This project aimed to build first year students’ capacity to engage in participatory, community-focused activities informed by relevant social theories.

  • Course: SOSC1000 Society, Challenges & Solutions. 1st year social science course
  • School/Faculty: School of Social Sciences, Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences
  • Delivery: taught through a weekly, 2-hour face-to-face lecture session and a 1-hour tutorial session; use of guest lecturers from other schools
  • Active learning approach: photovoice group research; use of Padlet; photo exhibition 
  • Assessment tasks: reflection, online quiz, Padlet presentation, essay  

Key issues and anticipated outcomes

This project aimed to address the following issues:

  • One of the biggest challenges in teaching first year social science students is the lack of an effective strategy to encourage youth engagement with community-based social issues.
  • First year students often learn about societies and social theories from readings, which are detached from their daily lives and experiences. 
  • Using photovoice as a group-based active learning strategy for a first year social science class to build students’ capacity to engage in participatory, community-focused activities. 

Project innovation team

Active learning approach

Activities and assessment

Lectures were delivered around four themes central to the social sciences; guest lecturers from other schools were invited to deliver the lectures.

  • Collaborative and peer learning through research-based photovoice projects
  • Four modules on the environment, health, development, and social policy
  • Incorporating online materials and guest lectures on a range of contemporary social problems
  • Final presentation and photo exhibition at the UQ Anthropology Museum.

Photovoice projects

  • Students articulated their own knowledge and understanding using a series of photographs as observers of their own community
  • Students formed small groups with 3–4 individuals in each group
  • Their photovoice research consists of a series of 5–8 original photographs with a 500-word narrative that tells stories of these photographs
  • Collaborative and independent research – students need to identify their visual and narrative theme relevant to a chosen topic, and produce a coherent photovoice project
  • Each group gives a final presentation of their photovoice project
  • Final photo exhibition at the UQ Anthropology Museum to showcase student artwork and creativity.

Resources/technologies used

  • Readings and background materials were provided on Blackboard
  • Students used Padlet to curate their photovoice projects including photos and narratives and delivered a presentation of their final works.


Project evaluation was achieved through surveys and interviews:

  • Quantitative and qualitative – SECaTS 
  • Quantitative and qualitative – in-class photovoice survey 
  • Qualitative – two interviews with students 

Project outcomes

Results and feedback

Students enjoyed and gained use from the fieldwork and interactive group work undertaken during the photovoice project. These short term benefits were four-fold in enhancing engagement in participatory activities and community issues through the introduction of multifaceted learning into assessment:

  1. Students responded positively to the variety of active, peer-based, and reflexive learning opportunities offered as part of the photovoice project, which value-added to lecture content and offered an “interactive task which was a nice contrast to most university assessment which is just writing an essay” (qualitative survey response).
  2. More than 70% of students reported the photovoice project gave them valuable practical experience in practical, hands-on learning, with 80% indicating its particular utility in enhancing understandings of ethical conduct in doing social scientific research.
  3. Reflexivity was encouraged through intergroup discussions, and usefully raised awareness of community issues emerging from the project, with nearly 50% of students continuing to reflect on issues emerging from the project after its completion and carrying out non-graded study.
  4. More than 90% of students felt they were able to communicate well (and resolve disagreements) with peers as part of this project, with over 85% agreeing that the task enabled all group members to contribute to the research process. Through this approach, students’ feelings about the challenges of undertaking group work were lessened (with less than 20% indicating they found the group work element challenging). One student notes: “Photovoice is a good way to get to know your team members and develop good teamwork skills” (qualitative survey response).

Long term outcomes

The implementation of active learning approaches:

  1. aided applied understandings of a social theory applicable to future courses and social scientific practice: 56% of students indicated that they learned more about social issues from the fieldwork than the classroom lectures alone. And nearly 75% of students indicated that the visual element of the task helped them to integrate content knowledge (e.g. readings) with visual representations when thinking about social issues. 
  2. assisted students in future preparation for conducting social science research: in addition to many students pursuing non-graded study as a result of the task, and gaining clarity in research process and ethics (addressed in points 2-3 above), students were inspired to think of future responses to addressing social issues as part of the photovoice project. One student even suggested an additional element be added to the assessment to accommodate this – “Maybe…if the groups came up with a social program/plan to implement in the local community[?]” (qualitative survey response).

Other comments: 

From the SECaTS, surveys and interviews, students were in support of the photovoice project as an assessable task. More than 85% of the students surveyed indicated a very high interest in the photovoice project, with the main point of improvement being greater clarity in criteria. “I enjoyed the Photovoice project clearer assessment criteria at the beginning would have been good but otherwise a worthwhile project :)” (qualitative survey response).

Transferability of findings

The findings of this case study highlight the diversity of the photovoice project. Hence, we seriously consider the transferability of this assessment modality to other teaching and learning contexts, both within and outside of the HASS Faculty, as well as in first year courses and beyond. For example, with a focus on fostering practical, cognitive and interpersonal skills that contribute towards Critical Judgement, Effective Communication Skills, and Ethical and Social Understanding (UQ graduate attributes) through an applied activity using an everyday stimulus (photographs), the photovoice project could also be integrated into courses where these skills are valued. The additional utility of the photovoice project in enhancing student outcomes through multiple learning styles, and promoting reflexivity through interactive group work make it especially suited to courses with diverse cohorts. We might further explore these findings by trailing it in diverse first year courses (such as during Summer School).

Further work

  • The assessment protocol has been amended to include clearer criteria, discussion of which will be integrated into most weeks of future course iterations.
  • In encouraging use of this modality across first year courses in HASS disciplines, we have submitted a request for the photovoice project to be added to The University of Queensland’s Innovative Assessment Database (managed by ITaLI and established by Dr Mair Underwood).
  • Prof Marston will give a short presentation on this experience to the SoSS T&L committee, and discuss the potential for integration of the photovoice project with other research into pedagogical innovations of interest to our staff. For example, Dr Rebecca Olson has undertaken research into video-reflexive ethnography in group contexts among second years. It may be of interest to extend this project similarly to further examining the use of photographs in eliciting reflexivity among first years, and/or adapt the assessment to include a peer-based reflection.