I am an Art professor. I teach Painting, Drawing and Design. Generally my students use traditional media such as paint, ink, pencils, charcoal, collage, etc. to learn about the discipline. So, when I was asked to contribute to a blog about technology and teaching I thought, “I am not really the one to ask.” By no means am I always looking for cutting edge technological approaches to teaching. I would label myself more in the “traditionalist” camp. My students grapple with their materials. Art making is messy and we get our hands and clothes dirty during the creative process.
When I was assured that many viewpoints were encouraged in the blog, I decided to give it a shot. While my first reaction was how much I didn’t use computers in my classes (for instance, I teach no online classes), upon further consideration, I realized to my surprise that I really do use computers in a variety of ways. Many of the ways are quite practical. I am a big convert to grading and recording student participation with Excel spreadsheets. I’ve got all that information in one place and I can track a student’s performance much more easily and effectively, and in a way that is clearer to the students as well.
I have also found ANGEL (the course management system used at West Valley College, where I teach) to be more efficient for teaching and learning in a number of practical ways. Part of explaining a new art project to students is showing them examples of previous student work. We always looked at them in the classroom but now I also post the images in ANGEL so that students can see them not just once, but may refer to them at any time. I find that ANGEL is also great for posting handouts and guidelines for projects. Students are responsible for bringing them to class in either paper or digital format. I don’t have to make copies anymore. This saves me time and saves the college paper. We also view art videos as outside assignments and we have discussion groups about them through discussion forums in ANGEL. This is a great way to accommodate everyone’s busy schedules. Students can view these films and make comments at different times. This has really expanded the curriculum. Before I posted videos in ANGEL, it would have been impossible for the entire class to view and discuss a film outside of designated classroom meeting hours.
Another practical necessity for computer use has been converting my existing slide library of student and professional work to digital format, because slide projectors are a thing of the past. While the quality of the images tends to be not as strong, they don’t deteriorate like traditional film. Additionally, the Internet has made it incredibly quick and easy to find and use new artwork images that can be easily adapted to lecture format.
The Internet really does bring the world to your fingertips. Access to quick reference material has expanded exponentially for students. If a student needs to reference a picture of a frog for a painting, he or she can have hundreds of frog images almost instantaneously. If the class wants to visit a museum in Moscow, we can now do it with no expense. I have also found YouTube to be wonderful for how-to art instruction.
Using computers as an art medium has also been an interesting transition. While I do not have students use computers as their exclusive or final medium, I do find some computer art applications can help in the creative process, even when the final outcome is done in a traditional art medium. Art applications are great for sketching ideas and enabling the user to change elements quickly. Another fantastic use is color palette visualization. For instance, if a student is having trouble choosing an appropriate color for part of a drawing, he or she can digitally photograph the work and then play with unlimited color schemes in Photoshop to find a solution.
While I don’t believe that traditional art media should or could be taught exclusively online, my perception of how computers can be integrated into teaching Art concepts has expanded in an additional way as well. Though it was years ago now, I did teach a hybrid drawing class. Half of the time was spent in the art studio, and the other in the computer lab. At times I found it hard to relate the two media but eventually I figured out common concepts that I could teach both with pencil and keyboard. We spent our studio days on proportion and perceptual skills, but because drawing involves a lot of compositional principles, we spent our lab days creating digital “drawings” that focused on concepts like “texture,” “value” and “repetition” (see the image of student artwork above).
So even though I am probably still a traditionalist at heart, I understand and accept the necessity of computers in the teaching and learning process no matter what the discipline. It has been a matter of discovering what can be gained with them and simultaneously being mindful of how not to lose the kernel of the discipline.
Heidi Brueckner is a faculty member in the Art Department at West Valley College. Her art focuses on cultural allegories and norms conveyed through the use of figurative imagery and symbolism, and it often comments on the dark side of human nature. Last year, she had a solo exhibition at the Triton Museum of Art in Santa Clara, CA.