Posts in Category "Articles"

November 15, 2013

The Digital Photo Workshop with David Black: Yosemite

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A weekend in Yosemite with David Black… Sign me up! Last year at Photoshop World I had a very rare and random experience. I won a workshop pass from “The Digital Photo Workshops” team with David Black. It turned out to be a very Enlightening experience about the world of photography.

 IMG_1357I prepared for the conference by worrying that my gear was not up to the task. I have a Cannon 20D that is pretty old but I didn’t have a budget for a new one just then. I ended up borrowing a Cannon 60D from another high school and it was a good thing I did! We pushed the very limits of the 60D and I ended up wishing I had a little better model but it got the job done. Also I was very glad that I purchased a 256 GB Solid State Lacie Rugged Hard Drive with Thunderbolt 2 which made backing up go in seconds rather then minuets and when you have the opportunity to be with some of the best you need the time to ask questions not waiting on hardware. Also I bought a great bag from case logic that allowed me to pack my Wacom, MacBook Pro, and both the 20D and 60D. The only thin I regretted not having was a neutral density filter, a polarizing filter, and a shutter release for the 60D. I packed 3 batteries and ran out one day. I also had two 32GB SD cards and they were over kill but it was nice to have space. My wife bought me a nice microfiber cloth 12” X 24” which was very nice to have.

IMG_1237The travel to Yosemite took some planning and research. I stayed at the Cedar Lodge in a very nice room for $110 a night as opposed to $200+ to stay in the park. The drive was about 35-40 min to the main lodge on a pretty windy road. I rented a hybrid which was a great cost saver at 40 Miles to the Gallon. I flew into the San Jose Airport and drove out through Merced and In all the drive was about 4 hours.

The first night we had a meeting where we met our Instructors: David Black, Rob Sylvan, Jeff Leimbach, and Randy Van Duinen. I had met some of them at Photoshop World and I felt very welcome even though I cam in a little late. Randy did a quick lesson on how to set up a camera for HDR so we would be ready for the next day (Sunlight meets shadows…Valley). I had no idea what HDR was so it was very useful. Dave showed us some of his photos and told us his main goal was to make sure we were able to go home and do light painting. He also told use the keys to composition three across, three vertical, three deep, and then light the subject.

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The next day I ended up not being able to find the group so I was late. Ugh I hate being late but there I was late twice in a row. I found the group after about an hour and I jumped in. Rob stayed behind with me so I could get some one on one training and some good pictures.  The day was really great and I came away with some amazing shots for the first time I’d ever been out taking pictures.

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After we had some shots we came into the classroom and we had assisted editing time where we worked on our own images and were able to ask questions about how do I do… or what do you think… How could I… it was very informal and it worked out really great!

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While we were doing some editing Dave was in the other room setting us for light painting. He showed the entire group and then asked half of us to keep working on photos while he worked two stations with the other half. The whole setting was professional but casual all at the same time which was just great!

That night we went out and did some light painting in nature. Dave lined us all up on these dead bushes and was saying isn’t this going to be great! We were all wondering what Dave had for lunch but we did as he said and just as the sun was down he light up the bushes with the Brinkman spot light and a 30 second exposure later… complete magic! One of my favorite shots that I brought home from the trip. IMG_1226

The next day it was more of the same in a different location. We did some reflection shots and some moving water. We moved back to the classroom where we set up our own light paintings with our own cameras. Then later that night we went to an old chapel and did another light painting where we had the opportunity  to uses the Brinkman’s to light the scene ourself. Once we were done at the chapel there was a group of us who wanted to stay and do some star trails. So I setup in a field and took 50 Exposures of 30 Sec each. I had a nice shot as it was pointed at the North star. I was looking at others shots though and well… I was jealous! Rob had a great shot with the stars over half dome and I wanted one.

Star Trails

I drove back to my hotel that night feeling defeated because I didn’t get my star shot I wanted. I did the only logical thing I could think of and checked out of the hotel and drove back to Yosemite at 1AM. I parked in a field and spent the next three hours working on my star shot. The exposure was 61 min at 200 ISO and it came out great! I left the conference that day feeling as though I had slain the giant!

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It was a great experience full of great instructors. If you get a chance to go do not pass it up for anything.

6:05 PM Permalink
November 11, 2013

Behance Portfolio Reviews

“Organised by members for members” is the tag line for the Behance Portfolio Reviews that have been happening around the world between 4th and 11th November. The Behance portfolio site has been offering support to those organising local portfolio reviews where creatives can gather and have their portfolios critiqued by a panel of experts.

Katy Simpson receives feedback

The judges with Katy Simpson. Photo courtesy of Ben Shmulevitch.

I attended the first portfolio review in Scotland, organised by David Mahoney, student at The University of Edinburgh, and took part as a member of the judging panel. During the evening 4 people presented their portfolios to the audience and received feeback from the panel consisting of photographer Tibor Galamb, talent agency consultant Sandy Tedford and myself.

Afterwards there was an opportunity to network and I took the chance to chat with as many of the attendees as I could and to promote the forthcoming Adobe Generation courses. Each presenter was awarded a Behance medal and two lucky winners, Katy Simpson and Todor Russanov, won subscriptions to Adobe Creative Cloud.

The event was a great success and everyone I spoke with said that they had enjoyed the evening and would be going away having learned something from the experience. Well done to David for organising the event, and I sincerely hope we can participate in future events like this in Scotland.

View the four presenters’ portfolios:
Katy Simspon – http://www.behance.net/katysimpson
Todor Russanov – http://www.behance.net/russanov
Wael Seaiby – http://www.behance.net/waelseaiby
Georgi Karapeev – http://www.behance.net/gkarapeev

 

- Colin Maxwell, Adobe Education Leader

11:40 AM Permalink
March 11, 2012

Extraordinary work from NSW Art students

In New South Wales, Australia; students who study art in their senior high school years have the opportunity to have their assessment submissions displayed at a number of prestigious galleries, notably the New South Wales Art Gallery and other galleries such as the Armory at Newington, Hazelhurst Gallery, Newcastle Art Gallery, University of Western Sydney, Wollongong City Gallery to name a few. The exhibitions are chosen from selections of works that were at the top range of the marking scale. Students whose works were pre-selected are then placed into a pool of works from which gallery curators make their selections. The Arts, and in this case Visual Arts are a valued part of the educational curriculum in NSW. Out of the approximately 80,000 students that sat for this years HSC (Higher School Certificate) 10,000 or so chose Visual Art as one of their HSC subjects and submitted Bodies of Work as part of their assessment. Of those 10,000 about 200 were chosen to have their works exhibited across a number of Galleries and exhibition spaces in Metropolitan Sydney and regional NSW. There isn’t anything comparable to it anywhere else in Australia or on the planet. This is certainly a model for Art education that should be looked at seriously by any country that wants to give their high school students a rich and immersive experience in Visual Art. As an art educator and an AEL it’s so pleasing to be a part of this extraordinary process and; last but not least, spot where Photoshop and Illustrator feature in the student works.

“ARTEXPRESS is an exhibition of bodies of work by secondary school students submitted for the Higher School Certificate examination in Visual Arts in New South Wales, Australia” @Board of Studies NSW.

View my post at R.E.W.I.R.E.D

Images courtesy of ArtExpress @ Art Gallery of NSW

8:41 AM Permalink
March 3, 2012

Photoshop Touch

I’ve just spent a few days taking Photoshop Touch for a serious run. Touch is only recently available for IOS users, a long wait, but a worthwhile one. Obviously Adobe have done their homework. Photoshop Touch performs well beyond what one would normally expect from an image editing app designed for tablet use. My only wish list (not really connected to reality) for Touch is a modest increase in the output file size and the addition of some functionality that mimics ‘add structure’ as opposed to ‘sharpening’.

I found being able to work with most of the layering capability of Photoshop a real pleasure, not because it replaces what I would normally do in my editing workflow but because I can work on ideas in ‘abstentia’ and make editing decisions on the go, then refine and finalise them for either printing or uploading to web galleries at a later point. The ‘scribble tool’ is a stroke of genius and the ability to refine the selection without stepping out of the tools functionality makes working with selections a real pleasure. Last but not least (amongst a host of features) is the ability to add and edit a layer directly from the camera. This means that I can paint directly into an image with a light source; combine that with the ability to paint that into a selection and blend via ‘layer modes’ and one might be able to do some light painting aka Peter Solness without having to step out into the bush in total darkness armed with only a torch. Aggh…. at least I can dream

I did some comparison tests converting a colour image to black and white using Touch and Nik’s SilverEffex Pro 2 plugin for Photoshop. Photoshop Touch performed admirably. You can read the post and see the images here

 

11:20 AM Permalink
January 5, 2012

Self expression is healing

Self expression is healing . I know this because my students show me how true this is every year when they make their films.

For the record, not all of their pieces are like this, thank you! But every year there are students who come forward to tell me about their Adobe Youth Voices projects and I am frequently moved to tears by the hardships they are experiencing. There is the young lady whose aunt is an alcoholic – with unpleasant consequences, and the student wants to talk about this in an audio podcast and poster. There are the two students who discovered they had both been subjected to emotional abuse for years and they want to make a film about this. Then there is the student who cannot live at home – mom is a “bit of an addict” and dad – well, living with dad is simply not possible. She lives with a friend.  She is considering doing a piece about this experience. I am moved in ways that reach deep into my soul. I am overwhelmed that so much hardship goes on around us, in good old middle class Canada. And then I am honoured to be trusted such that they would want to talk about these issues with me and that leaves me feeling overwhelmed with the responsibility of seeing these projects through to fruition while also asking constantly… “Are you comfortable sharing all of this with the world?” because the students must also be protected.

I think about the software we use – Adobe Photoshop Elements 9 and Adobe Premier Elements 9 and I wonder if the software engineers ever think about what their programs address and create. If they were to see what goes on in my class as these projects gently unfold and grow, I suspect they would be amazed and perhaps, overwhelmed. It is truly awesome to watch and to nurture and mentor this whole process. I bet they never talked about this in engineering class. But this is what they are helping to create through their software. Thank you to all the engineers – you make great things possible. And out of some of that, comes healing. The healing that can only emerge from the release from some of your troubles and issues. It is a very neat journey. If any engineers read this, please be sure to pass it along to your comrades. And smile at what you help make possible. As for me – I am delighted that all of this is going on. I can’t change their pasts but I can certainly help to change their futures, and isn’t that what education is all about?

10:04 PM Permalink
October 28, 2011

RISK eBusiness: Moving to a Just In Time Method of Teaching

Trapped in a Tar Pit

Metaphorically speaking, a dinosaur is any entity lacking the capacity to adapt to environmental changes in a timely fashion. While a dinosaur may well possess the ability to adapt it may be an unfortunate accident of biology or culture that predisposes it to an internal rate of transformative change that is relatively static compared to the rate of change in the environmental factors that, normally, support and optimize conditions for its survival. This inability to match the pace of change places the dinosaur at a competitive disadvantage that eventually pushes it to the margins of relevance and results in its eventual extinction—both literal and metaphorical.

No creature would invite change for its own sake and—humans being like most other creatures—expend enormous amounts of energy attempting to stabilize our situation and achieve a form of stasis that allows us not only to survive but to thrive in relative safety and comfort. We tend towards mitigating the effects of the unknown and the unpredictable and this requires apprehending and utilizing knowledge of the environment in order that we might exploit it to advantage.

Our ability to utilize binding symbolic language and symbolic artefacts and to fashion tools that—according to Marshall McLuhan—extend, enhance and accelerate our effective selves, creates a buffer between us and a natural order that challenges us with the timeless struggle for survival.

The fact that we will soon be uneasily celebrating the turnover of our biological counter to the 7 billion mark is a testimony to how successful we have been at disconnecting from or minimizing the risks that the natural order presents. One could argue that this disconnection could be better characterized as a complete domination and subjugation of the environment that carries with it a dire corollary for our long-term survival and that the technocomplex that we created constitutes its own environment with its own evolutionary pressures.

The Silicone  Pit

Iterative improvement and automation have resulted in the sort of hyperbolic innovations that engineer Gordon Moore predicted in the mid 1960’s. The rate of change is dizzying and poses significant challenges to our capacity for adapting to the changes they usher in. The explosion of new technologies, whose cycles of innovation and obsolescence relegate one to the status of instant expert or instant dinosaur in the blink of an eye, constitutes our greatest environmental challenge.

Having knowledge of one’s object of inquiry has traditionally meant being able to give a name to it—to plot its co-ordinates and assay and record its characteristics. This sort of knowledge has traditionally conferred on the inquirer a degree of power and control over their object of inquiry—it is a form of experiential mapping, if you will. However, this is not so easy with respect to characterizing much less predicting the evolutionary trajectory of our modern technological landscape. Mapping the contours of our ever-changing, ever-expanding information and techno-complex is intractable as mapping sand dunes or clouds—the particulars are so infinitely complex and changing that it defies linear, rational and concrete approaches to knowing. It is a phenomenon that has rapidly emerged into a quantum state where power comes from making sense of the relational dimensions between the elements of this complex rather than knowing the particular qualities or quantities associated with the constituent elements themselves. Understanding, then, assumes a holistic character where inductive logic gives way to deductive and intuitive processes that may benefit more from a metaphor or narrative thread with which to frame or anchor one’s understanding of the infinitely complex. This form of knowing differs from the traditional detached objective methods of scientific knowing. Instead, this form of knowing is experiential, immersive and, simultaneously, transforms both subject and object.

Consider that, in using a technology, you have changed the manner in which you interact with the world around you and this results in the emergence of new patterns of behavior, new modes of interaction, shifts in language, value systems and culture and we are irrevocably changed and the system within which this technology has been used is changed too. This implies that the relationship between subject and object have also shifted. In short we see the world in a different way for the simple reason that our internal value systems have dramatically shifted and the world that we inhabit has also dramatically changed. While we highly value information that is accessible and searchable many with the means to do so would pay millions of dollars for a highly inaccessible “original” painting by, say, Rembrandt, while few of us would be willing to pay for a digital version of it. An objects potential for ubiquity works in tension with its unique instantiation. An object that can readily be reproduced and reducing its value to near zero in a commodity-based economy where value is predicated on scarcity. The web-enhanced age in which we live is one of infinite abundance and, hence, traditional economic value cannot be derived from the objects produced in this ecosystem but, rather, from the relationships that it facilitates. While scarcity and  authenticity are still significant arbiters of value today we see from the runaway success of social resources like Face Book

The Renaissance Through the Looking Glass

The age of now has oft been described as one of digital tribalism where the age of empire, standardization, control and concentration of power and influence have given way to chaotic and barbaric forces that truculently refuse to be defined and controlled by the old paradigms. We are advancing toward the past—almost medieval, semi-literate forms of informal, quasi-embodied social interaction where the emphasis is on the relationship—on being there (digitally) and participating in the conversation. It is Walter Ong’s Post-literate society or age of “secondary orality.” We are leaving the time where meaning was defined in terms of rational scientific constructs and entering a new epoch where our old science creates more questions than it is capable of answering—adding to an already infinite data set. We are entering a new mythopoetic age where it is pointless to look at the massive complexity of our modern technological and information ecosystem and hope to induce meaning and significance through observing it. What is significant is that we are not detached from it (as the old science would have it) we are caught up in its turbulence trying to keep our heads above water, as it were. The more sane approach would be to recognize that this leviathan chimera unleashes enormous pressures on us and to not ask what this means but, rather, to demand “what do we wish this this to mean for us now and in the future” and to hold it to account for this vision. We must not embrace technology simply for its own sake, rather, it should be subsumed in the service of our collective vision for the future and, in that sense, we are called upon to dream and to do so boldly. To envision a world where technology and information serves to nurture humanity requires that we come to understand who we are at our root and to what purpose must our hearts and our minds be put. These questions resonate with aspects of spirituality that seem antithetical to the project of science. However both science and technology have no life or no meaning without being grounded in the context of life—of attending and attaining to being fully human in a world that is rich,  diverse and healthy and to this end all human projects should bend their respective backs to the task of enriching life on this planet and, thus, must be held fully accountable to this demand. Human health is linked to a complex web of inter-relationships that extends out beyond the human sphere to include the entire created order. Our evolving technological landscape has the potential to allow us to discover who we are both individually and collectively in relation to the broader world and to deepen the veracity of relationships that putative modern western science, and the tsunami of uncritical progress it unleashed, has unwittingly compromised.

Why Are We Here and What Are We Doing?

The philosophical perspectives/worldview that I outlined in the preceding paragraphs were not derived from gleaning through the tomes of savvy and erudite pop culture gurus (although I owe a great debt to Harold Innis, Eric Havelock, Marshall McLuhan, and Walter Ong and have enjoyed sharing insights articulated by the likes of Richard Ogle, Don Tapscott and Malcolm Gladwell), rather they came from a direct experience of some fundamental changes that I was experiencing in relation to my subject area and my relationship with my students.

 

2:44 PM Permalink
July 11, 2011

THE DARK SIDE AND THE BRIGHT SIDE OF WHAT WE DO

THE DARK SIDE AND THE BRIGHT SIDE OF OUR DIGITAL WORLD

There is a dark side to our digital world and it is called cyber-bullying. Our intervention is required.

Cyber-bullying is lethal but I did not appreciate the depths of this reality until I looked it in the face and saw the upset and nightmares it creates. I had read the articles about cyber-bullying. I had watched a video. I thought I was aware but I was wrong. It was only when it faced me directly, when one of my students was taken down that horrible path, that I fully understood what it is and why it must be addressed. It is the dark side of our digital world.

The student in question is a very quiet, intelligent, accomplished person, with wonderful friends and a bright clear future. When this student was away for many classes, I worried. The Guidance department then sent out a note to the student’s teachers explaining that medical issues prevented this young person from attending school and since it was near the end of the year would we each please contact mom and help the student to complete the year successfully, understanding that the student was not capable of doing everything normally at least for the time being.

I called mom – and learned the horrible truth. Her child had been the victim of a vicious cyber-bullying attack. This wonderful, quiet, young person was talking about suicide. Not as a “drama queen/king”, but quietly, intelligently… and that is when mom and dad sought emergency counselling and started round-the-clock care so their child would never be alone. When I was on the phone with mom she completely broke down. She was in tears, I had tears running down my face, and it suddenly was all too real. When I suggest that “lethal” is the only word to describe cyber-bullying, I truly mean it.

When I called mom I had a game plan in mind. I do house calls. I don’t do them very often, and I always have parental permission before I “drop in” and it occurred to me that this was the time for one of those visits – if the student could not come to me then I would go to them and the family agreed to this. It is very difficult to explain what it is like to see a warm, caring young person who used to look so good now looking like they were in Hell, but that’s what faced me. I said I was there to provide support and to show that their child meant the world to me. I didn’t care about the academics – they had a fabulous track record in my class and further work was not needed. I had taken the time to come over to prove that this teenager was a very important person and had every reason to live. That was why mom allowed me to come over. That was my whole message. The visit lasted about an hour. There were warm hugs all round, many tears were wept, some anger was vented, some details were shared. And I learned at point blank range just how destructive and horrible cyber-bullying is. Not “can be”, not “could be”… “is.” Period.

Teens don’t have a lot of inner resources with which to deal with life’s challenges and their executive function – well – it’s just not at an “executive” level yet. They depend heavily on their friends and peers for their identities and the internet is a large part of this. Watch some teens on their phones and you’ll see how distraught they become when they miss part of an online texting conversation. Not all teens do this at this level, but many do, and cyber-bullying preys on that vulnerability and dependence.
We do amazing things with amazing kids and it is a privilege and an honour to be a part of their world. Being allowed into someone’s home is an even greater honour and for that I offer a heartfelt thanks to that family. Thank you for letting me in. I am glad I could help in some small way. Like the title says, there is a dark side to our digital world and we must address it directly. It is time to create a curriculum that helps to undo the dark side. Please send your thoughts and comments – I would like to hear what you are doing in this regard.

Fortunately, there is also a bright side to our digital world. It is called student success. Here are a few examples from my past year of teaching.

Working in multimedia is wonderful and each year there are moments when we see kids succeed in ways that only these media allow. One young fellow has many learning challenges. Doing academic work is difficult for him. He tries but it’s not usually very successful. He was bailing on all of his classes, including mine… and then he completed his music video. What a breakthrough! He worked with a few friends and put together a movie using Premier Elements 9.0 and suddenly the storyteller that is locked away inside this young man was revealed. The video was far from perfect but it was a fabulous statement from him. I love Premier Elements because it does so much and is so accessible. Another student worked with her partner to tell the story of a monster that stole people’s dreams. Hours and hours of filming and scripting and editing (again in Premier Elements 9.0) finally came together in their labour of love. They were justifiably proud of their accomplishment. Over and over again I watched students tell stories and comment on their lives through the videos and posters they were making. The power of multimedia was very much in evidence all around my classroom lab. It was a joy to see the tools of our trade being used to create healthy, productive projects. As I look back on the year I was reminded that most kids in most situations do indeed do the right thing. When I was dealing with the cyber-bullying situation I needed to remember this.

My year ended on a strong up note when the bullied student showed up at school on report card day (they were back!!!) to say a very warm and deeply felt, thank you. It doesn’t get any better than that. I hope your year has been as warm and nurturing.

6:37 PM Permalink
June 30, 2011

AN ULTIMATE EXAM, PHOTOSHOP ELEMENTS 9 AND SUCCESS

An ultimate exam – can there be such a thing? If it is in a high school senior design class is the Adobe Digital School Collection up to the task? ABSOLUTELY – on both counts. My classes did it and the results were fabulous.

Our principal explained she needed a favour. She was the volunteer chair of our school board’s United Way campaign for 2011-2012 and she needed new posters for the campaign. The posters would be printed and distributed throughout the board (no small deal – we are one of the largest school boards in Canada) . I love authentic tasks. Having spent 20 years in ad agencies and design firms before moving into teaching I know the difference between textbook work and “real” assignments and this opportunity was incredibly real. Each year I have several students who are move into the design field in post secondary programs and for them to have first class published work in their portfolios would be fantastic.

To make it interesting I chose to do the posters as the final exam project in my senior design classes. Our provincial ministry of education allows us the freedom to create our final exams in whatever form best suits our courses and students and for me that always involves a practical design assignment. After all, we are a project driven, student centered creating, solving, building, testing and evaluating class so why not get the students to do exactly that as part of their exam. The challenge built in to this, however, is that because the poster assignment was being presented as an exam I would not be able to offer all of the feedback and assistance I would normally offer in a regular assignment. But – I had promised fabulous posters for my principal to use for the campaign. Would I be able to deliver as promised?

The software we use is the Photoshop Elements 9.0 (with Premier Elements 9.0, and Web Standard CS4 – Dreamweaver, Fireworks and Flash Pro). My senior students have repeatedly confirmed that this version of Photoshop is more than up to the task. So many tools and functionalities have been carried over from the CS4 version that it has become a powerhouse of its own. A full slate of layers functions – layer blends, clipping masks, layer masks – plus a broad range of colour functions and selection functions as well as a full range of filters means that there isn’t much you can’t do in this version. Obviously it is not the same as Photoshop CS4 or CS5, but it isn’t a pale junior version either – it holds its own and produces wonderful results. For high school classes getting into digital design I find it is a very accessible and accomplished tool.

A quick side note, should you chose to do this type of assignment – I helped many of the students with the words for the posters. We are not a creative writing class, we’re a design class, so helping them with the text really eased their concerns and allowed them to focus on what was important – their designs. Photos came from www.morguefile.com only – it allows users to use the images in almost any way imaginable and that was important to me since the school board was printing and distributing the posters and copyright issues could not interfere with this process. As part of this assignment the students also had to learn and meet the requirements of logo use for both the United Way and for our school board – yet another authentic element built into the project.

So – how did it all work out? My grade 11 classes created two posters each – one for an adult audience and one for a student audience (their choice of age range – elementary, middle school or high school). The grade 12’s did a similar assignment but had three posters to do – they also had to create a poster using typography (no illustration or photo). In all 200 posters were created – and I was delighted by the results! I presented the top 21 designs to our principal and she was totally blown away. She wanted to use all of them! Our superintendant was equally impressed and I was delighted. It had worked. A real task with a real client and a real deadline and real requirements. THIS was an ultimate exam – and in a few weeks I will learn which posters the committee has chosen so they can be prepped and printed.

One last important note. Like every other teacher I have students who bail part way through a course. It happens and sometimes you can try to overcome this but…. Well – apparently word got out to all of the students, including those who had not attended regularly, because every single student participated in the exam assignment. AND I am very pleased to say that included in that group of the top 21 designs were designs from the peripheral students. A couple of them had really come through and their work was exemplary. And isn’t that why we do what we do in our classrooms every day?

10:52 AM Permalink
April 10, 2011

The Cell Phone Experiment – Part 1

My goal – to finally bring cell phones and their amazing technology into the classroom as working tools, instead of as working distractions. This idea initially came to me a few years ago but the world was clearly not ready. “Get those things out of our classrooms!” cried many, many teachers and administrators. And who can blame them. Students were clearly distracted by them and demonstrated very little restraint (if indeed, any restraint at all) in using them even though they were strongly instructed to turn them off and put them away. Now – years later, there is no improvement in student behaviour, but something else has changed. We, the great collective “we”, being teachers, administrators and superintendants, seem to be finally realizing two important developments. First, phones are not going away. Period. Secondly, these phones and all of the devices yet to come, are only going to become more capable and even more commonplace. In our own high school we have recently had to revise the school’s Code of Conduct to reflect these changing times and realities.

When I told one of our vice-prinicipals that I wanted to utilize cell phones and their built in cameras as sources of images for videos the students were doing in class, she was positively interested. THAT was not an answer I would have received a few years ago. Her only concern was that many of my students would therefore be out in the halls filming and shooting. I came up with a solution to that – press passes. The students and I would create a version of a hall pass but it would be labelled, Press Pass and would state that the student wearing this pass was one of mine and had certain responsibilities and it included my class phone number so another teacher could immediately call me and complain or comment. As it happens, it was not the use of the cell phones that killed that part of my process. We have had a run of incidents with too many students out and about in our hallways so when I approached our prinicipal about this experiment she was accepting of my use of the cell phones but not of the students in the halls. All of their shooting would have to be done outside of school, which actually worked out well for the project. What was very interesting was that she then told me about the upcoming changes to the Code of Conduct based in part on requests like mine to make positive use of these machines in school. Clearly not all teachers are in favour of this shift but when my department met to discuss the proposed changes to the Code of Conduct, they supported my experiment and wrote in the required changes for me. The change I am after allows a teacher to use a cell phone camera in class. Previously we were told that was illegal… and now I am just waiting for final confirmation that the changes are accepted and passed. Change apparently takes a long, long time. Still.

But here is the kicker – I am having a huge problem getting the students to use their phone cameras for the project. I never expected this to be a challenge. I tried and tried to understand the reasons for this attitude, with no success. Then one day a student needed help with a particularly difficult picture so I brought in my Pentax K10 semi-pro DSLR. His comment when he saw the pics I took was, “Those are legit.” And that, it seems, is part of the problem. Cell phone cameras are not legit. Big DSLR cameras are legit. The movie cameras I have in my classroom with their microphones on top and cables and such are legit. They look, “pro”. Cell phones are not “pro”. They are commonplace and they are entertainment. The fact that many cell phones are much better than little point-and-shoot cameras is lost on these students.

At this point in the proceedings I am still confident that as we become increasingly engaged in this project, the students will buy into the use of their phone cameras and they will start to realize that “legit” comes in many, many forms. Funny – I thought it would our administration that might stall the project. As I said – I remain optimistic. We’ll get there.

Where to from here? One student is finally using his cell phone to shoot images for his storyboard – he is doing a digital storyboard. When I told him he was welcome to put together a digital version he was delighted! I guess it never occured to him that that would be possible. Funny how these digital kids can be so cautious about some things while launching into new apps and technology a the same time.

9:23 PM Permalink
March 1, 2011

RISK eBusiness: Moving to a Just In Time Method of Teaching (Part 3)

The Renaissance Through the Looking Glass

The age of now has oft been described as one of digital tribalism where the age of empire, standardization, control and concentration of power and influence have given way to chaotic and barbaric forces that truculently refuse to be defined and controlled by the old paradigms. We are advancing toward the past—almost medieval, semi-literate forms of informal, quasi-embodied social interaction where the emphasis is on the relationship—on being there (digitally) and participating in the conversation. It is Walter Ong’s Post-literate society or age of “secondary orality.” We are leaving the time where meaning was defined in terms of rational scientific constructs and entering a new epoch where our old science creates more questions than it is capable of answering—adding to an already infinite data set. We are entering a new mythopoetic age where it is pointless to look at the massive complexity of our modern technological and information ecosystem and hope to induce meaning and significance through observing it. What is significant is that we are not detached from it (as the old science would have it) we are caught up in its turbulence trying to keep our heads above water, as it were. The more sane approach would be to recognize that this leviathan chimera unleashes enormous pressures on us and to not ask what this means but, rather, to demand “what do we wish this this to mean for us now and in the future” and to hold it to account for this vision. We must not embrace technology simply for its own sake, rather, it should be subsumed in the service of our collective vision for the future and, in that sense, we are called upon to dream and to do so boldly. To envision a world where technology and information serves to nurture humanity requires that we come to understand who we are at our root and to what purpose must our hearts and our minds be put. These questions resonate with aspects of spirituality that seem antithetical to the project of science. However both science and technology have no life or no meaning without being grounded in the context of life—of attending and attaining to being fully human in a world that is rich,  diverse and healthy and to this end all human projects should bend their respective backs to the task of enriching life on this planet and, thus, must be held fully accountable to this demand. Human health is linked to a complex web of inter-relationships that extends out beyond the human sphere to include the entire created order. Our evolving technological landscape has the potential to allow us to discover who we are both individually and collectively in relation to the broader world and to deepen the veracity of relationships that putative modern western science, and the tsunami of uncritical progress it unleashed, has unwittingly compromised.

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