IFTTT Do & the slow death of the digital camera

I’ve been playing with the new IFTTT camera app and it got me thinking about how the original camera app on my iPhone isn’t as useful as it used to be. After all, it’s just a camera app. If I want it to actually do anything with the photo I’ve taken I have to tell it what to do. By pressing more buttons. How very 2014.

If you haven’t already seen it, IFTTT Do is a set of apps that extend the original IFTTT idea where you provide some simple rules and the software automates them. For example, if I take a photo of a receipt it automatically puts it into my expenses folder in GDrive, a photo of the little monster doing will end up in a shared album for my family. It does what computers do well and automates repetitive manual tasks.

This made me wonder what the market for old school digital cameras was looking like. According to the Camera and Imaging Products Association sales are looking pretty much as you’d expect. Heading down:

Total shipment

Looking at our internal logging we see the same with equipment our staff and students are using for taking photos. Data here is for every booking made to our central equipment pool for activities related to photography:

bookings

And, on a more anecdotal note the images on the SD card inside my digital camera have been there for months. There are things from October last year that are really nice but I just haven’t got round to getting them imported.

The reason why I haven’t taken the photos off my camera, why staff & students are borrowing increasingly more iPod Touch, and (I guess) why IFTTT Do exists is that in the main we don’t like the middle steps in the process.

Does that mean our ever smarter ways of working are great because we’re streamlining our processes? We’re more efficiently arriving at our goal with less time wasted on the unnecessary.

Or should we worry about what we’re losing?

By using a smartphone rather than a digital SLR I’m thinking less about shot composition, learning nothing about all the variables that go in to creating a good shot.

Not doing any edits on those pictures takes away a whole load of graphics skills that are easily transferrable to other projects. I might not have learned Photoshop if all I ever did was share pictures from a smartphone.

If the photos never leave the camera roll of your smart device are you sure you know where they are? Are they backed up? Who can see them? Do you even own them? Maybe you’re the next poster family for the anti-gay marriage lobby.

Automating the distribution process seems like it could take the personal touch out, remove an element of control, maybe even proper consideration of the how/what/why of sharing.

Personally I’m finding the IFTTT apps really useful. They’re time savers and fit nicely into my work style. But in our drive for efficiency I wonder what learning opportunities we’re taking away.

I like that I can spend less time faffing with low value pictures and leisure time with my SLR but is that a reflection of the market? Sales don’t suggest it. Will this be the usual routine of sales drop, prices rise, less people can take part in the hobby? Feels like a potentially risky time for the field.

Why we should advertise to children

advert

advert

So the title is probably a little more provocative than it needs to be, but there is something to consider in here. As schools should we be worried about the way our students are advertised to online? It feels a little like another one of those fence around the swimming pool vs. teach them to swim arguments. We always seem to err on the swim side of these debates, but as a Google Apps school I know their position is to remove all ads for the education customers so maybe there is something more in this…

Does advertising matter?

Do we mind that we are being advertised to? I don’t think it is news that the advertisers are the core customer for the free social web services, but it is down to us to choose how much we personally take from that. Google are more than happy to place adverts relevant to my email down the right hand side of my inbox (personal email account rather than the apps account…), but it is rare I read them, let alone click on them. Ditto Facebook, it’s there but it is not a major focus for me. In online ad terms this is all about the CTR (clickthrough rate). There’s some fascinating research around success rates in this area.

Television has advertised at us for a long time, it is just that we are more familiar with this medium so it doesn’t seem to generate the objections that the online ads are at the moment. Even with the publicly funded BBC you can see how they edit the shows to be divided up by adverts in countries that buy their content (or even when it ends up endlessly repeated on Dave..). People seem comfortable with advertising on television, they go and make a coffee while it happens, or Sky+ their way round them.

An interesting aside here is product placement is being introduced into the UK– this is obviously a new route around the Sky+ style viewing. But, after some initial public whining we seem to be just getting on with it

I would also suggest that these adverts can be a positive if they are correctly targeted. I don’t think our position should be that all advertising is bad, if done well it could be genuinely useful. More on this later.

Those new literacies

Part of our role as educators is to prepare students for the world outside of the institution. Would it be completely unreasonable to take a position stating that these commercial models for online advertising should be present in education so students can learn how they work, and how best to interact with them? We spend time talking to them about bias in the media, the dangers of social networking, etc- this is the same area. If we are not part of the Facebook world (whether through use of the service or working with the company to help develop their offering) our students won’t just abandon it, they’ll just be there unsupported.

Control, schools and the web services

As a school working with tools like Facebook places us in their hands in terms of how the product develops, there is always a risk that a feature we use will just disappear. It happened with the Google Wonderwheel a while ago, and I have discussed this point in a previous post about Second Life.

But, I don’t think the problem is unique to this environment.

We all buy into (in some form depending on license, etc) VLEs and various other products, I don’t think we are any more separate from the risks associated with the commercial needs of these companies than we are with a free web service with commercial needs that are met by advertising revenue. It has been argued in various journal articles that initial VLE designs came from a commercial perspective (think Sharepoint..) and education shoehorned their techniques into them. Is this not exactly the same thing?

The only difference between the 2 models is how the income is generated. Microsoft recently dropped a whole load of services they had previewed for Live@edu that many schools were expecting, same problems, different business model. Same is true of Adobe updates, we hope the features we make most use of make it through to the next version, or the improvements we need happen, but there is no guarantee really. The new subscription model Apple have introduced to the App Store is proving largely unpopular with everybody, but we continue to use it if there is enough value.

This point seems more obvious on the hardware side, Apple again are a superb example. Schools and colleges love their products, but we never have any idea what they are going to be, or what/when the updates will be. Only the other day we suddenly discovered the Macbook had disappeared from the product line, only to then be told it would be available to schools still. It was pretty limiting that the first iPod Touch didn’t have a camera, but it didn’t stop us buying them. We have no control in that process- we work round it, we don’t mind.

To me, these examples suggest we are just as controlled by commercial requirements elsewhere so we can discount the risks associated with control and free web services.

A couple of examples:

  • Facebook will only let a teacher have one profile rather than maintaining a second presence on the network to interact with their students.
  • Google+ will only let people use their real names.
  • Every Twitter account you create must have a unique email address associated with it.

There are countless rules in place to control how we use web services. Most of them we never really notice, but with each of the examples above I can see that these have the potential to cause problems for educators.

But are the restrictions placed on us by these tools any more limiting from the perspective of the learner than those placed on us by National standards, examinations boards, etc? In the same way the that the needs of the assessment process can pull in the opposite direction to the learning requirements of students using e-portfolios, is the need of the web 2.0 companies just another conflicting limitation?

Making use of the model

I would be really interested to look at Universities that have embraced the ad-targeted market. We look at the powerful tools companies have to direct content at you as a potentially scary area, but how useful would this tool be if I was a University marketing manager attempting to sell places on my courses to relevant interest groups?

At a smaller scale would it be good if a lecturer could use the Google/Facebook ads model to target learning resources at their students? I haven’t seen it happening yet, but the Kahn Academy would be ideal for using this kind of system to push their content.

As a purely financial decision if an institution could remove all of the costs of hosting and supporting their web services by adding advertising to it how much would you need to save before that became a serious consideration?

Alternatives/the way forward

This post has largely been a series of questions in a difficult area but I like to look at the options for solving it. On what I would see as a descending scale of good:

  1. Make use of the tools for our benefit as institutions, educate our users.
  2. Work to generate protected, ad-free environments for use within education.
  3. Keep out of the social networks, stick in the safe, institution controlled, spaces we already have.

Personally, I don’t see the advertising model adopted by web 2.0 companies to be a bad thing providing we can educate our students to understand it. If we take this view the benefits clearly outweigh the risks, and our route forward sits somewhere around the top of the list.

Image sources- Billboard by Hans S, American Idol screengrab, Money and Calculator by Images of Money, Giant pop-up by Feureau

What I learnt at TeachMeet

I spent yesterday evening at St Mary’s listening to a whole set of really inspiring examples of teaching practice happening in schools all around us. Really good opportunity to see some of the other things going on, particularly from primary, and I’m a big fan of the 7 minute time limit on presentations. From a secondary school perspective these are the things that really stuck out for me.

  • MyEbook.com is brilliant. You take any document you already have (could be a pdf, or even a series of images/scans of pupil work) and it turns it into a great looking Flash book that you can embed anywhere you like. This is a really good primary example of the kind of thing you can do. (@jonaudain presented this)
  • Embedit.in is a really nice way to embed any file you have into your VLE/website/etc
  • Helen from Vital talked about chroma key. Something that only really clicked in my head yesterday was that we don’t need the wall to be green- any contrasting colour would work. She also quickly mentioned a few good looking web 2.0 sites that I hadn’t come across before. Comiqs.com (online comic builder), capzles.com (multimedia timelines).
  • I can’t remember who presented it (sorry…), but sumopaint is another site worth looking at. It’s an online image editor/creator. Imagine Photoshop, but running in a browser. Cool.
  • @ianaddison talked about Delicious, and showed the Hampshire Delicious feed. Add it to your network.
  • @kristianstill has some mighty impressive PowerPoint skills… His presentation looked amazing. Spoke about some of the work students have created using Xtranormal, nice little web app for easily creating animations.
  • @fcbsd taught us all Scratch in his 7 minutes. I really liked the example he used from the PE department- creating simple animation to explain the movement of players on a basketball court.
  • The free stuff was great… Free trials of various sites nice, but the combined biro/highlighter from Vital and the purple memory stick bracelet from Espresso win for me!

There’s loads more info from the event here, and the photos (courtesy of @chrisrat) are on Flickr over here. Really enjoyed the evening, good to catch up with some people I haven’t seen for a while and very much looking forward to the next one.

TEDx Manchester

On Friday I commited 9 hours of my life to sitting on a train so I could attend TEDx in Manchester. Been a long time watcher of TED online so was very excited to be able to go and attend an event.

For those reading that haven’t encountered TED before, have a look at their website. It’s a great concept, the tag line covers it well- ‘ideas worth spreading’. Somebody stands up, talks about an idea they are passionate about that’s somewhere loosely in the field of technology/entertainment/design. Working in ed-tech, this is definitely  an area relevant to me and was really nice to spend an afternoon learning something new from people smarter than me. A few talks worth watching if you’re new to it:

  1. Ken Robinson – Schools kill Creativity
  2. Alain de Botton – A Kinder, Gentler Philosophy of Success
  3. JJ Abrams – The Mystery Box

The first of these was a subject of one of our staff meetings last year, the last two were played in Manchester. Had seen both before but was nice to go back to them with a bit more time to think. If you watched any of those and got something out of it do make sure you subscribe to the RSS feed to get new content. They’re only ever short, and I always learn something from whoever is speaking, whatever the subject.

Of the live speakers in Manchester, it was two of the BBC types that stood out for me in terms of my work. Marc Goodchild from CBBC interactive spoke about how children use technology. The data he used from the Childwise report was particularly interesting, currently trying to get hold of a copy as it seems hugely relevant to what we do. The kind of thing he is researching should be getting out to teachers in our feeder schools as well, was good to listen to him.

The second, Hugh Garry, spoke about film. He talked about a project he worked on last Summer, using mobile phones to create an award winning film. His point wasn’t about what is taught in schools, more about the film industry in general but the note I took was definitely about school. How we focus on teaching technique in media, worrying about the quality of the footage, type of shot, etc, etc. His argument was simple- our kids already have this kind of thing sorted in their heads, we don’t need to focus on it so much in order to create a good film. If the story is good enough the quality of the footage shouldn’t matter at all, people won’t notice.

This also links up with something I saw in Gameswipe (iPlayer link, only available for a couple of days) earlier in the week. This was another piece of genius from Charlie Brooker (go watch Newswipe/Screenwipe if you haven’t seen them…) this time on the games industry. The stand out point for us in education there was about writing scripts for games. I think it was Graham Linehan on there who commented that script writers for games aren’t reading enough, they’re writing based on films.

The question for education on both of these is are we focusing enough on teaching students how to write for this format? We do plenty of work on how to film things, but is there enough in either the Media, ICT or English curriculum that gets us thinking about script writing technique? This is very much an unqualified opinion here as I don’t know the courses any where near well enough, but wouldn’t it be great to have a unit where we didn’t worry about what type of shot it was/what medium it was created on/etc that just focused on creating a really good story?

Is this already happening? Maybe I’m overthinking something that is already covered. The great thing about TED for me is that the idea starts something you can take forward. Would be interesting to hear others views on this, and the project is definitely going back to our media department to see what we can learn from it.

And finally, had a quick Google for TEDx events further South. Found London and Kent, hopefully I’ll get to both & I honestly recommend the day to anybody else reading this who feels they still have more to learn.

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