“Visual Notes” with iPhoto for the iPad

Just days after posting a long description of teaching film with the iPad that discussed streaming ethnographic film, taking visual “notes”, and presenting them during class discussions, Apple announced iPhoto for the iPad. I purchased the application the evening it was released and immediately I realized it would improve upon the way I organize and present my “visual notes” during class discussions.

As I described in my earlier post, it is really easy to use the iPad to make screen captures of streaming films and collect them in albums using the Photos application. I have used the method since the beginning of the semester and it is a very unobtrusive way to reference visual materials, which students have seen outside of class, during class discussions. The new iPhoto app improves on this method by offering tools to quickly review and edit photos, a more convenient file management system for keeping track of the images, and most usefully—a way to create collections of photos, quotes and maps that can be easily published and shared on the web.

iPhoto on the iPad: Sharing Collections of Film Stills

A curated collection of stills, complete with map and quotes.

There are plenty of detailed online reviews of what the new iPhoto app can do, so I won’t repeat them here. The new app makes it very easy to manipulate the screenshots of films in just about any way that might be needed—adjusting, enhancing, cropping, etc. The app also has a very easy and intuitive way to view albums of images and compare multiple images on the screen, so that best image can be selected. I didn’t think that things could get much simpler than the iPad Photos app that I have been using up until now.

The new iPhoto app, however, offers an interesting feature for sharing collections of photos directly on the web.These collections, which Apple calls “journals” were designed for people to share photo collections with friends and family members. While the designers at Apple probably had sharing vacation photos in mind, the journals work very nicely to share visual film notes for teaching or discussion.

For this post I’ll describe a test journal that I created using stills from Robert Gardner’s Film Dead Birds. It is not polished, but should give some idea how useful this tool can be:

After creating a collection of still images from a film, all you need to do is open the iPhoto app. The albums of images collected in the iPad Photos app are automatically synched with the iPhoto app. Tapping on one of the albums opens the album with thmbnails of the images along the left side of the screen and a larger image on the right side. The photos can be easily enhanced and edited.

Once you have all of the photos in the album the way you want them it is easy to export them as a journal. Tapping on the share icon in the upper right corner (a small rectangle with an arrow coming out of it) opens a menu with a number of choices for exporting the album. Selecting “journal” provides an opportunity to select some or all of the images you would like to use for the journal.  After selecting a title and style iPhoto creates a journal out of the images.

The iPhoto "plus" menu of journal add-ons.

The initial form and organization of the images in the journal page(s) can be manipulated in many ways. The order, the size and shape of each image is adjustable with finger strokes. It is also very easy to add captions to photos. In my example for Dead Birds I chose some closeups of two of the “main characters” and added their names. I just as easily could add captions to each image highlighting an aspect that is related either to the content of the film or some aspect that I find interesting or important.

In addition, iPhoto offers a number of extras that can be added to the journal. After the collections of images are formatted, a quick tap on the “Edit” button brings up a “+” symbol. This “plus” menu offers optional things that can be added. Many of these, such as the calendar or weather are clearly targeted at those who will use a journal to share collections of vacation photos or similar events. I have found, however, that the text and quotation menu options can be useful for inserting comments or—even better in classes where I try to get students to engage ideas in our readings—quotes from authors about the films. There is even a map option which might be useful to site the film.

Finally the collection of film stills that have been collected and curated as a journal page can be viewed on the iPad, exported to iTunes, or published to Apple’s Internet cloud service, iCloud. This is where things get more interesting, because when I share my images on iCloud, iPhoto will send me an e-mail and a web URL for viewing the page(s) that I created. Because it is public, I can easily share my collection with the entire class. Another nice thing about publishing the collections to iCloud, is that when they are “turned off” or deleted from the iPhoto app they are removed from the cloud and no longer accessible. I like that I can easily remove them when I no longer need them. I have a live sample of my Dead Birds journal page here. If I have already removed it, here is a screenshot of how it looks on the iPad.

If everyone in my film class had an iPad, I could imagine that the iPhoto journals would be a nice way way to briefly summarize a film, make some references to readings and easily share the result with everyone else. The result is a brief summary page of the film that is, like film itself, primarily visual. Rather than dealing exclusively with textual descriptions, or depending on cueing content for showing in class—which really puts the burden and the focus on the professor to manage the images and clips—this might be a great way to get students in class to organize their own responses to films.

Most importantly the materials are easy to collect, manipulate, organize and publish. At a time when online and distance learning software such as Blackboard have become painfully bloated, irritating to use and more trouble than they are worth, I have been looking for ways to make things more simple.  Of course, I still want to take advantage of innovations in technology that might add to the experience of learning in the classroom. The iPad and iPhoto are dead simple to use—and in this case the solution is ideal.

Now I just have to work on getting an iPad in the hands of every one of my students!

One comment

  1. Pingback: Teaching Film: Streaming Films and Taking “Visual Notes” on the iPad | Museum Fatigue

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