How Flickr Threw a Switch In My Head

Last year, one of the people in my aggregator, D'Arcy Norman, published a video to share the results of his year long experiment: he took a picture every day for a year and published it to his flickr account. He called the experiment 365 Photos. Actually, an entire community has grown up around this idea on flickr; it wasn't D'Arcy's idea originally, there are over 1200 "365 Days" groups. I don't know who started this originally but it seems like a natural extension of publicly sharing your photos.

D'Arcy said a switch got thrown in his head. Watch his video of the results; as you watch you'll get a sense of what his year was like, when and where he went on vacation, his love for his son, the things he finds interesting, but pay particular attention to how he uses perspective, how sets up his "shots", and the things in his world he notices:

As the new year rang in for 2008 several other people in my aggregator decided to join D'Arcy in his new experiment: 366 Photos (2008 is a leap year). After several weeks many started writing about how their visual perception changed as a result of doing this. They started noticing things they hadn't before, the quality of the photos they took (of things, family, friends, events, etc.) improved dramatically, and a switch in their heads flickred.

I came late to this party for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that the "every day for a year" commitment intimidates me. So, in March I started my own experiment: 31 Days.

There's a bit of folk wisdom that says it variously takes 21 or 28 days to create (or break) a habit. (15 minutes a day every day. If you miss a day just keep going until you get to 21 — or 28 — days in a row.) I've been able to find no verifiable research to back this up so make of it what you will. In any case, I did find that my 31 Days experiment lead to a change in the way I see the world and use visual imagery in my teaching.

Now, this part wasn't planned, but as I've used flickr more and more I've become more and more interested in taking "interesting" pictures.

As a math teacher I was fascinated to discover that photographers have long known of and used a mathematical definition for beauty. It's based on the number φ, phi (one H of a lot cooler than π, as my students say), which it turns out is embedded in the the natural world in all sorts of ways including the various dimensions of our own bodies. I digress, that's a post for another time. ;-)

I stumbled upon an online photography course over at I've only read through Lesson 1: Composition And Impact - It's A Beautiful Photograph, But Do You Know WHY It's Beautiful?. It had a significant impact on how I take pictures and view the world. That was almost a year ago. I'm about ready to move on to Lesson 2: Aperture And Shutter Speed - How They Work Together.

Here's how I did my 31 Days experiment:

 » All pictures were taken with my cell phone. (Because it's always there, and it's easy.)

 » All pictures were uploaded to flickr (almost) daily. (You can send directly from your phone if you like.)

 » All pictures were tagged with a unique tag for the experiment. i.e. 31Days.

 » All pictures were aggregated on my blog using a slideshow tool, (also allows you to embed music).

 » I took at least one picture every day. (Some days I took more and picked the one liked best.)

You might wonder: Why all this photography stuff from a math teacher? Well, the short answer is that I wanted to model what I asked my students to do — check out the flickr assignment I designed.

The long answer is: It has enriched my life. I used to leave taking pictures to others; my wife or mother-in-law. Now I take more pictures than anyone, and the skills I've developed have lead to some striking pictures of my kids (sorry, we don't publish publics pics of our kids online ... yet). More than that, it has effected the way I read to learn. I recently finished reading John Dewey's Experience and Education. I decided, as a mnemonic and a way to help me move everything I read into long term memory swiftly, I would mentally construct an image that summarizes the content of each chapter. I hope to publish it as a slidecast (slideshow + podcast) on Slideshare in the near future. I know that little book really well as a result of doing this. Creating the slidecast will really embed it in my brain.

Anyway, I think I'm ready to try this experiment again in October. October in Winnipeg starts with colourful leaves on the trees and ends with snow on the ground. This is going to be fun!

Photo Credits:
Me and my Cell by flickr user dkuropatwa
Vitruvian Genesis by flickr user karlequin

Promise, Tool, Bargain

My main interest in teaching and learning on the web centers around exploring the effective use of social media to deepen our pedagogy and our students learning.

In Clay Shirky's recent book, Here Comes Everybody, he closes by saying that there are three "rules" behind the effective use of any social tool: it "relies on a successful fusion of a plausible promise, an effective tool, and an acceptable bargain with the [students]".

The promise is about why would you use a certain tool. i.e. begin by asking yourself, what do you want to accomplish with your students? What do you want them to learn?

The tool is about answering the question: how do you want them to learn it?

The bargain, in Clay's words, "sets the rules of the road: if you are interested in the promise and adopt the tools, what can you (the students) expect and what will be expected of you?"

This is not a recipe for success. It's more of a framework to pin your thinking on. There are infinite paths to any goal; every teacher and student may start and end a course at the same place but the path they follow to get there is unique to each individual.

These three ideas can serve as a framework to guide our thinking as we try to answer the question: So, exactly what am I going to do differently with all this stuff in class tomorrow?

What do you think? Is this a helpful framework for thinking about using social media in the classroom?