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EdTech Update





Digital Cameras and Visual Literacy

My father-in-law, Barney, has a new toy - a Canon Rebel SLR Digital Camera. He couldn’t have been more pleased by the shade of green I turned with envy when he showed it to me.

I’ve loved taking pictures since my baby brother was born. At age nine, my camera was a Brownie, if I remember correctly. I still have some of those affectionately taken 2×3 snaps around somewhere. I graduated to an Instamatic (remember flashcubes?), to a Polaroid, to a used Pentax SLR in grad school, to a new Pentax and big zoom lens that I used to shoot Kodachrome slides while on vacations.

But there was no looking back when I used the first QuickTake digital camera we purchased for the district. Wow. The pure luxury of shooting dozens of photos and tossing 98% of them without additional cost was intoxicating. iPhoto and Adobe Elements were a huge bonus - quick reliable photo editing. And more recently, the ease of using photo sharing sites like smugmug and hpluks.jpg give friends and relatives the ability to see and download photos as well. (On a recent bicycle tour in France, many of us riders swapped sharing sites.)

Digital photography seems to be one of the first and most simple technologies adopted willingly by classroom teachers. Simple cameras, simple editing software and cheap color printers have allowed teachers to create personalized booklets, posters, timelines, and bulletin boards, often with pictures taken by the students themselves. Powerpoint presentations with photographs help reach those visual learners.

I like the ways our clever T-Ls in the district use digital photography as well:
- to illustrate presentations to the school board, PTOs, and community groups with pictures of happy, productive, library-using kids (HPLUKs)
- to illustrate their parent newsletters with pictures of HPLUKs
- to promote reading by creating personalized “READ” posters of both kids and the role model adults in the buildings hold favorite reads

I am concerned whether we are doing enough to teach some basic principles of visual literacy - or at least, what are the qualities that make a photograph a good photograph. Like teaching a word processing program and ignoring good composition and editing skills, are we asking kids to take pictures, but not showing them how to compose and edit the images they create?

When we think about “integrating technology into the curriculum,” I hope we remember that digital photography is a simple and effective way to do this.

What are some ways you’ve seen digital photography being used productively in schools?


Gardens and collaboration

paulgarden.jpg Grandson Paul in Grandma Annie’s garden.

My lovely wife Anne (aka the Luckiest Woman in the World) is a very skillful and ambitious gardener. It’s a genuine passion for her and our yard shows it with a large sun garden exploding with color in the front of the house and a shady terra-formed slope to the lake with hundreds of hostas in the back. Day lilies are scattered about in bright profusion.

Other than hauling an oversized rock or bag of peat moss now and grudgingly again, I contribute nothing to these stunning displays. The gardens are a display of an individual talent - even genius. Anything I might suggest would, I am sure, detract rather than add to her work. (My “yard art” purchases are very tactfully hidden among the blooms.)

I’ve been thinking a good deal about “collaboration” lately. It’s one of the real sacred cows of the profession. But I’ve been doing more thinking about how collaboration, in some circumstances, may work against goal attainment and job security.

There are definitely some downsides to working with others:
- It takes more time to reach decisions and get work accomplished.
- It takes time to find the time to work together.
- Not everyone likes working with others.
- Defining specific responsibilities is too often neglected.
- Team players may get undeserved credit or blame for an outcome.
- Some people are just a real pain in the kiester.
- Genius and imagination may be dimmed through group timidity.
- Collaboration itself becomes the goal, rather than the means to achieve it.

Here is my question - how do we know when collaboration is the right tool to use? Are there tasks for which we should have sole responsibility? Do librarians and techies who collaborate have more or less job security?

Let me know your thoughts while I go and admire the gardens.
I believe those who collaborate are in a better position when jobs are being cut. Teachers see the value of the librarian; principals see the value, and everyone who has a vote, will keep those who are a part of the school curriculum. Also, those who are visible in the halls, in the classrooms, at workshops are the ones who are thought to have an impact on student learning.

Comment by Pamela Thomspn — August 10, 2005 @ 10:37 am

I have even more questions. We are going to block scheduling. I am thinking of teaming with a teacher who will teach an advanced social studies class (college credit)We would divide the students so I would be working with one group on research while he was doing other activities with the remaining students.

I have also done reading circles, which lasted for a month. Another teacher asked me to listen to some students read for a period of time.

I guess I am getting lost as to how I should collaborate to support literacy and media, and when I am getting into gray areas that I should avoid. Any ideas?

Comment by Marcia Jensen — August 10, 2005 @ 12:51 pm

Marcia, my question is how aware of your efforts and how they contribute to the goals of your school is your principal. I’d hate to see your hard work go unnoticed. We aren’t in this for the glory, but we should make efforts to let others know that we do make a difference in programs and activities that we may not “own.”

Comment by Doug — August 10, 2005 @ 3:10 pm

I have a new principal this year. I plan to let her know as much as possible about the library/librian activities so that we can get the budget and support we need.

My main worry now is that I am getting into scheduled stuff that is more than what I should be doing, thus getting myself into situations that preclude my availability/flexibility or that are totally in the realm of a different possible collaborator.

Comment by Marcia Jensen — August 22, 2005 @ 1:45 pm

Who are these people? (Net Generation)

I recently moved my youngest child, Brady, to his first apartment in the Twin Cities. After 32 years, I am now officially an “empty-nester.” I don’t exactly know how to feel about this. I am either giddy or delirious with happiness. It’s tough to tell.

But Kathy Shrock’s comments about her 17-year-old son’s blogging habits (under the posting “Getting Blogging Help.”), reminded me of just how informed about the habits and interests of the Net Generation having Brady in the house had made me. I suppose all fathers and sons share a common wonder at just how “different” their values and interests are, but ubiquitous technology may have pushed those differences to an even greater extreme.

Since I no longer have a live specimen to observe in my own household, I will be depending more on studies and reports - both official and anecdotal from teachers and librarians. Two excellent studies have recently been released:

Educating the Net Generation published online by EDUCAUSE is terrific read - especially the first two chapters. It’s a terrific summary of over 30 reports and studies of 12-19 year olds. Some surprising information that should be useful to educators of all stripes.

The second report, just released in July 2005, is Teens and Technology by the Pew Internet & American Life Project. This is an update of a study done four years ago that shows tech use by teens is growing at a faster rate than use by the general population.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again - It will be easier for our generation to adapt to and use the technologies of the Net Generation in schools than it will be to try change the nature of these bright young adults themselves.

Maybe I will miss Brady more than I thought I would!

How have your own children changed the way you view education and technology?
Doug, Welcome to the world of empty nesters! Last year was my first year without a child
in the house or even in the same town with me. Thank goodness for telephones.

My children (ages 32 and 26) have definitely skewed my view of technology use by the Gen Xers. Both boys have been using computers since they were in 4th grade. One is a webmaster and the other has been a network manager for several years. Both have stayed current with new technologies and are frequently giving me tips to update my own technology use.

So when I teach a computer course, I tend to assume that my students are more tech saavy
than they are. This reminds me that whenever possible, it is important to individualize
instruction so that the students can move at their own pace and actually see the value of
using technology within their own context. Sally

Comment by Sally Brewer — August 11, 2005 @ 3:39 pm

I have a son who is legally-blind and benefits greatly from technology. He is a sophomore in college and uses Zoomtext enlargement software, which enlarges just about anything and puts it in his preferred white font on black background. He can also scan things and then enlarge or have his software read it to him. However, it is all just a set of tools for him. What served him well growing up? Books, stories, time without television, imagination. I think it is silly the way so many schools tout their computer classes for kindergartners, etc. It’s as if they are saying, “Computers are so important - kids have to learn about them very young.” Actually, children are so comfortable with computers that they can pick up the skills needed very easily at almost any age. There is nothing to be lost and much to be gained if the early years focus instead on books, literacy, the spoken word, etc.

Comment by Melissa Techman — August 13, 2005 @ 11:21 pm

Hi, Doug–MUCH of what I have learned about technology I’ve learned from “the kids.” For instance, Frank’s son Anth is home from Florida and showed us the pictures of his 10th reunion on our TV and I rummaged in my two year old camera’s original box and found the cord the I had which allows my point-and-shoot to do that, too, something I had never even considered. DUH!

But…the class of college student (freshman through seniors) that I just finished teaching Research Methods through Technology at SUNY Plattsburgh really appreciated learning skills like web evaluation, advanced searching, the expert information in databases, plagiarism challenges and doing really good citations. Many had parts of the above but none had all the skills. They aren’t the searching experts that they think they are. Some did say that the course should be three hour credits, not one, for all the work I make them do! And, as always, I learned from them, too, which is one of the reasons I teach the course, Sara

Comment by SaraKellyJohns — August 14, 2005 @ 12:06 pm

Melissa’s comments stirred a couple thoughts:

First, I hope that our generation will be remembered for the advances we have made in recognizing the potential of and assisting in the realization of full-lives of the “differently - abled.” (Is this still the PC term?) We belly-ache about making our schools and communities handicap accessible, spending dollars on special education, and accommodating hearing and visually impaired people in lots of ways. But when my grandchildren and great-grandchildren someday read about the history of the late 20th and early 21st century, I hope the texts talk about the compassion we showed as well as all the destructive things we did. Adaptive and assistive technologies are making a huge difference in lots of kids and adult lives. Hurray!

Second, I am also glad Melissa raises the importance of books, play, and imagination to kids. I’ve always hugely sympathized with the Alliance for Childhood organization and their publications Fools Gold and Tech Tonic. Well worth taking the time to read these cautionary tracts.

Comment by Doug — August 15, 2005 @ 11:29 am