Saturday, October 31, 2009

More on the digital divide

Google held a forum on Wednesday entitled Breakthrough Learning in the Digital Age: "A new forum has been designed to advance a new paradigm for learning by harnessing the largely untapped potential of digital media. Breakthrough Learning in a Digital Age will bring together 200 of the nation’s top thought leaders in science and technology, informal and formal education, entertainment media, research, philanthropy, and policy to create and act upon a breakthrough strategy for scaling-up effective models of teaching and learning for children. The forum will showcase cutting edge research, proven and promising models to challenge decision-makers in key sectors to help "refresh and reboot" American global leadership in education."

Many speakers spoke of the advantages of equipping schools with the latest in digital technology, and widely distributing computers. As I discussed in a earlier post, many public school teachers have found the access to computers to be so difficult that they feel they cannot incorporate them into class in an efficient and effective way, and cannot assign work on them for homework, because students do not have them at home. Stephanie Olsen in "Will the Digital Divide Close by Itself?" wrote about how during the conference a "spat" broke out on the need to widely distribute the technology:

"Jim Steyer, chief executive of CommonSense Media and co-sponsor of the event, stressed that 'every kid needs to be digitally literate by the 8th grade' and called for a major public education campaign to make that happen. He argued that technology and learning are synonymous and that schools, parents, and kids must get up to speed in the next five years...Immediately after Mr. Steyer’s call to action, Reed Hastings, the founder and chief executive of Netflix, contradicted him directly, saying it would take well more than five years to bridge the divide...He said that gaps narrow naturally as the market evolves and prices drop, enabling more people to bring new technology into the home and schools...'We need to shift our expectations' Mr. Hastings said. 'This is a natural part of the evolution of technology.' ”

The speed by which computers need to scale is increasing, and it is reflected in the fact that great efforts are being made to make the technology affordable. Some teachers are using Netbooks and see them as a great step towards distribution.

The technology distribution itself is only half the story. Christensen noted in Disrupting Class that over the past few years, schools went from a ratio of 12 students to 1 computer, to 4 students to 1 computer with no real change in student scores and learning. On the one hand, there really needs to be a ratio of 1 computer to 1 student in order for computers to be incorporated into the classroom permanently and in an effective way. But also, it's not just the technology that needs to be distributed but school reforms must be made so that teachers know how and what to teach using the technology, and lessons and curriculum are changed and restructured to make the best use of it.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Learning 2009

The conference Learning 2009 will be held from November 8-11. It is an interactive, problem-solving, and exploratory conference with over 100 sessions. Some of the main themes relating to new media and web resources include:

Social Learning
e-Learning Update
Global Learning
Learning Systems (LMS)
Mobile Learning
UserContent (How are organizations deploying, harvesting and targeting User Created Content for learning? From organizational "You Tubes" to "Work Around Videos" to collaborative knowledge assets (wiki, Sharepoint and user ratings). How can Learning Designers add value to the User Content resource?)

It has a huge number of discussions on current education topics from using Twitter, the live virtual classroom (and how it can be superior to the physical one), successes and failures of LMS systems, Yum!, Moodle, and also leaps into the future to discuss "The Advanced Distributed Learning (ADL) Initiative" that can help learning domains communicate to each other and incorporate gaming/simulation, social networking, intelligent tutoring and more (, page 23). If you can, go! This sounds like a fantastic opportunity for any educator or leader to learn the tools and skills and information that will be provided throughout these four days. For all of us who can't physically be there, it would be great if they followed their own advice and posted videos of the sessions, in the interest of global, social, and open learning. And while who doesn't appreciate Abba and sound bites, full videos would be much more helpful. (Maybe these few podcasts - from their sponsors - are a start.)

Sunday, October 25, 2009

35 million; like college students around free pizza at a dorm meeting

The modern hippie mother on Gossip Girl this week, who cares more about solar panels, unions and co-ops than her daughter’s private college education, repeatedly announced that “knowledge shouldn’t be for sale.”

MIT OpenCourseWare agrees with her. We have discussed how computer tools and TEAL can increase the customization and one-on-one learning possibilities of teacher to student, but another important possibility of digital media and web resources for education is the drastically lower cost and the ability for one teacher to teach millions at once through broadcasting knowledge and courses through the internet. For public schools cost is not an issue from kindergarten up until high school, but once you get into the undergraduate and graduate levels, cost can frequently determine what school you will go to, and then what profession you will go into afterwards in order to pay back your loans.

When most people think of the free university offerings the first thing that comes to mind is iTunes U "the world’s greatest collection of free educational media... with over 200,000 educational audio and video files available, iTunes U has quickly become the engine for the mobile learning movement." But compared to MIT, iTunes U was late into the game (launched May 30, 2007). In 2000, MIT decided to publish their material online and make it widely available for free in order "to advance education and empower people worldwide through opencourseware." This was controversial, many professors felt that they were giving away their "intellectual property" to the world for free. vs. those that felt this was an incredible social good (MIT OpenCourseWare).

MIT's OpenCourseWare includes syllabi, lecture notes, assignments, and exams, and over 1,000 hours of lecture videos for nearly all graduate and undergraduate courses at MIT. 35 million people have used the courses (14 million of which used it in translated languages), from 220 countries around the globe. The program was launched in 2001 and today there are almost 2,000 courses online. The social good is obvious: 35 million people learning more to help them with their fields, and outside of their fields, teachers learning lessons from other teachers, students exploring new subjects to help them decide what they want to study, and much more. It is also helpful for schools with much fewer resources, for example schools in Africa, with very low budgets that can't afford textbooks, but with MIT OCW they can get a host of assignments and curricula that was never before available.

Once you don't have to aggregate a teacher with several students in a room, the costs drop tremendously. "Forcing people to aggregate is a massive cost inefficiency that people will quickly grow tired of bearing when they realize other options are available...Teachers could scale via podcasting... one great podcast of just ten minutes can equate to thousands of hours of learning as subscribers all over the world automatically receive these recording without lifting a finger
(VentureBeat: Web technology is about to change how we learn).

Providing knowledge for free has wonderful social benefits, but knowledge and universities are not the same thing. If the knowledge continues to be given away for free, or people begin to believe that what is provided by universities should be free (like online news), will universities go the way of journalism? Oh lord, I hope not. They are the centers of much scientific and social research that benefits the world. The fact that the tuitions of thousands of students pay for the greatest professors and grad students to do this research is a necessary benefit for all. This pooling of resources is needed in order for very expensive research to be done. While Wikipedia may work because no one needs to be an expert in order to accomplish a great deal, to discover "pioneering contributions to astrophysics, in particular for the detection of cosmic neutrinos" (Nobel Physics Prize 2002) requires great professors from the University of Pennsylvania, the University of Tokyo, and Associated Universities Inc. of Washington, DC who are given the financial and academic (and grad student) resources needed to research and experiment. Try working on cosmic neutrinos from your wiki or blog. If people do feel that the tuition is too high, and that they can get for free on the internet what someone would have to pay $45,000 to get from MIT, I hope that a new financial model will evolve that will continue to provide for the continuing study and research that come from universities.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

MIT presents: Technology Enhanced Active Learning

One fear of the use of technology in the classroom is the thought of rows of students staring at computer screens, not interacting with the teacher or with each other. While computers do need to be available to every student and will no doubt become an important part of the classroom experience, their function in the classroom will be to increase connection and learning, not remove interaction.

The technology should free up the teacher and the students to make the most out of classtime. This means that instead of classroom time being spent with long lectures, that students may or may not attend, and may or may not be awake during, where students copy copius amounts of notes from a blackboard, and where professors speak non-stop for the entire class length, that instead the teacher could do what they went into teaching for: provide inspiration to their students, share their love and excitement about the material with the class, and communicating in a multitude of ways with each individual student in order to translate the knowledge. The inspiration, excitement and human connection with individual students will never be able to be substituted by a computer, and great teachers can help students learn in extraordinary ways. In addition, technology in the classroom can help students connect with each other, for small group and project based work, creating team work, and allowing students to assist each other with their various strengths and problem areas. This is the strength of the classroom: where the teacher can connect with the students and the students can help each other- not 45 minutes of note taking. Long lectures and reading are great prep for a class, but not for classtime itself. This is the idea behind the technology enhanced classroom.

This is particularly necessary for those certain classes, for example mathematics and the mathematics based sciences, where no amount of reading or listening to long lectures will help you understand it. You just have to do it. Enter MIT and their Technology Enhanced Active Learning (TEAL).

TEAL was created initially for MIT's freshman physics course which was a large lecture taught to 300 students: "Despite great lecturers, attendance at MIT's freshman physics course dropped to 40% by the end of the term, with a 10% failure rate... Traditional lectures, although excellent for many purposes, do not convey concepts well because of their passive nature." The creators of TEAL reformatted the teaching of freshman physics at MIT with a new mix of pedagogy, technology, and classroom design. TEAL classrooms include 13 round tables each seating 9 students with instructors at the center of the class. Whiteboards and eight video projectors surround the room. Groups are formed by mixing students of varying levels of knowledge to "facilitate peer instruction" Instructors deliver short 20-minute lectures with discussion questions, visualizations, and pencil-and-paper exercises. Students use animated simulations designed to help them visualize concepts, and carry out experiments in groups during class. "Instructors periodically ask questions, which students discuss and answer through an electronic polling system with handheld voting keypads. Instructors no longer lecture from a fixed location, but walk around with a wireless microphone talking to students about their work, assessing their understanding, facilitating interaction, and promoting better learning...The teaching methods used in the TEAL classroom produced about twice the average normalized learning gains for low-, intermediate-, and high-scoring students when compared to traditional instruction. " The New York Times reported: "Already, attendance is up and the failure rate has dropped by more than 50 percent." (At M.I.T., Large Lectures Are Going the Way of the Blackboard)

TEAL provides active vs. passive learning, one-on-one interactions with the professor and students, students engaged in group projects, and students voting on questions so that the professor has immediate feedback on how well the class is understanding the material. Check out a video of TEAL in action:

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Interview with Alex Rigopulos, creator of Guitar Hero and RockBand

On Monday, October 19, 2009, Carnegie Hall held a panel discussion on "The video game and music revolution." Panelists included founding father of hip-hop DJ Grandmaster Flash, Alex Rigopulos, the co-founder and CEO of Harmonix, which created the games Guitar Hero and RockBand, Christopher Tin, a composer for video games, film, and advertising, Meghan Asha, an on-air technologist specialist for NBC and Fox News, host of TMI weekly, and a tech-focused blogger, and Melissa Auf der Maur, a mixed-media artist who rose to prominence during the 1990s with stints in the bands The Smashing Pumpkis and Hole. The discussion was moderated by Pete Wentz, the bassist and lyricist of the multi-plantinum selling band Fall Out Boy.

During the event the positive assessment of video games and playing games like Guitar Hero for music and music education was clear. The panelists loved the fact that Guitar Hero was like a "virtual jukebox" introducing songs from older generations to today's children. Composer Christopher Tin has written pieces for video games that are now performed in the world tour of Video Games Live, a touring show which uses local choruses and orchestras to play video game music, and which has successfully introduced many in the next generation to orchestral music.

Alex Rigopulos is the co-founder and CEO of Harmonix, which started as a music software company trying to provide a music playing experience. He said that the feeling of playing music is great, but the frustration of trying to play when you aren't very talented, or don't have the time, or patience can be "prohibitively difficult." Harmonix wanted to invent a new way for people to feel what it feels like to play music. Harmonix discovered several years into its existence that video games might be the way to achieve this, and could be a means to that end. Since Guitar Hero was released, millions of people have had the experience of engaging and making music in a new way. It's clear to Rigopolus that Guitar Hero has proven its use as "not an education tool, but an inspirational tool" since tons of new people are learning instruments, and they have heard from many teachers how many new students have come to them wanting to learn instruments. In RockBand, by playing the various voices of a piece (drums, guitar, bass, voice) the player is able to learn the piece in a much deeper way: hear textures, voicing, instrumental lines, and structures that they may never have had the skills or interest to listen to before. What used to be a "wash of sound" to a person, can now be heard in the way a musician hears a piece. Its use as an educational tool to learn an instrument is limited to some extent: the guitar playing is a far off approximation of what it feels like to play guitar, but the singing is actual singing and the game does provide feedback on whether you are sharp or flat, and the drumming is an accurate simulation of drumming.

When I spoke with Alex Rigopulos following the discussion, he expanded on his ideas regarding Guitar Hero, RockBand, and music education:

EM: Do you have a music background?

AR: Yes, I was a composer in undergrad and was in the computer music program at MIT.

EM: What is the RockBand Network that you mentioned this evening?

AR: The RockBand Network will launch in a couple of months. It's a program that will enable anyone to turn their song into a song in RockBand, downloadable by any player.

EM: There was such an interesting diversity in the panelists and music tonight.

AR: Well, the diversity of music in RockBand is important because of the variety of tastes out there, you need to have that variety in order to reach out to the most people.

EM: Programs like Guitar Rising and Jam Sessions are similar to Guitar Hero but are much more directly aimed at education. Do you see the possibility of moving towards making more specifically educational tools?

AR: No, because as soon as you move towards an educational tool as opposed to entertainment, you are going to lose a lot of people. But to the extent that we can sneak in some education value into the game, then that's great.

EM: So you don't see Guitar Hero being played in schools?

AR: No, but it's great if Guitar Hero can bridge the divide between education and entertainment, especially as the education is being lost in schools.

EM: I know I personally felt lucky to have music education growing up, which is being cut all over the country.

AR: Yes it's tragic. That's why I'm here tonight, because I'm passionate about music education, which is what the Weill school provides.

EM: Do you see anymore instruments being added to the game in the future? Rock flute? Clarinet?

AR: Absolutely. This is just the beginning.

[NB: The Weill Music Institute at Carnegie Hall creates broad-reaching music education programs, playing a central role in Carnegie Hall's commitment to making great music accessible to as many people as possible through creative musical interaction and inspiring lifelong learning. The above is a summary of our conversation.]

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Video Games 2: Guitar Hero, RockBand, Guitar Rising, StarPlayIt, Jam Sessions

Another of Christensen's complaints about the current classroom/textbook learning system is that they are created by an academic clique of experts who tend to all be in the same type of the eight intelligences: linguistic, logical-mathematical, spatial, bodily-kinesthetic, musical, interpersonal, intrapersonal, naturalist, as well as all have the same learning style: visual, oral, written, practice, etc. Digital media and web based technologies would be able to be customized to each student's strength and present the material in a way where he/she can understand it best.

This is an interesting way of looking at Guitar Hero, as translating what can be intimidating music and aural qualities into video game visual ones.

Games like Guitar Hero and RockBand enable people to be engaged in a type of "creation" of music that was never before possible. While to learn how to read music well can take months, and to learn an instrument well can take years, you can pick up Guitar Hero's plastic "guitar" and start rocking out to Muse and Metallica within minutes. But is it music making? Ethnomusicologist Kiri Miller calls it a unique 3rd thing - not the same as creating music, but the player does need to use rhythm and meter, and various guitar attributes (use of fast-fingering hammer-ons and pull-offs and the use of the whammy bar to alter the pitch of notes), AND the player is far more engaged with the music than they would be if they were just listening to tunes on their iPod.

It can be challenging to see how the new technologies can apply to learning a physical instrument, but it is clear that the more academic type of music classes can definitely benefit from online and digital technologies. For example Music History classes can use blogs, wikis, forums, and online coursework. In a similar vein, Florida Virtual School already offers AP Art History as one of its courses. Courses such as ear training and music theory can also benefit. There are many online resources and computer programs that can teach the theory, enhance the coursework, and provide testing capabilities that were never available before. For example there is ear training online programs that can help in training with dictation. It is really difficult to try and practice dictation on your own by closing your eyes while hitting a piano (believe me, I've tried). So there are many ways that digital media and online education can enhance music education, with resources from Earope to even downloading free sheet music.

So new technologies have clearly enhanced academic and ear training music classes. And also, video games Guitar Hero and RockBand have taught a generation how to listen in a new way, work on rhythm and meter, and sing and play in accordance with visual cues. Can new education media and/or video game technologies also be used to teach real instruments?
There are a few products trying to do just that:
Guitar Rising is a music video game where the player plays a real guitar as cued by the game’s visuals. Following rock music sequences and streaming notes, players play guitar melodies and rhythms. Beginner difficulty levels are designed for non-guitar players and hard difficulties will challenge experienced guitarists.

StarPlayit is a multi-award winning music technology company delivering platforms for online musical performance and participation. StarPlayit's technology provides its products with the ability to listen to a musical performance, on a real analogue instrument, and make real time judgments on pitch, tone, timing, duration and dynamics.

Jam Sessions: "Jam Sessions is a ground-breaking music experience that transforms the Nintendo DS system into a portable guitar. Players will literally strum the guitar via the Touch Screen and select chords with the +Control Pad. Now even the most “non-musical” person can become an instant rock star!" Customisability is an important part of Jam Sessions and extends all the way to the guitar's effects, allowing you to adjust your chorus and strum volume, tremolo, and high cut to create a custom sound. The game description touts "Not a Musician? No problem. Advanced tutorial modes allow novice musicians to learn how to play guitar without paying for lessons! Additional modes will help users understand chord progressions and train them to recognize chords by ear."

While Guitar Hero and RockBand are gateway musical engagements that can lead to enhanced listening, greater physical and emotional engagement, and possibly the desire to learn an instrument, they are not tools for the classroom and homework because they do not actually teach you skills involving reading music or playing an instrument. However, games such as Jam Session, Guitar Rising and StarPlayIt have the potential to teach chords and melodies, and gain feedback on your instrument performance. These games can teach some basic skills to millions of Nintendo DS owners, a much wider audience which before was limited because of both financial resources and musical interest/ability. Although it may not be for the classroom, if after playing Guitar Hero it is not as intimidating to pick up a real guitar and you find the act of music participation really fun, this helps towards the creation of the intrinsic motivation to do the real thing.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Go to them

Mobilizing the groundswell means you must go to them, wherever and everywhere they are, you cannot expect them to come to you. For students, mobile phones can be one of the ways to be where they are. Another potential tool is video games.

Video games are increasingly being accepted as useful tools to engage students, after having broken out of the idea that it disengaged children's minds, and increased their violent activities.

It is now being acknowledged as a helpful learning tool and used more and more. For one reason, it teaches "21st century skills" in a way that the normal classroom exercises (memorize and spit back out on exams) can't do. Video games have "problem-based learning environments, case based reasoning, learning through participation in communities of practice, or inquiry-based learning that place learners in active roles, pursuing goals meaningful to them" (Education Arcade). And games teach skills for 21st century employees: analytical thinking, team building, multitasking, and problem solving under duress. (Eschoolnews)

The creation of video games can also be a useful exercise for students. They can be creative in an aesthetic and artistic way, but also create and understand goals and structures, the way that a level should move forward, and understand how to create patterns, challenges, and solutions.

Some video games being used now in education, include:
1) Education Arcade's Labyrinth: An online puzzle adventure game, designed to promote math and literacy learning, and is targeted at middle-school students.

2) Quest to Learn School in New York City: The Institute of Play. From their site: "Games work as rule-based learning systems, creating worlds in which players actively participate, use strategic thinking to make choices, solve complex problems, seek content knowledge, receive constant feedback, and consider the point of view of others. As is the case with many of the games played by young people today, Quest is designed to enable students to “take on” the identities and behaviors of explorers, mathematicians, historians, writers, and evolutionary biologists as they work through a dynamic, challenge-based curriculum with content-rich questing to learn at its core."

3) Games that teach skills by doing that you can't actually do in the real world:
-Training for army, navy, etc. has been using these types of simulations for years
-Civilization video game teaches middle and high school kids in urban America how to study social studies better
-Simearth video game where students can change global oxygen levels and study the effects (allows people to experiment on unexperimentable things)

So video games can provide:
-21 century analytical and professional skills practice
-Cognitive research - intermix instruction and demonstration
-Active rather than passive engagement by students
-Game creation for structural and aesthetic design practice
-Global reach - for example: practice foreign language skills by going to different cities and speaking with real people in the game Second Life
-Learn by doing- development of skills that can only be done in practice
-Group collaboration - increases everyone's skills through collaborative problem solving

Sounds fun to me.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

xtra crdt 4 yr txt

To deal with the issue of laptop or computer inaccessibility, a possible substitution tool is the mobile phone. It is the most ubiquitous tool among school age children, it would be available both in the classroom and at home, and many students (4 out of 5 teenagers) already own one. And it is also available anywhere and at anytime.

In addition to its accessibility, it's an excellent tool for educational purposes. It can provide:

Organization: Tools such as calendaring can help students organize their assignments.

Production: Image, video, and audio recording can be used for data collection and production by students. As evidenced by YouTube and Flickr, music, dance, visual art, photography, and theater can all be recorded and distributed.

Communication: Using texting and twitter posts, the students can communicate with the teacher and with each other. "It provides participants with a simple method to share their voice and ideas right from their phones enabling the presenter and audience to have a clear sense of where they stand on topics being discussed." (Cool Cat Teacher Blog)

Research: With internet access all the information on the internet is available to students to use for learning. If internet access is too expensive via phone, google text still gives access to a practically infinite amount of information, in smaller bites.

And there are two more benefits: the students already know how to use it (so it is not a foreign and intimidating tool), and the students enjoy using it, so that usage of a mobile phone during class or for homework could inspire the students and make the work more enjoyable for them.

Better than nothing

Clayton Christensen in Disrupting Class says disruptive technology in the classroom will not just enhance the classroom experience, but fundamentally change the way we learn. Right now the way computers are used in many classrooms across the country do little more than enhance what is already being done in person by a teacher (or are rarely used, as described by the NYC public school teacher). Since many schools are stuck in the current teacher, student, learning, and assessment paths, a place where real innovation can be introduced will be in areas of current nonconsumption: places where learning is not taking place at all. Several of these include: homeschooling subjects, pre-K learning, AP courses at schools, and courses that were never offered or are being cut because: 1) there isn't enough demand by students 2) there aren't qualified teachers and/or 3) standardized testing is forcing several subjects out of the school.

Courses not offered include Advanced Placement Classes, Foreign Language courses, and (more and more) the arts. As there are no teachers or resources for these classes to be provided in the traditional way, online and digital coursework can provide a better alternative to nothing. The lack of these courses presents a unique opportunity to fill a void in a new way. A great example is Apex. Apex claims to provide "active learning experiences" that "keep students attentive and engaged as they read, watch, listen, inquire, write, discuss, and manipulate. Multimedia tutorials provide students with opportunities to explore and understand new concepts, allowing each student to move at his or her own pace." Since the lack of course availability presents no competition or comparison with any better teachers, courses, or model, it allows systems such as Apex to create this new type of education that can tailor itself to the learning style and pace of learning of each individual student, as well as work within the budget of a school or district. Before it fundamentally changes education as we know it, these types of courses will allow students to learn hundreds of new languages, and regain the lost classes in the arts.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Lost in Translation: Jackson Pollock's Autumn Rhythm

One of the great assets of digital media tools is the ability to aggregate files for students so that they don't have to spend time chasing each painting or music piece down individually. The Art Humanities class at Columbia College (required for all undergraduate students) took advantage of this, having all the photos/paintings/sculptures we needed to learn available on the Art Hum webpage. The website had all the images and information about the images, and enabled you to prepare for the class before it began, and study for exams very quickly and effectively.

We spent an entire class period on Jackson Pollock, and in particular studied Autumn Rhythm:

We discussed Pollock's Abstract Expressionism, and looked at the PowerPoint projection of the image onto the blackboard. We all appreciated the lines, the colors, and the "rhythmic" shapes. It's a really beautiful painting.

And then you go to the Met and you see it.

The first thing that hits you is the size. It is 105 x 207 inches. That's 8.75 feet tall by 17.25 feet long. Taller than any human and longer than most NYC apartments. From far away or close the painting makes an enormous impression on you, and envelopes you in its size. Some of the lines we appreciated before are the width of your arm, and the paint splotches the size of your head. How big is it on the computer screen you are looking at right now? About 2x4 inches?

Of course the colors are brighter in person and the lines are more explosive. Each paint drop is unique. But what you can also only get in person is seeing just how physical the painting is: the varying thickness of the paint, the multiple of layers of work, the extreme physicality that he used when violently throwing or gently dropping the paint across the canvas. The "rhythm" part of the title takes on a whole new meaning.

Somehow a digital representation of the image just makes Pollock get lost in translation. This isn't true for all paintings, and it will be interesting to see if there is an effort to increase the ability to transpose between these two forms. If something can be represented almost or equally as well in the digital world, it will be easier to get your great work known to the world, studied, and potentially sold. But as Pollock shows, there are some instances where our old methods can't change. Paintings that get lost in translation will still need to have school field trips to go see them. But until they can make it to the Met, whether that means taking a plane or the 6 train, it's great that students are able to access the Met's galleries through their online Collection Database.

Monday, October 5, 2009


Is painting using paint, paper, and a brush? Is Microsoft Paint painting?

Oxford English Dictiony says to paint is "To represent (an object, scene, etc.) or portray (a person or thing) on a surface, using paint or other colouring matter." Ok so OED says no, using Microsoft Paint is not painting.

vs. urban dictionary


The greatest art package of all time. Ships with versions of windows. Pictures created in Paint often look like they were drawn by children. usage: I drew an awesome picture in Paint!

beach scene

A different point of view. Tongue-in-cheek obviously, but don't assume that young people will believe the authority of one site more than another just because it says "Oxford" or "Britannica" or "New York Times" in front of it.

When you use digital media programs, you can create visual art with entirely different tools. With visual art computer programs you can build visual art skills, allow students to flex their creative muscles, and increase their general computer skills. In addition creating digital visual art can be useful to learn for future artistic careers using these technologies, such as graphic design, web design, and photography editing.

The National Gallery of Art in Washington DC has created the NGA Kids site and Art Zone: digital activities that engage students. It understands very well that in the 2.0 trend in education, art or otherwise, a great way to engage kids and have them coming back is to actually engage them by having them become co-creators.

These programs can also teach the old lessons of visual art, such as the "The NGAkids Still Life helps you create interactive art that mirrors the paintings of the old masters. Mix everyday objects and painted elements while experimenting with composition, scale, and perspective."

The lessons of these programs can also work on skills preparing the students for the new technologies. For the future photographer: "PHOTO OP is a two-part interactive activity that introduces you to digital photography and digital photo editing. Use the virtual camera to create snapshots and explore lighting, focus, shutter speed, and compositional effects. After you've taken some photos, switch to the Photo Op ...create complex artistic compositions by layering, applying filters, and experimenting with various special effects, lighting, and blends."

Also by exposing students as early as possible to the way visual images look best within an internet framework, one is also giving students the opportunity to thrive in visual arts in newer fields. While visual art classes were probably integral to the future career and success of a print graphic designer, the new workers must be able to understand what looks best on a webpage.

So the new technologies prepare students for potential future careers or hobbies. And, overtime a computer can be cheaper than paint, paper and brushes, increasing the number of students who can participate. It is also of note that these sorts of training programs can fit in perfectly with the new internet economy. For example, a photographer used to charge $100 for a photo that can now be sold on iStockPhoto for $1 (Clay Shirky, Here Comes Everybody). With even an amateur level of skill and training, although it might not create a self-sustaining professional, it can provide some reward and gain for the student's passion and skill.

So enabling students to use these tools in visual art creation is:
-forward thinking
-preparing students for 21st century creativity and skills in computers and visual arts
-less expensive, available without the physical resources required
-available on the internet, so able to engage students in the arts even if the school can't provide it (which is a problem that the National Gallery of Art like many museums is facing, how do you build an audience if the students were never given any education in visual art whatsoever?)

So what's the downside?

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Art teachers, start your exploration here

For teachers looking to incorporate technology and digital media into their art classroom, and speak with other art educators, a great community to join is: Art Education 2.0.

This uses web 2.0 technologies to help art teachers share their knowledge and expertise. It uses blogs, forums, chat, video and photo postings, and allows people to communicate through individual profiles. There are also groups to discuss interests and issues specific to student problems, geographic location, types of position of teachers such as:
-New Jersey Art Educators
-AP Studio Art Teachers
-Art education with students at-risk

And forums on:
-Digital Practices in the Artroom
-Elementary Art Education
-Teaching Art in Alternative Settings
and several more

You can explore the questions asked, forums and blogs (and start your own of course) to find info on how to incorporate these technologies into the classroom. A brief search produced the blog (“For Art teachers and Tech teachers interested in integrating Digital Arts into their classroom”). Again much of the site will help with specifically blended learning, enhancing the in-person classroom with digital resources, and is a great place to start.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

2.0 for the teachers too

“I would like to go to the other teaching team and suggest that we start having weekly meetings (maybe 30 min. to start) in which we talk about what has worked for us that week, children we need help with, new curriculum ideas, etc. I feel like I don't get to talk to the other teaching team except on workdays and after school, and then it's not usually about curriculum/kids, but personal stuff. Some days I feel like an island in my classroom.”

What I enjoy about this comment is how it was posted on

The fact that (s)he can turn to shows how much online communities and internet resources can help the teacher with their job and skills and not just in their decisions of content and ways of passing on information to the student. Hopefully the answers coming from fellow teachers on atozteacherstuff made him/her feel like less of an island.

Staff meetings are great opportunities for teachers to:
-discuss curriculum, lesson plans
-discuss great ideas
-discuss and plan larger goals for the semester or year in terms of learning and grade improvement for their students

These in person meetings when done well can be a great benefit to teachers within a school as they can all learn from each other’s knowledge and years of experience, or from the fresh ideas and outlook that can come from new teachers.

The opportunities provided to teachers from online forums and social communities allow for this kind of sharing of knowledge and expertise to be expanded beyond the school level to a greater area, local or national, and not relegated to 30 minutes once a week (or less, or not at all depending on the school). A good online network for passing on information to fellow teachers about Web 2.0 and collaborative technologies in teaching is This uses Ning, the social platform to create online communities. The power of 2.0 technologies can work as a tool for teachers to communicate with each other even before they use it for their students in the classroom.

One of the reasons why these sites are great is because they are so open and allow for teachers from all over the country to share their expertise. However, that is also one of the reasons why it might not be as helpful for schools that face different challenges, such as if it is located in a small town in Georgia versus a city like Detroit. The concept though could be more localized, to a local area or a school and could potentially be helpful for teachers to also have internal websites for their district or school in a way, where they can discuss their ideas and issues throughout the week online. This ongoing communication and resources will no doubt prepare the teachers in advance and create new ideas for the weekly in person meetings.