iPads in the art room

I might be jumping the gun a little bit in this post. But the school where I teach is considering a change in our digital device of choice. For about six years all the pupils at our school have worked with an iPad alongside their regular schoolbooks or in many cases in place of their regular schoolbooks. As a school we are on the cusp of implementing considerable changes in the way we teach our pupils and, as a result, it’s a good moment to be reflecting on the educational tools that we use. This is the reason why our choice for the iPad is up for evaluation. It could well be that in the end we choose to stay with the iPad, although I feel maybe the balance of opinion within the teaching staff is shifting. Might the future device we choose be a laptop or a Chromebook perhaps?

Within the art Department we are also reflecting and thinking about what we prefer. If I’m honest and look back to the start of our iPad experiment, in the beginning I wasn’t sure exactly how it would come to gain a place in my lessons. I too was new to the iPad and the possibilities the digital tablet may offer the creative wing of our school. Through a process of learning and experimentation the digital possibilities on offer found their way into all sorts of areas of my lessons.

I love having Internet access at every desk for researching and linking art history to practical assignments. I also love having every pupil ready with a stills or video camera to record their activities and document their work. It has offered graphics and page layout design possibilities in the classroom without having to relocate to computer classrooms to access desktops. I’ve done animation projects and photo collage assignments having simply first asked the pupils to download the appropriate app.

Possibly though, the area that I’ve grown to enjoy most, and in a way, has surprised me most, are simply the drawing and painting opportunities that the touch screen offers my pupils. Teenagers are often very cautious when it comes to putting pen or pencil to paper. Most are teachers have any number of tricks to try and loosen them up and tempt them into more expressive mark making. The instantaneous nature of a digital paper that the iPad offers brings different possibilities to this area. Yes, perhaps it is at times a bit overly disposable, but that’s exactly what helps. When I look at the decorative letter designs my 12-year-old pupils recently produced, and the freedom of mark making that they display, it is a considerable step from where I can get them to using pencils and paper. Also, when I consider the abstract designs that my slightly older 14-year-old pupils have produced using a different app. This work shows a speed of creative possibilities are so much faster than the comparable approach on paper would allow. It is not a replacement; it is simply something creatively different that allows them to cut loose and be considerably more experimental and ultimately more expressive in their work. In both cases these benefits can subsequently be drawn on and used in pieces that rely on more traditional media.

The art department enthusiasm for the iPad isn’t entirely shared by other areas within the school. Some colleagues lament the lack of a proper keyboard. Others would like to have a bigger screen. And many would like to lose the instant accessibility of the games put the pupils are so determined to play outside (and inside) their lessons.

I would certainly be interested to hear from any other art teachers and art departments that have been confronted with similar digital choices.

iPad classroom experiences and digital art

We are now a couple of months into the iPad driven educational new dawn at the school where I work. It shouldn’t really come as a surprise to hear that there are a variety of experiences from the very good to the very bad so far. Colleagues who love the change, some who are keen but struggle and others who feel that the familiar educational world around them is sliding rapidly sideways.

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The pupils too also display a huge range of ability. Some are incredibly savvy about their new digital learning friend, others struggle to find their way. Possibly the two biggest problems we’ve encountered are simply making sure that everyone’s iPad is set up correctly so that the necessary apps and networks can be used effectively and with the publishers of our familiar educational text books. These publishers have been rushing to make iPad compatible versions of their material and the experiences with simply the delivery, but also the quality hasn’t been anywhere near as good as we would have liked.

But we are moving forward, and despite plenty of contact with other schools, Apple experts and courses it is clear that there is a huge amount to learn and orientate yourself towards. Much of that work simply has to be done by the teachers themselves or within small groups in school.

On the short to medium term teachers are going to have to take a serious look at their lessons and ask themselves what new options are on offer and how can I integrate them into my lessons?

As an art teacher I too am discovering the new challenges and opportunities. I have always written my own lesson material (as do most art teachers I know) so you are to a degree always on the lookout for developing and refining it. That is what I am now in the process of doing. My previous printed booklets are being transformed into iBooks readable formats complete with links to films, websites and apps. This is an obvious development I suppose, but as you do it you look carefully at the existing material and reflect on its strengths and weaknesses. The new possibilities seem boundless and I do sometimes wonder if there is enough time to fit them into the lessons!

I have also been experimenting for the first time with the use of the iPad as a creative tool in the classroom. Our iPad classes are just our first years (aged 12) at the moment, so it has been quite a modest beginning. Working with the free version of Bamboo Paper (chosen for the simplicity of tools that it offers) they classes have been making a rapid digital variation on an illuminated letter painting that we have been working on. The painted version has been produced over a number of lessons, but the digital version was a much speedier affair. I’m not unhappy with the results and suspect that this might be a route I go more often. The finger on the glass screen, with the possibility of an instantaneous undo button delivers a freedom that is difficult to achieve with this age group on paper. When it comes to the use of colour I can see that some are still very much using the app like they would with coloured pens and are colouring in areas. Others though have discovered the way that there can mix and combine colours in a way that really only the digital form allows. As a teacher these are the areas that I want to explore in the coming months!