Delving into Trackstar, a successful experiment
While we are still experimenting in class with infrared, I think we are done using the TrackStar track this time around. Overall, I really feel that this technology accomplished what I wanted it to. This technology is very user friendly, both on the front end in producing the track, and on the back end when the student is trying to access the information. The user really only needs to understand where to enter the initial web address, then the track #. Beyond that, they need only point and click on the links, and navigate the individual pages. No html code is needed, and there are tutorials and examples on the homepage of the website.
This technology supports whatever kind of knowledge that is found on the internet, or that the teacher can activate using questions and notes above the viewing frame. In the example that we used in my class, I gave a short introduction, then students began by taking in images of infrared photography, and then reflecting in written form in their journals on what the "look" of this technique was. At this point, they have not been told, so they are using their visual observations to describe a form of photography that is really unique. Next, students looked at another gallery where a college student shows his infrared work, and offers various tips and tutorials. Most students only looked at his photos, the first time, but a number of students came back to his site without prompting, once they understood the basics of how the process worked. A wikipedia article summarized some scientific definitions of infrared and showed how infrared had been used in the past in film photography and also in more modern security systems. Finally, students watched a video on the procedure of make an infrared filter for their digital camera using household items and some scraps of exposed color film.
The technology allowed students to work through the information at their own pace, review as needed and reflect as they continued their learning. My preparation for teaching was focused on research and understanding, rather than tedious creation of documents, handouts, and photocopying. Students will also be able to access the information from home, if needed, both now and in the future. Future access of the information is not dependent on whether or not they purchased a textbook or lost the handout. In the initial reading of the track, the knowledge is individual, but once we had a group discussion it was clear that we were discussing shared knowledge. It was as if the students had been to the same lecture, or seen the same power point presentation. There is of course varied levels of understandings, but these can be assessed later in reading the journal reflections. By using this technology, students successfully and quickly moved from a surface understanding of infrared photography to creating a tool, then creating a product. All of this learning and processing was initially accessed, then sped along by access through technology, leading to authentic results in the world outside the computer.