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Pictures on the move

A digital camera can make a great difference to your pupils' field-trip experience. David Baugh explains how

Digital cameras have revolutionised classroom displays around the country. They are a great way of enhancing pupils' work and can be used for many purposes: inspection, threshold, parents' evenings and so on. And one of their greatest benefits is that the pictures are, well, digital. Their real power comes when they are used in digital form, and not as a substitute for traditional photography.

Essentially, digital images consist of a very long list of zeros and ones that are interpreted by computers into colours and shapes. They do not deteriorate and can be used over and over again. And they can be combined with other kinds of digital information, such as text and sound, to produce interesting and creative work.

One of the most common uses of a digital camera is on a school trip. It has become an essential item on many field trips, along with the rubbish bags, packed lunches and first-aid kit. They are often used to record the event and display pictures afterwards around the school - and the results can look really good. So how can we enhance this use?

Teachers often do some reconnaissance before a trip - an ideal opportunity to use the digital camera. The images can be a valuable teaching tool and pupils benefit much more from a trip if they have been given prior information. The images could be shown in a slide-show presentation, on interactive whiteboards, or used in a pre-trip activity. For example, before visiting a historic building pupils could use information about the site together with the teacher's photos to plan their work on the trip itself. I find pupils who do this are much more fired up and ready to learn. I have heard things like, "Oh, I see where that is now." Or "I remember that from the computer."

The camera then becomes their tool to record aspects of the visit. This should not be done in an arbitrary manner, but rather planned and managed. Pupils need specific instructions about what images to capture and how to do it. Discussion of the teacher's images are useful here. Where possible, give as wide access to the camera as possible, using a timetable and a limit on the number of images each pupil can take.

Make sure they are well prepared for using the camera itself. When possible, they should use the display screen to frame the image. Viewfinders on digital cameras can be very small and lead to a tendency to frame an image that is too far away. However, it can be difficult to see the screen in bright sunlight, and you will need to take spare batteries as the screen uses them up. When framing an image, the rule of thirds is useful: the subject should be in the middle third of the viewfinder. Some cameras will divide the display screen into sections to assist in the composition (see picture, right).

If the sun is in front of camera, the subject will appear in silhouette in the image. Also, most consumer digital cameras focus to "infinity", which means everything appears in focus, including things in the background that might not be wanted. Using the zoom on cheaper cameras can reduce the quality of the image - pupils should walk closer to the subject instead.

Transfer any images remaining in the camera to a computer before the trip. Settings for image quality will affect speed of transfer of files - high-quality images can take a long time to transfer to the LCD screen or to a computer. Make sure you delete any images that you don't want to keep When the trip is over, you'll have a camera full of images. First, they need to be transferred from camera to computer and given meaningful names, such as "drawbridge.jpg" - it may be hard to associate "castle1.jpg" with the correct image three months later. The pictures can then be used in a number of ways, depending on pupils' age and skills, and available software. Tasks could include:

* Loading pictures into a word processor and writing information about them

* Creating an information leaflet or poster

* Preparing a slide presentation

* Creating a multimedia project to include images, sounds, music, text and animation

* Including the still images in a digital video project

* Creating web pages or a virtual reality environment for other pupils to "explore" the site.

With some forethought and know-how, digital photographs can make a real difference to teaching and learning.

David Baugh is a teacher adviser for ICT in Denbighshire

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