It’s not been raining the whole time. I have even done a little February drawing outside. But there has also been time to sit by the fire experimenting a little more with the iPad compositions that manipulate and twist the earlier drawing I made whilst looking out the window on a rainy afternoon. I am seeing more and more possibilities
February has been grey. It’s had wind, a lot of wind and rain. I find myself looking out of the window. I don’t mind the view of leafless trees, it has been a recurring motif in my paintings and drawings for a while. My drawing book is close to hand, but encouraged by my daughters increasingly digitally manipulated creative work I find myself reaching for my iPad. It’s early days but my attention has been awakened.
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.
Today, for the first time ever in one of my lessons I had a whole class active on their phones, headphones on and experiencing a piece of serious thematic lesson material. We were using an app that connected strongly with our current lessons based around how artists and other creative people tackle subjects such as immigration and refugees in their work.
For more than half an hour there was silence in the room and eyes were fixed on the small screens as the pupils were challenged to make decisions for an imaginary refugee fleeing persecution in Malaysia.
The app that we were using was ‘Finding Home’ made by the UNHCR a couple of years ago to give users insights into how the life of such a refugee is and their dependence on the communication opportunities offered by a smartphone.
It is an interesting approach and engaged the pupil’s attention fantastically well. The app, in effect, takes over the phone of the user and makes it work like the phone of the refugee in the story. The app presents a story in which there are choices to be made by the user that will alter what happens and the course of events. In a sense it is not unlike some forms of literature that offer the reader the chance to make decisions and choices as the story progresses.
The app goes a step further though in that it also offers access to the photos, video and phone calls of the user, thus making it a much more immersive experience, one that continually engages you with choices, new developments and lurking in the background a constant feeling of danger.
The reaction of the pupils at the end of the lesson was positive. The narrative that drives the storyline that the app develops was engaging and held their attention. There was even a suggestion I feel that they would actually have liked the app to have had even greater complexity and length, a positive, I think. It will be a while yet before I ask the class to make a comparison between the various cultural media used to deal with these sensitive political issues. It will be then that truly find out what the whole class thought of the way we spent the lesson and how the experience weighs in against immigration narratives developed by filmmakers, writers and visual artists in the other examples that we will be looking at.
I’ve been making use of iPads in my art lessons for a number of years. Together with my pupils I have experimented quite a bit, discovered some very bad apps and some very good ones. I’ve enjoyed having a camera always close to hand, easy and rapid access to the internet and discovered that an iPad also works really well as a tray for carrying cups of coffee through the corridor!
There are still things that I am searching for. For instance I am yet to find an app that works well enough and fine enough to give satisfying results for modelling and designing for a 3d printer. But maybe someone out there has a suggestion for me.
So what are my favourites when it comes to combining the digital possibilities of the iPad with the more conventional materials in the art room? First of all let me explain a couple of criteria I have (or are forced to have):
· Due to department and school restrictions the app must be free to use
· It mustn’t be overly and unnecessarily complex
· It must be reliable, no crashes or freezing screens
· It must offer truly creative possibilities, not just readymade routes to polished results (this is a particularly important criteria, there are way too many apps that simply do too much for you)
Below are a few of my favourites at the moment and examples of pupil work that has been produced using them.
Photoshop mix (Difficulty level: initially seems quite complex, but really isn’t)
Cutting out, rearranging and editing photos on the iPad in the first instance looks like it is going to be difficult with a relatively small screen and complex to do without a mouse. Photoshop Mix from Adobe though makes this remarkably easy to carry out quite fine work and even the younger pupils grasp the principles of the app rapidly and are soon able to manipulate images made up of multiple parts on numerous layers.
DRAWING AND PAINTING
Bamboo Paper (Difficulty level: easy)
The free version of Bamboo Paper comes with only two drawing tools and a limited collection of colours. Despite these apparently enormous restrictions I use it every year with my youngest pupils. It’s easy to use and has the by-product of forcing the pupils to be creative in discovering just what is possible with so few things to work with.
Brushes Redux (Difficulty level: easy)
Like Bamboo Paper, Brushes Redux doesn’t go overboard on the tools that it offers. There are unlimited colours and a large collection of possible brushes but not a great deal more. It is also a lot less graphic in the quality of the images that you make. It brings you closer to a painting or drawing with pastels sort of experience. The sampling of colours by touching a colour on the image on which you are working is useful, as is the possibility to import an image and work over the top of it is a facility that I have used in class. Also the app allows you to reply i high speed animation of the drawing that you have been working on, a feature that is always popular with my pupils.
Medibang Paint (Difficulty level: more complex, but offers so much)
Medibang Paint (with its truly awful name) is a very complete, free, drawing app with a huge amount going for it. Yes the screen space is often very crowded with the controls that are on offer, but get used to that and you start to ese the potential. There is a huge selection of brushes on offer that can be modified, photos can be imported and worked on and it has and interesting control feature that lets you manipulate the ways and directions in which your brushes work. My older classes love it.
GRAPHIC PAGE DESIGN AND POSTER LAYOUTS
DesignPad (Difficulty level: more complex, but works well, even on the iPad’s relatively small screen)
I use DesignPad with all age groups that I teach, beginning with a simple book cover design assignment with twelve year olds as a sort of orientation challenge. After that comes poster design before progressing onto using it to plan the entire layout of a self-made book with my groups of fifteen year olds. It requires a certain amount of getting your head around how it all works, but after that it is possible to use it for quite complex design challenges without ever having to leave the classroom to go and search out the desktop computers.
From time to time I post things about apps that I am making use of in the classroom on the iPads that the pupils I teach all have. One of the limitations I have in this area is that the apps essentially have to be free. Generally the school has a policy that if the app is one that is likely to be used by multiple subject areas they may consider buying a collective license, but if on department, and certainly if it’s just one teacher who’s involved it has to be a freebie!
The art department this understandable policy often presents a problem. There are many good drawing and painting apps out there, but most have restrictions and limitations with the free versions that simply make them less interesting to use. But one that doesn’t suffer from this problem is the truly awfully named MediBang Paint. Whoever thought of that name!
Aside from the name though, this really is an excellent app, with a tremendous range of well-organized possibilities. I’ll be using it during the coming weeks as an extension of an abstraction project that I have been working on. For this application I particularly like the guided drawing tools that allow you to work extensively with concentric circles, parallel lines or with a vanishing point (see the example below).
When my pupils have had a go at producing their own designs I’ll post more.
Scrabble is perhaps the world’s best known language based game. The puzzling out of word options within limited possibilities forces us to think hard and squeeze out the longest and highest scoring configurations. In essence the same could be said for a small language and image assignment that I was experimenting with last week.
The idea ordinates from a piece of street art by the British artist known as Banksy.
The image doesn’t need a great deal of explanation. An altered text, an image is added and a social point is made……in this case, our city parks are being concreted over to provide city car parking. Simple and to the point, something that my pupils have no problem in ‘getting’. But coming up with an idea of their own is a whole different kettle of fish. Could my third year pupils (aged 14-15) face up to the challenge?
I was asked to provide a 90 minute language orientated workshop for a group, an ideal opportunity to try the idea out and see if they could.
Technically we were able to simultaneously use the project for a little digital orientation using iPads to do the necessary image manipulation (we used Brushes Redux for those interested) however in principle a desktop or just pencil and paper could be used.
I asked the pupils to go looking for warning signs, road and traffic direction boards, text on the roads, walls or anywhere else where text could be found. Like the Banksy example the challenge was then to remove letters to change the direction of the meaning of the text in a humourous, ironic, serious or simply crazy and unexpected way.
Like my Scrabble example the pupil is left trying to manipulate and construct within the limited options available. Also like the Banksy example a little extra imagery could also be added or the context behind the text altered.
An hour and a half later I am left with a series of examples. Some pupils have picked the idea up and developed some interesting angles. In truth we were perhaps a little short of time. Surprising, inspired ideas don’t always come so quickly. With a little more time I would also like to push the images that have been added a bit further, but there is certainly potential here to develop the idea into something a little more expansive.
If you work in education you are often all too used to being in the centre of attention during your lessons. It’s fantastic when the chance comes along to take a back seat and just watch. Today was just such a day for me. It was an unusual in other ways too, in fact not a day of normal lessons at all really, instead a day of workshops for my groups of fifteen and sixteen year old pupils in the context of our broad art and culture lessons. The workshops formed a part of a series of lessons that focus on the role of new technologies in the cultural world and artists and creative people who are involved in this area. We spent time looking at the design work of Daan Roosegaarde for instance, a creative and experimental designer who leans heavily on new technologies in his work.
For examples of Roosegaarde’s work and a film about his activities follow this link.
Seeing and thinking about such work, and discovering a little about the personalities behind it, can be a real eye opener for a teenager. However in terms of engagement it is no secret that actual direct involvement and participation can be a fantastic learning experience, which brings me back to today’s workshops.
The workshops were provided by Edwin and Frans Jan from www.virtual-emotions.nl. It’s not so easy to describe what they do, but let me try. With the help of a camera, a computer an area of a classroom is scanned continuously. The computer senses movement within this area and throughout this zone various sounds are located. By moving the sounds are activated and the degree and type of movement effects the volume and other qualities of the sounds.
In effect, by moving your body and being expressive with your arms, hands and legs, you ‘play’ the space like it is your musical instrument. Stand still, and slowly all sound fades away. This is about movement and making music, it shouldn’t be confused with dancing, in fact it is kind of the reverse of dancing. With dancing the music comes first and we move as a reaction to the music, with virtualemotions the movement is the trigger that creates the music.
It was fascinating to watch pupils tentatively enter the space and discover the effects of even the smallest movement. I hadn’t anticipated just how far outside the comfort zone this was going to be, particularly for the boys. It was strange, and in a way a little disorientating, but as the penny started to drop and some in the class started to see just what the possibilities were, the class slowly loosened up and started to let go.
Having initially had a go in the space individually the pupils started to use the space in groups of two or three, allowing interactions between them to start taking place, again fascinating to watch how the pupils succeeded (or not) in working with one another.
We can offer offer our pupils many creative activities at school. But today’s workshops were something genuinely different. Interestingly the pupils who play a musical instrument or have had dance lessons didn’t necessarily seem to be at an advantage. The ones who thought and listened carefully to the consequences of their actions were ultimately the ones who achieved most. Such alert self awareness is definitely a skill that we should stimulate in all areas of education!
Time to do what I’ve been encouraging my pupils to do all term, experiment and play a bit with their iPads. A bit of pure iPad drawing.
For those interested in the technical details, it is made with Bamboo Paper to start with and then Brushes Redux.
I’ve been working for a year and a half with an iPad in classrooms of children all similarly equipped. It’s been eighteen months of leaps forward, steps backwards and occasionally periods where I’ve pondered hard as to how best to implement the device into my art lessons.
I should say that I have approached the digital developments with considerable openness, I’ve been part of the steering group at school and I’m quite digitally literate. Added to this the background of my own
arts education taught me always to look and think broadly about methods, tools and materials that may be on offer. A kind of ‘consider everything and use what works for you’ approach.
Now a year and a half in I feel I am starting to feel the experimentation with the tablet and its apps are perhaps starting to become a little more embedded in my lessons and teaching materials. Whilst many of my colleagues have encountered problems with materials and apps provided by educational publishers, in the art department we have always been used to developing our own material and deciding exactly which route to take independently. In this way I’ve discovered apps that are useful and of an appropriate level for the twelve and thirteen year olds that are working in iPad classes up until now. Up until now that’s Brushes Redux and Bamboo Paper for digital drawing activities, iMovie for a film and the extremely versatile Photoshop Mix for digital collage.
This last one, Photoshop Mix, raises an interesting point. I could see that this undoubtedly was a fantastic app that suited my needs perfectly. However I was rather worried that the complexity of how it worked and the technical opportunities on offer were simply too great and my class of twelve year olds would struggle to get it to do what they wanted. But as it turned out the lesson was a fantastic example of peer to peer driven teaching and learning. Each new technical discovery made by me or any pupil seemed to spread rapidly around the class. By the time it came to hand in the work it was clear that everyone had grasped the content of the assignment and the technical possibilities offered by the app. A note to self, be careful not to underestimate the abilities of the pupils!
If there is one area of concern in all my iPad activities it is undoubtedly a question of how far I can go in saying that I have full confidence in the device to fully function in the way intend it to when leading a lesson. Lesson situations have adversely been affected by issues such as linking my own iPad to the screen at the front of the room, pupils not being connected correctly to the cloud to allow full use of some apps, Internet connection issues and so on.
On the surface many of these sorts of problems are relatively small and definitely solvable. However, when you encounter them unexpectedly, even if the problem only effects a couple of the pupils in the class the disruption to the main task of the lesson can be extremely significant. It is also all too evident that bad experiences count and weigh heavily on the mind. If you don’t feel confident that your device (an iPad in this case) is going to allow you to simply get on with what you intended to do, is it not better and safer simply to fall back on what you know and have always done and put the tablet back in your bag?
It is a phase that a digital school has to go through perhaps, kind of painful and frustrating at times, but something that has to be experienced a worked through. To do this you obviously need the right technical support, but you also need enthusiasts willing to take chances and experiment, you need leadership prepared to lead by example and to commit to broad digitalization projects and who can take their whole team with them. But maybe above all you need time and patience to develop that all important trust in device and its role in the new classroom possibilities that it offers.