Capturing and reflecting on individual learning journeys through a photographic competition

Our motivation and focus for the activity was aimed at enhancing the taught postgraduate student experience in higher education. For many of the students who attend the Developing Academic Competence module, the limited 12-month timeframe of study and intense scholarship can present complex and unpredictable experiences as they learn to adapt to a new learning environment with higher academic expectations.

Our aim for organising a Student Experience event was to encourage students to reflect on key issues around the whole postgraduate student cycle – ‘My MA Learning Journey’ and focus this reflection to explore such issues as academic and social transition management, academic and social adaptation, academic and social development, success, mental and physical wellbeing.

To enhance the overall student experience, we have created an annual photography event as a way that all students, across the various MA courses in the Manchester Institute of Education (MIE) could share their experiences by participating in a fun, extra curricular activity.

This involved three main areas of activity related to: Reflection, Creativity, Communication. Students are asked to reflect on their learning journey by choosing a photo that represents one aspect of that journey and write a short description that explains how the photo represents their learning journey. This year, due to Covid restrictions, we needed to find a way to host the event online.

After exploring various possibilities, we decided on Padlet as the platform for several reasons:

  • It is relatively easy to set up and share with students via a link
  • Students are very familiar with Padlet as we have been using it in sessions throughout the year
  • Padlet allows people to vote on their favourite photos
  • It allows people to share ideas in a visual and written way
  • It allows many people to contribute at the same time

We also decided that this year, students could submit up to three photos. The event was publicised to students via the DAC Blackboard site, through DAC sessions and in the Research Methods course that all students take. Prizes were offered for the photos and reflections with the most votes in the form of University Gift Shop vouchers. The rationale behind this was that students needed to be able to claim their prize wherever they are in the world and the University Gift Shop offers worldwide shipping.

Click to view the Spark Page used to inform students about the event:

Introduction to Comparative Politics

How did we know that the idea was effective/successful?

A broad range of entries to the event: There were 46 entries in total from a diverse cohort of MIE Master’s which consisted of a photograph and a short reflection of their learning journey here at UoM.

Students’ reactions to the event: There was a lot of interest in the competition; we had 3007 votes from students learning from the event. It is reasonable to expect sustainable effects closely linked to the concept of learning from experience – increased self-awareness, critical thinking skills, and active engagement in learning processes. The combined medium of visual-textual reflection demonstrates students’ ability to re-frame their insights into their learning experience and affirm it through the use of photos and words.

Students’ emerging multimodal communicative competence: The event confirms the basic premise of multimodal learning principle – students learn more from a presentation of image and text than from text alone (Mayer, 2002).

Furthermore, the event presented a unique opportunity for students, the majority of whom are English as second language speakers, to develop competence in interpreting and constructing appropriate meanings about their learning experience through an event that exposes them to a combination of visual and textual communicative modes.

Screenshot of the Padlet Board

Screenshot of the Padlet Board


  • Both photos and descriptions highlighted what studying a MA online this year has meant for students and the many different learning journeys they have been on.
  • It has given us, as tutors, greater insight into students’ worlds beyond the Zoom screen.
  • We anticipate that we will continue to run this online in future years complemented by a face-to-face launch event and/or a final award ceremony.
Top Tips

Clarify and explicitly describe terms of participation. If leveraging educational technology, such as a real-time collaborative web platform like Padlet, for a photo contest, consider carefully the inclusion criteria for engagement Develop a clear strategy for picking the winner(s).

In addition to allowing voters to choose a winner (useful for short-listing), an external panel of judges can be a smart strategy for selecting final competition winners from the short-list. A photo contest can generate an enormous amount of entries. So consider costing for a broader range or tiers of prizes if applying for funding.


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School: Environment, Education and Development & the Manchester Institute of Education

Discipline: Teaching & Learning

Academics: Loretta Anthony-Okeke, Heather Cockayne, Susan Dawson and Zhuo Min Huang

Course: EDUC67890 Developing Academic Competence

Cohort Size: 470

Themes: Student support, learning socially, enhancing learning with technology

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