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.
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.
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.
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 Flickr, 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. …