Digital makes artists of us all

16th September 2005 at 01:00
Out with the overhead projectors and in with 3D imaging, all at the click of a keypad. Excited children learn without even realising it, discovers Su Clark

Being bad at art and worse at photography was always a disappointment for Ken Kinnear, the principal teacher of geography at Craigmount High, in Edinburgh. His lofty ambitions of producing slick and beautiful geography presentations were thwarted by his lack of artistic talent.

But then Mr Kinnear discovered digital imaging. Suddenly he was liberated from his lack of manual dexterity to scan or download beautiful images into his documents and displays. He could produce presentations that included animated graphs, slide shows and even video clips.

"Despite being the geographer who can't draw, I can now produce resources which would have required hours and hours of pain in the past," says Mr Kinnear, who is seconded to Edinburgh's education department as IT development officer (secondary).

"It is much more interesting for the students. If you can show them a really big image of something on a screen, rather than just direct them to some small, probably black and white, image in a textbook, there is more excitement for them, the lesson becomes more dynamic."

Over the past three years, Mr Kinnear has been working with colleagues at the authority to promote the use of ICT, including digital imagery, across the curriculum and bring that frisson of excitement to all subjects.

For geography, the old days of putting an acetate featuring an outline of the UK on an overhead projector, and then moving another bit of plastic across to illustrate the depressions coming in from the Atlantic are gone.

Geography students are now being shown an animated graphic, with swirling clouds. Map reading has been transformed with 3D digital maps, blown up and shown via a projector. Panoramic views can now be readily created with a few clicks on the key pad.

"Before, you would show the acetate and 20 per cent of the students would get it, with the other 80 per cent struggling. With the use of exciting images, 80 per cent of them can get it now," says Mr Kinnear.

One of his colleagues, Anne Swap, did a project with Queensferry High to develop a resource for primary pupils facing the move to the secondary. S2 students were given digital cameras to take photographs of their favourite areas of the school. They then put together a Powerpoint presentation, with a script penned by the students.

"But they had to do it all in German," says Mr Kinnear. "It was part of their German studies, but it also included rehearsing, taking pictures, working as a team, working with different software. They didn't even realise the extent of what they were learning."

The project also produced a useful resource for pupils facing the, sometimes, difficult transition to secondary school.

Mr Kinnear's secondment to the local authority has just been extended so that more teachers and probationers can be given a grounding in ICT. As of this year, the council has made it a compulsory course for all probationers, most of whom have general IT skills, so they have more time to concentrate on the pedagogical aspect of the discipline.

He also goes out to schools to work with pupil groups alongside their teachers. Although he works mainly with secondaries, he is undertaking a project with Stockbridge Primary, developing a digital record of a science project, with P7 pupils taking pictures of the work done by the other year groups.

Another scheme recently has seen every nursery school in Edinburgh receive a digital camera so that use of digital images can start at the early years stage.

What Mr Kinnear is trying to push is a recognition that using digital imagery can improve teaching. From there he wants to build a willingness to use it every day. "Introducing IT into the class does not have to mean a massive change to a teacher's lesson plan; it can be an enhancement," says Mr Kinnear.

"Using digital images can make teaching easier, and help children reach an understanding much more quickly. We can all be good photographers now."

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