Cal Poly student’s project benefits children

At 8 years old, Ashley Levanduski doesn’t know how the cutting-edge technology she’s using in her third-grade classroom works, nor does she really care.

All she knows is that it makes it a lot easier to find class lessons on the Internet.

Levanduski and the other 20 pupils in Judy Bedell’s class at Virginia Peterson Elementary School in Paso Robles are at the forefront of new learning technology, thanks to a Cal Poly student’s senior project.

The technology takes youngsters to Web sites without having to type a single keystroke.

It uses special pictures that have an invisible Internet address encoded in them. When the pictures are placed in front of a digital camera, the students are taken to a Web site.

“Before, typing things in took so long that by the time they got to the fun part, it was time to leave (the lab),” Bedell said. “Now they’re spending their energy and time learning.” Poly graphic communications senior Michelle Abraham worked with Bedell to create a student workbook that coincides with educational Web sites.

Select pictures in the book use Digimarc technology, which is used in digital watermarking for security and anti-counterfeiting products.

As far as Cal Poly graphics communication professor Penny Osmond and Bedell know, no other school is using Digimarc technology as a learning tool similar to this project.

Osmond came up with the project at her son’s back-to-school night last fall, and she approached computer lab technician Julie Wright.

When Osmond asked who she should go to about the project, Wright immediately thought of Bedell.

“Judy takes that extra step to get students excited about learning,” Wright said. “I knew she’d be the backbone and put in the hours to make it happen and get the kids excited.” Coordinating mostly through e-mail, Abraham and Bedell worked for five months on the project, and met face-to-face only once. Most of the work was done by Abraham, Bedell said.

Cal Poly loaned the school the digital cameras and printed the workbooks, Wright said.

All the results from the project are being sent to Digimarc’s research lab, which is looking to market this kind of product for other educational uses.

There is one problem with the technology. Students say it’s hard to keep the book steady in front of the camera so it can read the code.

“You have to get it really focused and even,” said pupil Lily Weinberg, 8. “Plus, it makes my arms tired.” One suggestion that is being sent to Digimarc is to incorporate some sort of guide or stand with the technology.

Using the technology, the pupils have spent about five 30-minute sessions learning about the rain forest.

On a recent Thursday, Justus Cambron, 8, had headphones on and was listening to rain forest-related music while his friend Isaac Lucero, 9, picked from a list of rain forest products his family has recently used.

While Levanduski talked about how great it would be to live in the rain forest, 9-year-old Jordan Littleberry said she wouldn’t want to live there, but that it was fun learning about it.

Also a teacher of special needs students and students who are just learning English, Bedell said the technology has potential for students of all needs and abilities.

The students are mostly just excited about learning.

“We like doing this,” Littleberry said. “Sometimes we don’t want to stop.”