Kimberly Grotewold
Information Science, Visual Arts, Education, Educational Technology, Higher Education
Material Type:
Assessment, Reading, Teaching/Learning Strategy
College / Upper Division, Graduate / Professional
  • Critical Analysis/critical Thinking
  • Evaluation Criteria
  • Evaluation and Selection
  • Resource Evaluation
  • Visual Literacy
    Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial Share Alike
    Media Formats:
    Text/HTML, Video

    Assessing Visual Materials for Diversity & Inclusivity

    Assessing Visual Materials for Diversity & Inclusivity


    This resource is a modification of the Washington Models for the Evaluation of Bias Content in Instructional Materials (2009) that is made available through OER Commons under a public domain license. This resource attempts to both update the content with more contemporary vocabulary and also to narrow the scope to evaluating still images as they are found online. It was developed as a secondary project while working on a BranchED OER grant during summer 2020. It includes an attached rubric adapted from the Washington Model (2009).

    Overview and Purpose of Visual Evaluation Framework

    Schools and teachers working for equity and success for all learners are aware of the importance of ensuring that their students’ diverse life experiences are recognized, acknowledged, and valued. This is a key tenet of culturally responsive teaching. Culturally responsive teaching demands that educators know their students and their communities and develop instruction that centers and celebrates their students’ stories in meaningful ways.

    Because images can serve as powerful expressions of ideas and meaning, teachers should pay special attention to the messages conveyed by the images in the instructional materials they use. They must also be aware of how their own cultures, perspectives, and dispositions my lead them to favor certain imagery and visual representations over others. Reflecting on how images convey messages through individual visual elements; the relationships depicted through the visual elements; the interplay of text and visual information; and the context in which the visual material was created or is made accessible establishes a framework for evaluation.


    Chart showing titled matrix of four different colored squares labeled with four consideration factors
    Grotewold, K. (2020, August). Framework for analysis of visual information. In Assessing Visual Materials for Diversity & Inclusivity. Licensed as CC BY-NC-SA


    1. Visible Elements: Is there inclusivity in the way the following are depicted?

    • Sexual Orientation
    • Gender/Gender Expression/Gender Identity
    • Family Structure
    • Body Shape/Size
    • Race/Ethnicity
    • Religion
    • Other Cultural Elements
    • Physical Ability/Disability
    • First Language
    • Income/Socio-economic Status/Employment
    • Age
    • Health/Mental Health
    • Education Level
    • Geographic Setting

    See these elements represented graphically in the Inclusivity Wheel - Aspects to Consider


    2. Relationships Among Visual Elements--Questions to Ask

    • What story is the visual material telling?
    • Who are the characters and what are their relationships to each other?
      • Look at the placement of the characters relative to each other
      • Consider which characters are portrayed in light areas versus shadowed places
      • Look at facial expressions on the characters, if visible
    • What actions are the different characters taking? Do these align with stereotypes or manifest tokenism? Or are these actions empowering for the characters?
      • Example of a stereotype: The scene is inside an airplane awaiting take-off and all the flight attendants are white women
      • Example of tokenism: An image shows a group of six young adults who appear to be friends; five of them are white, one is Black. The inclusion of a Black person in the image seems to function more as checking off a diversity box rather than a real depiction of inclusion.
    • Are characters and their actions oriented toward white aspirations or whiteness as the norm?
    • Are the non-white characters portrayed as in trouble or in difficult circumstances compared to the white characters? Are they depicted in a way that suggests the white characters are the heroes or rescuers?
      • Are there other stakeholders who should be characters in the story whose voices are completely left out?

    3. Image Source Considerations--Questions to Ask

    • What is the copyright/publication/creation date of the image?
    • Who created the image? Does this individual still have ownership of the image and its uses?
      • Consider the creator’s relationship to the subject of the image--In literature, there is an increasing awareness of allowing diverse authors to speak their own truths. The hashtag #OwnVoices has arisen to ensure that books reflecting aspects of culture and identity are created by people who are participants within those groups rather than by outsiders. 
    • Elder (2019) reflects on the difficult balance of trying to include diverse content in open resources from the perspective of someone who is likely not perceived as representing diversity herself:​​​​​​​ "Adding examples from other cultures is a good practice; however, if you don't know much about the type of people you are "including" in your resource, your inclusion might feel like alienation for students who belong to that group" (Diversity and Inclusion main section, Footnote 4). Not only may it be viewed as alienating, it may also be received as inauthentic.

    • If you are unsure of who created the image, try doing a Google reverse image search.
    • If the image is owned by or made available by an institution or organization, does this institution or organization promote inclusion?
    • Was the image created for a particular purpose? What was/is that purpose?
      • ​​​​​​​​​​​​​​Be aware of images created for advertising purposes because they often do not reflect reality.

    4. Additional Prompts for Visual Materials that Include Text Elements (such as Advertisements, Memes, Propaganda)

    • Was the text created at the same time as the image/visual information?
    • What is the meaning of the text independent of any visual content?
    • Does the meaning of the text align with the meaning conveyed through the visual information? What overall effect does the combination of text and visual information have?

    Additional Notes, Resources, & a Rubric

    • For individual images it may not be feasible to make judgements about all the elements listed in section 1; in which case the assessment may be more limited. When a series of visual materials or images is involved, a broader evaluation of the overall balance of representation across the series can occur.
    • This work was adapted/based on the following: 

    Washington Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction. (2009). Washington models for the evaluation of bias content in instructional materialsLicensed as Public Domain

    The Washington Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction has developed a new tool to replace the 2009 resource. It is:

    Washington Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction. (2021). Screening for biased content in instructional materialsLicensed as CC BY NC 4.0

    • The idea for this work was inspired by:

    Murphy, M., Schumacher, S., & Thompson, D. S. (2020, May 1). ACRL ISTM: Let's get visual, visual!: New instructional approaches for visual literacy. [Recorded presentation].

    Hattwig, D., Bussert, K., Medaille, A., & Burgess, J. (2013). Visual literacy standards in higher education: New opportunities for libraries and student learning. Portal: Libraries and the Academy 13(1), 61-89.

    • See additional attached resource:

    Grotewold, K. (2020). Revised tool for critical assessment of visual materials, also based on the Washington models for the evaluation of bias content in instructional materials. It is licensed as CC BY-NC-SA.

    • The other resource cited in this work

    Elder, A. K. (2019). The OER starter kit (Version 1.1). Iowa State University Digital Press. It is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License