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Picture This

The flood of digital cameras and camera phones into districts presents opportunities and challenges.

Like many technology coordinators around the country, Craig Nansen of the Minot (N.D.) Public Schools doesn't need to be convinced about the place of digital cameras in school districts. "I promote their use in classrooms and do everything I can to make digital cameras available to teachers," he says. "Cameras allow them to document their world of students, projects, field trips and guest speakers, and many of our teachers have cameras available to them at all times." Such pervasive and creative educational use of digital cameras has become increasingly common in school districts, as falling prices increase access and expand usage. In the same way that computers were once rare but are now a vital component of K12 classrooms, digital cameras are no longer considered luxury items in districts.

Digital Advantages

Many of the inherent advantages of digital cameras-as opposed to film cameras-have essentially not changed since their introduction: photos can be viewed immediately and erased if desired, memory cards can store many more images than can rolls of film, and digital images can be uploaded to computers instantly to be edited or posted online. However, one important thing has changed: even today's most inexpensive digital cameras are of a quality once available only in high-end models. In 2002, the average price of a digital camera was $328, but today companies such as Canon, Casio, Kodak, Nikon, Olympus, Panasonic, and Sony offer quality models priced around $150. And some bargain brands have models priced at less than $100.

"One of the main goals of students using this technology is to become creators of content." -Craig Nansen, technology coordinator, Minot (N.D.) Public Schools

As a result, districts can afford cameras for various purposes and can purchase large numbers of less expensive "point and shoot" cameras for students to use, as well as smaller numbers of high-end models for the staff . It has become economical to use digital photos in district support tasks, including the creation of school calendars, ID cards, photo inventory lists, school newspapers and yearbooks. Teachers can also use cameras in classroom support applications, such as adding photos to seating charts and documenting class instructional activities.

Creating Content

The most significant growth in digital camera use, however, has been in incorporating cameras into the curriculum. In the Minot schools, "we use digital cameras in just about all grades, from kindergarten through high school," says Nansen, "and one of the main goals of students using this technology is to become creators of content." Pictures of field trips or area events, of local historical or geographical sites, of the school and city or town, and of athletic and cultural events, as well as artistic photographs, all are great examples, he says.

Districts around the country have found a variety of ways for students to create content with digital cameras, such as foreign language students taking pictures and practicing vocabulary words by writing captions, math students capturing images that illustrate geometric patterns and shapes, and science students documenting the progress of experiments over days, weeks or months, such as serial photos comparing plant growth in different types of soil.

Another important development is the growth of online photo-sharing sites, such as Flicker, PhotoBucket, Snapfish and Webshots, which allow users to upload and organize digital photos that can be viewed over the Web from anywhere. District activities and resources can therefore be shared with the community and other schools, and staff and students can participate in cooperative projects across the globe. PhotoSite, for example, offers photos in categories for elementary, junior high and high schools, with albums of projects and activities.

Students and teachers have uploaded thousands of images to such photo sharing sites, but the overall lack of censorship and safety concerns about online predators, for example, discourage more widespread educational use. Some districts even deny access to such sites.

Education-themed photo sharing sites that monitor content have been developed for schools to address these issues. One such site, Pics4Learning, offers thousands of free and copyright-free digital photos contributed by educators, students and amateur photographers, organized by topic and intended for classroom use.

However, district administrators need to establish appropriate policies governing the use of online photos. For example, Lakeville Area (Minn.) Public Schools has strict online photo guidelines to protect students and staff . These include requirements that photos can only be posted on district servers, cannot include personally or geographically identifiable information for students beyond first names, and, in the case of photos of staff members, can be posted only with permission. The policy is easily accessed through the district's Web site.

Camera Cell Phones

School districts are also encountering new challenges because of the camera-enabled cell phone, which has become the fastestselling consumer technology product ever developed. According to ITFacts, a Web site that offers facts on technology, just 3 million camera phones were sold worldwide in 2001, but by 2006, 500 million units were in circulation, and that number is projected to swell past 1 billion worldwide by 2008. It is estimated that 41 percent of all U.S. households have a camera phone, and the percentage continues to grow.

Schools have always had a difficult relationship with cell phones. After years of debate about their necessity and increasing prevalence among students in spite of bans, the most common district policy has been "don't ask, don't tell," by which phones can be brought to school but must be off during school hours and will be confiscated if they are distractions.

There remain holdouts, however, most famously the 32 districts of the New York City public schools, which continue to disallow cell phones and camera phones.

Many city students, some with the help of parents, defy the ban and regularly smuggle phones to school, citing convenience or remaining fears from 9/11. This past June the city incited outrage in one middle school by conducting a "security sweep" with metal detectors and confiscating cell phones from just over 400 students, which was roughly 45 percent of the student body. Clearly, banning phones from schools is a losing battle, but the city has dug in its heels on the subject. As Mayor Michael Bloomberg said recently in a press conference, "You just don't have the right to bring phones into schools, and that's not changing."

For most school districts, however, the tolerant policies allowing phones already in place are being challenged anew, as digital camera capabilities have thrust the devices back into the spotlight. The Gartner research group estimates that every cell phone sold in America will be a camera hone by the year 2010. Developing acceptable use policies that allow mobile phones but not camera phones-a distinction many districts continue to make-is no longer practical.

New Challenges & Opportunities

No longer just a question of annoyance or distraction during school hours, administrators are presented with new problems when student phones have cameras, many of which can also record short videos. National media stories explain how students have used or are using camera phones to cheat on exams, take inappropriate photos of classmates in locker rooms or bathrooms, and film fights and acts of vandalism and bullying. And coupled with easy access to the new online photo and video sharing sites, camera phones have made some school incidents very public.

In one famous example, several Brick Township (N.J.) Public School teenage students used a video-enabled camera phone to film a teacher shouting in frustration at their behavior during the national anthem, and they posted the 90-second clip online. It was eventually viewed and downloaded hundreds of thousands of times from humor and video-sharing sites such as YouTube, and even discussed on the Hannity & Colmes show on the Fox News Channel. A keyword search on "teacher" brings up thousands of similar postings on various video sites.

But there have also been instances where camera phones have proven to be positively useful in schools. For example, when David Mendell, a teacher in Wallingford-Swarthmore (Pa.) Public Schools, noticed an autistic student telling a story in front of his class and taking questions from classmates, the teacher used his video-enabled camera phone to record the event. "It was a great moment and a triumph among the many challenges this student had," says Mendell, who later shared the clip with the student's mother. "I think that using digital media like this to show what kids are doing in school can be very powerful," he says. Yet many districts have policies that prevent such opportunities from ever happening. "Teachers and students use digital cameras for a variety of purposes, but our district has not yet found a use for camera phones, as they are currently not allowed," says Cindy Ford, library director for the Rogers (Ark.) School District.

Mobile Learning

Now that most students carry cameraenabled phones, could the day be coming when camera phones are commonly incorporated into the district curriculum? In some areas of the world, especially in countries such as Australia, the question is even more relevant. Cell phones have saturated the markets in much of Asia and Australia to an even greater extent than in America. The Australian Broadcasting Company estimates that a staggering 94 percent of Australians own a mobile phone and that most of these have camera capabilities. Similarly, a study by the Australia Institute found that 60 percent of Australian 12- and 13-year-olds had their own mobile phones.

As a result, an emerging segment of education technology referred to as Mobile Learning, or mLearning, is starting to gain a foothold in Australia, as well as in parts of Europe and Asia, and may indicate a similar future for American schools. A large international education conference focused on mLearning, "mLearn 2007," held its sixth annual meeting in October in Melbourne, Australia. mLearning emphasizes the use of mobile technologies such as PDAs, MP3 players, digital cameras and cell phones in classrooms.

This mobile technology segment is also evolving rapidly by combining these devices. Apple's new iPhone, for example, boasts a 4-megapixel digital camera and an MP3 player, as well as the OS X operating system and Wi-Fi Internet access. Other phone companies also have models with multiple functions, and cell phones today have the computing power of mid-1990s PCs. Students are carrying these powerful technologies to school. "Rather than trying to pry them away from these mobile devices, building on these technologies may well be a way to keep young people interested in learning," says Caryl Oliver, chairperson for the mLearn 2007 conference. "When I first started talking to educators about mLearning, they thought I was joking, but now everyone is beginning to realize the potential it has to liberate teachers and learners."

The relentless improvements in phone technology are beginning to result in camera phones that can be used in schools in many of the same useful ways as digital cameras. For example, the emerging education technology blog EduTechie recently presented "8 Ways to Use a Camera Phone in Education." Similarly, Joe Dale, a British teacher, writes a blog about using information communication technology in classrooms, including assignments that incorporate student camera phones. In addition, the New Media Consortium of Austin, Texas, in its recently released 2007 Horizon Report on education technology trends, examined camera phones as one of several tools in classrooms of the future. The report concluded that cell phones would be commonly utilized in American education in an estimated two to three years. Citing educational applications in other countries, the report states, "The ubiquity of mobile phones, combined with their many capabilities, makes them an ideal platform for educational content and activities. We are only just beginning to take advantage of the possibilities they will offer."

In the meantime, however, most districts will continue to view digital cameras as an asset to be utilized, and camera phones as a liability to be managed. As technology continues to evolve, bringing new educational opportunities and challenges, administrators need to keep staff , students and parents informed of developing policies.

Establishing Policies

Growing numbers of school districts have extended existing acceptable use policies and school policies to encompass digital cameras and camera phones, as an Internet search on the topic will confirm. And approaches range widely from district to district. Nevertheless, camera phones are here to stay, and your district needs to evolve policies that define appropriate as well as inappropriate use and that address instructional applications, the use of personal and district equipment, the online posting and distribution of images, and the prohibition of malicious use.

Kurt O. Dyrli is a contributing writer for District Administration.