Arts and Technology as the Hub for All Disciplines

  • Colette Stemple, Middle and High School Art Education, Photo and Computer Graphics Curriculum Innovator, Coral Reef Magnet School, Miami, FL

The Magnet program at Coral Reef High School, Miami, FL, requires that students from all disciplines produce written portfolios as well as illustrations for subject area in every class. These portfolios comprise the main focus for grading in all academies, disciplines and programs. Colette Stemples' Computer Graphics classes, offered to Art majors and integrated into courses for students from all other disciplines, offer living proof of the success of combining art and technology in service of education.

Art as the Hub: In many schools, students move from one room, one subject, and one teacher to another all day long, and never see connections from one subject to another. Most states have Math Rubrics and a Curriculum that teachers must follow. By working with the math teacher and applying these requirements to art exercises, the Art teacher can demolish the erroneous, long held, idea that Art is a frivolous elective and establish the art curriculum as the core of any discipline. The Art classroom is the place where all disciplines can and should all come together.

Team Up With All Disciplines: Colette first implemented this approach to learning during the 1980's while teaching middle school photography where she introduced the first version of Adobe Photoshop to her photography classes. The software was used to produce a remarkable body of work focusing on the effects of Hurricane Andrew. Students started with photo images and introduced emotional content through Photoshop. This work was shown to the public at the Smithsonian Institute and was also featured in the Adobe Systems Corporate Gallery in San Jose, California, where her students were able to attend the opening. Thus began an inspirational career using technology to empower learning.

Her next exploration was to incorporate exploration of math concepts inherent in Adobe Photoshop. The connection between Photoshop and math became apparent when the first version of Photoshop was introduced in a middle school art program. Students began experimenting with actions, paths, and filters and began applying "visual math" to their imaging projects. Because they were working on art projects and could see the concepts, and watch changes as they altered curves and percentages and worked with graphs, they were able to apply math concepts with ease. These experiments resulted in marked improvements in Math scores for all students in her classes. Students who have won awards or achieved academic recognition for projects completed in the visual arts program come from all disciplines and academies in the High School. The success of these collaborations have become so obvious that Coral Reef Magnet High School is now actively building additional integrated arts and technology courses in all disciplines.

Arts and Technology Training: As with many other early adopters, Colette Stemple is largely self-trained. However she urges educators to shorten their learning curve by diving in and using the on-line support now available to teachers on nearly all hardware and software Web sites. She also urges all educators to collaborate with the arts faculty to build training opportunities, introductory technology classes and integrated curriculum supported by projects completed in the arts classrooms.

Team Up with Technology Companies: Though on-line training available through corporate web-sites may seem like the poor relation to a classroom experience, on-line training does offer opportunities to contact industry experts through the web and to get wise advice on how to build up one's own expertise and how to develop course projects before going in front of a class to teach. Surprisingly, some of these on-line contacts become true colleagues over time and really do form a solid backbone for training and curriculum development resources. This interaction can also lead to new initiatives on the part of technology companies to support the needs of teachers. Currently Colette is involved in participating in a network of technology teachers who have been hand selected to offer courseware and assistance to all educators through the Adobe Systems Curriculum Exchange and Master Teacher Program. These programs were begun as a direct response to the needs educators had made known to the company.

  • Donald Wass, Elementary, Middle and High School, Arts and Technology program, Northwestern Regional High School, Winsted, CT

In 1986 Don Wass became a leader in technology and art education, outstripping even many college programs, when he brought computer graphics into his high school painting studio and began teaching 3D. In his experience, the main way technology affects traditional curricula is to enhance what we already do. But, as Don points out, "Technology can also add new opportunities not available in traditional art curricula. Chief among these is the opportunity to build storytelling into the art classroom. In the 15th century, art told a story and this was the purpose. Now we have wonderful opportunities with 3D and digital video to start dovetailing storytelling into all the curriculum and to cross the boundaries, bringing art solidly into other programs. We have reached a wonderful point in time with resources that are available and affordable to let us do this. And the kids are already doing this in their own experiments with technology so we might as well get into it."

In Don's opinion, there are some cases where traditional teaching could be supplanted through technology. Traditional perspective drawing may be the main area where this is true. He explains, "Traditionally trained artists may emphasize flat drawing too much when teaching forms in space. Working on flat paper is not necessarily the best way to understand a 3Dimensional form. 2D drawing of a three- dimensional form is an illusion. High school students in my experience, even Special Education kids, can all learn to model in 3D when they can't come close to drawing in 3D perspective on paper. What the brain tells the viewer about a form is not well represented on a flat piece of paper but it is very well represented in a 3D environment. We may need to rewrite our thinking about this concept."

The most persuasive argument Wass makes regarding the need to bring technology into traditional art programs is the fact that technology is a visual medium and we as art teachers are the best trained to guide this process. With the advent of technology, the art curriculum should now be the hot spot, the center of the universe, the place from which the rest of the curriculum emanates. Many teachers are now coming to Don to ask for training in the most recent software he has been teaching. These teachers are from the business, theater, physical education, English and social studies departments as well as ceramics and other art disciplines. Don stresses that technology is a positive influence and we as teachers now need to work more to see how it fits into the greater scheme of things.

Another compelling reason to bring technology into the classroom experience is to encourage one of the main components of creativity and learning: risk taking. Kids, more than adults, are risk takers with technology and risk taking is a key to successful art students. With traditional media it is sometimes hard for students to take risks because it is harder to correct mistakes or make changes, especially for beginning students.

By adding the component of technology, creative exploration, critical thinking and risk taking in all areas of visual communication can be enhanced. Wass further elaborates, "It took me at least 10 years to learn how to paint in a way that would facilitate the ideas I had. Most computer technologies take kids less time to master than traditional media. Is our traditional esthetic less sophisticated when expressed through new technology? Is there a higher level of expectation for technical mastery in traditional media than there is in digital media? Does the sophistication of technology bring an element of sophistication to end products that can be deceiving? The bottom line is that if kids are quickly pleased with what they do they may find greater encouragement in pursuing their creative ideas. By comparison, they may struggle with a range of learning challenges in handling traditional media which can be discouraging. With computers, students can immediately explore many options.

With the computer a student can make dozens of changes and rethink many more choices more quickly than with traditional media. An example is using the computer to develop dozens of color comparisons when only 4 or 5 could be accomplished in paint. For young painters to see color combinations in endless varieties gives students a chance to see many more possibilities. Moving from mastery to creativity, to implementing good ideas, is facilitated very readily though the computer. This degree of success also fosters confidence and an excitement about learning which in turn fosters risk taking. This aspect of learning cannot be overlooked when evaluating the need for technology in the art classroom.

Wass does wonder about the long term viability of a large dependence on technology. He speculates that the longer these tools are available the more the enthusiasm factor for them may fade with students. On the other hand, students may also move forward so fast that they will outstrip what teachers can facilitate within the classroom and what the schools' resources can offer. For this reason, teachers have to begin now to frame a philosophy about guiding content in all aspects of technology-based learning and come to terms with the fact that they need not pursue endless technical expertise alone. Wass stresses, "There is power in what we already know as educators and this must be incorporated into every aspect of technology and art curricula."

Arts and Technology Training: Like most early adopters, Don Wass is also primarily self-trained because there was really no other choice in the late 1980's for the first generation of teachers, especially those embracing 3D. Now there are more options for art education students who are in college to develop computer and art skills, but unfortunately, Wass says there are situations in which college computer graphics resources are not readily available to education students. In his experience, opportunities are also very limited for established teachers through continuing education in many state colleges. For many educators, on-line training should be very helpful to teachers who want to get started with technical tools. On-line sources can also provide actual examples of into how technology is being used in existing classrooms. The more evidence we can point to in on-line resources for proof of what can be achieved through art and technology, the greater the influence teachers will have in bringing these resources into college art education programs and into the schools where they will eventually work.

Team Up: Don stresses that teachers in general will all be served if we team up with each other and with technology companies to address the need for education and training. Artists and art teachers have to become activists. We have to take responsibility for bringing these technologies into art projects as well as into other disciplines and educating school districts about the need for expanding their thinking about where arts and technology fit into education. But, he believes the good news is that tools are getting easier. For kids, learning on their own is a good experience and they often do this anyway. Resident student experts for each set of technical tools can become the best sort of team and offer the best way to share knowledge. Don urges teachers to take advantage of this motivational aspect of technology in the learning process by teaming up with your students and harnessing the motivational power of technology in the learning process. This will be a great experience for everyone.

Resources for Art Educators

The following list includes resources developed by the Master Teachers interviewed for this paper as well as a preliminary list of on-line curriculum, training and curriculum planning resources.

Curriculum and Concepts for Art Teachers:
Cynthia Beth RubinUseful Digital Skills for Artists

College Art Association, CAA guidelines


Art Rubrics for Assessment

Books and On-line Resources:
Creating Meaning Through Art, 1998, Prentice Hall.
Peachpit Press, Visual Quickstart Guides
Adobe Press, Classroom in a Book Series

National Education Technology Standards for Students

The Basics of ArtCeramics and PotteryIntroduction to Photo DesignComputer ArtCreating a Class Website

Email: Patricia Johnson