GIFs: An Educational Tool or Just Some Memes?

When someone mentions the word “GIF”, most people picture well know reaction GIFs or memes such as these two below:


or some classic cat GIFs that never seem to get old.


It is seen as a communicative tool used to illicit a certain affect, while existing as a symbol of multiple meanings which are up to the user to decipher. In the article “Never Gonna GIF You Up: Analyzing the Cultural Significance of the Animated GIF”, Miltner and Highfield discuss these social implications farther, but only in the context of social media and internet culture.

I know this is the most popular use of the device, but I would like to focus on another point briefly mentioned in the text: its usefulness as a format. Miltner and Highfield acknowledge that the design of the GIF has ensured its rapid expansion into the mainstream, but GIFs have the potential to do more than make political jokes and throw things out of context to make popular memes.

The same properties of GIFs that make them so successful across the web are what could make them very useful in a more academic setting. Because they are short, brightly colored, looped animations, they have the unique ability to grab the attention of viewers, portray information concisely, and repeat the information to aid in understanding and memorization. In fact, I find them very good at explaining concepts and processes. A simple internet search sent me to 25 GIFs that explain how things work. In each example, we can see the step by step process that’s happening to make each concept work. Information was portrayed without the need of a lengthy explanation. Not even sound or words were needed. This makes GIFs a very powerful tool that I would like to see utilized more. If nothing else, they at least look cool and can help keep a class engaged.

GIF of refraction of white light through a prism
GIF visualizing DC vs AC current
GIF visualizing double slit experiment









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