In today's increasingly visual culture, the power of the perfect image cannot be overestimated--something artists and advertisers, among others, have long understood. Add to that the visual nature of the Internet, with its reliance on maximized graphics rather than text for a quick delivery of information, and you've elevated art to what technology guru Jason Ohler calls "the fourth R." Now more than ever is a perfect time for educators to consider photography as an imaginative new pathway toward illustrating, illuminating, and informing their lessons. Even more importantly, placing cameras in the hands of students can make them active and eager participants and designers of their own learning, while at the same time giving them a leg up on possible careers in the arts or Web design.
Digital Photography as Curriculum
Traditionally, photography courses have been a luxury reserved only for schools that can afford the high price. Photo labs and darkrooms, chemicals, paper, cameras, and other equipment all add up to a cost far beyond the means of many schools.
But modern technology has leveled the playing field. Many of today's digital cameras are inexpensive and easy to operate, and their use can be tailored to a variety of age groups and curriculum areas. True, there is no darkroom experience with digital photography, but technology makes a photography course a viable option for any school with a computer lab and editing software.
There are many real advantages to going the digital route with photography. Digital cameras are becoming more and more powerful, with the resolution of higher-end models rivaling that of film. In fact, the more advanced digital cameras do share the same features as film cameras, with manual control over shutter speed and aperture width, spot metering, and the ability to add specialized flashes and lenses.
Both traditional and digital photography courses can be excellent expansions to schools' art offerings, instructing students in the elements of art and design through the creation of original photography.
On Campus: Cross-Curricular Applications
Even if your school has no plans to offer a photography course per se, digital photography can be easily integrated into any content area, class, or project.
Yearbook and Newspaper
Many high schools now use digital photography and desktop publishing in their school newspaper and yearbook production. This gives students real-world skills and experience and can cut costs and turnaround time in the printing process. The use of a negative scanner can allow students to convert from film to digital without the intermediate step of printing photos to be scanned.
Documenting Student Projects
As a record for classroom use, simply photographing student works offers several value-added features to common practices. If student work is three-dimensional (for example, models of volcanoes, pyramids, battle scenes, or topographical maps), a photograph provides a record for next year's class. As Sir Isaac Newton said, "If I see further than others, it is because I stand on the shoulders of giants." Photographs of projects allow incoming students to "stand on the shoulders" of previous classes and learn from their work. Having a collection of photographs also obviates the perennial need for classroom storage of old projects.
Documenting a Process
When student projects concern the change of an object over time, then the camera provides an accurate portrayal of processes such as plant growth, mold growth, simulated erosion, and before-and-after comparisons. This sort of documentation also works well with collaborative project-based learning activities, where students might photograph the various stages of building a robot, growing a vegetable garden, or constructing a medieval town or other model to accompany a social studies or history unit.
Documenting Student Performances
It almost goes without saying that photography allows us to record fleeting theatrical performances, oral reports, debates, and activities for use in class newspapers, yearbooks, and on bulletin boards. …