Have you seen those yoghurts that contain an unpronounceable micro-organism that has a beneficial effect on the well being of your digestive system? Stay with me here and you will see where this is going. A recent experience -- not with yoghurt I hasten to add, but with digital images -- got me thinking that as technology consumers we may be in need of a similar product for our digital systems. Let me explain.
I have been working on some projects for the classroom using Deep Zoom, which I thought would be worth showing in a workshop session at the Innovative Teachers Forum in Vienna. After a brief demo of Deep Zoom, the groups of teachers undertook their various projects. Problems started when a few groups attempted to submit their Deep Zoom projects. They had managed to create some great compositions using Deep Zoom composer, but they ran into problems when they tried to publish their projects.
I have to admit, I had not come across this before. Every time I used the software it had worked perfectly. So what was going on? I checked the usual suspects: had they installed the correct version of SilverLight? Had Deep Zoom Composer been updated? Were they using the correct image format? Was it their computers? All of these investigations drew a blank, and a search online and an email to the developers could shed no further light on the cause of the issue.
By this time I was getting really frustrated, and trying to explain the problem to a group of Croatian teachers wasn’t helping. So I did what I always do in these situations, which is turn the computer off and walk away. But I couldn't let the issue go unsolved; when I returned to my computer later I was determined to find out what was going on. (In fact, I think that is how I have taught myself most everything I know about ICT; if computers worked perfectly, I would know nothing!).
With my mind refreshed, it struck me that the teachers were using images with resolutions of 3000x3000 pixels, forcing this simple application to process images with over 4 billion pixels! The Deep Zoom processor just could not cope. A thought occurred to me: digital cameras have now such high resolutions so that we can create professional-quality images at home. However, is this functionality necessary for the work we do in the classroom?
If we think about what we use digital images for in school, setting cameras to the highest resolution is possibly a hindrance rather than an advantage. Students are creating PowerPoint presentations of huge file sizes. Networks are strained as bandwidth is choked with documents containing photos, and internet connections grind to a standstill as high-resolution images are uploaded. You may not immediately view this as problem in these days of high capacity storage, but in schools it can cause all sorts of unforeseen problems. (Using up allocated network disk space, creating files that exceed the email file size limit, or even trying to find a large enough USB stick to transfer the file -- to name a few!) Such events can be real roadblocks to successful lessons and can cause much consternation amongst students and teachers.
If your students require a high resolution photograph (and if they can find a printer that will make the best use of the resolution), then by all means use the highest setting on the camera. But if they are uploading the photo to a website or blog or just using it in a presentation or document, why not have them make an informed decision on the camera settings they are using, determining the best and most efficient resolution? They could even change the image settings after they have taken the photos by using a tool like this or use Windows Live gallery.
I am suggesting a campaign ‘to reduce our obese file sizes’. Think about it this way: Should your students realise the implications of the size of the files they are producing? Should they take more control over the devices they are using? Should they be taught how and why they should do this? I certainly think so. To put it another way, it takes energy to store and transfer files. (Does anybody have a figure of how much energy its takes to transmit a megabyte of data?) Smaller file sizes mean less energy wasted. Together, we can save the planet and avoid being digitally constipated at the same time.
Does anyone feel the same or am I secretly longing for the days of the 1.44MB floppy disk? Your comments would be welcome.