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Research article
First published online September 30, 2019

Incorporating Photovoice in the Marketing Curriculum to Increase Cultural Competence


Images are powerful. They help make the abstract concrete and allow the viewer to share the perspective of the photographer, giving the photographer a platform to communicate what may be difficult to express with words. Educators, institutions, accreditors, and students are seeking diverse and inclusive university environments, yet we often lack the critical dialogue necessary for achieving such outcomes. In response to student and employer imperatives, we propose the inclusion of photovoice to complement existing learning outcomes in the marketing curriculum. We discuss the implementation and evaluation of including photovoice into a semester-long client-based marketing research project. Experiential learning with photovoice increased interactions with diverse others and increased metacognitive cultural intelligence in comparison with a section taught with the standard approach.
The marketing classroom is more diverse than ever before. According to the American Council on Education (Espinosa et al., 2019), students of color constitute 45% of the undergraduate population. The increasing diversity on campus, however, is not necessarily related to whether students of all backgrounds feel supported (Pike & Kuh, 2006). In light of these demographic shifts, marketing educators need to consider how we are meeting the needs of our students and how we are preparing them for a multicultural workforce and marketplace.
This project developed because a chance encounter merged these demographic considerations with an exigent campus need. During an engaged pedagogy retreat, a representative from the university faculty development institute shared observations from a meeting in which marginalized students described microaggressions experienced and offensive comments made by faculty, staff, and fellow students. Students reported incident patterns, including singling out minority students to speak for all members of their marginalized group, advising minority students out of challenging majors, and invalidating student experiences. Such instances are not unique to our institution (Yosso, Smith, Ceja, & Solórzano, 2009). Recent protests across college campuses (Chessman & Wayt, 2016) provide further evidence that students are demanding attention to equity and inclusion both in and out of the classroom. Students are calling for curricular changes, such as implementing inclusive pedagogies and coursework that increases cultural competency (Chessman & Wayt, 2016).
In today’s progressively diverse workforce, marketing graduates need to be able to collaborate with people from diverse backgrounds (Duus & Cooray, 2014). Yet employers observe that graduates are ill-prepared to work with dissimilar others (Hart Research Associates, 2015). Scholars and practitioners are therefore concerned with the employability (McArthur, Kubacki, Pang, & Alcaraz, 2017) and general skill building (Bacon, 2017; AACSB standard 9) of marketing students. In a study examining the relationship between the marketing major and career success, Bacon (2017) proposes a focus on engaging pedagogies that build interpersonal and communicative skills. Experiential projects can provide an engaging platform to cultivate these employment-relevant skills (Barr & McNeilly, 2002), particularly through increasing exposure to and respectful engagement with diverse viewpoints. Such exercises can position marketing graduates more competitively in the workforce given that cross-cultural competence has been found to increase employment prospects (Gow & McDonald, 2000).
Employer and student concerns, accreditation standards, and educators highlight the need for cultural competency and workplace readiness skills in the marketing curriculum. How can educators deliver engaging pedagogies that prepare graduates for the multicultural workforce? To address this, we explore how photovoice intentionally interleaves these critical skills. Engaging with photovoice increases exposure to diverse others, accentuates interpretive abilities through perspective taking, requires students to synthesize multiple sources of information, while also developing cultural competency required for the workplace.
Photovoice is a qualitative methodology in which participants take photographs in their community to document issues of injustice that exemplify research themes. With roots in Freire’s (1970, 1973) critical consciousness, photovoice requires participants to consider structural inequity and social problems in their daily lives. Photographs are collaboratively interpreted through discussions among participants and researchers; results are then showcased to policymakers to advocate for change and community-based solutions (Wang & Burris, 1997). The current work explores the inclusion of photovoice in the marketing research course, though we offer ideas on incorporating the method elsewhere in the marketing curriculum. Nestling photovoice within the conventional curriculum provides experiential practice in confronting difficult issues within a community, develops skills in interpretation, and increases metacognitions in cultural intelligence.
To demonstrate why and how we emphasize these particular skills, we first review the state of the marketing curriculum. Then, we discuss how photovoice is uniquely positioned as a pedagogical tool to harness the power of images and reflection to build cultural competency. Finally, we provide one empirical illustration of a photovoice project through a comparative analysis of student learning and cultural intelligence (a useful proxy for students’ ability to discern “the inequities of the social world”).

Dovetailing Key Skills Within the Marketing Curriculum

Marketing managers need cross-cultural skills to navigate multicultural relationships within and between organizations (Kurpis & Hunter, 2017). Similarly, marketers must understand consumer behavior of various demographic, psychographic, and sociocultural groups (De Mooij & Hofstede, 2011). Accrediting bodies, such as the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB) and The Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE), include commitment to diversity and inclusion in their accreditation standards and experience with diversity as a core competency in both general knowledge and skill areas (AACSB, 2018; MSCHE, 2018).
Experience with people of various backgrounds has been linked to many positive outcomes (Kilgo, Sheets, & Pascarella, 2015). For example, it stimulates innovation (Hewlett, Marshall, & Sherbin, 2013), prepares students for the diverse labor force (Jayakumar, 2008), increases intercultural competence (Salisbury, An, & Pascarella, 2013), and increases civic engagement (Bowman, 2011) and socially responsible leadership (Parker & Pascarella, 2013). Marketing educators may be able to create space in their classrooms for encouraging dialogue among diverse groups through engaging with qualitative methodologies in order to increase contact and cultural intelligence (Kurpis & Hunter, 2017).
Across the marketing curriculum, educators are increasingly focused on preparing students for the multicultural world. Sales educators note the value of cultural intelligence in sales role-plays and cross-cultural selling (Delpechitre & Baker, 2017). Retailing and service educators identified the importance of designing servicescapes that appeal to consumers of various backgrounds (Rosenbaum, Moraru, & Labrecque, 2013). Demographic shifts and economic imperatives suggest that more work needs to be done in this area. In a recent study examining the perceived impact of the marketing curriculum on graduates, marketing students report lower cultural and racial knowledge than other majors (Hartley, Routon, & Torres, 2018). In response to these concerns, Hartley et al. (2018) propose the need for experiential learning opportunities to better prepare students to collaborate with people from different backgrounds.
As Young and Murphy (2003) assert, “Designing a curriculum to ensure adequate skill development necessitates ample opportunity to practice and reinforce the skill in multiple settings” (p. 58). Incorporating photovoice offers marketing educators an opportunity to design projects that dovetail these skills, rather than treating them as discrete entities. As we will discuss, photovoice projects can interweave cultural competency through perspective taking and fostering deeper interactions with students from diverse backgrounds.

The Power of Images

Photographs can uncover the unseen and the unspoken, shed light on undocumented social issues, raise awareness, and ignite action (Ozanne, Moscato, & Kunkel, 2013). The power of images is often used in marketing education particularly because many students are visual learners (Clarke, Flaherty, & Yankey, 2006). Furthermore, images provide a platform through which students can share thoughts and emotions challenging to express with words. As Gordon (2006) notes, “Words are poor tools . . . [They] are fuzzy and imprecise. It is difficult for people to articulate thoughts and feelings” (p. 22). When engaged with issues of inequity, photographs provide a visual window into another’s world and allow a more privileged viewer to take on the perspective of the photographer.
Photography involves power sharing (Ozanne et al., 2013). For example, issues of racial inequality may be difficult to express and to understand. Images help the photographer communicate. We often lack the vocabulary to discuss sensitive issues and inconspicuous practices. Images help the viewer understand the message. If we have not experienced inequity ourselves, we may be quick to deny statistics and stories. It is more difficult to deny concrete visual evidence. While a participant’s narrative may feel doubtful, a concrete photograph can serve to confirm the participant’s reality. The reverse is also possible, as when a more privileged photographer fails to notice injustice that is nevertheless captured in their photos.
Photography serves as an equalizer (Wang & Burris, 1997). Where traditional educational environments might place more value on the knowledge of the expert or the educator, photovoice recognizes the participants as the experts. Given that photography is a participatory medium, giving a voice to participants fosters an inclusive environment where everyone can engage and contribute. Scholars of management education note the value of photovoice methodology to diversity classes, where discussions of power, inequality, gender, and ethnicity may be at the forefront of the course (Chio & Fandt, 2007). Chio and Fandt (2007) further argue that using photovoice as a pedagogical tool increases classroom participation, engagement in the subject matter, and self-reflection (Cox & Beale, 1997; Goodman, 2001).
The use of imagery in pedagogy is well documented in marketing. Images are often used to illustrate course concepts. For example, Ng (2006) used photoessays to demonstrate service scripts in her lectures to an MBA class, while Swanson and Wald (2013) required students to create a collage about their perception of marketing before beginning a principles course. Other marketing educators have required students to engage in participatory photography, whereby the student generates the photographs. For example, Hartman and Braunstein (1998) required students to use photography to illustrate their own self-concept in consumer behavior; Das (2012) required MBA students to create participatory photo novels in a principles course; and Machin (2016) had students submit their answers to problems through “snapsignments” or photo submissions to illustrate course concepts. Recently, Kelly, Lee, Bowen Ray, and Kandaurova (2018) used a participatory technique in an integrated marketing communications course to help students develop a “shared visual vocabulary and unearth hidden assumptions” about other cultures (p. 69).
Ozanne et al. (2013) point out that while photography is a widely used tool, there is great potential to use photography as an advocacy tool. In related fields, such as public health, photographic methods have been used to influence policy (Kramer et al., 2010; Wang, Morrel-Samuels, Hutchison, Bell, & Pestronk, 2004). Building on the work of Kelly et al. (2018) and Ozanne et al. (2013), we next discuss how participatory and transformative photography can foster deeper conversations with and between students on issues that affect them.


Photovoice is a participatory and community-based approach that is often used to document issues and cultural practices that exist within a community (Wang & Burris, 1997). The method uses photography and community action elements to provide an inclusive approach to understanding a community with three goals: “(1) to enable people to record and reflect their community’s strengths and concerns, (2) to promote critical dialogue and knowledge about important issues through large and small group discussion of photographs, and, (3) to influence policymakers” (Wang & Burris, 1997, p. 370). Photovoice has been used as a tool to empower marginalized groups (Lopez, Eng, Randall-David, & Robinson, 2005) to penetrate experiences that occur below the surface (Streng et al., 2004). The method emphasizes a “‘bottom-up’ rather than ‘top-down’ approach” (Sethi, 2017, p. 334), recognizing the participants as the experts (Mark & Boulton, 2017).
We contend that photovoice can help students build cross-cultural skills. Culture has multiple definitions across disciplines (Baldwin, Faulkner, Hecht, & Lindsley, 2006), often adapting Hofstede’s (1980) geo-ethnic conceptualization of culture as a national-level construct. Banks (2010) characterizes culture through a group’s shared values, symbols, beliefs, and understandings. This definition acknowledges that culture is not synonymous with country of origin (Craig & Douglas, 2006; Yaprak, 2008). It suggests that culture is more dynamic, permeable, and full of intracultural variation. To assess cross-cultural skills, we employ the Cultural Intelligence Scale (CQS), which measures the ability to adapt to culturally diverse situations and interact with people from various backgrounds (Van Dyne, Ang, & Koh, 2015). While some researchers have used CQS to examine cross-national interactions, recent work argues for its applicability to contexts unbounded by geo-ethnic confines (Patel & Salih, 2018). Indeed, Earley and Ang (2003) conceptualized CQS as pertinent to interactions involving cultural and subcultural differences, such as race, ethnicity, and workplace diversity.
The inherent perspective-taking uniquely positions photovoice to align with an important outcome of business education: cultural competency (AACSB, 2018, Standard 9). Engaging in photovoice methodology goes beyond increasing exposure to diverse groups, something that could be accomplished with other methodologies. Through engaging in dialogue and reflection, photovoice develops positive relationships between dissimilar others through empathic responses to photos and narratives (Johansen & Le, 2014).
By design, photovoice focuses on amplifying the voices and concerns of marginalized groups, giving students valuable practical experience navigating cultural differences and potentially questioning their own assumptions when faced with the lived experiences of others. As Triandis (2006) notes, to become culturally intelligent, one must suspend judgment until multiple pieces of information can be evaluated and integrated with situational cues. Photovoice requires student-researchers to set aside initial judgments (through recognizing their positionality) to listen and observe as the participant explains their truth. Then, researchers must contextualize this truth when thematically engaging with the truth of other participants.
The method’s inclusion of photographs makes the accompanying narrative data more concrete and makes perspective-taking more feasible. While narratives cultivated from in-depth interviewing and focus groups can be persuasive, it is even more difficult to deny the physical evidence of a photograph documenting inequity. In ethnography, the researcher is observing through their own eyes. As a visual methodology, photovoice allows the novice marketing professional to observe a context through the eyes of the participant. Composing a photograph involves a subjective decision, but the lens captures more than what the photographer intends and offers contextual data that can confirm, extend, or even contradict a participant’s narrative. The “voice” provides further nuance as the photograph can stimulate an emotional arousal beyond the photo description that cannot be conveyed with words (Rania et al., 2015). The student-researcher thus hears, sees, and feels evidence. Photovoice is a particularly good fit for practice drawing insights and helping students build interpretive skills as the repetitive cues (from the visual, the textual, and the emotional), provide opportunities for triangulation and can reinforce a conclusion.
Photovoice also provides unique practical experience with integrating potentially conflicting sources of information. In the era of rapid information exchange, students need to critically evaluate and integrate multiple sources of information (Walker & Moran, 2019). Marketing managers must “draw on multiple sources of (often) imperfect evidence; go beyond the ‘literal’ consumer survey evidence; make various creative interventions to provide fresh insights and new perspective; and also weave customer knowledge together” (Smith, 2006, p. 5). Photovoice allows the student-researcher to work in the area between the concreteness of the photograph and the narrative. Thus, the student-researcher must not only listen and view multiple sources of information but also read between the lines of what is immediately evident. Qualitative methods rely on inherently unreliable narrators. Even cooperative participants may lack self-awareness or metacognition when answering research questions, may misremember an event or experience, or may feel uncomfortable disclosing sensitive or upsetting details. Photovoice offers a perspective beyond the textual as critical context for analysis. Visual analysis of photographs allows valuable opportunities to reach fresh insights that the participants themselves may not see. The process prompts students to not only integrate and cross-reference visual and textual data in their analysis but also place their insights within a broader institutional context.

The Photovoice Project

The primary goal was to use photovoice methodology as an innovative pedagogical tool to improve student’s workplace readiness through increasing exposure to diverse others, perspective-taking, and integrating multiple sources of information, in this case, in a marketing research course (Table 1) . One useful starting place for marketing educators considering photovoice is the existing learning outcomes (LOs) for a course. Accordingly, we structured the assignment using the following LOs consistent with traditional client-based projects used in marketing research (Bove & Davies, 2009):
Table 1. Comparison of the Standard and Photovoice Approaches.
Learning outcomeTraditional approachRevised approach
Problem definition• Client visit
• Individual reflection on problem definition
• Group assignment to refine problem definition
• Client visit
• Gallery walk (sharing of examples)
• Large-group reflection
• Individual reflection on problem definition
• Group assignment to refine problem definition
Identify sources• Secondary data search
• Group reflection
• Secondary data search
• Group reflection
• Training session
• Large group reflection
• Individual reflection (positionality statement)
• Practice photovoice methodology
Design study• In-depth interview or focus group protocol
• Survey
• In-depth interview or focus group protocol using photovoice methodology
• Individual reflection
• Dyad reflection
• Group reflection
• Survey
Collect data• In-depth interview or focus group
• Survey
• Individual reflection (positionality)
• Student-researcher photographs
• In-depth interview with another student in the class
• In-depth interview or focus group with participants
• Survey
Analyze data• Thematic analysis of recorded/transcribed interviews
• Statistical analysis
• Thematic analysis of recorded/transcribed interviews
• Thematic analysis of photographs
• Statistical analysis
Report• Small-group reflection and brainstorming of ideas
• Presentation to client
• Postproject individual reflection
• Small group reflection and brainstorming of ideas
• Presentation to client and class discussion
• Postproject individual reflection
State the information needed for solving a marketing problem in the form of a research proposal.
Identify the different sources from which the marketing information needed for solving that problem may be obtained.
Propose and design a marketing research study for acquiring that information.
Execute correct methods of data collection.
Conduct appropriate analysis on the data.
Present a formal report of the results of that analysis.
A secondary goal was to increase meaningful interactions among students to build cultural intelligence and to empower students to take ownership of their education (as observers and participant-experts) and their educational environment (through advocacy). This outcome goes beyond improving culture on campus to also support workplace readiness.
The following sections describe the photovoice project. Specifically, we aim to explore (1) how students respond to the method and topic and (2) the impact on marketing-specific and employment-relevant skills (i.e., cultural competency).

Project Context

Based on the opening vignette, the faculty development institute served as a project client. The university is an intriguing client in that it has a vested interest in gaining a better understanding of the students it serves and students have a vested interest in having a positive collegiate experience. This allowed students to feel connected to the project context and facilitated easier access to target participants. At the beginning of the semester, the professor explained students’ role as participants as well as student-researchers. We use the term participant to refer to students outside the class who were recruited to engage with photovoice or the survey. We use the term student to refer to students inside the class who served as both student-researchers and who engaged in photovoice themselves.

Part 1: Problem Definition

The primary goal of this component of the project was to assess student learning regarding problem definition (LO1). The client debriefed the class, explaining their desire to gather student perspectives of diversity and inclusion on campus, and then sharing student experiences (as described in the introduction). Each student group selected specific research questions. For example, one group chose to examine factors that influence the perception of diversity and inclusion on campus, while another group chose to examine the impacts of physical and emotional safety on the student experience.
To assess LO1, students individually reflected on the project topic. Subsequently, students worked in groups of four to five to describe their collective understanding of the client’s challenges. This assignment allowed the professor to assess students’ understanding of the client’s research needs and their ability to write a problem definition statement (LO1). It also allowed the professor to see how students progressed from their initial understanding to the group’s final problem definition.
Direct assessment of LO1 (see Supplemental Appendix A, available online) indicated that while students did not statistically perform better on LO1 in comparison with another section working with a more traditional client taught by the same professor, t(32) = −1.554, p = .13, the mean grade (M = 7.32, SD = 1.24) (M = 6.38, SD = 2.16) was higher (ns) and the standard deviation smaller. The effect size (d = 0.53) was found to be consistent with Cohen’s (1988) convention for a medium effect (d = 0.50). The assignment further served as a critical reflection platform (Catterall, Maclaran, & Stevens, 2002) for students to discuss expectations and concerns about working on this project topic.
Student reflections had three central themes: (1) concerns with data collection and recruiting participants, (2) concerns regarding the difficulty of the project topic, and (3) excitement to rise to the challenge. The following extracts illustrate how students may react to the idea of working on photovoice projects:
I honestly expect that this investigation is going to be difficult. Not only is the form of collection challenging . . . people aren’t always willing to share with others how they actually feel and what they actually think . . . Aside from that, I am truly interested to see what we do learn from doing this investigation and what impact we could have on [the University’s] policies. (David)
For David, his firsthand experiences as an African American student in a predominately White school underscored his concerns with finding ways to gather truthful information about sensitive topics without deflecting or sugarcoating.
Students further discussed the project with some trepidation, labeling it a “touchy subject” and expressing anxiety over having to confront “bigotry anywhere at school.” Though students had reservations, many expressed excitement about working on a nontraditional project. As Matt notes, “I love the challenge of encouraging people to share their views on . . . problems they have witnessed or experienced.”
Ultimately, the assignment allowed students to begin to share some of their own experiences on campus, to initiate dialogue with their fellow classmates and professor, and to express positivity regarding potential impact on their local community. Kay shares this theme when she says,
Personally, I think this is a good thing to research around campus . . . students don’t have a way to discuss these issues or voice their concerns . . . There should be a way that students can have their concerns heard and dealt with, rather than [the University] overlooking them and completely disregarding them.
Kay shared that she experienced microaggressions herself and that she and her fellow classmates could benefit from having their voices heard. She further described the university as a “second home” to students and how important it was for everyone to feel comfortable. Photovoice’s advocacy component and potential for transforming their own experience and the future experiences of other students motivated students’ excitement to work on the project.

Part 2: Facilitating Reflections on Cultural Competency and One’s Own Experiences

In Part 2, students employed critical reflection as a form of data (LO2 and LO4) and identified existing biases prior to collecting data from participants.
Students engaged in a cultural competency training session with an expert trainer on diversity and inclusion to address student concerns about the project topic. Cultural competency training is an important component of learning photovoice regardless of the project topic. It helps students acknowledge their positionality and biases that may influence their interpretation of qualitative data. The training served as a way to broach the topic and make students aware of aspects of the project that may be uncomfortable. The expert discussed how to use thoughtful language and engage in uncomfortable conversations. Students also engaged in discussions of cultural competency and examined similarities and differences across gender, race, ethnicity, and culture.
Following the in-class session, students completed two individual assignments. First, students wrote a positionality statement, including a discussion of the self (a description of their own cultural heritage), the self in relation to others (how their experiences may diverge from other student perspectives and how the student-researcher can balance their own perspective with those of the participants), and the self in relation to the community (a discussion of systemic structures that shape the university community) (Milner, 2007). The second component asked students to test out the photovoice technique themselves before recruiting participants (see Supplemental Appendix B).
This assignment allowed the professor to assess students’ understanding of qualitative and reflective methods; it also allowed students to become aware of their own perspectives and how their experiences may shape the interpretation of others’ experiences. For students, engaging in the role of both researcher (when they interview others) and participant (when they take photographs and reflect on their own experiences) allows the students to (1) reflect more deeply about their own experiences, (2) examine their own experiences through a new lens (Strack, Magill, & McDonagh, 2004), and (3) put themselves in the shoes of the participants. This perspective-taking is valuable in building cultural intelligence. The mere act of taking photographs is transformative. Photography is perspective-changing (moving behind a camera lens and considering the audience) and can even be value-changing. As Kolb (2008) describes, participants “engage in a very personal way in the research question, and think about how it matters in their lives and communities. Participants often gain new insights into their lives and reality as they reflect on their subjective situation from a different point of view, through the lens of the camera” (p. 7). Students, through this assignment, get a transformative experience both as participants and as student-researchers.

Part 3: Participatory Photography: Using Images to Structure Conversations

Students brought their photos, captions, and positionality statements to class to discuss their experiences reflecting on diversity and inclusion on campus and experimenting with the photovoice method. Following a lecture on in-depth interviewing and other qualitative techniques (e.g., focus groups, ethnography, netnography), student groups developed an in-depth interview protocol including the photovoice methodology. The difference between a traditional in-depth interview and one including photovoice lies in the documentation (i.e., sharing of photos), critical dialogue around the topic and the photographs (e.g., SHOWeD technique in Supplemental Appendix A), and advocacy. This assignment served as an application of the newly learned material to assess students’ ability to prepare open-ended questions, probing and laddering cues, and interview flow (LO3).
In the second semester of running this project, we included an additional assignment for students to practice photovoice with another student from a different project team. This allowed students to practice interviewing, identify shortcomings of their protocol, gather additional data, and engage in critical dialogue with fellow classmates. After the practice interview, student dyads shared how they felt as an interviewer and as a participant. Students learned about interview flow, citing a series of practical insights. They reflected “our first questions were really personal and intense”; they also realized that the phrasing of their questions was inconsistent with their learning, explaining that “we need to transform closed-ended to open-ended questions.” Ultimately, they reported feeling “better prepared” and “more confident” going into the next round of data collection.
Each student recruited and interviewed one participant for the participatory photovoice portion of the project. Students purposively disproportionately sampled from underrepresented student voices on campus (LO4). They instructed participants to use their personal electronic device to take any number of pictures showing diversity, equity, and inclusion on campus (or lack thereof). Participants were instructed not to take pictures of people’s faces in order to avoid privacy or consent concerns but were told that they could take pictures of signs, landscapes, or pictures that include people where their faces are not shown (e.g., a picture of hands).
Consistent with photovoice practice (Goodhart et al., 2006), participants selected three to five of their photos to share with their student-interviewer through email and provided a brief narrative for each picture to allow the student-interviewer to incorporate additional probing questions into the interview protocol. After submitting pictures and captions, each participant engaged in an in-depth interview with one of the student-researchers to discuss why they took each picture and how the participant interprets diversity, equity, and inclusion on campus through their photos.
In total, each student conducted (1) one interview plus critical dialogue with another student in class (outside their group) and (2) one interview with a participant (a student outside the class). Each student then accessed the following datasets:
10 audio recordings and transcriptions of in-depth interviews (five in-class interviews shared by project teammates and five out-of-class interviews shared by project teammates)
15 sets of photographs (five teammate photos, five sets of photos from in-class interviews, and five sets of photos from out-of-class interviews).
Though participants provide context to their photographs during the interviews per photovoice practice, the student-researchers ultimately articulate meaning from the groups of photographs through thematic analysis. To accomplish this, student-researchers must integrate information from their own perspective with the perspectives of their group members, classmates, and participants and contextualize their analysis within the institutional context of the university. This iterative and integrative process helps students gain workplace-relevant experience synthesizing and deriving meaning from multiple sources of information.

Part 4: Transformative Photography: Turning Images Into Advocacy

The purpose of this component of the project was in service of LO5 and LO6, using thematic analysis and presenting findings to the client, instructor, and their peers. Students shared their findings with their group and engaged in thematic analysis across the interviews (LO5). This thematic analysis was presented to the professor in a group write-up halfway through the semester for feedback. Student groups then developed (LO3) and administered (LO4) a questionnaire to quantitatively assess their proposed theory (from LO1) and analyzed the results using a statistical package (LO5), consistent with traditional executions of the course.
The findings from the thematic and statistical analyses were presented to the professor and the client in a final presentation (LO6) with recommendations on how to develop programming in order to address student perceptions of diversity and inclusion on campus. For example, one group showcased photos depicting student gatherings, reporting that sports influenced interactions among diverse groups across campus, and noting that participants often discussed sports as a way to bring people together. These interpretative themes were substantiated by the statistical data, demonstrating students’ abilities to integrate qualitative and quantitative findings.
One recommendation, for example, was for students to be able to share their findings with policymakers at the university and for the faculty development institute to provide specific programming for faculty. This advocacy transformed into action in the following semester when a student presented the class findings to the University Provost, Associate Provost, Program Directors, and Chairs and is further evidenced by the development of new faculty programming on diversity issues.


The first research question asked whether engaging with photovoice methodology can enhance learning. Anonymous teaching and project evaluations, scaled on a 5-point Likert-type scale, indicate that students increased their knowledge of the subject (M = 4.9/5), the project helped students learn more about course content (4.5/5), and helped students learn about the community (4.4/5). Students’ perceived learning was marginally greater in photovoice sections than in other sections taught by the same professor, t(189) = 1.81, p = .07 (M = 4.86, SD = 0.36) (M = 4.48; SD = 0.94). The effect size (d = 0.53) was found to be consistent with Cohen’s (1988) convention for a medium effect (d = 0.50).
Notably, students’ perceived learning was higher working with an on-campus client using photovoice than using a similar on campus client with in-depth interviewing, t(39) = 2.08, p = .05 (M = 4.86PV, SDPV = 0.36; MIDI = 4.30; SDIDI = 1.17; d = 0.65), but not higher than service-learning sections taught by the same professor across semesters, t(80) = 0.91, p = .37 (M SL = 4.70; SDSL = 0.74; MPV = 4.86, SDPV = 0.36), or a service-learning section taught in the same semester, t(22) = 0.14, p = .89 (MSL = 4.82; SDSL = 0.40) (MPV = 4.85, SDPV = 0.55). These findings indicate that photovoice is a powerful pedagogical tool that can go beyond in-depth interviewing and motivate student learning, similar to outcomes achieved with service learning.
Direct assessments of learning (Bacon, 2016; Elbeck & Bacon, 2015) included average peer evaluations (performed by team members) and final project grades (assessed by the instructor). While students worked in teams, each student was evaluated individually by the instructor and by their project teammates. Peer ratings included four items scaled from one (poor) to five (outstanding) to assess each student’s attendance at group meetings, quality of contributions, level of cooperation, and overall performance on the project.
Instructor and peer measures of student performance on the project were highly correlated (r = .78, p = .00, n = 31), indicating high interrater reliability by multiple raters (Elbeck & Bacon, 2015). Project grades were also strongly correlated with exam grades for both Exam 1 (r = .59, p = .00, n = 31) and Exam 2 (r = .65, p = .00, n = 31). Student performance on the first exam, assessing problem definition and qualitative interpretive skills, was significantly higher in the photovoice sections than in sections engaging with in-depth interviewing, t(60) = 2.66, p = .01 (MPV = 48/60; SDPV = 10) (MIDI = 40/60; SDIDI = 13). There were no significant differences on the second exam, assessing quantitative interpretive skills.
The second research question asked whether photovoice methodology increases cross-cultural skills. To assess cultural competency, students responded to Van Dyne, Ang, and Kohs’ (2008) CQS using a two-group pretest–posttest experimental design at the beginning and end of the semester. The CQS consists of four subscales: Motivational (self-efficacy in and desire to use cultural knowledge to achieve a response), Cognitive (factual cultural knowledge), Metacognitive (conscious cultural awareness and actively revising approaches to people of different cultures) and Behavioral (adapting approaches to people from different backgrounds) cultural intelligence (Earley & Ang, 2003).
The comparison section engaged in a service-learning project where students conducted in-depth interviews (not photovoice) with individuals experiencing deep poverty or homelessness taught by the same professor in the same semester. Given that both sections increased exposure to diverse others, one might expect cross-cultural outcomes to be similar. Motivational CQ significantly increased at the end of the semester for both the service-learning course, t(11) = 3.96, p = .00 (Mpre = 3.92, SD = 0.81; Mpost = 5.65, SD = 1.58), and the photovoice course, t(12) = 5.21, p = .00 (Mpre = 4.35, SD = 0.95; Mpost = 5.94, SD = 0.69). The effect size (dSL = 1.14; dPV = 1.44) was consistent with Cohen’s (1988) convention for a large effect (d = 0.80). Cognitions decreased, t(12) = 5.48, p = .00 (Mpre = 5.40, SDpre = 0.55, Mpost = 4.13, SDpost = 0.98), while metacognitions increased, t(12) = 3.28, p = .01, with a large effect size (dcognitions = 1.52; dmetacognitions = 0.91) in the photovoice course, but not in the service-learning course, t(11) = 1.10, p = .30; t(11) = 1.43, p = .18. The behavioral dimension was nonsignificant in both courses. Together, these findings demonstrate that engaging with the documentation and dialogue inherent in photovoice allowed students to see that perhaps they are not as culturally aware as they previously thought. The fact that motivations increased in both sections is a signal of student interest in wanting to learn more about diverse others and improve their own abilities to engage with diverse others. The increase of metacognitions in the photovoice section is significant as it is a signal of deeper information processing and awareness that their own background influences the lens through which they view intercultural interactions and their own behavior (Triandis, 2006).
The photovoice project encouraged students to learn more about fellow students. These conversations also stimulated further learning about other cultures and perspectives because they facilitated conversations between students of diverse backgrounds. For example, some students were surprised to learn that diversity can mean different things to different people. The project allowed students to consider new perspectives as evidenced by the following quote:
I feel like [photovoice] opened my eyes to some things. Everyone really has their own story and sees things in their own way. I feel like for most black people when we think “diversity” our mind automatically shifts to racial diversity. But for the white women that I’ve spoken to about this topic, their minds seem to go directly to gender. (Anton)
This perspective-taking inspired students to continue conversations outside class. As one student indicated, “When the interview was over I felt interested in finding out what other people’s opinions are on this topic.” Similarly, one team reported that they wound up having deep philosophical dives into questions about diversity and equity on campus and more broadly. Those conversations allowed them to bring a more critical lens to their data, both in terms of asking interesting questions of their dataset and making specific recommendations based on evidence-based critiques.
Initial hesitations about the project melted once they gained a better understanding of their fellow students after the project, as Emily shared,
I feel proud to be working on a project like this. It really gives us students an opportunity to learn more about the people around us. We not only know more about the people in our own group but we know more about how other [university students] feel about these complex questions.
Notably, students found the project to be valuable beyond the scope of the course. Students were particularly enthusiastic about the advocacy component of photovoice and that the work they did may help others. Emily continues,
The issue impacts all students at [the University]. Thus, this makes the process of helping the client beneficial to us as we are affected by it and are able to help make a positive change at [the University].
In contrast to other classes that may focus on marketing products and services, one student specified that the “project was interesting and taught me a great deal about marketing research and diversity. Instead of simply marketing a product to the general population, this project required us to learn about diversity and our community.” This anonymous student comment shows the value of the photovoice project over traditional client projects in that students have the opportunity to work on issues that are close to them, that affect them, and that have lasting impact on their community.


Marketing educators interested in undertaking a photovoice project should be prepared for initial student hesitation toward the project topic and methodology. Students initially expressed concerns about the sensitivity of the subject matter and participant recruitment. One possibility to reduce concern with recruitment may be to partner with another class or student organizations on campus. Educators in courses such as consumer behavior, services marketing, new product development, marketing strategy, or international marketing may consider adapting portions of the photovoice project to illuminate cultural similarities and differences in consumption practices. The photovoice project could also stand on its own and be explored in more depth as a project in a qualitative marketing research course.
Executing aspects of the photovoice project is ideal for small class sizes, preferably of 45 students or less, and requires additional time commitments from faculty as well as a willingness to discuss sensitive topics with students. In the first iteration of the project, photovoice was used as an exploratory precursor for survey design and analysis for the client-based project. It was admittedly ambitious for an undergraduate marketing research course. In the second iteration, shifting assignments earlier, having the client visit during the second week of class, and giving students opportunities to practice applying the content dramatically improved the pace of the course and the quality of student projects. We cannot currently say with confidence that incorporating photovoice improves learning and CQ more than other forms of qualitative methodology; an ideal comparison point for future research would be an experimental design with the same client and professor, within the same semester, with and without photovoice.
Challenges from the faculty perspective included concerns about discussing sensitive topics with students and receiving potentially negative teaching evaluations. Teaching evaluations, however, were not statistically different from another section taught in the same semester by the same faculty. In future iterations, introducing the project topic early may be important so that students can be prepared for what they will encounter. Citing university census data on changing demographics may also be a useful frame for the project. During this introduction, it is essential to underscore the importance of the topic to the university and to students as they transition to the workforce.
Though photovoice can be used to tackle a variety of topics, through the very nature of this methodology, we engage with social justice, diversity, and inclusion. Photovoice is an inclusive methodology, highlighting minority voices while other methodologies can favor the majority. Photovoice outcomes, including the documentation of experiences, critical dialogue, and brainstorming ways to advocate for change, reinforce some of the gaps in the existing curriculum, specifically, increasing interaction with diverse others and building cross-cultural skills through perspective-taking. The reflection, interpretation, and visual representation inherent in photovoice methodology helps students better understand and meet the needs of diverse viewpoints. Photovoice impels a deliberate dialogue between textual and visual datasets that sharpens students’ interpretive faculties in ways that bolster workplace readiness and offer opportunities for deepened cultural competency.

Declaration of Conflicting Interests

The author(s) declared no potential conflicts of interest with respect to the research, authorship, and/or publication of this article.


The author(s) received no financial support for the research, authorship, and/or publication of this article.



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Article first published online: September 30, 2019
Issue published: April 2020


  1. photovoice
  2. diversity
  3. inclusion
  4. experiential learning

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Published online: September 30, 2019
Issue published: April 2020



Meghan E. Pierce
Jaime L. Longo
La Salle University, Philadelphia, PA, USA


Meghan E. Pierce, Department of Marketing, La Salle University, 1900 West Olney Avenue, Philadelphia, PA 19141, USA. Email: [email protected]

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