Category Archives for Educational Technology

Image-based Assessments with Image Annotation Tools

In some fields, it has been very important and very common to assess students by having them mark up an image. Think of anatomy, geography, art history, and maybe even engineering, nursing, and more.

A great post by at the University of Chicago gives a rich example:

"... in a class addressing early modern Italian art, an instructor could ask students to individually or collaboratively annotate an image of Duccio’s Maestà in order to analyze different historical, political, and theological themes represented in the painting. The instructor could create an assignment asking students to isolate specific elements of the painting, using annotation methods, in order to identify main themes to explore further through individual projects or in-class discussion, strengthening the relationship between the assignment and the course. It might be a useful exercise to create a working list of objects, ideas, or concepts identified through the image annotation assignment that students can build on during the course. In a course that examines multiple images, instructors could return to that set of student-produced themes to see how they are represented in other images representing the Madonna. By drawing connections between concepts and images, instructors can begin to introduce students to skills like visual literacy, which is important for interpreting, understanding, and making meaning from images."

Image annotation has been done for more than a half-century, since it became practical to photocopy images. The typical way to do this was to copy the image onto a paper exam, have the students point things out, identify them, and write about their significance. But how can you do that digitally, remotely?

It's not that easy. The EdX project and Harvard University tried to do this and all they have is an internal tool integrated with their Canvas Learning Management system.

Some newish tools are ideal for this.

Tools for Image Annotation

In some Learning Management Systems like Canvas, new quiz questions are available for Hotspot answers. Same goes for TopHat as a Classroom Response System. But both of those allow only one response and the student is pointing to something on the image. Still, asking students to find things on images and identify certain things is a powerful tool for learning that words-only instruction and assignments can’t provide.

H5P is open source software that sits on top of various learning objects and has many powerful ways to insert ‘correct’ areas or points on images. Students can be asked to click on a spot to identify something, or even to place multiple text labels on an image.

Classtools.net has an  Image Annotator that's free, but it's not really for students to be given an assignment conveniently by teachers.

There are lots of tools for people to annotate images individually. You can even do this in Powerpoint or your image editing program. So students could be asked to take an image into one of those programs, annotate it, and submit it as an assignment. This would be pretty clunky for the instructor, but perhaps in some Learning Management Systems like Canvas with its Speedgrader, it would be practical.

Of course, with individual assessments, you have lots of options, but you may want to allow for much richer, dialogic, social learning before the assessment. For that, you’ll need a tool that takes images in any format and pdfs and then allows comments and replies.

Unfortunately, you can’t quite do this in Perusall, which has all the right capabilities: commenting and replies and a gradebook and auto-grading. But it only allows highlighting of text, not pointing to or outlining areas on images.

There’s a project at the University of Queensland, Australia, called Cirrus that allows submission of annotated images (and text, audio, and video). But it seems to be limited to that university and it’s all student-to-instructor, with no peer interaction possible.

Even Google has a tool called JamBoard that allows you to draw on images or post sticky notes. It's probably not practical for assignments for a reasonably-sized class, but it is worth looking at.

The almost do-it-all tool for image annotation assignments is WeVu. In WeVu you can zoom into high resolution images and make specific comments on locations in the image. Art History students do this with images of artefacts and Anatomy and Nursing students do this on images from their subjects.

The one thing WeVu is missing (until early 2021) is an on-board gradebook.

WeVu allows you to have asynchronous discussion (group annotation) of images (and pdf, audio, and video) during formative phases of a course. You can follow this with assignments where students individually annotate the images by using circles, rectangles, dots, arrows, and higlighting to identify the location they’re referring to. So they’re spatially-tagged comments that can be quite long answers to questions you pose. For teachers:

  • You upload the image once and all students annotate it, with only the teacher able to see all the students’ annotations.
  • You can reply to individual students’ image annotations if you wish.
  • The annotations are searchable by name or keyword so it’s easy to go from A to Z through your student list and mark each student’s annotation without switching from submission to submission as with other systems. 
  • You can read an annotation and click on its text to jump to show the location on the image.

Student Image Annotation in WeVu