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Picture this

Working with digital imaging is helping to transform the lives of SEN pupils. Nishani Kampfner gets a snap shot of their lives

It was an amazing moment. "That's the first time we've heard his voice in four years," exclaimed the teacher. Her special educational needs (SEN) student had become so involved in a digital imaging workshop, that he spoke.

Teachers working with special needs and severe learning difficulties (SLD) students are finding that digital imaging, video and video-conferencing are powerful teaching tools that can help them to stimulate their students.

Two Northern Ireland Special Schools recently teamed up to work on an innovative online learning project using digital imaging, video-conferencing and a learning platform. Marlene Young, ICT teacher leader at Kilronan Special School in Magherafelt and Liam Kelly at Clifton Special School in Bangor, have just completed a C2K (Classroom 2000 Northern Ireland) project entitled My Town. C2K is a pound;240m regional project delivering learning technologies to all schools in Northern Ireland (

By linking the two special schools through a virtual interface (Learning NI), the My Town project supports SEN and SLD students to raise awareness of the world around them beyond their immediate environment. The project starts with the exchange of group photographs between the two classes to learn each other's names. Marlene discovered that some students in her class were able to call each other by name and behave with ease, as if they had been friends for a long time.

Students from both schools used the internet and local field trips, including a visit to the tourist information office to produce a short list of special local places to visit. Using digital cameras the students photographed their local parks, churches, shops and general views as identified through their research. The pictures were printed and made into a talking book by adding a short message about each photo.

Students from both schools exchanged their photographs through the learning platform. "The students loved to see pictures of Bangor which is a seaside town," says Marlene. "Magherafelt is in the countryside and they found it interesting to look at the boats and the beaches."

Liam recommends the video-conferencing tool as an immediate way to engage the imagination of students: "Meeting their peers and exploring their local environment through the media of the computer allowed them the contact needed to stimulate curiosity and a willingness to share and compare facts about their own particular town with another school."

Finally, face-to-face visits between the schools were organised. "The transition from picture to reality greatly interested the students who were full of chat and questions," says Marlene. "One student related a story about Bangor that she'd heard on the radio, demonstrating that the project work was not confined to the classroom. It was very pleasing to see such a high level of interest and enthusiasm from an SLD pupil," she said.

One of Liam's students, Emily, a 13-year-old with autism, who normally would offer phrases such as "no talking", "no bus", and "no people" was completely bowled over by the whole experience. "She was able to relate and feel confident enough that, at the end of the project, she led the presentation from the front for the guests and children from their town,"

explains Liam.

Nicola, also 13, with limited speech, was able to use video to relay how she understood and felt about the process of being involved with another school and the sharing information. "Nicola gained confidence from participating and wasn't isolated," says Liam. "Encouraged by her experience she insisted on taking part in the delivery of an interactive PowerPoint presentation."

Marlene had reservations on how suitable a video-conferencing project would be for her class of seven SLD pupils with varying abilities. "I suppose I was hung up on the technicalities of setting up the conferencing and ensuring everything ran smoothly, but to the pupils it seemed the most natural thing in the world to see photos of their friends from Bangor turn into 'real people' on the computer screen."

In another special school, in Bradford, Janet Hill, assistant headteacher at Haycliffe worked with her key stage 4 pupils on a digital imaging project entitled Romeo and Juliet in the City with the help of the National Museum of Photography, Film and Television (

The students studied Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet through adapted materials and visual images. They discussed how they could interpret the story in their own way in a contemporary setting. Janet's students took digital photos in various locations in Bradford. Using Photoshop Elements to add colour, text and effects they prepared the photos for use as backdrops in an adapted dramadance production. Images were projected on to the main characters who wore white T-shirts.

Sarah Mumford, head of education at NMPFT, said "This approach allowed the students to build up a repertoire of Photoshop skills that allowed them to play in addition to developing an innovative approach to scene-settings, using digital technology effectively".

Janet Hill's tips

* Have strict rules about looking after and using equipment

* Don't lend your equipment to other people

* Check shared equipment before you use it with pupils.

* One camera per pupil

* Keep cameras on straps wrapped round wrist or neck at all times

* Take your own photos to supplement important projects

* Try to keep the subjects still so images are not blurred. Moving images are difficult to take with cheap digital cameras.

* Use a video camera on a tripod unless its hand held for a purpose

* Keep each pupil's work, and your own, in a separate folder

* Keep a copy of all images on a disk

* Always work to a theme

* Teach framing, zooming and angle of shot techniques formally

* Let first-time users play around with the camera. Don't expect good results.

* If using new software for the first time, stick to one or two tools and processes.

* Let pupils take as many images as they like, then select up to six favourites. Discuss the choices.

* On annotated photos, keep text short and simple so that pupils can relate text to picture even if they can't read it.

* Learn to import images into Digital Blue software (with Digital Blue cameras) for special effects


To work with 14-19 SEN students with complex moderate learning difficulties, autism spectrum disorder and SLDs (though not so severe that switches or assistive technology is needed) Janet Hill uses:


* ICT suite (12 PCs + printer)

* 1 classroom PC + printer

* Interactive whiteboard

* 1 Apple computer (for video editing)

* Video camera and tripod

* Digital Blue video cameras

* 1 microphone


* Word

* Powerpoint or Clicker

* Photoshop Elements

* Serif WebPlus8

* Digital Blue software

Additional resources

To request a free resource on Digital Imaging in Schools contact: email


Inspiration for ID-me! competition

Trans-active is a Mencap national project where young people with and without learning disabilties work together. They use digital photography to produce an online passport about themselves that supports and encourages them to look at choices, preferences, things that they do now and they might want to do in the future. The passports enable young people to choose which pictures they want to show the important things in their life.

Passports can be used to support individuals to contribute to future planning. The Trans-active package includes: access to passport facility, teaching pack, video, resources CD-Rom and one day of training for supporters.

Or contact Lewis Perkins Trans-active project co-ordinator, on 0121 707 7877.

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