This was indeed a weird semester! So to end it on a high note, I taught classes on image manipulation, digital photography, and Web design on three consecutive days. Using Google meet, of course.
Photoshop was something all my students had asked for. It’s an opportunity to also connect it to real-world issues such as doctored images in news –a blood relative of ‘fake news’ — digitally altering historical figures –Churchill without a cigar, MLK at a cleaned out podium on the Mall — and simply knowing how to be aware of what could be Photoshopped.
Photography may not seem related to a computer class, but we all know that taking pictures, editing, and sharing is now a given in a young person’s life. Any device is now a ‘camera.’ To make it more interesting, I invited a photographer from Sri Lanka to co-teach the class. (This is distance learning after all, so what’s another 10,000 miles?) Nazly Ahmed, a photo-journalist uses various cameras, spoke of lighting and composition, depth of field, framing, why aperture settings and ISO are important.
As for web design, the goal for the class was to give students an opportunity to design a site that could be home to their digital portfolio, or even a rudimentary business.
I also added a photography contest, so that students could go and use the techniques they learned. The winners are announced on my class website, here.
I came across an excellent primer for students on How to Spot Fake News. It simplified a few things we (and students) could do to check if a story is credible.
In teaching Photoshop a big part of it is to get students to create something that seems plausible, but ‘fake.’ This week, one of my 6th graders worked on an animal face-off and was amazed at how real a photo-montage might seem, even though it was a silly cat-fight.
Back to the Common Sense Media article. It lists six things to check for:
- Who made this?
- Who is the target audience?
- Who paid for this? Or, who gets paid if you click on this?
- Who might benefit or be harmed by this message?
- What is left out of this message that might be important?
- Is this credible (and what makes you think that)?
I found a more insightful primer from Washington Post (Video below), which provided more ways to validate a story or an image. Such as:
- Dragging an image into Google images
- Downloading a Chrome Plugin for spotting Fake News
- looking closely at the URL, often made to look like the original URL
- Inspecting the image to see if it looks Photoshopped
Yes, many images we see are so heavily doctored that we turn a blind eye to the fact that they are not exactly real. So my hope is that by Photoshopping images themselves, students might pay a little more attention to the visuals coming at them from media platforms they use.
And that’s not even getting to the language used to pitch the story or idea, learning to look for clues in the craft of the writer, which is another topic entirely.
No, this is not another fake news alert. It’s a teaching moment, however.
The subject matter is appropriate. While teaching Photoshop and image manipulation, it’s a perfect time to be teaching students how to become critical consumers of information often seen through imagery. And spot when someone has been tinkering with the truth.
The class begins with the ‘conspiracy’ around the 2003 Space Shuttle explosion, by looking closely at the Photoshopped images. We also look at doctored images of public figures.
When they get to the computers, their challenge is to add to, or ‘enhance’ fountains on the White House lawn.
Here’s are a couple of examples.
Take a guess. How many fountains are really there on the North lawn?
For the past few weeks I’ve been having a blast (and hopefully my students too), using Star Wars as material for classes on image manipulation, and color correction whether it is in Microsoft Word or Photoshop. The latter, for instance is a forthcoming 6th grade class that will be continued this year as well.
Students pick their favorite Star Wars image from Google, and the fun begins.
- They learn to copy and paste (the keyboard shortcuts as well as the right-mouse commands).
- The learn to layer an image, and color correct it – as in the example on the right
- They learn to delete a background color using the much-ignored ‘Set transparency Color’ tool
- They learn how to tweak the ‘saturation’ of the image, and what that means – and says. Or how to re-color an image for a specific effect.
- It’s a good way to introduce ‘layers’ before we get to Photoshop.
Star Wars is also helps open the door to other topics and discussions about space.
Over the past few weeks, my 5th graders are working on The Moons of Mars – a PowerPoint, specifically aimed at understanding animation paths and orbits. I’m not a big fan of PowerPoint, but it’s a great canvas on which they could understand the purpose of animation, beyond the obvious wow factor.
I am now considering using Star Wars as a backdrop for a class on Digital Storytelling. Perhaps an animated cartoon strip with voice-overs matching the speech bubbles. I can see a lot of storm trooper effects, and tricks using the lovable BB8.
For my Photoshop class last week I tried to bring home to my 6th graders the importance of scrutinizing the media they consume – whether it is a billboard, a news photo in a newspaper, an album cover, celebrity photos, a food label etc.
This is the exercise: Could you put a teacher’s face on the cover of TIME? This recent cover is of one of the twin astronauts, Scott Kelly, (whose brother, Mark is married to former Arizona congresswoman, Gabby Giffords) will be part of a one-year NASA study which I am following.
The local connection and space angle makes it a fascinating topic that will stay relevant until this time next year. The teacher in question is very supportive of this.
This week too, the 6th graders continue to work on their covers. For more details, and to track their progress, check in here…