Reflections on Film to Digital Photography 1983-2008

My Simpson3 psx galleryHow many of your students own a digital camera?  Is a digital camera a toy or a tool?  If your students own a cell phone, is it equipped with a camera?  Teachers should welcome the digital camera as a learning tool.  Time to hop in the way back machine… remember when pictures were taken with film cartridges, sent to the photo lab, and half the printed photos were rejects after waiting a week?  OK, fair enough you can still use film and receive your photos in an hour.  My fascination with photography began in 1983 while attending Frisbee Middle School in Kittery, Maine as an 8th grader, when I learned the entire film processing workflow.  Snap, develop, and print.

Understanding the true wonders of film photography can only be experienced by breaking a film canister open in a darkroom, rolling the film onto a spool, inserting the spool into a canister, and then turning the lights on to add developer.  Pay attention to the time now — rinse, and then the moment of truth… unfurl your negative.  Simpson photographic film negative 1983If you are successful, you can immediately see the negative image of your shots.  Once the negative is dry, cut into workable strips, and then the fun really begins.  Turn the overhead lights off, turn on the funky darkroom light, and insert your negative into an enlarger.  Open the baffle to shine light through the negative and adjust the focus.  Close the baffle, align a piece of photographic paper on the base of the enlarger, open baffle — timings everything – let’s try 10 seconds.  No picture yet… immerse the paper in developer solution rocking the tray back and forth and watch as the ghostly image appears.  Another chemical bath, rinse, and it’s off to the drying rack.

While this was quite a time consuming process, each step provided ample opportunity to make adjustments by carefully monitoring each step.  For example, if I shot in bright sunlight, I would leave my negative in developer for additional 15 seconds.   The extra time would result in more silver depositing onto the negative increasing contrast.  The real artistry entered the process at the enlarger, masking parts of the photographic paper burned in sections of the image resulting in greater contrast.  The benefits to abandoning this somewhat ancient process to the digital domain is two-fold, (1) elimination of toxic chemicals into the environment and (2) increased time devoted to creativity and innovation.  Students can now spend time in the virtual darkroom using desktop programs such as Adobe Photoshop or its Web 2.0 cousin, Express to perfect their images.

Adobe Photoshop Meets Web 2.0

What happens when Adobe Photoshop meets Web 2.0? Answer: Photoshop Express (psx). Two of the central tenets of Web 2.0 are an ability to move content to the web and then provide an easy mechanism to distribute the content to others. Psx is a free beta program that provides 2GBs of storage with the ability to perform Photoshop style edits through the web. For the last year, I’ve used Flickr to post my images to the web. Each image has a unique web address (URL) that can be used to insert a link to the image. The image to the right was taken at the Chihuly exhibit at the de Young museum in San Francisco. The image is stored on my Flickr site and a placeholder is created on this Edublogs post that says, go fill this rectangle with whatever sits at the end of the link provided. Here’s the link as a web address.

One of the most difficult concepts for teachers first dipping their toes into the web pool, is to understand that web pages are assembled from diverse streams of content. Web 2.0 requires users to manipulate these streams of content to build web pages that pull content from many different sources. I choose one site, Flickr, to organize my photos which appear on three different blogs and several wikis. I’ll continue to use Flickr as a central storage site. What’s different about psx is that photos can easily be manipulated with Photoshop editing controls through the browser. In edit mode, you can perform basic adjustments such as resizing and exposure level and red-eye correction. There are also a number of tuning and effects tools that are familiar to any Photoshop user. Teachers will quickly find that Photoshop Express provides a nice first-step for students to dive into the world of photo editing. Another benefit that the program’s Web 2.0 nature affords is the ability of students to photo edit at home for school projects.

My flower slide show was produced with images taken on May 11, 2008 during Lilac Sunday held at the Arnold Arboretum, Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts. The HTML embed code is automatically generated by psx.

I’m a Connector!

Pew internet typology table thumbAccording to a new survey tool on the Pew Internet and American Life Project site, I’m now a certified member of the “connectors” group based on my question responses on technology use at home and for work.  The survey took only four minutes to complete.  If you spend a few minutes scanning my blog, it should be obvious that I place a high value on the effective integration of technology in schools.  I agree with the tool’s classification and think it validates my philosophy to Information and Communications Technology (ICT).

Connectors combine a sense that information technology is good for social purposes with a clear recognition that online resources are a great way to learn new things. Their cell phones have a lot of features, and they also try new things with technology; more than half have watched TV programming on a device like a laptop computer or cell phone. Download my full report. (PDF)

As an educator, responsible for training K-12 teachers with a wide range of technology skills, the Pew Internet typology groups remind me of the many efforts that have attempted to capture teacher technology skills to provide them professional development opportunities.  Those efforts often ask teachers to complete the survey, but often don’t make the assessment data available in a timely manner nor in a format that teachers find useful. The combination of inadequate PD in technology integration, administrative policies, and a lack of reasonable access to classroom computer hardware and software keep many teachers at the wrong end of the typology spectrum; Inexperienced Experimenters, Light but Satisfied, Indifferents, and Off the Network.  Where do you fall on the Internet typology spectrum?

Visualize Your Text with Wordle

Visuals can be a powerful means of expressing lots of information. Teachers who increasingly migrate their knowledge in the form of text to the web through blogs and wikis have a cool new web 2.0 tool, Wordle. Wordle is a web-based program running javascript that transforms lists of words, websites, rss feeds, and tags into pictures.  I ran the program on my blog to generate the above image.  Some websites use a similar technique to create tag clouds, where the most frequent words are proportionally larger than others.

The Boston Globe’s Ideas section recently published (Sunday, 8/3/2008) a Wordle comparison of John McCain’s blog to Barack Obama’s blog and discovered that the most used word on each blog was “Obama.”  Some Wordle lesson ideas for students:

  • copy and paste a student essay into the “bunch of text” feature to analyze vocabulary use
  • compare the use of words used on several websites about the same topic
  • create word collages as art projects; color palettes, fonts, and backgrounds are fully customizable.

What are your ideas for using text visuals in the classroom?