Guest Editorial (untitled)
Mark Twain said that there are two times in a person's life when he should not speculate ¬ when he can't afford to and when he can.
Educators understand that sentiment well, especially when contemplating technology purchases for the classroom. Education reforms, rightly in my view, are generating higher standards for student performance. School budgets are tighter than ever.
The result is that today's school districts can't afford to speculate on technology for the classroom. It's not enough simply to set basic goals, such as one computer for every five pupils over every eight. Schools need to demonstrate a clear benefit to justify their investment... to make sure that technology is a tool that aids learning, not just a toy that entertains students.
Putting Pictures to Work
Using digital pictures to help students learn is a key benefit technology can provide. J. Carter Brown, director emeritus of the National Gallery of Art, puts it this way:
"We are in a new age where the image can now be central, thanks to technology in large part. Images are around us. Today, they have the potential to be as fundamental to education as words and numbers, adding significantly to the excitement, depth and relevance of what and how children learn."
New technology is making it both easier and more affordable to work with pictures in the classroom. Digital cameras, many priced well under $1,000, let students record their activities visually and add them instantly to their work. Similarly priced CD writers make it possible to record pictures, sound and text in a convenient format that plays on any multimedia computer. Thanks to the Internet and online services, anyone with a desktop computer and a modem has immediate access to a world of images.
Three Key Areas
Today's school districts are using these technologies to put pictures to work in three key applications areas.
Adding pictures to documents. Student athletes at Central High School in suburban Chicago stand out from the crowd when they apply for college athletic scholarships. In place of standard recommendation letters, the high school's coaches produce an inexpensive brochure, complete with action shots, on a desktop computer using Photo CD technology. John Lund, the school's director of planning and technology, says the mailings have generated a higher rate of return from colleges.
The school also adds pictures to its community mailings, which Lund said enables the small school district to compare favorably to other districts in attracting prospective students.
Digital Student Portfolios. In the King Center Pilot at Public Elementary School 90 in Buffalo, N.Y., teachers track students' progress on multimedia portfolios, produced on the school's own CD writer. Updated regularly, the portfolios combine teacher comments and students' written work with audio clips (of students reading, for example) and digital pictures of field trips and other activities taken with a digital camera.
According to Clarity Price Massey, the Houghton College professor overseeing the project, the results have been impressive. Students are enthusiastic about updating their portfolios, which in turn helps teachers monitor their progress more effectively. A third benefit is increased parent involvement in education. They come to parent-teacher conferences more often, and walk away with a clearer picture of how their children are doing relative to other students.
Sharing Images Online. The ability to transmit digital images can provide students access to pictures from around the world without leaving the classroom. One example is a new technology that lets people access Photo CD images over the Internet, allowing them to see details and zoom in for close-ups. Students working on projects about space exploration will be able to explore the surface of Mars or study pictures at the Smithsonian using this new Kodak technology.
The Picture Payoff
From pre-schoolers with fingerpaints to medical students studying anatomy, the ability of pictures to help students learn has always been clear. Digital images can enhance the learning process in several ways.
Putting pictures in documents lets students use their own pictures in learning, enhancing their interest and making work more fun. Multimedia portfolios let teachers provide a visual record of individual students and their work, providing a truer account of their progress for educators and parents ¬ and a valuable record for the students themselves. The ability to share images online opens up a whole world of distance learning and opportunities for collaboration.
These applications are lowering the cost and increasing the benefits of the technology equation for educators. In evaluating the need for technology in the classroom, digital imaging is a sure thing.
Carl Gustin is Senior Vice President and Chief Marketing Officer for Eastman Kodak Co.
No Need to be Overwhelmed
A word of caution: Do not be overwhelmed by the ever-changing technology and the often seemingly prohibitive start-up costs. Find out what you need. It certainly appears to be the direction in which we are heading.
This article originally appeared in the 02/01/1996 issue of THE Journal.