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Online Edge

Photo-Sharing Web Sites

Sites such as Flickr and Webshots are exploding in popularity

Jamie Reinsch has always taken photographs wherever she went. And as an educator who used her summers to travel to watch a space launch, see sea turtle nesting sites, and participate in professional conferences, she has plenty of interesting photos to share with students and colleagues. Now, thanks to new Web sites, this teacher and teacher educator from South Carolina has an easy way to post photos for everyone to see.

With the tremendous growth of digital photography and the ease of uploading and accessing pictures online, the use of photographs for educational applications has never been greater. There is no film to develop, the pictures don't fade over time, imperfections can be corrected with editing programs, and it is easy to take and erase countless pictures to get the best shots.

How can teachers integrate online technology into classes when some schools block these sites?

Most school districts now feature photographs on their Web sites, and teachers and students may be trying to keep track of hundreds and even thousands of photos. For this reason, users are turning to free and inexpensive photo-sharing Web sites to organize, store, display and distribute their growing collections. Online photos can be viewed as slide shows, downloaded, printed out and e-mailed. But in spite of the explosive growth of such sites-research by Infotrends estimates that 59 million people in the U.S. used a photo-sharing site last year-K-12 educators are struggling with how, or even if, to embrace this developing technology.

Differing Views

For example, New York's Ossining Union Free School District uses the free Flickr photo-sharing site extensively, and offers scores of online galleries with photos from various district activities. Student names and personal information are never included as security precautions, but thanks to such photo collections posted throughout the year, the Ossining community is always connected to its schools.

Across the country, but poles apart in thinking about photo-sharing sites, the Seattle Public Schools recently blocked all access to Flickr because

of objectionable content on the site. According to Mark Ahlness, a third grade teacher from Arbor Heights Elementary School-who ironically is also the founder of the annual Earth Day Groceries Project that uses Flickr to post project photos-the decision was made by the technical staff without discussion. "A teacher complained, and now all of Flickr is blocked in my school district," he says.

An Informed Community

More than 100,000 photos from elementary, middle and high schools are already posted on Flickr, and 700,000 school-related pictures appear on the free Webshots site. Photographs on almost every conceivable subject can easily be brought to classrooms, school blogs and Web sites, since each is tagged with searchable topic names. Other popular free and fee-based sites include Photobucket, Photosite, Picasa, Snapfish, Shutterfly, and the Kodak EasyShare Gallery, formerly known as Ofoto. Some of these also allow users to purchase photographs in booklets and albums.

The most serious objection to photo-sharing sites is the general lack of censorship, so searches may uncover images that are not appropriate for classroom use for a variety of reasons including mature content. However, issues in using photo-sharing sites are identical to those in using the Internet at large. In both cases an informed school community, clear policies and appropriate supervision are essential. As Ahlness says, "How can teachers integrate online technology into the curriculum when those tools are prohibited and blocked from access in our schools?"

Odvard Egil Dyrli,, is senior editor and emeritus professor of education at the University of Connecticut.