Digital Imaging: The Wave of the Future
Prices for digital imaging equipment have dropped significantly over the last few years. As a result, the use of digital imaging products in the classroom has greatly increased. Now, with this increased use of digital imagery by teachers and students, many schools are expanding the equipment they are offering in their labs and classrooms.
Digital cameras have quietly made major inroads into education, especially at the K-12 level. They remove one of the major headaches of photography courses at the K-12 and university levels: the need for a darkroom with all its chemicals. With a digital camera, students can simply shoot images and instantly display them on a computer, print them using an ink-jet printer or use a projector to share the images with the entire class. This allows students to quickly review their images, critique their results and reshoot as needed.
It's interesting to note that early digital cameras were not well suited for the classroom, because they either did not have adequate resolution, had limited controls or cost too much. But, all that has changed. Most digital cameras today have at least a 3.2-megapixel resolution, which is high enough to print a great looking 8.5" x 11" image. In addition, many relatively inexpensive digital cameras offer enough controls for even the most demanding photography course. Most likely, digital cameras will continue to fall in price, while they simultaneously gain resolution.
However, there is an important drawback to digital cameras: When students use a darkroom and chemicals they are usually responsible for providing their own supplies, but when the images are printed on ink-jet printers it is hard for schools to expect students to supply their own ink cartridges since most printers are not set up to frequently exchange cartridges. As a result, it is likely that some of the costs will shift from the students to the school. While the school will likely end up supplying the ink cartridges, students can still be expected to supply their own paper given that the paper used to print digital photographs is fairly expensive.
Digital cameras and photo CDs are a great way to get new images in a digital form, but neither of them allows a user to utilize existing images. For that, you need a scanner. Scanners are no longer limited to only scanning photographs, with most modern scanners doing an excellent job of scanning both negatives and slides. They also do a great job of scanning printed images from books and magazines. Of course, when you obtain images from these types of sources, you must keep copyright issues in mind. And while scanners used to be expensive and difficult to set up, they are now inexpensive enough that you can afford to have as many as you need for your school. In addition, most scanners now connect via USB, so hooking them up and configuring them is a snap.
If you have not looked at projectors recently, you owe it to yourself to take another look. Prices have dropped dramatically, making them much more affordable than in the past. Combine an inexpensive projector with the low cost of desktop computers and you can equip a classroom with a projector, video players and a desktop computer for around $1,500. Wiring and a ceiling mount will still leave the per-class set up cost at well under $2,000. Even if the school cannot afford this, it is well within the realm of a PTA fundraiser.
Currently, most of the projectors used at the academic level capture the video as analog output as it g'es to the monitor at a resolution of 800 x 600, while a more expensive projector can capture and display the video digitally so no conversion to analog is required. This conversion ability is likely to move into the less expensive units over time. The more expensive units can also handle the higher 1,024 x 768 resolution, which is also likely to move into the less expensive units over time. (See sidebar on Page 49 for the trade-offs between SVGA and XGA projectors.)
One drawback to the widespread adoption of projectors in the classroom is their increased theft. While the FBI d'es not track crime statistics on these projectors, officials in education and executives in the industry have no doubts that theft rates have exploded. Just while this article was being written, Southern Polytechnic State University in Georgia, where I teach, had three projectors stolen. Officials on many other campuses tell similar stories.
According to executives at InFocus, the most common reason for the theft of projectors in the academic environment, especially in K-12, is the desire of students to connect them to their Xboxes so they can play games on a larger display. The shrinking size of the projectors is no doubt a major contributor to the problem, with current models weighing just a couple of pounds and being small enough to conceal in a backpack.
This article originally appeared in the 10/01/2003 issue of THE Journal.