A Look at ... Digital Cameras, Visual Literacy, and the Xbox Generation

Article excerpt

A brief discussion after Christmas vacation about the merits of the Xbox over the newer Xbox 360 illustrated a continuing and growing fact of teaching.

I was talking with Corrie, a blonde fifth grader who looks like she should still be playing with dolls. Instead, she is an avid and intent gamer. Right now, she probably spends more time with her Xbox than with television--and spends more time with the two than with reading or other school activities.

Teaching these days involves competing with marvelous electronic gadgets from the enhanced televisions to the Xbox 360--as well s with all the time students spend watching and using them. Student experience seems to have become so much more visual in nature that educators can't compete using the same tools we used when we were our students' age. Given the amount of information students now get visually, the ability to communicate and understand through visual means--visual literacy--is becoming increasingly important.

Digital cameras can successfully compete in this arena and promote visual literacy while motivating students in other learning activities. These cameras have become so much easier to use and are inexpensive enough that they offer some exciting possibilities for students and teachers. Student photos--and the process of taking and using them--create many highly motivational opportunities for reading and writing.

This article is intended to discuss digital cameras and to provide an overview of some of what is available. It is not intended to offer a detailed discussion of all of the features or a complete survey of the digital camera market. Instead, this information is intended to help readers learn enough about digital cameras to make informed purchasing and use decisions for their schools and classrooms.

DIGITAL CAMERAS DEFINED

In case you've missed them, digital cameras work like normal cameras, without the film. Usually, the photos are stored on a small memory card inside the camera and can be transferred to a computer, then erased from the card, which can be reused repeatedly. Many digital cameras have an LCD (liquid crystal display) screen that serves as a traditional viewfinder, as well as a display screen for viewing photos after they've been taken.

The photo images can be downloaded to a computer and viewed, manipulated, printed, used on a Web page, and so on. Pictures can be printed directly from cameras or memory cards as well. This may involve placing the camera on a "docking station" or inserting the memory card into special slots in printers, docks, and even photo-developing machines in stores.

The way that digital cameras store pictures is especially important. Purchasers need to be sure that a large amount of memory is available or that additional memory can be added. It can be very frustrating to miss a shot because the camera's memory is filled up. If the camera has a replaceable memory device of some sort, users can carry one or more spares to use when the first gets filled. The most common forms of memory devices are SmartMedia cards, CompactFlash cards, memory sticks, and multimedia cards (MMC).

Megapixels

Generally, digital cameras are categorized and advertised by the number of megapixels (picture elements) the image sensor can handle. Usually, the name of the camera includes a number reference to megapixels (MP). A 3-megapixel camera is great for 4 x 6-inch snapshots that can be enlarged to 8 x 10 inches or a bit larger. A 6 to 8 megapixel camera can take pictures that can be enlarged to even larger sizes.

Modes

Most digital cameras, including those discussed here, feature "modes" or preset features of one type or another. These include shooting modes, light modes, picture modes, or other modes. Basically, these fixed settings are intended to simplify the photo process for users.

The Kodak EasyShare C300 mentioned below offers only five modes, which is fine for ease of use. …