iPad education and looking for Creativity

A year into the experiment of digital enriched education at the school where I work and I am becoming increasingly interested by the place creativity has in this new form of teaching. As a device the iPad, or any other tablet for that matter, offers so much. Each pupil has on the desk in front of them a camera, a video camera, a microphone and countless apps that seem to open so many doors. The creative possibilities would seem to be so extensive, more than I could have ever dreamed of just a few years ago. And yet I have a niggling doubt, a dissatisfaction at the back of my mind.

ipad creativity

Many friends and colleagues are enthusiastic at the new possibilities on offer in their lessons. But maybe it is the duty of the art teacher to look and ask questions about creativity and whether we are getting the most out of these digital devices. Are we actually developing in ourselves as teachers and in our pupils a creative and critical edge in our judgement of what we are doing and making?

If we focus for a moment on the use of the camera, both video and still. These tools are so immediate and easy for our pupils to use, just point and shoot. Equally easy on their phones too, this is the generation that has grown up totally used to documenting everything in their lives, and why take one photograph or one fragment of film when you can shoot ten or twenty or thirty?

This sort of costless freedom is fantastic, but at least in the hands of the teenagers I teach there does seem to be a creative trade off. Do I observe them making critical and formal judgements in the images they are capturing? Well, no not really.  And this fact is often exacerbated by the apps that are then used to present or rework the visual material. In no time the pupils throw the images and film fragments into iMovie or some other app, make use of the ready-made formats, themes and stencils on offer and have in no time a slick final product. But the question the art teacher must surely ask is, “are they actually being creative?” It is equally true when you ask them to present their photographs, a few filters may be applied to make the image more eye catching in some way, but they don’t even stop to think if cropping the image in some way could actually improve it.

Don’t get me wrong, I am absolutely not against working digitally. I am a great fan of working with Photoshop or other similar software. The wealth of choices on offer provide fantastic creative options. And there in that word options or decisions perhaps you have an important distinction. Creativity is about decision making and a critical evaluation. Does too much of the app market rely or a quick fix within a too restricted range of choices? It certainly does seem to encourage and invite an over reliance on essentially ready-made solutions.

There are undoubtedly apps that allow an extensive range of creative possibilities, I have made use of a number in the last year, and seen some good results. There is also nothing to stop a young photographer or film-maker setting about using their camera in an incredibly creative way. There lies perhaps the new challenge for the art departments in schools to stop and consider how they can instruct and encourage the use of the tablet computer or other device to extend creative possibilities. This would seem both desirable and necessary. My observations of my pupils up to now certainly don’t give me the feeling that this will take care of itself.

So in conclusion, a note to self for this coming school year; start to work out strategies and places in the educational material for more creative use of the chances on offer.

If anyone has particular favourite apps that seem to encourage the sorts of options that I am talking about here I would be only too glad to hear about them.

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5 thoughts on “iPad education and looking for Creativity

  1. I teach my students about the Harlem Renaissance and show them work by Romare Bearden. They then use Brushes Redux (free app) to make images about our own personal culture/music/ritual that blend collage and painting.

    • Thanks for the feedback Justin. I have also made use of the Brushes Redux app, getting the pupils to rework existing paintings using it. I like the amount of options it offers, plenty, without it all becoming overwhelming. The kids in my classes particularly love the playback option to see what they have done….something that pen and paper has never offered us! I’ve also been using Bamboo Paper for more graphic approaches.
      Love your blog btw, keep up the good work!

  2. Hello Peter, it is always very interesting and enlightening to read your posts. I share your concerns regarding digital tools&art ed.

    New technology makes our lives a lot easier in many ways. I have a clear idea where and when the use of new technology is relevant. I do graphic design, digital photography and video, image&video editing. I have made web pages earlier from scratch. I use new technology, web based learning environments and tools in my teaching when I see fit (often) but I’ve never attempted making my art with a computer – In this sense I see myself as a luddite. I am aware of the technological limits of creativity

    A couple of years ago I saw the document ”Baby Snakes” about Frank Zappa for the first time. Seeing it made me realize some things about creativity and new technology and their complex relationship. A creative person like Zappa or any other renaissance man or woman was forced to develop tools and equipment to express what their creative mind had come up with. Imagination surpassed the technology all the time, vision was first – making it a reality required designing tools, building equipment, solving problems on a completely different level, etc… This process was creative from start to finish – all doors were equally closed or open and the road ahead was clear. The focus was on the end result.

    It seems to me that today the question “with what” is never asked. This level of questioning and development is done in technological world – (majority of) artists do not develop their own technology anymore. They are creating within the limits set by technology (or its developer). A creative person can of course do amazing things and use tools in ways the engineer or software developer could not imagine but still… Isn’t it less?

    In addition, the use of digital technology influences aesthetics and our concept of image more than we currently understand and want to aknowledge. I see it as a restriction of creativity. When everyone is using the same tools, apps, etc… the result is uniformity. Take a look at DeviantArt and see what I mean – no matter which technology is used, the aesthetic is the same. First technology was used to imitate hand drawn and painted images but it has turned around.

    Bernard Sumner, guitarist of the New Order said once that synthesizer is a perfect punk instrument. Anybody could make music that sounded like music with it? Sumner was absolutely right about the punk aspect back then: technology democratized music making then – and again now, lowered the treshold for musicians etc…

    Technology has also democratized visual media in all its forms, provided new tools and channels. All this is just fine. Sadly, technology also brings with it the illusion of skill, knowledge and control. Anybody can make amazing looking things without even the basic knowledge about the principles, without knowing what he/she is doing. Learning to use software does not mean understanding… One example is 3D software and perspective. I’ve seen this so many times. Guys using Google SketchUp to make plans for buildings have no clue about the principles of central perspective when they are given a pencil, ruler and a paper.

    Sorry for this rant but I just had to…

    As to your wish, Peter

    Animation & Time lapse: iMotion is a simple and uncluttered free tool (paid version available, more export options) . Does what it needs to do very well.

    Serious image editing on iPad – hmm? Pixelmator. Basic image editing and drawing&painting tools. Works fine. Accompanying desktop software is only available on MacOs.

    CameraSim: Excellent for teaching&learning the basics of digital photography – aperture, shutter speed, focal length – works in browser also:
    http://camerasim.com

    The most important apps for iPad fall into the category of resources:
    I use Flipboard: https://flipboard.com/@psi

    Haven’t tried sharing this with students yet but I know it can be done and collaboration is also possible.

    Wikiart and Artsy have also very good apps.

    I see some possibilities in Curator app but I have no experience in daily use with students.

    • Thanks for the extensive reply, and feel free to ‘rant’ a little, I can certainly relate to the direction that you are coming from. The suggestions you make for software, sites and apps are all welcome and certainly ones that I’ll be looking into.
      Thanks, and I hope you continue to enjoy the blog….i’ll do my best to keep it interesting!

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