrova propose a four-tiered model for analyzing visual frames, which can be adapted to assessments:

1) Visuals as denotative systems:

“This first level of framing relies heavily on what Messaris and Abraham (2003) call the analogic and indexical attributes of images” (Rodriguez and Dimitrova, 2011, p. 53).
This level would require asking the student what is being represented.
For example, the educator might use a visual to elicit from students the name of an animal being represented, the number of objects being depicted; the season of the year the image represents, and so on. Completing such assessment items would correspond to some of Bloom's lower-order thinking skills (LOTS) such as remembering and understanding.

2) Visuals as stylistic-semiotic systems:

This level can be used to ask questions about social relationships or context in images using “the stylistic conventions and technical transformations involved in representation” (Rodriguez and Dimitrova, 2011, p. 54). This level asks how particular styles and techniques convey meaning.
For instance, students might be asked what emotion bold typeface conveys (e.g. a sense of urgency or excitement), or how a sepia tone in a photograph can be interpreted as a nostalgic image from the past.
In this tier of visual framing, the Bloom's skills evoked to complete the assessment item could include LOTS such as remembering, understanding, and applying. However, educators could also frame questions so that higher-order thinking skills (HOTS) like analyzing and evaluating are used.

3) Visuals as connotative systems:

In this tier, "Persons and objects shown in the visual not only denote a particular individual, thing, or place, but also the ideas or concepts attached to them” (Rodriguez & Dimitrova, 2011, p. 56)
In assessments that operate on this level, a student might be asked to produce a concept such as "democracy" based on a depiction of voters lined up at the ballot box, or to recognize the Fleur-de-lis as the symbol of French royalty and describe its political uses. All the LOTS and any of the HOTS (analyzing, evaluating, creating) can be used when assessment items take advantage of this third level of framing.

4) Visuals as ideological representations:

On the tier of ideological representation, the symbols and stylistic features of an image are drawn together into “a coherent interpretation which provides the ‘why’ behind the representations being analyzed” (p. 57)
For example, educators can design assessment items that elicit the full range of Bloom's higher-order thinking skills (HOTS) to analyze, evaluate, and create in a project-style assessment that uses a Web medium like Wikispaces, video, performance, or even a research paper or powerpoint. For example, middle-school, high-school, or post-secondary history students can be shown a primary source such as a film clip produced during World War II but purveyed in the present day via a video upload to YouTube. They can be asked to analyze its message, stereotypes, symbolism, and historical context. They then can also be prompted to evaluate its metadata by observing who has uploaded it – their affiliation, , statements or commentary on the video, the context of the other videos they have posted, etc. Students then sharpen their critical thinking by bringing their knowledge and the evidence of the video to bear on discerning whether the clip has been altered in any way by its modern video reproducers via the addition of sound tracks and voiceovers, introductions, or editing, digital enhancements, etc. Students can analyze the implications of such interventions (or lack of them), repost, remix, or mash up the videos (e.g., to a class-created website) and create commentary of their own, in text or visual form.

Works Cited

Ackerman, A., Pitman, E., Pushkal, A. & Wendt, M. (2012) Using visuals to deepen learning in assessments. IVLA Selected Readings. International Visual Literacy Association.

Rodriguez, L., & Dimitrova, D. V. (2011). The levels of visual framing. Journal of Visual Literacy, 30(1), 48-65.