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Focus your e-learning with digital cameras

Familiarity breeds contempt, so the saying goes. However, when it comes to technology in the classroom, familiarity can be your secret weapon for successful e-learning integration, writes David Kinane.

In my role as an ICT facilitator in schools I often work with those who are unsure how using a computer in their classroom can represent anything other than hard work, frustration and a further imposition on their already time poor schedules! Which is why, for these individuals, I start from the familiar. I start with a digital camera.

The technological transition from the Instamatics of the past to the digital cameras of today is vast, but the basic desire for ‘point and shoot’ simplicity has remained a constant brief for the designers.

What’s more, the basic layout has remained the same with lens, viewfinder, shutter button, etc., still in evidence. It’s this lineage of familiarity that disarms the sceptics. A digital camera is technology educators can readily use because they have already mastered it (in one guise or another) and, crucially, they have cameras at home and use them regularly.

Capturing the student voice

The chances are that teachers have been using cameras to record class and school events for years, but the tragedy is that very little, especially in the digital age, gets published. We record far more than we publish, probably because, as teachers, we’re so time poor. Sure, some may get printed off; some may get uploaded to a teachercontrolled website or blog. But what about the students? How often do they record what is going on around them? How do they use a camera to capture their voice? Their perspectives?

The question is: how can this familiar tool be used with students to capture student voice and start to build an e-learning platform that will lead to rich learning outcomes? The key is publishing … and publishing publicly. I like to use e-learning tools that have minimal PD time for teachers and students alike, believing that a tool should be mastered quickly and put to work straight away. Microsoft’s Photo Story 3 is a tool that fits this bill perfectly. There are many more photo based e-learning tools, some proprietary and many online.

What gives cameras their power?

Using Photo Story 3 students can import their digital images, organise them into a sequence, add text and even add a voiceover track for each image. It’s this combination of student-created images aligned with student voice that gives this tool its power. Once the project has been completed it can just end up, like so much of our digital content, in a dark corner of a server never to be seen again.

When teachers see the ease with which a sequence of still images has been enhanced, they’re keen to see their students’ creativity published. It’s at this point that they can see the relevance of publishing student work online. They can accept the argument for using further tools, such as wiki or a blog, as the vehicle for this to happen. Their acceptance for using e-learning tools is now based on relevance to them and their class.

A completed Photo Story can be saved as a .wmv file that can be uploaded to YouTube for viewing. This video can then be embedded into a class blog or wiki for public viewing and feedback. This same YouTube resource can then be re-mixed and added into Google map pins to create virtual tours, turn up on a Google Earth layer, be imported into a student Glog, or form part of a programming schedule from from tools, like the online TV station Livestream.

It’s clear that from humble beginnings, the simple act of taking a digital photograph can quickly escalate into multi-layered e-learning outcomes for students, what I call the e-learning ‘layer cake’. All of these possibilities and many more come from just a simple digital camera – a technology that we’re all familiar with. It truly is an e-learning catalyst.

David Kinane is a specialist school ICT consultant and writes for INTERFACE Magazine.

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Categories: Article, Issue 25

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