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School photography feature

Service is Paramount for Quality School Photography

As imaging technology continues to become cheaper and more ubiquitous, some schools are considering ways to cut costs when it comes to their photographic requirements. However, AIPP Chairman of Professional School Photographers David Ryall suggests that using a professional service yields much more than the latest in photographic technology.

For the past decade and more, professional photographers have come under pressure as portable devices have put high-quality imaging in almost everyone’s pockets. For the casual observer who spies the ‘Shot on iPhone 6’ billboards for the first time, it’s easy to see how more people are thinking, Why would I ever hire a professional photographer, or even purchase a standalone camera?
In the school, the need for high-quality photography remains as high as ever, yet the proliferation of smartphones hasn’t decreased demand for professional photography services. The reasons for this should be obvious to anyone who has every overseen class or whole-school photos – a professional school photographer does a lot more than simply take good photos.

In order to delve a little further into how much, if any, the modern paradigm has changed, as well as enquiring about how schools should select the best photographer for their needs Education Matters Editor, Campbell Phillips talked to the Owner and Managing Director of Photo Hendriks, Western Australia’s longest-serving school photography company. David has a 14-year history in this industry and is currently the Chairman of the Professional School Photographers division of the Australian Institute of Professional Photography.

The following is a transcript of that interview.

Campbell Phillips: In a world where everyone has a camera attached to their mobile device, has the role of the professional photographer changed in schools?

David Ryall: Yes and no. For those schools that require a lot of event photography, often the school staff are covering these themselves now. However, they still require professionals for the events that require big logistics (for example: graduations, school formals, group and portrait photos, and so on).

What has changed most significantly is the sales from events have decreased as the new generation coming through are less interested in prints and often ‘screen grab’ the images from the photographer’s sales websites, or simply don’t order as they are happy with their phone pictures. This is currently threatening the viability of some operators while others are adapting by shooting and burning the event on the night and selling the complete set of digital files to students on USB. This method is actually increasing sales and decreasing ‘production time’, so is working well for event photographers.

Group and portrait sales seem to be unaffected by the camera phone generation at this stage, and this is where 90 to 95 per cent of revenue is for most school photography companies.

CP: What are the different types of photographs that schools have a need to produce and how often are they usually taken?

DR: Different schools have different requirements. While some require photographers to attend 20-25 sessions per year, others may only need one or two.
The main types of services they engage a professional for are as follows:

  • Class and Portrait photography
  • Events (balls, graduation and so on)
  • Group photography for yearbook publications (such as sporting, music and academic groups)
  • ID Photos
  • Whole School Photography
  • Promotional Photography

The types of events that the school often does themselves are school plays and dances, presentation ceremonies, sports carnivals and similar.

CP: Do most schools outsource their needs for professional photography or do some schools maintain their own full-time professional photographer?

DR: Most schools outsource for at least some services, though the larger schools often have a member of staff who might spend 10 to 20 per cent of their time taking photos of different events. Schools simply don’t have the budget nor the necessity to have a full-time photographer on staff, so outsourcing is a good option and often costs the school nothing if the photos can be sold to families.

CP: What does the professional photographer bring to these initiatives that simply can’t be provided by the school staff?

DR: Professionals have a great understanding of how to light the subject properly, how to handle the logistics and fast pace of a shoot and how to provide high quality files in a timely manner. These things cannot be replicated without training and professional equipment, though many people try.

CP: What are some of the logistics challenges associated with school photo days?

DR: The most important part is figuring out the ‘flow’ of the day. That is how to get the students through the photo stations in an orderly fashion with minimum disruption and on schedule. A bad flow can create a bad day for everyone involved, where as a good flow is pleasant and leaves the schools staff and photographers feeling good about the day. Some schools try to do too much in one day, which can be unrealistic and create problems. This is where a good professional can advise the best way to structure the day so that it flows well and runs on time.

CP: Do you have any insight into the administrative side of these initiatives?

DR: The schools greatest challenge is to figure out how to get the kids to the photo venue and create the least disruption for classes so students lose the least amount class time. Once teachers get their students to the venue, the photographers take over and generally keep things on schedule.

The other challenge is distributing order forms and photo packages, though most professional photographes make this easy with custom printed order information for each student.

CP: What about logistics challenges in terms of equipment? Do you hire lighting, backdrops and portable stadium seats as required?

DR: Professional photographers generally bring all of their own equipment. This is simply for reliability and consistency. In times gone by, photographers have borrowed chairs from schools and maybe some staging, but resources are getting tighter and the equipment often simply isn’t available.

It is rare that photographers would hire equipment unless strictly necessary. Again, from a reliability standpoint, they have to know it will work on the day versus relying on hired equipment that may not be well maintained or configured appropriately. This does mean that professionals have a large cost outlay in equipment, but it is worth it for the reliability.

CP: Do you have any key recommendations for schools regarding strategies, systems, softwares or otherwise to help make these projects more efficient?

DR: The best advice is to work closely with your photographer. They are professional and they do this day-in and day-out with all types of schools, so they know the best way to make your shoot easy, no matter that the scenario. Trust them and use their experience to help guide you – photo days don’t have to be stressful and they know how to make it easy.

CP: What should schools look out for when hiring an external professional photographer to handle their photography needs?

DR: The number one thing is good service. Speak to other schools they deal with and reference check them. Any company that has a track record of good service is likely to deliver what you need. And, in the rare event that they mess it up, they will clean it up quickly and to your satisfaction. Some operators compete on cost, or offer lots of extra ‘free stuff’, but they generally have to sacrifice service to do so. This can create other problems and hidden costs, as well as a great level of dissatisfaction. So always go with service, and don’t be afraid to ask around to see how they have performed previously.

Sentral Education logo

What is Sentral Education?

Schools educate and nurture our most precious resource. We make great software that helps schools to provide the very best education for every single child in their care.

A Complete School Information System

Sentral School and Student Management software is a suite of interrelated modules, accessible on Internet enabled devices. Web-based and fully scalable, Sentral provides flexibility and ease of use. Sentral 2016 offers:

  • A complete end-to-end package including enrolments, finance and student management functions; and
  • A fully multi-tenant enterprise solution suitable for groups or school systems.

Staff have ready access to relevant data that informs teaching and learning as well as student and school administration, through a comprehensive suite of thirty six modules organised in eight categories. Integrated data reduces redundancy and replication, saving staff valuable time and making it available to all that need it. The student and parent portals also provide 24/7 information.

Sentral consists of a broad range of ‘modules’ each designed to handle all the data and functions related to a specific area of school administration. As a modular system, each of those can be turned on or off or replaced by an external system using a variety of integration points.

The Sentral solution addresses the data demands of today and into the future.

Unified AV in the classroom

Navigating classroom technology: A Unified approach

Both in and out of school today, children are consistently engaged via interactive digital displays in every aspect of their lives. As increasingly tactile and visual learners, students in the classroom are expecting to be engaged and challenged as they would in the outside world. Nearly all research indicates that yes, interactive technology will improve learning outcomes – but it’s not a silver bullet. This new paradigm of engagement is also very dependent on teachers understanding how this happens and evolving their practice accordingly.

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Tony Church presents his insight into interactive displays in schools

Inside view on interactive technologies in the classroom

Over the last couple of decades, we’ve experienced significant changes in the use of different levels of technologies, implemented throughout schools to ultimately enhance everyday teaching in the classroom and assist with back office administrative functions, writes CEO of IG3 Education, Tony Church.

It all started with computer labs in schools, providing students, and even some teachers, access to computers for the first time in their lives. Today, computers and the use of technology has become an integral part of our everyday lives, with pre-school learners being exposed to technology even before they master the basic skills of reading, writing and arithmetic.

The introduction of the interactive whiteboard in the classroom has since resulted in an era in which the use of technology was literally moved to the front and centre of the learning environment, with many teachers and educators grasping the opportunity to enhance teaching by effectively using it as an interactive, real-time projection device resulting in higher levels of student participation and concentration.

A concept that was and is unfortunately overlooked is that the technology (hardware) is, ultimately, merely a means to an end. External school funding projects allowed schools to implement interactive whiteboard solutions in many classrooms and, due to the focus placed on the acquisition of the tangible items, the concepts of simply being a means to an end was overlooked by many. This resulted in a significant number of interactive whiteboards either being used as projection surfaces only, or not used at all.

Apart from the lack of basic and ongoing professional development, the technology have been regarded as finicky and problematic, with constant re-calibration required, external light sources impacting viewing quality, incorrect software drivers, and more, due to some of the following reasons:

  1. Poor service from unqualified installers
  2. Insufficient brightness on projectors used
  3. Incorrect matching of technologies, for example using a 4:3 aspect ratio projector on 16:9 whiteboards
  4. Lack of training and support, both internally and externally
  5. Lack of relevant content and access to resources

In addition, with the workload on teachers to deliver the curriculum to their classes over a limited period of time, it is not surprising that many have even given up on the technology, as they simply don’t have the time to waste on technical issues.

The single biggest ‘game changer’ in the use of information and communications technologies (ICT) in the classroom was probably the introduction of tablets – more specifically iPads – which, to a certain extent, coincided with a mass take-up and subscription to social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, and more, into the classroom.

Re-adjusting Settings on Interactive Displays

It is important to recognise the link between the use of technology in everyday social life, across virtually all socio-economic backgrounds, and the use of technology in the classroom.

Firstly, and probably most importantly, teachers have become more confident with the use of technology, with tablets, smart phones and computers now being used as tools to access information and to stay connected to others, whether it be at a social level or work related level. Secondly, students now have access to these technologies from an early age. Simple touch technologies, including a basic feature such as gesturing (which are used on handheld devices such as tablets and smart phones), is one of the reasons why interactive LED panels have been so successful in classrooms, with even pre-schoolers being able to use the technology without training or instruction.

Most of the current range interactive panels don’t require drivers for either Mac or Windows and they auto-calibrate, allowing teachers to simply ‘plug and play’. These interactive panels are ultimately large, external screens connected to a computer, allowing the educator to operate and control any program installed on that computer via the interactive panel, using either their finger or stylus, rather than a mouse or track-pad. On-screen keyboards also allow for typing, and character recognition is also becoming ubiquitous in many operating systems.

Total cost of ownership for interactive panels is also significantly lower when compared to conventional interactive whiteboards with projector solutions, with the expected lifespan on an A-Grade LED panel ranging between 30,000 to 50,000-plus hours. To put this in context; if a panel is used for an average of six hours per school day, you’re looking at a lifespan in excess of 25 years. Obviously we’ll see newer and different technologies in years to come, but the point being made is you should not have on-going expenses, such as bulb and filter replacements during the life and use of these panels.

Features for the Future of Education

As time passes, it is expected that more emphasis will be placed on developing connecting devices to the panels, currently and for the foreseeable future, through HDMI ports. This will allow more effective wireless streaming and interaction to the panels from teacher and student devices, irrespective of the platform they’re using.

As an example of this trend in expanding connectivity, there is an interactive LED connectivity solution currently available that allows up to 64 devices to be simultaneously connected, thereby allowing any of the device screens to be displayed on the panel and even wirelessly controlled from the screen. Teachers are able to interact with students without having to go to the students’ desks, therefore keeping all students included and focused on the lesson.

Such technology also allows educators to display up to four device screens via the panel simultaneously, which is ideal for a cooperative group setup, such as four groups of students doing a math quiz on four different devices, or presenting their group projects simultaneously.
Another important consideration for interactive panels is their size, and selecting the correct size for your classroom is critical. Interactive LED panels are widescreen devices – generally with an aspect ratio of 16:9 – whereas the majority of interactive whiteboards installed at schools are 4:3. The width of a 65-inch panel is very similar to the width of an 85-inch interactive whiteboard and, in addition, the clarity of a full-HD LED panel is significantly better that that of projectors.

Compare/Contrast

Wireless connectivity is fast becoming the most desired feature on interactive classroom solutions, but it’s also an area where some people are often disappointed with the responsiveness and lag that can be an issue.

Problems with connectivity are often caused by already over-saturated WiFi networks. Alternatively, they may simply be the result of inadequate WiFi connections built into some panels.

Alternatively to a wireless connection, some users may consider connecting and displaying an iPad screen directly to the display. However, this will allow display-only functionality and you will not be able to control the iPad through the screen. The main reason for this is that the interactivity on panels is driven through USB, and therefore the control of devices from the panel is limited to compatible devices with USB ports, as you effectively create a wireless USB bridge from the device to the panel.

Ultimately, the decision for many educators will come down to an understanding of the differences between the new generation of interactive LEDs, when compared with standard LED TVs, which are used as projection surfaces only.

This is an area that requires careful consideration, and I’ve summarised some of the major differences below. Anyone considering the next generation of displays for use in classrooms should take extra precautions in understanding these pointers and accounting for them against their school’s needs and budgetary expectations.

  1. LED TVs do not have anti-glare screens, which makes viewing in many classrooms problematic due to reflection caused by external light sources
  2. LED TVs purchased from mass retailers are not generally commercial-grade panels, therefore not intended for extended hours of use and only intended for use in-home. It would be wise to carefully read the warranty disclaimer on any TV
  3. Interactive LED panels, or at least the more mainstream brands, are designed for use within the classroom, and are therefore more robust and durable
  4. Interactive LED panels enhance classroom teaching and their interactive capabilities ensures more engagement with the class
  5. Interactive LED panels provides greater flexibility due to their connectivity and built-in operating systems

Important factors to consider when considering Interactive LED Panels include the following:

  • Budget – Over the last 12 months the most popular size for classrooms has been 65”
  • Size – Current popular sizes available are 55”, 65”, 70”, 75”, 84” and 98”
  • Warranty – Onsite service or back-to-base? This is an important consideration as freight costs are high
  • Mounting options – Fixed-wall mount, fixed-wall mount on swivel bracket or height-adjustable wall mount, manual or automated?
  • Mobility – Mobile with manual height adjustability, mobile with automated height adjustability, mobile with automated height adjustability and automated tilting (interactive table), fixed height mobile and a laptop arm or bracket?
  • Built-in PC or use own laptops/notebooks
  • Operating platform – Built-in systems like Android allow usage of the panel’s basic features without having to have a PC connected. Basic features include writing, connecting to the internet, storing and opening files including MP4, PowerPoint presentations, spreadsheets, Word Documents, and more
  • Connectivity – Wireless connectivity or connectivity via ethernet cable
  • Glare and scratch resistance – Look for anti-glare and anti-friction toughened (MOHS 7) glass
  • LED quality – A-grade panels will have no dead or light pixels
  • Support – This may include relevant content pre-installed, training manuals and clear levels of additional support outlined
  • Future firmware support – Note: the reason most panels don’t require drivers for Mac and Windows computers is that the drivers are included in the operating systems. Future updates to operating systems are therefore not necessarily covered and will therefore require an update to the firmware on the touch overlay to ensure proper operability

Tony Church began working in IT in 1986 and started focusing on ICT in Education in 1994. Between 1994 and 2006 he was the Divisional Director Education for Mustek Ltd in South Africa, where he was directly involved in the planning and rollout of computer systems, software solutions and training in more than 1,800 schools on the African continent, with the majority thereof being in South Africa.

He was the project manager for the development of the Inter-ED software, a multi-lingual (11 Official Languages) software solution for foundation-phase learners focusing on Literacy, Numeracy and Life Skills which provided learners, irrespective of their language and socio-economic background, the opportunity of being taught in their mother tongue during the foundation phase. This product and project was awarded the Proudly South African Award in 2005 and received a Silver Award from the Department of Trade and Industry in 1999 under the Best Innovation category.

In January 2006, Tony relocated to Australia and joined Eduss (today called IG3 Education Ltd), a small, Gold Coast company focusing on Maths, English and Phonics solutions in Australia. Today, the IG3 Education Ltd group has a national presence and a turnover in excess of $45 million and IG3 Education products, including EduTouch hardware solution and a vast range of Education Software Solutions, have been installed in over 75 per cent of Australian schools. Software solutions available include The Language Market, Learning A-Z, Readme, Kurzweil, Eduss Maths & English, and more.

Online video games

Research: Online games boost student scores

A study from RMIT University reveals teenagers who regularly play video games online tend to receive higher school grades.

This contrasts with another finding: those visiting Facebook or chat-based websites every day are more likely to realise decreased performance in maths, reading and science.

The study used data collated by the internationally recognised Program for International Student Assessment (PISA), which was in turn analysed by Asasociate Professor Alberto Posso from RMIT’s School of Economics, Finance and Marketing.

Published in the International Journal of Communication, the paper provides a snapshot of some of the pressures placed on today’s teens in Australia.

PISA’s database included tests from more than 12,000 Australian 15-year-olds in maths, reading and science, alongside additional information on the students’ online activities.

Assoc. Prof. Posso found that students “who play online video games every day score 15 points above the average in maths and 17 points above the average in science”.

“When you play online games you’re solving puzzles to move to the next level and that involves using some of the general knowledge and skills in maths, reading and science that you’ve been taught during the day,” he said.

As a result, the academic suggests educators consider how to incorporate popular video games into their teaching, “so long as they’re not violent ones”.

By comparison, students that regularly sent time on social media scored 20 points worse in maths than students who had never used those platforms, but Posso still recommends incorporating the technology as a method of assisting students who fall behind.

“Teachers might want to look at blending the use of Facebook into their classes as a way of helping those students engage.”

The researcher also stresses that there could be other factors having major impacts that hamper teenager scholastic progress, and missing school could be as bad or worse as regularly using social media.

Students from minority ethnic or linguistic groups were also at increased risk of falling behind than those using Facebook or chat sites each day.

Diversity issues in computer science classes.

Want to address diversity in tech? Encourage girls to study computer science

Abutting the debate around STEM skills, questions regarding diversity in Australia’s tech sector have also been raised, with just one quarter of IT graduates and 10 per cent of engineering graduates being women.

According to the Government’s National Innovation and Science Agenda: ‘we need a concerted, national effort to overcome the cultural, institutional and organisational factors that discourage girls and women from studying STEM’.

Part of its ongoing research for Digital Careers, CSIRO has found that the diversity in tech issue begins at school, where there’s a marked lack of girls studying computer science at both primary and secondary levels.

Led by Dr Jason Zagami from Griffith University, the research has been published under the title: Female participation in school computing: reversing the trend, which attempts to identify some of the key reasons why girls aren’t getting involved.

The report found that computer science has not yet reached the same level of integration into schools as compulsory subjects like mathematics and general science.

In particular, the study suggests that maintaining girls’ interest in computing is critical through Years 7-8, as this is where female participation starts to decline significantly.

Dr Karsten Schulz, Manager for Digital Careers, explains that addressing parent preconceptions, exposure to positive role models and developing programs specifically for girls are all methods for maintaining their interest in the subject.

“Hearing from successful females working in the field and being exposed to the different career options available in the industry will help young girls to consider computing subjects and professions,” Dr Schulz says.

The report also suggests schools introduce code clubs for girls in early years, before social pressure begins to rise.

Digital Careers is a Government-backed education industry collaboration that combines research, primary, secondary, and tertiary institutions.