Students’ classwork is becoming increasingly digital. Whether creating a slideshow, blog post, presentation, or document, images are always needed. Teachers also regularly need images for class blog posts, assignments, presentations, course work etc.
This guide walks you through the process of easily and ethically finding quality images for classroom use.
You will also find a comparison table and two free printables for your classroom.
Where do students and teachers find images?
Do they create their own images?
The downsides are:
- They might need an image of something they can’t photograph or create
- The image creation process can be time consuming and take away from the actual point of the assignment
- Some online tools are 13+
Do they purchase images?
I think we all know the answer here is no. Many businesses purchase stock photography but this is something very few schools would have a budget for.
Do they use Google Images?
From my experience, many students learn how to search and download Google Images early in their schooling. They might pick up this skill themselves or learn it from friends, teachers or parents. Unfortunately, this is also often the default option teachers fall back on.
While this is a quick way to find the image you desire, it’s generally not a good option to rely on Google Images.
Although you can do an advanced search to find Creative Commons images, most images in your standard Google search are protected by copyright.
Even if you cite the source of the image, you are not allowed to reuse copyright images. This is called copyright infringement ; it is illegal and unethical.
Do they use Creative Commons Images?
5+ years ago I was teaching my student bloggers (aged 7-10) how to source and attribute Creative Commons images for their blog posts and online work. I created a handout to guide students through this process.
This was a worthwhile task, yet it required a certain investment in time to develop the students’ understandings.
There are a number of Creative Commons licenses to understand, not to mention the concepts of locating, saving and attributing images. Again, going through this process repeatedly can take away from the actual learning intentions for your lesson.
Most students and teachers regularly need images to enhance their digital work. I believe a clear and simple workflow is required for this process.
The skill of legally and efficiently obtaining images is something students need to be fluent at, otherwise, time and focus can be taken away from learning goals.
If students or teachers see the process as too arduous, they often default back to using a Google image. Not a good idea.
A Solution: Copyright Free Images
Fortunately, over the past few years, there seems to be a rise in the availability of free images that are licensed under public domain or Creative Commons Zero (CC0).
Public domain works can be used freely for any purpose. Their licenses have expired, or they are released with no restriction on their usage.
CC0 is a Creative Commons license that allows copyright owners to release their works with no usage restrictions.
There are now many sites to find CC0 and/or public domain images. Some of these sites can be very useful in the classroom, however, they’re not all created equal.
Some free image sites:
- Require sign up
- Are difficult to search
- Have confusing advertising for paid images
- Require image attribution
- Have age restrictions (most are 13+ or 18+)
All these obstacles can lead back to an ineffective workflow and present obstacles to digital fluency.
Five Useful Options
I have curated
five six useful sites where students and/or educators can search for free images to use without restriction.
Scroll down to see a table that compares the features of all
five six resources.
This is a hugely popular website and you will know why when you check it out. It has a large range of amazing quality images, regularly donated by photographers worldwide.
Images can be used freely for any purpose without permission or attribution.
The user experience is excellent. The Unsplash website is easy to search and browse. There don’t appear to be advertisements.
There is the option of signing up to join the Unsplash community where you can organise image collections and even submit photos yourself. However, you don’t have to register to download photos.
Users are required to be 13 +.
This is another excellent site. It is similar to Unsplash in that:
- High quality images are donated by photographers
- Sign up is optional
- Images can be used freely without attribution
- It’s easy to search and navigate
Unlike Unsplash, Pixabay also includes free videos, illustrations and vector graphics. Another benefit is the availability of a free app.
Users are required to be 13+ and users under 18 need parent/guardian permission. While this certainly restricts student use, Pixabay could still be useful for educators.
An minor interruption to the workflow is that a captcha image needs to be typed in before downloading, unless you’re a registered user.
When you’re on the download page some suggested similar images show up from paid sites. Students would need to be made aware of this so they understand they are not free photos (this could actually be a worthwhile teaching point: how distinguish between free resources and paid advertisements).
Pixabay does have a SafeSearch option which would certainly be a good option if used properly.
Another handy new feature is the addition of an Office plug-in to grab images for Word and PowerPoint without leaving your document.
Images on Pexels are either sourced from other photo sharing websites, or uploaded by users.
Photos can be used freely without attribution. Additionally, there is a free video page, and an app.
This site also has the option to sign up but it’s not a requirement.
Like Pixabay, there is some suggested content from paid stock photo sites.
This service is for users aged 13+.
Update: As of March 2018 Photos For Class has changed. The results include filtered options from Pixabay which makes the search results a lot more plentiful.
The other advantage of Photos For Class is the images are apparently filtered and age-appropriate.
Unlike the three above options, the images require attribution, however, this information is automatically included when you download an image. The attribution appears as a caption below the image. See the example below – the attribution information does appear blurry in a smaller sized image.
Another handy feature of Photos for Class is that you can embed a search bar on your class website like the one below.
Clip art and vectors can be useful for students’ creations. Rather than just an attractive image, their work might require a map, sign, icon or flag etc.
Openclipart provides hundreds of thousands of images that can be used freely without attribution.
I couldn’t find information about age restrictions on the site, but an email confirmed that this site can be used by students under 13 (it doesn’t seem to be totally filtered so I’d recommend supervision).
While openclipart doesn’t present the most modern interface, it’s easy enough to search for images. There is advertising for paid services on this site which would need to be pointed out to students.
Another advantage is a tool where students can edit clipart. They might enjoy playing around with this feature as you don’t need to be signed in to use it.
Images can be downloaded, or you can use the HTML code to embed the clipart like I’ve done here.
I have created the following table to easily compare the five tools mentioned so you can decide what best meets your needs and your students’ needs.
Update February 2018: I added Pics4Learning to this chart. I didn’t add it originally because I found the images a little restrictive and amateurish, however, some teachers have mentioned they find it useful. It’s probably an easy option if you teach students under 13.
Also note that Pics4Learning actually contains “copyright-friendly” images meaning the creator maintains the rights to the image but allows teachers and students to use them.
There are a number of issues that can be discussed in the classroom around the topic of Creative Commons and free images.
- Should photographers and artists give away their work for free? Why are artists and musicians more likely to be asked to give away work for free than professionals in other industries?
- What is the benefit for photographers and artists submitting their work to sites like Unsplash and Pixabay?
- Who is hurt by copyright infringement?
- Some sites have the option to either donate to the artist financially through PayPal or Bitcoin, or publicise their work through voluntarily giving credit or sharing to social media. It could be interesting to gauge students’ thoughts on this.
To encourage further discussion on attribution and Creative Commons, check out this post and video by Linda Yollis and her third grade students. You might like to try the experiment they conducted yourself.
All of the sites I have reviewed, apart from Photos for Class, (and recently added Pics4Learning) are not designed for children. Not surprisingly, some inappropriate content can be found on these sites when you search for it (especially Pixabay and Pexels, it seems, although Pixabay does have a SafeSearch option).
While I don’t think this is a reason to ban these sites for older students, it’s certainly something to be aware of. Using these resources would just provide another avenue for discussing appropriate online behaviours in an authentic way.
For easy reference, I have created two printables for your classroom. Print them off as handouts, embed them on your blog or display them as posters. Feel free to share these with colleagues too.
1. Task Card for Students Under 13
Remember, younger students could try Pics4Learning too but it’s not the most comprehensive site.
2. Poster for Older Students and Teachers
This document references the five sites that are useful for 13+ students (remembering Pixabay requires permission for users aged 13-18).
To gain a comprehensive understanding of all things Creative Commons and copyright, check out this post by Sue Waters and Ronnie Burt.
It’s important to note that I still think it’s a worthwhile skill to teach students about the full range of Creative Commons licenses and attribution, however, sometimes a shortcut is needed to improve workflows. Public Domain/ CC0 images are a better shortcut than using a copyright image.
How do you help your students find images for their work?
Do you know of any other useful websites?
Please leave a comment and share any tips!
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