Hello! It’s been a while! Sorry about that. How about a quick update?
It’s May 2020. I was supposed to be analyzing data and working on finishing my dissertation. Now I’m not. We all had other plans.
The vast majority of art teachers never planned on teaching online either. 2020 has been full of surprises so far. For now, much of the world congregates mainly online instead of in public, ‘social distancing’ and ‘flattening the curve’ as we wait for the day when we can launch ourselves from our burrows like hyperactive meerkats getting shot out of cannons. But who knows what life will be like even after the COVID-19 storm passes? Will we be back to school in the Fall? Will we still have our jobs in a few months or another year from now? Will there be a zombie apocalypse or an alien invasion this year? Despite our everyday lives becoming mostly virtual, it feels somehow even less futuristic than Neuromancer, Snow Fall, or the Matrix might’ve led us to believe.
I missed blogging since I’ve been away. It’s great to have a place for more recreational writing. But I had been forgivably absorbed in my dissertating. Now because of our current circumstances, it looks like I might need to figure out how to completely redesign my study since there may or may not be classes to visit and make art with in the immediate future. What form exactly my study design will take is still yet to be seen. For the time being, I’ve shifted my focus to designing a course on teaching K12 art online for art teachers. My ulterior motive is that this slight detour will help me get back on course.
We’re all trying to figure out distance learning right now, among other things. Around the globe art teachers are rethinking the role of art and technology and doing it post haste. Many art teachers are struggling, having received little to no training or preparation, while others feel disconnected and unsupported as their schools go all in on their classroom or ‘more important’ subjects. Yet there are also many ‘American Ninja-ing’ up that steep technology learning curve and flourishing online in unexpected ways. Many more are somewhere in the middle just trying to, in the immortal words of Tim Gunn, make it work.
As teachers, we’re all used to ‘building the plane and flying it too’, but this is more like building the plane 50,000 feet up while desperately flipping through the pages of Baby’s First Flight Manual to find the Table of Contents. It’s been rough is what I’m trying to say. Many of these teachers are not only trying to teach other people’s children, but doing all this simultaneously while supervising their own children. The situation is less than ideal. Our students could be anywhere, anytime, if they show up at all, and might have no art materials. It might feel like teaching art via message in a bottle.
All our daily lives have been turned upside-down. Coping with fear, anxiety, and stress can be difficult as we hunker down through this uncertain crisis with an invisible threat. We depend on the Internet for so much of our lives right now. I can’t help but be grateful at least to be trapped indoors in a time where so many have unprecedented access to a near endless stream of entertainment and information online. Video chat is something commonplace. You can download most any video game you want or if you don’t feel like playing, watch a live-streamer play it for you. We can waste infinite hours and kilowatts scrolling through memes and shopping at Amazon. With all this time indoors, I can’t help but reflect on the current state of the world and how we got here. Where the heck are we going?
How did I end up designing and teaching art teachers how to teach online?
I’m far from some tech guru or the end-all-be-all of distance learning. I had grown up with names like Atari, Nintendo, and Sega at home and the irradiated green pixels of Oregon Trail or Number Muncher on the single classroom computer relegated to the corner of the room. In high school I loaded Doom from a floppy disk of shareware and sent instant messages to kids my age across the country on America Online. I created my first digital artworks in MS Paint. The height of our hacking capabilities was figuring out how to use our graphing calculators to play Snake.
It was 2002 when I built my first website as an art project in Dr. Craig Roland’s Art Education & Technology course at the University of Florida. I still remember every project and what I made for each. We created funny animated gifs using famous artwork, self-portraits in Adobe PhotoShop 6.0 & 7.0 with real-world objects and images on flatbed scanners, tried some basic html coding, built a creative website using Macromedia Dreamweaver, and made a collaborative art ed webquest for our future students. The artwork we made was alive, interactive, and out there for the whole world wide web to see. My old college website is still floating out there, a relic of a more DIY Internet, bravely refusing to be deleted after all these years. I built more than a dozen or two creative and professional websites since then, along with a number of digital and web-based projects. Why don’t I make neat, weird things online like that anymore?
It was my experience in Craig’s class and the skills that I learned there that allowed me to get a job working at the Center for Instructional Training & Technology (CITT) on campus. I remember the office was on the second story just past the potato and above the french fries. If you went to UF you’ll know these landmarks. It was exciting that folks thought my background in art and education was a plus, and that even though I may not have been technically advanced, they believed they could work with the skills I had and that I could learn the technology as necessary. But they couldn’t teach me to think like an artist and a teacher. This point would be echoed 15 years later by a local business leader speaking about why he prefers to hire art majors and creative thinkers to work at his tech startup rather than people with only a technical background.
My job was fairly straightforward and often boring. But it was also a pretty relaxed and fun place to work as a young person in college while also gaining a ton of marketable skills. It was my job to edit and sync Microsoft PowerPoint slides with audio for a distance learning program in the Gerontology department. I should’ve walked away with a minor in gerontology after all those hours of listening to lectures from professors and healthcare professionals and guest speakers. It did nevertheless instill a very long-term perspective of learning into me during my pre-service teaching career. Maybe that’s partly what influenced me to emphasize art and creativity for a person’s entire life. Similarly, partially because it was a university using public funds and grants, there was a keen awareness of digital accessibility. I had never considered accessibility really before that job and the kinds of questions we would have to answer and the diversity of user experiences we would consider is something that I’ve tried to retain to this day. Craig's class expanded my own expressive abilities, while CITT expanded my awareness of audience and difference.
Looking back, there were lots of other bits of discrete knowledge I picked up while at CITT. For example, I was also implicitly learning how to chunk learning in ways ideally suited to the structure of online courses. That was the first time I saw those alien words “module” (aka unit) and “course shell” (aka classroom) that online teachers know so well. The format is as old as formal education. Basically, the gerontology courses were closer to online textbooks brought to life through timed slides and recorded audio. Including video was well beyond our capabilities back then and YouTube didn’t really exist yet. I wasn’t involved in the class discussions or grading or anything once the classes went live. The behind the scenes content development was interesting but also rather mechanical. It wasn’t anything like the experimental, artistic creations from Craig’s class. I wanted more of that and would spend my down-time tinkering with creative websites and animations destined to become flotsam on hard drives and servers. But it was fun and today I don’t come across a lot of unusual websites like you did back in the early 00s and before. I know they’re still out there, but maybe we’re less likely to wander from the well-tread path now.
I remember how I constantly experienced imposter syndrome while I worked at CITT. I was ‘faking it until I made it’ constantly and to be honest, I never felt like I ever ‘made it’. I wasn’t an especially competent html coder, could barely ActionScript in Flash, I didn’t know how to program much more than some Excel functions and Word macros, could hardly cobble together a style sheet, the latest web innovation becoming standardized, and I didn’t know any other programming languages. I had taken a Business Computing course a couple years before where we built a faux company with a complete faux employee database and wrestled with formulas in Excel until our eyes bled. That had also been a tremendous learning experience, but mostly in troubleshooting, resilience, and brute force. My strengths at work was software, amateur art & design, novice pedagogy, and not a whole lot else. I was constantly afraid I’d be exposed as the charlatan I was but somehow I managed to get away with the whole charade by learning things. And also looking busy. I always recommend that students ‘punch above their weight’ meaning they should go for the jobs and apply for the opportunities that they feel at least a little underqualified for. You’ll grow more; stretch more, I think. Everyone feels like an imposter at some point anyway when taking on a new role. Might as well mean it. I imagine some of the art teachers I’ll be working with in the distance learning class might feel similarly these days.
It was a nice setup at CITT. They hired folks with the understanding that the job was also a learning opportunity and we were able to teach ourselves on an as-needed basis for projects. It was cool working at a place that respected independence and actively encouraged their employees to improve themselves. Surprisingly, I worked at several schools much less concerned with giving teachers the time, money, space, and yes, trust, to learn on their own. I read a lot of Flash for Dummies, Dreamweaver for Dummies, and HTML for Dummies. There were LOTS of tutorials online. All the time I was there I kept making artistic little websites, watching tutorials, and grinding Runescape in the background. I eventually learned some Flash animation. I collaborated on the storyboarding and writing, character and background design, animation, and game design for a neat public health project intended for children with PKU condition that you might find on the Wayback Machine but otherwise is gone from online. It was about a boy meeting an alien from outer space, ensuing hijinks, etc. I’m not sure if the project ever came to fruition, but I did revisit it later and found a lot of my work intact and a lot discarded and re-designed. Such is the cut-throat world of public health cartooning. I save everything though and maybe I'll post some of the animations but just for now here is the background art I created.
When I was at UF I also became involved in our local NAEA student chapter where I became president and not coincidentally webmaster, again putting to use my skills from Craig’s class. Eventually I went on to become a national student chapter president, where I redesigned that website. The other student presidents and I held honorary board seats and in that role we were able to show off our website to the rest of the leadership, many of whom were impressed by our outreach and tech savvy, would eventually insist on a long-overdue update to the NAEA website. An ad hoc committee was organized to provide recommendations on which I served with Craig. There I was, helping shape the digital face of art education in America.
All of that happened directly because of the opportunities I had in Craig’s class. This is the epitome of relevance. Ever since then, I’ve tried to dedicate myself to ensuring students can take what they do in my class directly out into the world afterward. How can I set them up for success outside of class, immediately, as a result of our time together? I was able to thrive AND survive because I gained expressive AND professional skills. In other words:
Ask not what you can do for Art, ask what your art can do for YOU!
How can I provide my students with their own Ruby Slipper moments, where there is no telling where they might go with the skills and abilities they acquire?
My mirror experiences in Craig’s Art Ed Technology class and working at CITT is the perfect example of the “Adapt versus Adopt” dichotomy Craig talks about in his essay Art Ed 2.0 Manifesto (reprinted below with author’s permission) which can be traced back to Presnky (2005) and is echoed in Delacruz (2009). In Craig’s class, he invited us to adopt new approaches resulting in new processes and products - something unexpected and unique with a global audience and unlimited potential. At work at CITT, I manufactured content on a digital assembly line where I adapted old approaches and products like slide lectures to a new format, an automated slide lecture online, that was nevertheless extending the reach of the university and therefore extending opportunity and making higher learning more inclusive and accessible.
Five years after I graduated from UF, I was in my fourth year of teaching art and at the NAEA conference in 2009 when he presented this foundational piece. Now the world is very different than it was two months ago, let alone 10 years ago when this was originally presented. And yet the ideas are even more relevant now. Like it or not, whether you’re a technophile or neophyte, the distance between art teaching and technology has collapsed for better or worse. As I contemplate where we will go from here as art teachers and as a field, I find myself returning to Roland’s vision for the future of art education.
I’m fortunate to have been able to work under a digital art education pioneer. He asked us to figure out what we could do with the tools we were handed. He asked us to not stare into screens and punch keys alone but to play and blend the digital and analog by using our hands and objects and processes, like a dolphin jumping between air and water but between virtual and actual, engaged in new ways of thinking and making, like an artist. From drawing to scan to screen to print to film and back again ad infinitum. That is what I think of when I think of an art education that, as Craig puts it, is “High Tech & High Touch”. This, I believe, is what the future demands of artists and is what I hope my students will also take away from their time with me as well.
I fully appreciate now how rare of a treat Craig’s class was and how far ahead of the curve he put his students. I tried multiple times to replicate elements of that class but never to the same level of success. For one reason or another, I myself never managed to create my own stand-alone art and technology course. For what it’s worth, I felt like in most of my teaching tenures after, both K12 and Higher Ed, it was always a fight just to get my Ss access to technology labs and devices. I knew of colleagues in art education doing really cool stuff online with their students or creating maker spaces, but I had $900 to start an entire K5 art program from scratch, for example, and didn’t have much high tech work to showcase myself. I’m sure a lot of my students feel the same way, saying things like “I wish” or “if only”. At my first teaching job, ironically on a technology magnet campus, I couldn’t get a digital projector but instead had to use an overhead projector and a sheet of dry erase board hooked over a chalkboard with a broken wheel with some crude wire hooks. The principal, an excellent example of the Adapt mindset, thought simply typing using word processor software was being a digital content creator. Smh. I remember how the mostly white, mostly well-off minority of bussed in academy students learned to build websites and edit photos while our mostly black local students only used computers for typing and testing drills - no longer the Digital Gap but the Digital Divide, where class and race determines not just what technology you have access to but also dictates your technical aspirations. I understood how frustrating it was for many students to feel like they had to unplug as they entered the school building and felt like they were stepping back in time. Now teaching this class online, I will finally have a fully-integrated art ed and technology class, so to speak, just not the way I had originally imagined. That’s life. How can I create a space where creativity and equity are centered rather than marginalized?
Speaking of life, we like to think we’re more immersed in technology now than ever before in the history of humankind. But as I like to remind my students, a pencil is technology. A simple graphite pencil was a cutting-edge innovation for hundreds of years. But just like the apps in smartphones that older generations assume young people wield like adept magicians, most folks simply pick it up and use it without sophistication or awareness of the creative possibilities. Yet every art teacher has taught their students how to hold a pencil and how to manipulate it to achieve desired effects. It’s the same with a mouse, a finger-swipe, and whatever comes after. Now it’s vectors and pixels. In the past it was pigment and clay. In the past the technology was vastly different but our dependence was not. This has been true since we discovered fire and its ability to cook our food, warm our bodies, light the darkness, harm our enemies, and produce drawing supplies, ie charcoal. Technology has been fundamental to our evolution as humans and art has always been there. Since the beginning, our tendency towards innovation has provided us with the means to not only survive but also thrive creatively. Technology is the very mechanism of our evolution. While some fear that with each step embracing technology more, that we lose a bit of our humanity, but with each incremental advancement, it is the inescapable presence of art that at the same time retains what makes us human. We cannot have one without the other.
Art teachers have always been tech teachers. While the latest advancements may frustrate us momentarily, that too shall pass. Our tech legacy is as old as our species, and while it is important to pause and take stock of where we have been and what we already know, it is even more important to ask where are we going? I very much want to help my students to successfully adapt to this new normal and whatever follows. Times of disruption are also times of possibility. So the silver-lining may be that we have been given the opportunity to rethink the way we do things. Our collective relocation to the Internet temporarily might provoke us to re-imagine what art education looks like. What does art do for people in their daily lives, especially during tense times? What can we do with our students online that isn’t possible in the classroom? What will post-Internet art education become? Will we just go back to the way things were or will there be some new artistic path laid out before us?
Now that I have the privilege of designing and teaching a distance learning class for art teachers starting this week, these questions have been at the forefront of my thoughts these last few weeks. So I’m back here at my blog, thinking out loud with you as I try to guide art teachers navigating this new online frontier we’ve all suddenly found ourselves in. As I’ve stressed over and over again, I believe vulnerability is a fundamental but too little acknowledged component of creativity, teaching, and learning. Many of my students, I imagine, are probably feeling vulnerable as well. Naturally, if you are doing something you don’t know how to do, that you haven’t necessarily been trained to do, you too would probably feel off-balance. Remember back to your Maslow’s Hierarchy and pretend it’s that “You Are Here” map from the mall. Where is that arrow pointing right now? The old self-actualization summit can seem like it might as well be in space compared to what a lot of folks are worrying about right now - safety and security. Belonging can feel tough too as we distance ourselves physically and our communities are dispersed. In many cases our very identities feel threatened - we’re all first year teachers again. There are lots of folks looking for advice and support these days. I hope I can help. Nothing is normal.
What will that mean for my students? What will that mean for their students? What will that mean for any of us? Fecho’s concept of wobbling, introduced to me by Dr. Brian Edmiston at OSU, is an appropriate analogy. We’re all feeling wobbly these days. That wobble can be productive, though it may not necessarily feel that way in the moment as it signals the presence of a possible new path - a chance for change. Like a sailor or a skateboarder, we can become more comfortable with wobble, even becoming at home in it. In a classroom, we want our wobbling to develop into swaying, where we mindfully bring together our cognitive and emotional sides, our elephants and riders, as Edmiston would remind us. Will a 3 week long class be long enough for my students and I to learn how to sway together with our elephants?
This will be my first time teaching a distance learning course about distance learning. I always enjoy a good meta. The first time you do anything is not going to be your best performance possible, I tell myself. And that’s fine, especially now. But at the same time, I feel such a tremendous responsibility to my teachers, for helping them feel more confident and successful. I need to find my own balance between these extremes, allowing the pressure to productively push me without letting it punish. Accept that we are in survival mode, but perhaps acknowledging that we can survive in style. We can keep an eye on the horizon and an eye out for gopher holes. As I approach this new experience, I have to remember my “why” just as I do in any class and as I always tell my students to do.
How can we make the most meaning possible?
It’s easy to lose sight of meaning in chaos and turmoil. But meaning is purpose. Meaning is hope. Meaning is beauty. Artmaking is meaning making, regardless of whether you’re a professional artist or amateur. When we make meaning in the world, that is art. And boy, do we need meaning - in our daily lives, in our relationships, and for the future of our society. We MUST have art. Why are we here? Other than to kick ass and chew bubblegum.? We are here to make meaning. How do we make meaning? Have you tried making art?
Join me as I embark on this virtual adventure into teaching K12 art teachers online and possibly even, one day, a completed dissertation. More on that last part soon - hopefully. For now, it seems like a good time to revisit Craig’s seminal essay, Art Ed 2.0 Manifesto. I want to comb through his writing in a little more depth having only briefly touched on some of its ideas here. I’ll discuss how this foundational reading has influenced my teaching and continues to inspire me in my next post and update you about how the class progresses. Until then, we’ll be together, apart. Thank you for reading.
NEXT POST: Art Ed 2.0 2020
Read Art Ed 2.0 Manifesto (2009)
*Since I’m publishing this post coincidentally during Teacher Appreciation Week - thanks, Craig!*
In some ways it probably seems a bit old fashioned to talk about “truth,” especially when it comes to art. Within contemporary art circles keen on postmodern practices that reject essentializing truths, an artist or viewer hanging their hat on truth probably would seem quaint, even laughable.
After all, “truth” has often been a weapon wielded by the powerful over those they would dominate or destroy. Acknowledging the ways the truth can be abused and distorted has been the project of artists like Jenny Holzer with her “truisms” and entertainers like Stephen Colbert who coined the term “truthiness” in 2005.
In perhaps a small way, I can relate to those who have been harmed by those claiming to know the truth. As a young person, I was forced to reject ‘truths’ which I had been taught and raised to believe - ‘truths’ that had come from the one person on this planet I trusted more than anyone else. Children are more likely to confuse what is real and not real, but this ability improves as they mature. Some kids believe in Santa Claus, only to eventually figure out that their parents weren’t being completely honest with them. Instead, I believed I lived in a world that didn’t really exist. It may be difficult to understand, but as a child of a mentally ill single parent suffering from untreated schizophrenia, I inhabited the same strange and horrifying ‘reality’ as my mother. I had to discover on my own, painfully slowly, that our isolated, hidden world was not real, but a shadow cast by my suffering mother’s delusions and fueled by media, especially politics and televangelism. For a long time I was intensely angry, thinking I had been lied to and I blamed her for our struggles. It wouldn’t be for many years that I would understand that it wasn’t her fault and forgive her and myself.
Perhaps these formative experiences determining the nature of reality, and perhaps my own curious nature, have lead me to value skepticism, evidence, and logic. And I don’t see these values as irreconcilable with my artistic values of subjectivity, ambiguity, and irrationality. I love reality and all of its complicated and confusing paradoxes and tensions. I’ve learned enough about the world to know that I don’t know much. I can live in a world with more than one truth, even many sometimes conflicting truths. What I cannot and will not do, is live in a world where “Truth isn’t truth.” Truth may be an ideal towards which we are constantly striving and forever failing and yet can never relent from that ambition. Yet our reality is increasingly influenced by our belief in what we see. Our contemporary politics demonstrate not our ability to think critically as individuals perhaps as much as the persistent power of propaganda and populism to move the masses. But as we have been shown again and again in history, only disaster is the consequence when truth conform to the whims of power. Truth must always trump power. The truth has to matter.
Thanks to the Internet, our current mass media revolution, the creation and distribution of manipulated and fabricated images has exploded. Photo trickery once reserved for celebrities and models in magazines and advertisements is now in the palm of people’s hands thanks to Instagram and Snapchat filters. Pursuit of “the perfect body” has essentially been weaponized. Anyone can portray an idealized version of themselves in exchange for clicks of validation and attention. Those clicks translate to addictive chemical signals in the brain as well as cash money. While fact checking and gatekeeping may still be the purvey of reputable news outlets, web publishing has all but eliminated any barriers to entry. The tools and means to manipulate photos is at the fingertips of billions. Soon, the same will be true of video. For now, there is still an underlying reality - even if it is beneath layers and filters or just beyond the frame. It is a distortion but not a simulation - yet.
Are these photo manipulators artists? Are the creators of the filters? Are they creating a lie to help us realize a truth, as Picasso stated? Are these examples of Photoshopping and filtering similar or different from other examples of image manipulation? Do you think there are negative consequences when the public is constantly exposed to these kinds of images?
Since the days humans first manipulated fire light to tell epic tales with shadows cast on cave walls, we have used illusion to entertain and embellish, blurring the line between fantasy and reality. Since the development of computer-generated imagery (CGI), filmmakers have become incredibly adept at creating reality-defying special effects resulting in unprecedented spectacles like this year’s Avengers: Infinity War and past blockbusters like Lord of the Rings and the Matrix. Over the years, special effects technology has gradually become cheaper and more accessible, granting amateurs abilities film studios once dreamed of. For example, a fan-made modified version of the 2018 film Solo: A Star Wars Story was recently released online with the lead actor’s face replaced by that of a CG Harrison Ford, the actor who originally brought the character to life, realizing a fantasy of some franchise fans.
In fact, there is an entire hilarious genre of replacing the faces of other actors with that of cult-favorite Nicholas Cage. We’re a long way away from Méliès and Harryhausen.
Already, fake images and hoax stories can go viral and spread across the globe in an instant. In contrast to the 5,000 copies of a rhino print in the 1500s, a hoax image can be seen by millions in seconds. It’s possible for “fake news” to influence elections here and elsewhere.
And what does the future hold? For a truly sobering vision of the future of altered video, the following research demonstration shows how it is currently possible to puppeteer the faces of a world leaders. This increased access and ease raises serious questions and concerns. Perhaps you too can imagine some of the terrifying scenarios such technology could cause? Oh dear.
As I write this post, I can barely even keep up with current events let alone make predictions. Just this November, the Chinese government unveiled a realistic AI newscaster to ‘inform’ the public.
Pretty impressive when compared to the most advanced foax-caster of just 10 years ago. Indeed, today AI can create people out of thin air. Welcome to the simulation.
Are we still in the realm of art, you might wonder? Below is an AI generated artwork, the first to be sold at auction. Do you think this is art? Do you think AI could be a new artistic medium? Who is the artist? Is it the AI, the programmer, or the person who came up with the idea? Can a machine be an artist? Are you excited for the possibilities of humans and machines collaborating on artwork? Do you think machines will eventually take over making art from artists? In the future, do you think it will matter if a human or AI made an artwork? If this is art, are the modified movies art? Are the puppet politicians and newscasters art? Why or why not?
"The boys and girls now in our classes have grown up with technology since infancy. They live in a world of speed and change and mechanization. What is quite often incredible to their teachers they can accept as a matter of course!" These words, written in 1966 by art educator Vincent Lanier sound like they could've been referring to students today. Lanier was an early advocate for studying visual culture and new media, which at the time was television, and starting where students are. While positive steps have been made in the last 50 or so years, are we really any better as a field at confronting the questions raised by popular media and technology? Are we helping our students live critically in today's (and presumably tomorrow's) media saturated world?
Is it time for artists and art teachers to engage seriously with the idea of truth once again? If you are placing your faith in the current generation’s ability to discern the difference between real and fake images, I have some bad news. A Stanford study released in 2016 examined the ability of middle, high, and college students to evaluate evidence online. 15 assessments were given to thousands of students asking them to identify the differences between news and ads, reliable and unreliable sources, and good and bad information. The researchers described the results as “dismaying,” “bleak,” and “[a] threat to democracy.” I can confirm Stanford’s results anecdotally. I gave some of the same assessments to almost 50 students in two of my classes this semester. My results mirrored Stanford’s. Interestingly, three semesters ago when I gave my early childhood students the choice of which topic we would skip, critical thinking was at the top of their list (behind STEAM/Design Thinking). Does that imply those of us wanting to teach critical thinking to our students will have a more difficult time engaging them in the topic? Would you try giving the Stanford civic online learning assessments to your students?
In response, I asked my early childhood educators to tackle critical thinking head-on in one of their art-integration mini-lessons this semester. They were required use art making or looking to teach their peer groups (organized by desired grade levels) how to tell the difference between fact and fiction, real and fake, or subjective and objective; or about common misconceptions or misunderstanding (and how common they are) in their subject areas. To prepare, we discussed many of the examples I’ve mentioned so far here and Part 1 and practiced some critical thinking strategies for kids, especially questioning strategies. Afterwards, students broke into groups based on preferred subject to watch videos on questioning strategies and practice with each other (links at the end).
When they shared their lessons, I saw an impressive variety of topics and strategies intended to help their future students improve their critical thinking skills. Their ideas gave me hope and encouraged me further to continue to explore critical looking in future classes. But we need to do more. What can we do in our classes to help our students look more critically? Part of the answer are some of the things we already do to help our students learn to use their eyes, but perhaps with an extra dash of skepticism. If I had to come up with an arbitrary list to help us have more thoughtful experiences with images, it might go something like this.
For more reputable suggestions on how to improve encounters with artwork and images, you might prefer consulting several works by Jame Elkins, including How to Use Your Eyes, or perhaps the classic Ways of Seeing by John Berger.
But perhaps it’s impossible to improve on the elegant simplicity three questions popularized by art educator Terry Barrett that I learned when I was studying to become an art teacher:
We can also look to the work of artists and media critics whom try to expose the workings of popular media. Many engage in parody and satire such as organizations like Adbusters. But I'm increasingly interested in can be found in the work of performance artist Joey Skaggs and his use of pranks
Do you use strategies to improve critical thinking in your classroom? Which strategies work for you? How do you approach this topic?
People being fooled is as old as time, and as long as there have been images, they have probably been used to fool and mislead. The ability to trick is rooted in our cleverness and can be used to catch a meal (or mark) in a trap or delight the eye in a trompe l’oeil painting. But as technology increasingly improves our deceptive capabilities, we must be cautious with our observations and reserve judgment rather than jumping to conclusions. We must make decisions based on the best evidence possible and maintain a healthy skepticism so that we resist being easily fooled but are not debilitated by constant doubt. We must lead with honesty and integrity and demand the same from our institutions and leaders. We must all open our eyes and see more carefully.
I reject “post-truth.” I reject those that might think critical thinking is not important for their grade level, subject, or classroom (or students in general). I reject the idea that after 13 or more long years of education we as a society can accept an inability to think critically from our graduates. What is the point of all of this education if our students aren’t able to make informed decisions based on good evidence? And while every teacher can claim they are developing some part of the brain, the eyes are the art teacher’s domain. In what other classes and how often are children being taught how to see? If we don’t teach critical looking, who will? If our students can’t discern between fact and fabrication, how safe will any of us be, let alone the truth? It might not be the job some of us signed up for as art teachers, but can we afford to ignore that responsibility when our basic values may be threatened?
We will undoubtedly continue to struggle to learn that there must be more to believing than simply seeing. We can never fully prepare our students for what the future has in store. But I believe we can help our students by teaching them the tools necessary for critical looking and thinking. We can teach our students how their brains work while dispelling myths and misconceptions. It is up to educators, and especially art educators, to ensure that our students have opportunities to develop critical looking and thinking skills. All our futures may depend on it.
Compared to all this, those color wheels just don't seem that important.
Continued from Part 1: What is Real?
Questioning Strategies for Teachers*:
Bloom’s Taxonomy List of Q Words*
Question words for critical thinking
What's Going On in This Picture? from The New York Times
"Intriguing images stripped of their captions and an invitation to students to discuss them live." (Thank you Kimberly!)
An imaginative YouTuber devoted to skepticism and debunking Internet hoaxes while educating and entertaining
*Links primarily for K-5 as I’m currently teaching Early Childhood majors. I’d appreciate any links you could share to middle and high school critical thinking resources!
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#criticalthinking #medialiteracy #visualliteracy #art #arted #arthistory #artfuture #teacherprep #teaching #learning #technology #truth #posttruth #truthoverpower
I'll mostly be blogging about my experiences teaching. I teach a class online right now called Teaching K12 Art Online where I'll be exploring art online with art teachers. I also currently teach a (formerly?) face-to-face course called Visual Culture: Investigating Diversity & Social Justice which is an art, critical writing, and research course for undergrads. Before this, I taught a class called Art Curriculum & Concepts for Teachers where I was experimenting with cooperative & creative teaching integrating art and "going gradeless" with preservice early childhood education majors.