March 17, 2008

Martin Benoit – Pedagogical Blogger

This text was initially published by Profweb under a CC BY-NC-ND 4.0 International licence, before Eductive was launched.

Martin Benoit has had a love affair with IT since it appeared! Starting with e-mail, Martin has communicated with his students in Photography past and present to build an online community. Since June 2007, he has edited a blog focusing on photography as a profession.

In 1991, I attended a continuing education course in Camden, Maine to learn about Adobe and Kodak applications. That was where I had a vision which included raised floors for easy wiring, teachers with wireless microphones, multimedia projectors and teaching assistants who actively verified the progress of their students. For me, it became evident that the right technological environment was the key to student achievement using IT.

When I came back to Quebec, my visions of wireless microphones and teaching assistants faded, and I settled down to using IT with the resources at hand. Since that time, I have had the pleasure of watching IT evolve in my courses. For example I started giving audiovisual presentations with a small group of students gathered around my computer screen. I then moved on to the old computer LCD slides and finally moved up to a data projector.

The more that I have worked with information technology, the more I am convinced that to be effective, it must be done under the right conditions:

  • Work in small groups,
  • Close contact between students and teacher,
  • Projections that are bright enough to keep the lights on and the students awake,
  • Comfortable sound levels.

I think that one great advantage of IT is accommodating different learning styles. I lecture for auditory learners and use the whiteboard for visual learners. In this way students look and take notes which reinforces the message. I make sure that students listen first and then go on to doing the exercises.

Here’s how a typical class of mine works:

  1. All monitors are closed during demonstrations, and students are asked to sit in the central aisle of the lab to improve sightlines;
  2. I select a student whom I feel is comfortable with the material to control the computer whose screen is projected, which is a vote of confidence for the person chosen. This not only softens the rhythm of my presentation, but makes my explanation of the demonstration clearer.
  3. I remain standing in front of the screen which allows students to watch me at the same time that they are looking at the material being presented.

Martin Benoit during class. Photo by Sébastien Bédard.

Afterwards, students can work on their assignments. I encourage them to help one another before raising their hands because I feel that peer instruction is frequently the best way to learn. Students understand where their fellow students are at and have similar vocabulary. I am less stressed and able to deal calmly with the situations that require my input.

When I feel it’s warranted, I give written instructions, and I also have web pages for further consultation.

In order to stay abreast of developments in my field and to keep my students informed, I created a blog which encourages posts by professional photographers. Students get to see things from the point of view of industry which enriches my course content.

Running a blog carries the challenge of attracting both students and professionals. To make sure that the first visit by people in the industry was worthwhile, I began posting three months before going public to build up content. During this period I also sharpened my skills in blog administration. After eight months, the blog has 140 unique visitors daily from students and professionals. For visitor statistics, I use Extreme Tracking which is a free service.

Watch this class exercise from my blog!

To give a concrete example of how my blog has integrated into my courses, here’s an entry from my professional practice course which I teamteach with Normand Grégoire:

Normand and I took on the roles of a policeman and the criminal that he is escorting to the courthouse. The students were to be news photographers taking pictures of our arrival and then inserting their best photo into a template of the front page of the ‘Journal de Montréal’. Other students documented the action by video. The viewer below shows the final edit. Once the headlines were posted on the blog, real photojournalists like Francis Vachon commented on the students’ work.

As the blog is active, comments arrive. Would you like to see the action on my blog? Pay us a visit at our Blogue du cours Pratique professionnelle I et II. As with the Reader Response Feature of Profweb below, your comments are welcome and appreciated.

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