Hugh John examines the options for printing your digital pictures, the benefits of colour and finding the right camera
The inkjet printer, which has ruled unopposed in schools since supplanting the dot matrix (remember them?), is under a threat from two directions: low-cost colour laser printing and - surprise, surprise - the high-street developer.
With film processing giants such as Kodak and Boots geared up for digital, there are persuasive reasons to have those school photos printed professionally. Last summer, both firms were offering 50 6x4 inch prints for pound;5. Printing at that size virtually guarantees stunning results that can be pasted into records of achievement or used in class displays.
And with teachers finding that photo-quality paper and inks don't come cheap, a return to the High Street is worth considering.
Research conducted by Epson in UK schools reveals that more than 90 per cent of teachers want to use more colour printing "because of the direct benefits they see in enthusiasm, concentration and memory skills".
At Hawridge and Cholesbury C of E primary in Buckinghamshire, headteacher Louise Stallwood noticed a dramatic difference when the monochrome inkjet in the ICT suite was replaced by a colour laser printer. Children are now more encouraged, she believes, "to develop their technology skills and produce more of their work utilising the ICT suite".
An additional benefit is financial. Hawridge school, for example, intends to use its new printer to produce promotional leaflets, posters, tickets, etc, previously sent to a commercial printing firm and anticipates significant savings.
Epson and Hewlett Packard stands at BETT will feature many of their current laser and inkjet printers. Meanwhile, Canon will be using cameras from its PowerShot range coupled with BJ Direct Printers to demonstrate the advantages of printing directly from media cards and the HP stand will be promoting a Total Print Management solution for education, which promises to reduce printing costs in schools through an integrated application of hardware and software resources.
If your school's inkjet printing costs are reaching crisis levels, then visit the Digital Workshop stand and take a look at InkSaver (pound;12), a nifty utility compatible with most inkjets that claims to make your cartridges last up to four times longer.
Digital cameras have so many features nowadays that it's easy to be seduced by technology and forget that some of the most stimulating and imaginative work can be achieved with the least sophisticated equipment.
The recent Snapshots project in Leeds twinned photography and poetry to encourage primary school children to explore concepts of identity and community. Pupils took photos of, and narrated poems about, their friends, family, hopes and aspirations, which were then hosted on a secure website.
Teachers noticed an improvement in literacy and oracy, and the development of many ICT skills encouraged at key stage 2.
Snapshots students used low-cost digital and disposable cameras, perfect for that particular project, but obviously unsuitable for, say, sixth formers on a botany field trip. As ever, technology should be matched to educational need and the huge growth of the digicam industry has given consumers tremendous choice and value for money. With high-street and education prices starting below pound;50, there's never been a better time to buy. At BETT, you'll find cameras ranging from the high-specification Canon EOS 10D to the Logitech QuickCam Messenger (pound;40), a low-cost model that can capture video and still images and be used for videoconferencing.
The multi-functionality of digital cameras places a greater onus on teachers to be specific about their technology needs. Would a digital video recorder that takes still images be more useful than a digital camera that has a video function? How important is a zoom or macro facility? Will a dual-purpose wireless webcam be more cost effective than an ordinary digital camera? Logitech's QuickCam Cordless (pound;180) has a wireless range of 20 metres plus motion detection software for recording remote events. Creative's PC-CAM 880 (pound;110) is a detachable, 2-megapixel digital camera with a zoom that captures video clips and supports streaming live video. And the aluminium alloy iSight webcam (pound;120), on the Apple stand at BETT, could have just walked out of (or into) the Design Museum.
If you're at BETT, digital cameras and recorders can be found on the Sony, TAG, Canon, Epson and XMA (HP) stands. If you're not, the websites of these companies, and of education suppliers, are well worth a trawl, as are the BECTA, NGfL and QCA pages. For general guidelines on choosing a digital camera, an explanation of technical terms and a good FAQ list, the "Digital Schools" section of the National Museum of Photography, Film and Television site is hard to beat.
It's also worth checking out Total Digital Photography and Which Digital Camera magazines for tutorials on Photoshop and PaintShop Pro that will encourage you to realise the potential of an excellent educational resource.
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