cc licensed ( BY ) flickr photo shared by cogdogblog

I’m in deep infatuated camera love with my nifty fifty f1/4 50mm lens- its what I use on my camera 90% of the time. Why? Why not- I get my sharpest photos and it lets me do amazing things in low light.

It just works.

And we do well with what works, what is comfortable, like the best pair of worn jeans, cowboy boots, or easy chair.

Ye, there is something to be said by forcing yourself out of that zone. I read a photography guide somewhere that said once in a while, pick a lens you do not normally use and see what you can do with that exclusively I had that happen by my sheer clumsiness on a trip this summer when I dropped and broke the 50mm in Flagstaff, so I shot a whole day at the Grand Canyon with the wide angle.

Today I decided to do a walk around the heavenly place I am staying in Vermont, using just my Big Gun, the 300mm L series, a rather inflexible lens since that is all it does, no zoom. My usual reach for it is to do distance shots, like wildlife, but I spend about 90 minutes with it today. It really is one I do not feel all that comfortable with- w are cordial, but the relationship is still a bit hands off.

cc licensed ( BY ) flickr photo shared by cogdogblog

This same lesson is not limited to cameras- it goes for software too. Once investing enough energy into a tool, we can get reluctant to use others, even indignant to their potential. I would rather not use any other thing for my image work than Photoshop, but given most of my students do not have access to it, I feel like I should try and use the ones they might use- even though I find learning and using something like GIMP uphill.

It is something I am trying to find a way to formulate to my ds106 students- in their freedom to choose assignments at will from our collection I see a tendency for them to chose the simplest ones, the ones that can just click a few buttons on a web site generator or in a mobile app to achieve the result.

It seems to be about just producing the required result.

I think this is fine for some of their work, as long as they do a bit more on the behind the scene part, e.g. writing up their thinking behind the work. They do not always do this. There seems to be just a mad rush to Quickly Produce Something To Get the Points. They are mistaking the goal to be the product as opposed to what I want to see more of, the thinking and creative process that gets them there.

And so I do not think students are getting much out of this course if they are not struggling and working to figure out how to be creative in tools like GIMP, Audacity, etc. Because if they can get a few basics of understanding, the tool becomes an amplifier for their ability to create, as it can be used for much of their other work. Being able to create a funny picture at Zombify or Meme Generator is creative yes, but not something you can really extend to other areas of their thinking and writing and creating. It is limiting, like a cheap plastic lens.

I spent about 2 hours today trying to reproduce something I can do in one menu command in Photoshop, but using GIMP. Yes, it is not as easy, but now I have a better understanding of some of the layer and selection options in this software. And I can explain it to someone else.

Thus I think mobile apps and one off web site tools are a poor short cut approach to ds106.

cc licensed ( BY ) flickr photo shared by cogdogblog

Learning to create with our tools that are not always our first choice, or may be challenging to use is the place where you really start to transcend your perceived capabilities.

Yet here it is on a Sunday night when ds106 work is due at midnight, and I fully know I am going to see the usual “wohm back” dump druck approach to assignment work. I am seeing signs in a few of my students of breaking out of that mindset, but not many.

Maybe I am too hopeful or have unrealistic expectations, but squandering your chance to really flex and grow your creative muscles when you can take the way way out is… well bot doing much for your own learning experience.

So if you are feeling pretty good at something, or think you have the hang of it, take some time to maybe dropping your favorite tool and pick one you might not use that often, or ever. Just for a while. You may fully decide it is not worth doing.

cc licensed ( BY ) flickr photo shared by cogdogblog

This opportunities to stretch are mainly of our own making, when we decide which of those two paths in the woods to take. It’s as a difference of taking some leaps and stretches that can be ones that amplify our potential geometrically, rather than just piling up more chips arithmetically on the predictable path.

If this kind of stuff has any value, please support me monthly on Patreon or a one time PayPal kibble toss
Profile Picture for Alan Levine aka CogDog
An early 90s builder of the web and blogging Alan Levine barks at on web storytelling (#ds106 #4life), photography, bending WordPress, and serendipity in the infinite internet river. He thinks it's weird to write about himself in the third person.


  1. I have read your thoughts regarding the shortcuts of your students the last week or so, Alan, and I agree with you. Selecting the rapid method is not the beneficial approach. Taking up a tool like Gimp, Pixelmator or Photoshop is the way to go. Explore, trial, test and learn the nuances of the tool. Learn the unexpected. Feel a sense of achievement. You are right Alan.

    Reminds me of the times I had to pick up tools like Oracle Media Objects & mTropolis in the 1990s after working with HyperCard. Similarities & differences, yet the experience was invaluable as picking up new tools further down the track was not as daunting.

      1. Had a quick look at Apple Media Tool and I remember nothing now. The design and philosophy behind mTropolis was so well conceived. Its demise, after being purchased by Quark, was sad for its dedicated fans. I missed OMO when it went. Buggy, but it had great potential.

        Claudia’s thoughts and your own are spot on and here, downunder, as a national curriculum is rolled out, quantity will prevail over quality. Sausage factory schooling. Thank you for your reply Alan.

  2. I appreciated this post, Alan. Especially: “Learning to create with our tools that are not always our first choice, or may be challenging to use is the place where you really start to transcend your perceived capabilities.” Seems like mistaking the goal to be product is something we’ve been well trained in through earlier school experiences.

    Time design – making explicit that how we use time is a design decision – prototyping/iterating our time design – is one antidote to the last minute rush I have been exploring with students for a few years in “meta-learning strategies” conversations.

    Check your link “from our collection” – not found.

    1. Thanks Claudia. This scenerio is the mindset we have created and fostered in the systematization of school, where what we teach students are some skills, but mainly the skill to pass tests and get grades is supreme

      Fixing dat link thanks!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *