Thanks for the High-Tech Memories: Student Yearbooks Go on CD-ROM

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Yearbooks have long been taken off shelves, dusted off, and pored through by nostalgic alumni. Pages filled with photos of outdated hairstyles, the homecoming dance, and the fall theatrical production have elicited fond—or rueful—memories of high school years.

But now, in addition to looking at pictures of the championship basketball game in the printed tome, students can hear interviews with the point guard who hit the winning shot and see video of the ball tumbling through the hoop just by slipping a CD-ROM into their computers.

"It is a wonderful, flexible way of including more information," said Barbara Chandler Allen, the director of development and mentoring at the Charter High School for Architecture and Design in Philadelphia.

The creation of the digital yearbook began with a few pioneering schools about five years ago. With the dawn of the new century, anecdotal evidence suggests the phenomenon is catching on in many more places.

One of those schools is the 345-student Charter High, where a senior, Ronnie Lee Grisson, worked on and off for a couple of months to design and produce its first digital yearbook last year, making copies of the disk with the school's equipment. The digital edition includes pictures of prominent designers and architects who visited the campus throughout the academic year, snapshots of students, and photos from the school's first graduation ceremony.

Students at the charter school bought printed books for $40 last year and the digital supplement for $4. Because a majority of the students at Charter High School are from low-income families, Ms. Allen said she was concerned they would not have access to computers at home. They can view the CD-ROM, however, on the free-access computers at public libraries in the city, she said.

Finding the Money

While the charter school's digital yearbook was relatively straightforward, mostly featuring collages of still photographs, other schools have ventured into more elaborate multimedia keepsakes.

Students at Thousand Oaks High School, in California, are planning to distribute disks this week that include seven video clips, 10 audio interviews, at least 200 photographs with captions, and all the "mug shots" of the school's students that appear in the print version.

The space for extra information is a big draw, according to Robert Haar, a U.S. history teacher and the yearbook adviser at Thousand Oaks High.

To get even more space, Mr. Haar said he is considering moving to a DVD, which is also in a disk format, next year. "The advantage [of a DVD] is more coverage," said Mr. Haar.

Because the disks have a relatively short production time—about two or three weeks—students are able to include spring activities, such as the prom and the spring musical or play, that normally don't make it in to printed yearbooks.

One of the bonuses of the digital yearbook is exposing students to the technology involved in producing one, said Ann Akers, the associate director of the National Scholastic Press Association. On the downside, she added, is finding the money to pay for a CD-ROM, in addition to producing a traditional yearbook—a cost that can be prohibitive. "Where is that extra money going to come from?"

If a yearbook staff does have extra money, many times the students will choose to use it to improve their printed books, Ms. Akers continued. "They could do more pages, upgrade their equipment, or produce a better cover."

The digital yearbook at the 2,500-student Thousand Oaks High cost about $13,000 to produce last year. Because it was not cost-effective to sell the CD-ROMs separately, at $20 each, Mr. Haar said he decided to include the disks with the 385-page hard-bound book, and raise the total price of the yearbook package by $5, to $55.

The effort it takes to create a CD-ROM, along with the printed edition, can deter some teachers from the project, said David Massy, the director of Internet marketing for the Marceline, Mo.-based Walsworth Publishing. The yearbook publisher refers interested customers to a cadre of companies that produce digital yearbooks. "There is a certain amount of reluctance because there are only so many hours in a day," he said.

Another Fad?

Still, interest is growing in the supplemental disks, especially as the price of the equipment it takes to make them comes down, according to Jacob Palenske, the president of N Compass Media, a Dallas-based company that works with schools to train students to program the CD-ROMs.

No matter how popular they become, they will never replace their printed counterparts, Mr. Palenske said. "Paper is never going to go away," he said. "It will be around forever."

For instance, one feature of printed yearbooks that the disks do not have, and that students would sorely miss, is the opportunity to write individual messages to one another.

Smartpants Media produces digital yearbooks for schools that include links to different Web sites and e-mail addresses so that students can stay in touch after graduation. "It's a complete package, versus one piece," said Adam Glauberg, the vice president of the Baltimore-based company.

Still, technology is constantly changing, and digital yearbooks can go out of fashion as quickly as they come in.

"Fifteen years ago, companies were springing up all over doing video yearbooks, and now none of those exists," said Ms. Akers of the National Scholastic Press Association. "I don't know if that will happen with the CD companies or not."

Coverage of technology is supported in part by the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation.

Vol. 21, Issue 39, Page 10

Published in Print: June 5, 2002, as Thanks for the High-Tech Memories: Student Yearbooks Go on CD-ROM
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