Nobody does it like Google.

If you’re like most teachers, you have access to a digital camera. Maybe it’s your own personal digital camera from home, or maybe it’s the school camera, but chances are you’re snapping photos of your students and filling up your hard drive.

Maybe you’re putting together a year-end slideshow and you want to make sure that you include photos of as many students as you can. Maybe you’re a primary school teacher and you’re putting together a special album for students to take home to celebrate their year at school. Maybe you’re putting together the yearbook.

No matter what the project is, chances are you’ve spent too much time flipping through your photo collection trying to find photos of specific students.

In this digital age, it’s easy to have thousands of photos on your hard drive. In fact, if you combine all of the photos from all the teachers at your school, you might even have tens of thousands of photos on the network. So how can you quickly go through your photos and find the one that you’re looking for?

Enter Picassa.

There’s lots of great Digital Asset Management (DAM) and photo organization software out there. In fact, lots of them include face recognition software, but the neat thing about Picassa is that it tags your photos automatically.

What does this mean? Download the Picassa software onto your computer. Tell it where your photos are and it will added to its database. Click on the people tab and it will automatically start to go through your photos and find the people in your photograph. Click on a face, had a name, and now every time Picassa finds that face it will automatically take that photo with that person’s name.

To put this in comparison, Windows Live Photo Gallery also has a face recognition feature. The difference is that Windows Live Photo Gallery will find all the faces in your photos, but you have to manually go through each and every single photo to tag it with the correct name.

Picassa on the other hand, does this automatically. For example, if you tell Picassa that this face belongs to Sophia, then when you click on the Sophia people tag, it will show all of the photos that you have manually tagged as Sophia, as well as any photos that Picassa thinks is Sophia.

To make your life easier, you can toggle the display so that it only shows the photos that Picassa thinks is Sophia and then you can click yes or no for each photo to confirm that it really is Sophia. There is also a confirm all button. If Picassa got them all right.

Picassa is by no means perfect, and it certainly won’t find all of the photos with Sophia in it, but the fact that it automates the face recognition process is a huge timesaver.

So, where do we go from here? How do I use Picassa in the classroom?

  1. Download Picassa.
  2. Tell Picassa where your photos are located on your computer, or let it discover them automatically by searching just your “my documents” folder, or have it search the entire computer.
  3. Tag your class photos with your students’ names.
  4. As the school year goes on, when you attach your camera to your computer or stick in your camera’s memory card, let Picassa import the photos and tag your students automatically.

At the end of the year, when you’re making your slideshow, just click the people tag and you can pull up all of the photos that have Sophia in them.

Things we like about Picassa

  • It’s free. We were checking out IDimager, which is a great piece of DAM software. Face recognition only comes with the professional version which costs $139.
  • Picassa does automatic face recognition tagging. Just tell Picassa who the person is in the photo and it will automatically take other photos with the same face. (You do have to go in and confirm whether Picassa got it right, but this is a lot quicker than tagging each and every single photo yourself.)
  • It’s fast. Scrolling up and down through the photos is quick and Picassa. (Having said that, face recognition may be slow on your computer – Google already knows about it. It took about a day for Picassa to go through 10,000 photos on our personal machine at home. We just left the machine running all night.)
  • You can create a “face movie” which is a slideshow of one person with a smooth transition across facial expression and poses. Or, you can create a photo collage. Or, you can just export the photos and use them yourself.
  • Picassa is now available on Google apps.
  • If you want, it’s easy to share your photo albums with other people online. In fact, if you’re using the Google Apps for Education Edition at your school, you can share your Picassa photo albums with everyone who is on the same domain as your school, or just specific people who have the link who are also on the school domain.
  • Picassa Web albums can be collaborative albums which means that other people can contribute photos and videos to a common area. We haven’t had a chance to test this feature out yet, but it’s potentially very exciting. We’ve used Google docs with several people working collaboratively and simultaneously on the same document. If Picassa Web albums are anything like that, then potentially different teachers could store their class photos on their school Google apps account and let Picassa face tag the images.
  • If you’re concerned about privacy, you can use the Picassa desktop version without ever having to share your photos with your Google account online. In fact, you can even right-click photos and block Picassa from uploading these photos. Also, if you never tell Picassa your login information. It won’t be able to sync your photo albums online. So don’t login.

Things we don’t like about Picassa

  • If your photos are stored on the network, you have to make sure that the folders mapped to a drive letter. Otherwise, Picassa can’t find the network folder.
  • Picassa’s desktop version doesn’t really handle multiple users very well (Google needs to develop a network version). Just because you install Picassa on two separate computers and point them to the same photos on the network, it doesn’t mean that Picassa will have the same information or albums for those photos. That’s because you need to make sure Picassa is using the same database on both computers. Picassa starter is a little application that lets you share the Picassa database, which means that you could have several different computers on the network using Picassa to organize photos. The huge downside with this is that several people cannot work in the same Picassa database at the same time or the database will become corrupted.
  • Picassa may be destructive and deleting file information, (i.e. camera settings) from your photos. Some people (October 2009) noted that Picassa deleted some information to the metadata in your photos. Some people complained online that the problem with Picassa is that it doesn’t handle XMP data correctly. As of Picassa 3.8, Picassa now supports XMP, along with EXIF data. We’re not sure if Picassa still destructive and deleting metadata, but for the most part, the average classroom teacher is not really concerned about camera settings and f-stops.
  • Picassa doesn’t save the face tags into the photo itself. This means that if you open your photos in a different program, it won’t remember all of your hard work tagging all of the faces in your photos. There are some third-party applications that will save your Picassa face tagging information into the photo itself, but we haven’t had chance to try them yet.

How do you manage your class photos?

(This post was written using Dragon NaturallySpeaking 11 with a 95.6% accuracy rate. There are 1327 words in this document. There were 58 dictation errors: 48 word errors, and 10 punctuation errors)


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