Digital lessons…does anyone still build websites?

Alongside this blog I have my own website. I use it mostly for two main purposes, firstly to present my own work as an artist and also to provide a storage and presentation space for my educational work. I am at the moment in the process of overhauling the sight, clearing it up where it’s got a bit unnecessarily complex or overly full and giving it a restyle.

Although this is quite a long and drawn out activity I do quite like doing it. The structuring of the site is an interesting puzzle, you try to work out the most logical and easy to follow construction for potential users. This is then combined with designing the look of the pages, which is simply something I like doing. Hopefully, within a week or two I’ll be able to upload the site, a job well done.

webdesignWhile I’ve been doing this I’ve been pondering a little about websites in general and digitization in education. I remember ten or more years ago we offered pupils at the school where I work workshops for those interested in website building. A useful skill it was thought in this digital world we were heading into. Pupils did battle with the horrible Microsoft Front Page, a piece of software that thankfully seems to have disappeared.

As I was setting in place the umpteenth hyperlink on my own site I found myself wondering how many people actually still do this for themselves. Despite the presence of plenty of good software out there to help, has website design, become the dominion of the professional? A bit like the way modern car maintenance has got rather too technical of the home enthusiast. How many people actually go through the stresses and strains of building and designing their own site?

To be honest I have no idea what the answer is to my own question.  What I do know though, is that alongside the software to help build a website, there are so many other alternatives. Services where you just have to drop your information into an existing template or a template that you have tweaked at the edges to work it into a form more to your taste. Everyone can thus create their own digital place. In education terms I also suspect that the move towards iPads and other mobile devices this tendency is only going to grow.

I’ll be pressing on with the redesign work of my own site, like I said, I quite enjoy doing it. I do feel a little geeky doing it though, especially when the maintenance of this WordPress site for my blog is so easy. Obviously we do still need the digital technicians to help create WordPress like facilities, but are the enthusiastic amateur web designers going to slowly go the way of the floppy disk? And would the pupils I teach have the slightest idea where to start on such a project?

A few would I guess, but a great many wouldn’t. Teenagers are without doubt huge users of the digital world, but are they creatively engaged and involved in any way as they flit from one site or app to another? The success of games like Minecraft would seem to suggest that there is some sort of a creative energy to be found, others are creatively productive in the use of online mixing desks for producing digital music or are making imaginative and experimental films in quantities that have never before been possible. Most though, are simply users and consumers. Those who are genuinely creative will find their way to be so, whether within the digital world or beyond it.

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!