Friday, May 11, 2012

Friend or Foe? Mobile device cameras in the classroom.

One of our greatest fears as educators surrounding mobile devices like the iPad is the camera. The camera more than any other feature seems to have the potential for doing the most harm while simultaneously having countless educational value.

As we introduce mobile devices into the classroom or invite students to bring their own devices is there a way to effectively teach good digital citizenship and safety regarding the camera before it's too late?

I believe that the solution lies in asking students to use their mobile device camera frequently and repeatedly within the classroom to accomplish a variety of academic purposes each and every day and to conduct regular, purposeful checks of the images we ask them to take.

Here are some examples designed with a 1:1 or BYOD setting in mind with the potential for modification to fit in a shared device classroom. As students enter the room I might ask them to take a picture of the day’s agenda written on the board. This visual schedule will assist students with time management and provide a reference to the day's objectives when they are home. I might then ask students to open an app such as skitch or or paperport notes and have them photograph the day's bell ringer activity. They can then use annotation features to respond to the question and submit their response. Throughout a lesson I would encourage students to photograph notes on the board, their own notes and ancillary items in the room like posters or models. I would also ask students to take pictures of assignments I pass out or graded work that I've returned to them. And throughout this process, I would be explicit in my expectation that they refer to all of these photos for completing class tasks, homework, or as study guides. I would also do spot checks to see that students are taking photos of the required items and embed tasks within assignments that draw on information found in the photos. Finally, I would have students evaluate their photos for evidence of mastery and organize these photos for a portfolio.

Variations of these photo activities might also work in shared device settings by having students organize folders for the photos or by sharing the photos to an e-mail or dropbox account that the student can access using a different device. Designating student roles such as class photographer and class videographer would also help model appropriate use of mobile device cameras and turn the shared mobile device into a classroom resource.

Realistically, the storage on these mobile devices is limited and organizing the countless photos would require some room in our already crowded instructional schedules. But let’s be honest. This is not a storage or time crisis. This is about digital footprints and averting disaster.

In short, we hog the heck out the camera and expect not only access to the content but also encourage application, reflection, and the development of a final product using the photos taken. Not only does this reinforce the idea the camera is a tool and not a toy, it supports student organizational skills, provides multiple means of a representation (See Universal Design for Learning), and most importantly makes questionable content far less inviting.

M"DeI believe that given two weeks of near constant reinforcement of using the camera as a tool coupled with embedded instruction on the importance of digital citizenship and safety the majority of students would hesitate before taking and posting the kinds of pictures we all fear.

Today I came across this great infographic for helping students make good decisions about the pictures and videos they take. I also had the opportunity to share the poster with some Middle School students working in a nearby school. Yes, they’ve heard some of these “rules” before. But hearing it again and within the context of taking a picture of themselves (a reflection activity they were asked to complete) deepens their understanding and lets them apply the criteria we discussed.

By the way, there is an alternative. We can disable the cameras on devices we own. We can ban the devices they own. We can have once a year conversations about digital citizenship and safety that are isolated from the content of our lessons and that interfere with “real” teaching because “we have too.” Oh wait, that’s what we do right now. How’s that workin’ for ya?

In all seriousness, teaching digital citizenship and safety requires innovative strategies and deliberate effort. Let’s work together to find solutions that work. Please share how you are tackling the “fear of photos” in your classroom.

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