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!

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An Apple for the teacher and one for the pupils

The first day back after the summer holidays normally starts with the the slightly autumnal sight of low mist hanging over the flat Dutch river landscape that I cross in the train as I make my way to work on the train.  This year was no different, the sight being accompanied by a watery sunshine.

A familiar start, but this year there are some significant differences to the start of the year. Perhaps the biggest of these is the step towards a more digital form of education and the arrival of iPads in the classrooms where I teach. It is going to be a step by step process, beginning with the first years and gradually building through in subsequent years.

Personally, I have only one first year class (of thirty pupils) who I will see twice a week for an hour their art lessons. They will arrive, doubtless clasping their new iPads. What will they be expecting from their new school and it’s iPad supported education? To be honest I really find it hard to know what they will be expecting, at this point I still find it fairly difficult to predict how my own classes are going to be effected by the iPad if I try to look six months ahead! I’ve had a number of training sessions, I’ve experimented a little and my first module of lesson material is ready in digital form to be opened in iBooks. I would describe myself as reasonably capable in the digital world, but discovering just how much the iPad offers above and beyond what a normal laptop offers is the area that is the area of expansion.

The opportunities in the App Store is vast. The possibilities for developing a more activating form of education an ever broadening horizon. Yet how does this all work for an art teacher, we have always had a whole variety of activating and engaging approaches that our colleagues in other departments didn’t have?  We can reach for the paint, the collage, the printmaking tools or the clay the stimulate and activate our pupils.

These techniques will of course remain, so where is the gain going to be? Is it going to be in the ready and close to hand access to art history and other cultural contexts offered by the internet, the access point to which is now going to lying on the pupils desk during the lesson? Is it going to be through teaching aids in the form of demonstration films on YouTube or Vimeo? Or is it going to be by using the iPad as a new creative tool in the form as a drawing or painting tablet or maybe as a camera or filmmaking device? Or will it be through one of those handy apps that allow you to give your lessons a new and playful approach?

What are the teaching staff ready for, what are the pupils ready for? Horizons certainly are changing, I feel ready, but at the same time have I rarely felt that there is more to learn.

Time will tell how it all pans out, but I am certainly open for suggestions, so feel free to post any art education related iPad ideas or suggestions.

Is iTunes U the future?

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It is couple of months since I was given an iPad by the school where I work as preparation for the new school year in late August when we will be switching to a digitally driven form of education. Initially it will be all our first years (12 year olds) who will all have an iPad in their school bag, but then, year on year it will spread through the school. I, like others at school, have been following courses and familiarizing myself with some of the possibilities.

There are a huge amount of possibilities and some fantastic apps out there that are going to offer some very creative and new directions to what I do in my art and cultural awareness lessons. I really am quite enthusiastic about the project, if perhaps a little daunted by the shear amount of work involved. All changes in education cost teachers and educators time and effort, but this feels like a real ground shift.

One of the recent courses I attended was for iTunes U. In short iTunes U is a project, with an accompanying app, that is aimed at teachers world-wide at all levels of education. The philosophy is that great education material is being developed everywhere and too often doesn’t get shared and passed around.  Huge numbers of educational institutions are becoming involved from the likes of Oxford and Harvard universities right down to primary schools. Apple are putting a huge amount of resources into facilitating the education of teaching staff to make use of iTunes U, for me there was a two day, free of charge course at the icentre in Amsterdam on offer.

I am new to this all, and am having to learn and pick things up as I go along, but I am at the moment a little perplexed by what iTunes U seems to offer and in particular how it relates to the arts, cultural and design areas of education.

I am more than happy if there is someone out there who can tell me that I am perhaps mistaken, or not seeing all the possibilities that are actually on offer.  However at the moment a couple of points seem to be particularly problematic, at least from my own arts related direction.

Firstly, from my art teacher’s perspective there is the copyright issue. My understanding from the iTunes U course that I followed was that Apple are only too aware of the potential copyright minefield that the idea of a sort of open source library of education material might become. As a result they only what original material, and supporting material that comes from a sort of Creative Commons perspective. This is all fine and well, but try writing a piece of art education material without making use of examples of the work of others. Art teachers the world over are used to, normally for just their own usage and certainly not on a commercial level, playing quite fast and loose with the work of others. They want to illustrate a particular point or inspire in a particular way, so they insert appropriate examples into their lesson material.

They would probably normally defend their position, rightly or wrongly, behind a sort of fair use argument. They are simply trying to place an activity in a cultural context or guide an activity in a particular way.  If, as Apple seem to be saying, this sort of referencing of cultural context places the material outside the remit of iTunes U, then the resulting material is likely to end up being a rather dry and unstimulating sort of experience, which brings brings me nicely onto my second point.

When I was at teacher training college it was hammered into me regularly that you should make your lesson material visually interesting to look at. Publishers of lesson material know this to be important and spend great deal of time and effort designing their products to attract and lead the attention of the reader. As a visual artist, and someone with an interest in design, I have always worked hard to make sure that the material I produce for my pupils looks well-made and engaging. With all this in mind I am bewildered by iTunes U, a system where as far as I have seen so far, everything ends up looking the same. A sort of list structure that folds out to reveal text, links, film, routes to apps and so on. The content in the end might be fantastic, but the entrance route to it seems dull to say the least.

If anyone knows a different perspective on these two reservations I would be only too happy to hear it and be corrected, but for now I see myself continuing to produce eye-catching PDF files with all the links I need embedded into them and then directly mailed to the pupils who need them.