Students Start Here… Photoshop Elements the Key to Digital Media

Learning to use selection tools.

Learning to use selection tools.

Last week I had the pleasure of introducing the Adobe Digital School Collection (ADSC) to a group of Massachusetts educators during the PreConference workshop of MassCUE (October 26, 2010).  The Adobe Digital School Collection is a bundle of software optimized for creating digital media content.  The most important applications are Adobe Photoshop Elements (PSE) and Premiere Elements (Pre), the first handles image creation and editing and the later video.   In my experience, most students and teachers don’t have an opportunity to use these programs on a daily or even weekly basis.

The first activity that I introduced during the PreCon workshop was focused on setting up and building a Photoshop Elements catalog.  The origins of the catalog lesson came from my district’s use of DeepFreeze on all school computers.  DeepFreeze prevents users from altering or permanently storing files on shared school computers.  In order for a user to build an intelligent portfolio of digital images, Photoshop Elements requires a dedicated storage space for building an ongoing catalog.  The analogy here is like collecting toy cars and having plenty of shelves to display and organize them. The shelves need to stay put and your toy cars shouldn’t disappear.  Fortunately, PSE gives users the ability to create custom catalogs that can happily live on a flash drive.  In my school, students participating in our Adobe Youth Voices digital media program each receive their own flash drives.  The workshop participants learned to setup a flash drive catalog.  The lesson plan including all the media assets are available on the Adobe Education Exchange.  Look for Introduction to Photoshop Elements 8 Catalogs – The De Young Museum Portfolio.

Spooky castles?

Spooky castles?

Once teachers had a working catalog we explored the world of selection tools using a lesson shared by Sara Martin over the Ed Exchange.  In horror of Halloween, I challenged teachers to create the spookiest castle using selection tools, shapes, effects, and filters.

After students master editing still images I like to introduce the PSE slideshow editor to move them into video.  The skills needed to master good video production require about 10 times the effort and commitment to learning to become really proficient.  I explained to the workshop teachers that video consumes about 10x more hard disk space than still images especially when High Definition video cameras are readily available.  If you are new to the Digital School Collection, my recommendation is to build your foundation in Photoshop Elements.  This photography slide show was created exclusively in Photoshop Elements using the slideshow editor.   If you like the effect, you are probably responding to the combination of photographic imagery, movement, music, slide transitions and timing.  Challenge your students to build highly polished slide shows before diving into the world of video.  Posting the best slide shows on a streaming video site for everyone to see and comment on will motivate your students to work harder.

We recently surveyed a group of middle school students on their use of technology and software.  As expected the most popular activity was texting, 92% of students reported texting everyday or at least 2-3 times per week.  The next most popular activity was watching YouTube video at 82%.  I always ask students if they would like to be the ones creating the content that everyone WANTS to watch?  What tech integration projects using Photoshop Elements do you want to teach?

Educator Goes Street For July 4th

July 4th is one of Boston’s best annual community events.  The world famous Boston Pops Orchestra stages a free public concert at the Hatch Shell on the Charles River Esplanade.  For those true musical patriots who seek the glory of premium seating – prepare to camp overnight.   Only those brave citizens risking life and poor cellular service will persevere to awaken in one of several columns sleeping toward the moment of truth, 9:00 AM!

I recently completed a 4-day street photography course taught by B.D. Colen, a noted journalist and photographer.   The central principle of street photography is to accurately document public events through the art and craft of photography.  As an educator on the front lines of helping public school teachers integrate technology into their teaching practice, I’m struck by the similarities of street photography and teaching in the 21st century.

First, the tech savvy teacher and the street photographer need to be passionate about connecting with their subjects, sometimes risking rejection.  The most difficult workshop assignment was to “get close” to complete strangers in order to capture the moment.  B.D. challenged us to set our camera’s zoom lens to a single wide-angle setting in the 35-50mm range and be no more than 10ft from our intended subject.   The gold standard of street photography is capturing people head on, immersed in the moment without regard to the camera.

Second, while everyone seems to have a digital device that captures images and video,  developing the ability to anticipate and SEE the moments worth documenting requires great observational skill.  The same is certainly true of the teacher who must judiciously scan a classroom full of students and make decisions about when to redirect her lesson or assist an individual student.    Good street photography freezes those meaningful moments of human interaction from a simple embrace to the shared wonder of an amazing fireworks display.  As I set about snapping photos throughout the day, it became apparent that a wide range of people just naturally welcome digital cameras and mobile phones into their lives.  The challenge for street photographers and teachers is how to document meaningful interactions between people when they are increasingly online.  For instance, in the photograph, Weeping Willow Boy and Flags, the boy appears to be relaxing in the tree oblivious to his surroundings.  If you examine the image closely, he’s got an MP3 player and a minute later he was furiously texting as he still laid comfortably in the tree.  Last week at ISTE’s 2010 conference in Denver, CO, Elliot Soloway predicted that within 5 years every American student would have a mobile learning device (MLD).   Should teachers welcome MLDs into their classrooms?  Will all students become street photographers?

My final point involves the 21st century skill of communication and collaboration.  My approach as a photographer is to sit back, wait a bit, and frame my images before snapping.  Given this reserved approach, I netted about 500 images that B.D. asked me to cut in half.  I then submitted my images for peer review with four other classmates.   Our ultimate goal was to each tell the story of Boston’s July 4th celebration through a series of 30 photographs.  To learn the art of good street photography we viewed and discussed photographs from books by, W. Eugene Smith, Henri Cartier-Bresson, and Robert Frank.  Sure, you can see many of their most famous images on the web, but the printed photographs speak more loudly.  If you are a digital educator, you certainly understand the challenge faced by many students who need to learn good editing and synthesis skills as they confront the shear volume of data easily collected with today’s digital devices.  What images would your students select for publication in a book?

Read more about Street Photography on the Digital Grin forum.