I have just come across a site, http://www.aviary.com which gives you and your students access to a range of some pretty exciting creative tools: both for visual and sound editing and creation. The site also allows you to register a class account (absolutely free), with student accounts, and allows you to manage projects.
What appeals is both the ease of use – my eleven year old son was quickly creating sound and image files – and the power of the applications. Its price (ie. free) is pretty attractive too! I am lucky in that the school where I teach has an Adobe CS3 license for all its computers. When I arrived at the school, every computer had PhotoShop loaded, but the students were not really able to use it. I quickly added it to the Computer Skills syllabus, and now teach PhotoShop, Flash and Dreamweaver from Grade 8 to 10. I have not really tackled audio creation programmes like Audacity yet, but many of the students use Garage Band, and it is hard to see how anyone can consider themselves computer literate, or indeed literate, these days without a passing knowledge of both graphics and audio programs. I would never want to replace the sheer power of a package such as PhotoShop. I have used The Gimp, which is a freely available open source alternative, and I don’t want to give the impression that I would want to detract from both these offerings in any way. However, I found the applications on Aviary quite powerful, and very easy to use.
Computing in the Cloud has its advantages and disadvantages, and personally I am old-fashioned enough to prefer software that I have purchased or downloaded, sitting on my machine, but then again I preferred DOS to Windows, and well, the list goes on! The advantages of The Cloud are not lost on me either, though, and especially when it comes to graphics and audio packages, which tend to be very pricey, the access it offers to students who would otherwise not have access to similar software is huge.
Why is graphics software, especially, so important? Traditionally Education has focused on text-based study. The image of a scholar is of one whose nose is buried in a book, and learning is measured by reading. Students have not been called upon to learn visually, or to express their ideas visually. Exams are taken in written form, and diagrams kept to a minimum. And yet, how does the expression go? A picture is worth a thousand words? Our culture is somewhat ambivalent about the importance of visual input, and it would be fair to say that graphic representation in newspapers, text-books, and so on has been on the rise throughout the twentieth century. Indeed it is hard to imagine any form of message going out without a visual component. This being the case, it is equally hard to imagine that anyone could be considered literate without an understanding, at the very least, of visual literacy, and at best, a mastery of visual editing and creation. The same can be said for musical and audio editing and creation.
A picture comes into my head of the accomplished nineteenth century lady, whose sketching and mastery of the piano-forte recommended her socially. But that is precisely it! If you can’t PhotoShop out the zits on your Facebook profile pic, or post a halfway decent YouTube video, do you belong in the 21st Century?