June 15, 2019

Lesson Plan Series #5: Artstor & Image Keywords

What is your name? Where are you in the field currently? What has been your teaching experience thus far? What is the name of the institution and position that you were in when you wrote and gave this lesson plan?

Hey all! This is Anna again, sharing another lesson plan that I wrote – this time for a professor who wanted to give her students a basic introduction to Artstor. As a reminder for those of you who may not have seen my first lesson plan post , I’m the Research & Visual Arts Librarian at Franklin & Marshall College, a small liberal arts college in Lancaster, PA. I’ve been teaching in various non-library contexts for several years, and have begun teaching more regularly in the library instruction classroom within the past three years.

What is the context of the lesson plan you wrote – who was the audience, were there any specific learning objectives that you had to work with, or were you able to write your own, etc?

The learning context for this lesson plan may look similar to my last post, as it was created for the same class focusing on iconography and the destruction of images throughout history. The audience for this particular class was all sophomore level students or above, and not all were art history majors. My only directive from the professor was to give the students an overview of using Artstor, and she gave me the majority of a class session to do so. In addition to teaching the students Artstor, we agreed that it would also be necessary to talk about what makes a good keyword search for images.

My learning objectives for this course were pretty simple, and I collaborated with the course professor to create them. They were:

  • By the end of class, students will have an Artstor account, and know how to search and navigate the database, in addition to using and sharing image groups.
  • By the end of class, students will have a broad understanding of what makes a good keyword term for an image search, and will understand the subjectivity of keywords.

In order to get the students to the second learning outcome, I created an activity in which I displayed an image on the screen of a painting that students may or may not have already seen. For this activity, I selected Turner’s Slave Ship. I briefly explained the importance of keywords in cataloging images, and asked the students to do their own “cataloging.” I then asked students to spend several minutes doing deep looking, identifying what they thought the subject matter of the painting is and to select keywords that they might expect to find the image with. This led into a larger discussion of keywords that students used, and why they picked them, followed by an explanation of the image’s subject matter and exploration of its record in Artstor. For more details on the activity itself, check out the lesson plan that I included attached to this post.

J.M.W. Turner, “Slave Ship (Slavers Throwing Overboard the Dead and Dying, Typhoon Coming On),” Artstor, Copyright Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Accessed June 14, 2019.

Were there any resources you used in the creation of the lesson plan? What were they?

For this lesson plan, I relied on my own knowledge of the workings of Artstor, and some tutorials & tips that Artstor provides for areas in which I needed a refresher. I created the image keyword activity myself, and am looking forward to refining and expanding upon it moving forward.

How was the plan received? Would you make any changes if you had to repeat it in the future?

Largely, this plan was well received by the instructor, who is a passionate Artstor user, but the content covering how to use Artstor was a little less enthusiastically received by the students. In the future, I’d probably design a tutorial that I could post on the course Canvas page, to give students some pre-work for the class. The “cataloging” activity that I used to help students understand keyword subjectivity went over very well, and I will certainly spend more time expanding that activity and utilizing it each time I’m asked to teach students how to find images.

At the time of the session, I didn’t have any students who expressed discomfort with the selected image, but I’d like to further explore either different images or potentially giving a content warning as I understand that students who may have not been comfortable with the image and not expressed themselves. I think that a wide variety of artworks would work here – I chose Slave Ship because it looks to be a simple seascape, but instead illustrates a grim reality of the time period that’s not always visible to those looking at the image for the first time.

Ideally, going forward, we would spend the majority of the class time doing the keyword generating activity, perhaps a few times, and follow that up with a very brief tutorial and more individualized help with image searching in Artstor and elsewhere.

If you have any questions or would like to contact me, please feel free to reach out to me at anna (dot) boutin (dot) cooper (at) fandm (dot) edu.

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