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3 Visual Content Do’s and Don’ts

There’s no question that planning a new course, or revising an existing course, takes a lot of time and energy. But as you are identifying instructional strategies and determining course content, have you considered the role that good visuals play in your course?

It may seem like a cosmetic issue, but using visuals effectively can truly aid in the learning process. When I talk about visual content, I am referring to:

  • Images
  • Icons
  • Graphs, tables and charts
  • PowerPoints and slidedecks
  • Videos

To help you get started, I’ve compiled a list of visual content don’ts with corresponding do’s. 

DON’T Use Decorative Images.

DO create content that supplements what you are teaching.

We’re all guilty of this — you write a block of content and finish with a flourish, only to look back and realize it’s kind of gray. OK, it’s a lot gray. So you throw a decorative image in there to break it up. 

Resist that urge. 

We have limited attention spans when consuming digital content. Adding unnecessary distractions does just that — it distracts from your main idea. 

So how do you avoid situations like this?

Start by identifying goals for your visual content. Every visual you use should have a clearly defined purpose. Examples include:

  • Building authority
  • Answering common questions
  • Aiding in storytelling
  • Illustrating a timelapse
  • Connecting a concept with real life situations or current events
  • Connecting a concept with a seemingly unrelated topic as a way to encourage problem-solving

DON’T Use Graphics With A Lot of Text.

DO include captions and alt text.

All the text in a graphic like this needs to be included in the alt text. For this one, it would read, If you are not willing to learn, n... All the text in a graphic like this needs to be included in the alt text. For this one, it would read, “If you are not willing to learn, no one can help you. If you are determined to learn, no one can stop you.” I love a good meme as much as the next person, but they aren’t ideal for your course content. 


Because it’s hard to make that type of content accessible for students with disabilities. It can be done, but it may be a bit disjointed for your students.

Any text on your images should also be included in your alt text so that students using screen readers can understand. You’ll also want to provide a brief description of the image to go with that alt text. For this reason, it may be easier just to use an image caption to convey accompanying text.

If you’re using a graph or chart, you’ll also want to include an image description, which is a larger text box that allows you to provide a summary of what is visible. 

And if you are intimidated by the idea of making your visual content ADA compliant, give me a call and we’ll talk through some options. It’s generally not as hard as it sounds.

DON’T Overload Your Course With Enormous Files.

DO periodically clean out your course files.

Blackboard error message: Upload failed for the following reasons: Operation not complete. Quota was exceeded. Upload Single File. It’s easy to neglect the Content Collection in your Blackboard courses, particularly if you are working from a course template that you have been using and modifying for several semesters. 

Generally, we don’t like for courses to exceed 700 MB. If you are pushing that limit, here are a couple of strategies we can try to get you back to a smaller storage size:

  • Clean out your Content Collection and delete any files you no longer use. (You can still save them on your computer or a shared drive if you think you might use them again some day.)
  • Optimize some of your documents and visual content for web. This may involve reducing the file size and format to ones that are more suitable for the medium. For instance, a 300 dpi image is great for printing, but you may be able to use a 72 dpi image online without noticeably losing any quality. This should also improve your page load time.
  • Consider using dynamic content displays, or embedded content, so that the items are hosted elsewhere but visible and accessible from your course.

If some of these ideas are beyond your comfort level, give me a call and we can go through it together.

Wrapping It Up

There are plenty of other visual content do’s and don’ts, but we can save those for another day. Do you have any tips? Send me an email and we can feature them in another blog post!

Jayna Phinney
Jayna Phinney

Jayna Phinney is the Instructional Technology Specialist for the ASU College of Science and Engineering. Contact her at or 325-486-6264.



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