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Technology for Photo Educators: Katrin Eismann and Laura Sterling on and Online Critiques


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BY Aimee Baldridge May 27, 2011 · Published by PhotoVideoEDU

School of Visual Arts MPS Digital Photography Department Chair Katrin Eismann and educational technology expert Laura Sterling talk about the value of online critiques of student work, the tools Eismann uses to put them together, and how SVA instructors use the content-sharing service to host and stream them.

The PhotoVideoEDU Technology for Photo Educators series asks photography educators about the technological tools that help them teach.

Photographs courtesy of Katrin Eismann and Laura Sterling.

The Educators: Katrin Eismann, MPS Digital Photography Department Chair, School of Visual Arts. Laura Sterling, Director of Instructional Design at Sotheby's Institute of Art and former School of Visual Arts Director of Educational Technology.

The Tool:, an online content hosting and sharing service.

The Goal:
 To host and stream critiques of student work online.

Options: can be used with most popular browsers, and provides a drag-and-drop desktop file uploader for both Mac and Windows.

Costs: Free account for 2GB of storage space and 2GB of monthly bandwidth. Pro account for $9.95/month or $99.95/year, which provides 25GB of storage space, 200GB monthly bandwidth, and advanced features such as video captioning and customizable backgrounds and views.

Time Commitment:
Eismann spends 40 to 60 minutes a week per student preparing and uploading critiques. She estimates it would take about two hours for a person with basic computer and Internet skills to learn how to do a screencast and upload and distribute it via

Pros and Cons: 

  • Free version includes hosting.
  • Permits private, secure content sharing.
  • Does not affect the copyright ownership of hosted content.
  • Generates embed codes to easily add multimedia content to any Web page.
  • Doesn't work for live, real-time critiques.
  • Doesn't provide tools for marking up images or screen captures.


Similar Tools:
ScreenCastle, Screencast-O-Matic, Camtasia Studio, more screencasting options

The Experience:

Eismann uses the service to host and stream her critiques of work by students in SVA's Masters of Digital Photography online program. She records her critiques with QuickTime Player; they include video of everything on her computer screen during the recording and an audio recording of her comments. The critiques are embedded in SVA's online classroom environment and remain available for students to view at any time after Eismann completes them and uploads them to We talked with her and Laura Sterling, who developed SVA's online program, about the process and advantages of creating online critiques and hosting them with

PhotoVideoEDU: Tell us about the online context in which critiques are viewed.

Sterling: An online virtual learning environment called Moodle provides the main meeting place for SVA's online students. That's where their classrooms are. They'll log into Moodle and see their class environment, including the syllabus with 15 weeks laid out, with a new week releasing every Sunday.

Within each week, they'll see their lecture, which is an HTML presentation with videos. And then there will be a whole page describing what their assignment is. There's also a discussion area, and in that space they can ask questions about the lecture materials or assignment. They're required to have conversations and interact with each other each week, so there might be discussion questions about the lecture. There's also space to post their assignments so that everybody can look at each other's work and talk about it. In that space, the faculty can post a critique video, an audio response, or a written critique.

Eismann: My assignments are due Sunday at midnight—for example, ten images processed three different ways. The students have to upload those files to our server, and then I download them and I create a Lightroom slideshow.

To prepare for the critique, I take about 10 minutes to organize the submitted files (in Bridge or Lightroom) and to gather my thoughts as to what I plan on saying or showing. I set my monitor to 1024x768, just to make the video a reasonable size, and I use a headset with a USB microphone for better sound quality. I launch QuickTime Player. In the File menu, I select the third item down, New Screen Recording. A little tip for anybody trying this: The first time you do it you need to check to make sure QuickTime is seeing the microphone. We've had faculty do great critiques without sound, and the second time is never as good.)

Then I hit the record button to start. I always address the student by name and say who I am, even though it's pretty obvious. I also review the assignment requirements—for example: "In this week's assignment you were supposed to find six images with wide dynamic range, convert three to black and white, and tone three." And then I'll run the slideshow and review the images and address what worked well or what wasn’t as successful. Next, I'll take individual images into Lightroom or Photoshop and talk about them. The students love it when I take their images into the Develop module or into Photoshop and show them how I would process them. It’s great for them to have somebody who's worked with Photoshop for 20 years to show them new approaches to image processing. In fact, I often hear that the recorded critiques are the highlight of the week for the students. By now, I've talked for 10 to 20 minutes, so I'll go back to QuickTime and stop the screen recording.

QuickTime gives you three options for exporting the file. I choose the option that's optimized for streaming the file through a broadband connection because it's higher quality, and a 10 minute critique will be about a 90MB file, which isn't bad. Then I upload the exported file to, which hosts all my videos and streams everything. They provide the HTML embed code for the video. I go back to the class in Moodle, start a new page, paste the embed code in, and post the page. Then students can see it for the entire semester.

PhotoVideoEDU: What do you and your students like about doing critiques online?

Eismann: It's actually more intensive, in my opinion, than the in-class crit, where I do the same thing—download files, make slideshows, show them a few things. In the classroom with 16 live students I simply cannot take 15 minutes per student, or else there wouldn’t be any class time left to teach! It's very interesting how much online students respond to it. The critiques aren't long, but I'm focused on that one student. It's as if I'm sitting right next to them and they love it. The online students are also required to watch the reviews of the other online students, and they can ask questions or offer suggestions.

Sterling: And the students get to see all of each other's feedback, feedback from everyone in the class. They can go in and review it over and over again, which is not something you get in the live classroom at all.

Eismann: What's important about the discussions is: They're online students. I don't know if they've read the lecture. So it's through the discussions that I know that they're comprehending the material, that they're applying it, that they're actually researching and going further. Those weekly discussions are how we take attendance.

We require in each class that they respond intelligently, not just with the "I like it" post. What's interesting about the online environment is that class discussions continue over the whole week, not just in a three-hour period. And having to write something makes you actually stop and think, versus just blurting something out. So they're usually more thoughtful.

We have to teach students how to critique. Most people don't know. They think that Flickr comments are a critique. So we have to give them parameters: What do you appreciate about the image? What do you suggest as a way to improve it? So there's always a positive/negative play going on.

Sterling: I also feel that online discussion levels the playing field between the students. In a live classroom you have the students who raise their hands all the time, and then you have the students in the back of the room who never talk. They might be English-as-a-second-language students or just really shy. In an online environment where everyone is required to give feedback, everyone is required to talk and everyone has a voice.

PhotoVideoEDU: Does doing critiques online change the nature of the critique?

Eismann: For me it actually doesn't, because I look at images in the same way. I'm looking at images based on their concept, their aesthetic, and the technical aspects. That's how I look at images when I critique a student live.

Sterling: When you're critiquing live in the classroom, there's a lot of interruption. In an online environment, you're at home creating or viewing the critique without interruption, so it's a very concentrated critique. It's really focused. In the classroom they have the option of stopping you midstream and asking a question, and while this branching of conversation can be helpful, it does pull the focus away from the critique.

Eismann: There's this whole romantic vision of how valuable live critique is. But anybody who has done critique—and I've done it for 10 years—knows that half the students are bored to tears. It's actually more intensive to concentrate on one person without interruption and without distractions.

PhotoVideoEDU: Why do you prefer using and QuickTime Player to other options for presenting critiques online?

Sterling: If set up properly, is basically like a private version of Vimeo or YouTube, and we prefer to keep it private for FERPA compliance.

Eismann: I use QuickTime because it's there and it's really easy, and it does a fine job.
There are online programs that have other critiquing environments where faculty can actually draw on an image live. I don't see that as a big hurdle. I just jump into Photoshop and do it there.

What's nice about using is that the SVA servers aren't getting hit with that bandwidth. For up to 2GB worth of video it's completely free, so any faculty member can try it. At a lot of institutions faculty want to use this stuff, but their IT departments always feel nervous because of firewalls, security, and bandwidth . . . so it's just easier this way. I've bought accounts for my faculty too. I actually have all of my videos from the last three years sitting there. Finally, the one-on-one connection makes the online experience very personal, which is exactly what our students appreciate about it.



Featured photographer: Katrin Eismann

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