Documentation Vs. Pedagogical Documentation

The warning that Maryanne Garry, Psychology professor at the Victoria University of Wellington, gives to photo-happy-smart-phoners really resonates with me: 

“It’s the idea that they think what they’re doing is amplifying their memory. And I worry that what they’re doing is just giving their memory away. So if they’re paying less attention because what they’ve got to do is take all the photos, they’re splitting their attention between what’s going on and the act of taking a picture.

Then they’ve got a thousand photos. And then they just dump the photos somewhere and don’t really look at them very much, ‘cause it’s too difficult to tag them and organize them. That seems to me to be a kind of loss.” (2:35)

Dr. Linda Henkel at Fairfield University has also done a lot of research into this topic. Lately, she’s been writing and talking a lot about something that she calls the Photo Taking Impairment Effect.  

In one of her most talked about studies, Dr. Henkel sent students to visit a museum.  Some of the students took photos, some took none.  The results around memory were quite remarkable.  For the most part “if participants took a photo of each object as a whole, they remembered fewer objects and remembered fewer details about the objects and the objects’ locations in the museum than if they instead only observed the objects and did not photograph them.”

Interesting.  So, we don’t experience experience things as fully AND we have a harder time remembering photographed moments accurately?!

Not good considering all of the pedagogical documentation that I have been doing in my role as Student Work Study Teacher this year…  

Garry and Henkel’s work has really got me thinking about how I can stay present and document at the same time.  Is it even possible?  Thankfully.  Dr. Henkel does have a few bits of advice that help to counterbalance Photo Taking Impairment Effect.

"The study found that if the students changed their behaviour even slightly, the effect on memory was entirely different; zooming in to photograph part of an object actually improved memory. What’s more, students who focused the lens on a specific area could even recall parts that weren’t zoomed in on.

Dr Henkel concluded that additional ‘cognitive processes’ (i.e. thinking and paying attention) ‘can eliminate the photo-taking-impairment effect’.”

Maybe that’s the ticket.  Snapping photos with a present mind and reflecting on the process.  Documentation vs. Pedagogical Documentation.


Garry and Henkel’s work also underlines the importance of collaboration when it comes to pedagogical documentation.  Consider asking students to take photos of their own work so that you can really listen to what they’re telling you.  Or, when it’s necessary that you snap your own photos/video, make sure that you annotate with input from others.

Small, easy modifications that might be worth trying.


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