Worksheets and Kodachrome: Lessons in Kodak’s Bankruptcy

» 20 January 2012 » In Commentary, Ed Policy, History / DBQ's, Students » 2 Comments

This week Eastman Kodak filed for bankruptcy. Is there a lesson for educators about what happens when you lose touch with your customer?

First some personal background. I'm from Rochester New York - "The Kodak City."
My dad worked at Building 29 - right at the heart of the business. Rotating through round-the-clock shifts, literally working in the dark, he mixed the chemicals that became film. One of Kodak's many benefits, was a guaranteed job for your children when they reached college age. So in the late '60's, during my college summers, I worked at Kodak. The first two summers I worked on the Kodak railroad. Yes, Kodak ran it's own track and trains within the 1,200 acre Kodak Park industrial complex. The summer before my senior year, I washed tour buses and drove the Kodak ambulance. If I remember correctly, I was making more than triple the minimum wage.

Of course, Kodak could afford to be generous to its workers (and extremely philanthropic to the Rochester community). It had a monopoly on the film market. George Eastman had transformed the complexities of the 19th century photographic "chemistry set" into something easy that anyone could do. He understood that his customers wanted simplicity. In the early days of the 20th century he pitched his cameras with the slogan “You push the button, and we do the rest.” (Users of the early Brownie cameras shipped their cameras to Rochester, where the film was taken out, processed and printed. Their reloaded camera and finished prints were shipped back to them.) Kodak continued to simplify with innovations, like drop-in film cartridges, but they always maintained control of all phases of the photographic process - dominating the markets for film, film processing, processing chemicals, and photographic paper.

At the same time the George Eastman popularized photography, compulsory public education brought education to the masses. Instruction was based on the notion that you could tell people what they needed to know. State education departments, publishers and teachers decided what was important and then delivered it to students via textbook and lectures. Perhaps the unstated slogan of that instructional model was "you listen and take the notes, and we do the rest.”

Ironically Kodak sowed the seeds of its own demise by pioneering digital photography in the mid 70's. But the innovators at Kodak's Apparatus Division Research Lab couldn't make the case for “Film-less Photography” as it was called. "Why would anyone ever want to view his or her pictures on a TV? How would you store these images? What does an electronic photo album look like?" More on the first digital camera

Kodak leadership couldn't accept challenges to their traditional photosensitive film model, so they licensed their digital patents to other companies who began creating the first digital cameras. Kodak's leaders scoffed at the primitive digital images, and continued to milk their cash cow. The only thing to fear was losing market share to film competitors like Fuji Film.

At the core of Kodak's eventual demise was the failure of the leadership to remain connected to their customers. They convinced themselves that the public would continue to want to buy film, load it into the camera, take a picture, drop the film off at the processor, and return later to pick up their photos. Easy to believe when you're making money at every stage of that process. Leadership wouldn't accept that their customers wanted greater control and functionality over the imaging process. Users would be willing to forgo the quality of the Kodachrome for the ability to do new things with images. Manipulate them, mash images up with other content, e-mail them off to someone, and perhaps never actually print a photo.

So do education leaders have something to learn from the bankruptcy of Kodak? Is their obsession with standardized achievement test data as misguided as Kodak tracking Fuji's market share? Will innovative teachers get tired of explaining "the effectiveness of social media in the classroom" to their school board and leave the profession?

Has our educational leadership lost touch with their customers - the students? Given the growing array of cheap digital tools available to our students, will they passively wait to be told what, how, when and with whom to learn? Is the information flow of the traditional classroom (lecture, note-taking, test) as outmoded as taking your film to the drugstore for processing?

Given all the technologies available for students to direct their own learning, how much longer can the traditional school survive? When will worksheets go the way of Kodachrome?

Image credits: Emergence of Advertising in America On-Line Project

Kodak Simplicity
Kodak advertisement, 1905

Let the Children Kodak
Kodak advertisement, 1909
Ad #K0082

John W. Hartman Center for Sales
Advertising & Marketing History
David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library
Duke University

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

The Battered Woman Defense: A Classroom Mock Trial

» 08 October 2011 » In How To, Strategies, Students » 2 Comments


This case brings to mind a mock trial that I developed and used for many years with my high seniors at Pittsford Sutherland High School (Pittsford NY). I found that participation in mock trials enabled students to hone their critical thinking skills, collaboration, and explore significant legal and social issues in an real-world setting. Here is a copy of the fact pattern for this mock trial in pdf format – “The Donna Osborn Case.”

Mock trials are not “scripted” events. Well-written, they should offer a reasonable chance for either side to prevail. While I provided students with the witness statements, it was up to their legal teams to develop prosecution / defense theories and prepare to serve as witness or attorney in a trial held before an actual judge (or attorney) and a jury of adults from the community. I found that participation in mock trials enabled students to hone their critical thinking skills, collaboration, and explore significant legal and social issues in a real-world setting.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Visualize the Twitter Feed at the Xerox Rochester International Jazz Fest

» 13 June 2011 » In Events, Social Web » No Comments

jazz fest featured

This is our 10th year at the Jazz Fest. Amazing lineup – with the “club pass” you can see it all. Here’s a visualizer of the Twitter feed following the hashtags #xrijf and #rocjazz.

Tags: , , ,

Historypin – Make DBQs with a Digital Time Machine That Layers Image, Story and Location

» 02 January 2011 » In Ed Tech, History / DBQ's, Strategies, Web 2.0 » 5 Comments


Historypin – Here’s a short video about a great mashup of digital photos (with stories) layered over Google maps. Users can search images by geography / time and post historic photos (with stories) to maps. It’s fascinating to view historic photographs set against the backdrop of current Google map street view.

Tags: , , , , , , ,

Rochester Contemporary Art Center 6x6x2010: 5,000 Artworks by 2,000 Artists – $20 Each!

» 15 June 2010 » In Presentations » No Comments

6x6x2010 is the third exhibition of thousands of original artworks, made and donated by celebrities, international and local artists, designers, college students, youths and YOU. Each artwork will be 6×6 inches square and signed only on the back, to be exhibited anonymously. All artworks will be for sale to the public for $20 each to benefit Rochester Contemporary Art Center.

Tags: , ,

Seeing American History Through the Artist’s Eye: A Teaching and Learning Resource

» 27 April 2010 » In History / DBQ's, Literacy, Projects, Strategies » 2 Comments

The new teaching /learning site examines 82 works and their connections to American history, culture, literature and politics. The accompanying Classroom Guide integrates background information on the art, the artist and America with visual literacy classroom activities. Lesson plans and resources are readable online and available as downloadable pdfs.

Tags: , , ,

Fiction is a Lie that Tells the Truth: Reflections on Life and Literature

» 16 January 2010 » In Commentary, Literacy, Publishing » No Comments

Serious fiction is a lie that tells the truth. It can introduce you into the lies and truths of other people’s minds and hearts, to your own country and time, or strange, foreign places and other eras, into the most public forums and the most private scenes of human intimacy; it can make you see, hear, feel, love, hate, forgive, judge, understand, and yet not be bound by the consequences of all those activities, though you are there as a participant-observer in the most personal and informed ways.

Tags: , , ,

Picturing the Story – An Interdisciplinary Approach to Culture, Environment, Language, and Learning

» 16 October 2009 » In History / DBQ's, Literacy, Projects, Strategies, Web 2.0 » 2 Comments

Picturing the Story uses works of art as a springboard for an interdisciplinary approach to culture, environment, language, and learning. Interactive site includes includes layered information on the work of art, the story that inspired it, the culture where it originated, the techniques used to produce it, as well as extensive lesson plans, activity suggestions, and recommendations for further reading.

Tags: , , , , ,

Motivating Students – A Make and Take Workshop for Teachers

» 28 June 2009 » In Ed Tech, How To, Literacy, Presentations, Strategies, Teachers, Visualizations, Web 2.0 » No Comments


Most of our time over the two days will be spent assisting teachers in designing specific lessons. I’ve assembled some Literacy Strategies that teachers can use as starting points for modify their existing lessons. Includes free downloads of literacy activities and links to online Web 2.0 literacy sites.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,

Teaching Visual Literacy: Media Studies Before the Internet

» 09 April 2009 » In Commentary, Ed Tech, Literacy, Strategies, Visualizations » 3 Comments


When the Betamax arrived to my classroom I was in heaven! Back in the late 1970′s I started teaching a high school “Media Studies” class. (Pittsford-Sutherland HS, Rochester NY). It was one semester, social studies elective that examined the impact of media on society (mainly TV – and all very McLuhan).

Duane Sherwood and I were inspired by early TV pioneer, Ernie Kovacs to shoot this 1 minute video. I used it after my first few introductory lessons. That day, instead of their teacher, my students found a TV / recorder in front of the class. The sign instructed them to “watch this video.”

Tags: , , , , , ,