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balancing the how and why of teaching art & technology










lately many things in my life related to technology seem to be coming together/colliding. in addition to teaching technology courses at the high school level, and helping steve compile his stories onto the computer, i recently got hired to work on projects and give workshops at our university new media center. like paul gilster in his book digital literacy, i too searched for wedding sites trying to help my sister andrea and her fiancee find a location for their wedding weekend in the wine country of california and with successful results. i visited for a wedding planner and photos of gowns for andrea to design her own.

i also had the opportunity to play with our schools new digital camera that my brother rick picked out for us and taught all of my family how easy it is to use and am now cataloging the 400 photos we took to put on videotape. then my sister sarah called last week wanting to ask for my help in setting up way that her husband can get out his newsletter on religion and the environment over the internet. the very same day i had been forwarded email from my brother ben to subscribe to an online newsletter with the subject line of "use less stuff." the intro of the email reads "it's free and paperless." i subscribed - this was my first. that night i read the chapter on newsgroups in digital literacy and was able to answer sarah's questions a little better than i could have a few days before. this then in turn motivated me to find out more about newsgroups and what the differences are between newsgroups, newsletters, mailing lists and listserves - all terms that gilster uses throughout his descriptions. and so i called my brother ben and got some more clarification... a day doesn't go by that i'm not learning something new about the computer - how to use it, or more importantly, how to find or make what i want by using the computer. and then as always, to step back and ask why.

very recently i seem to feel more confident using and sharing my knowledge of computers. i've never been scared of using machines because of my early exposure and fascination with them - first as games, making me feel comfortable and sure i wasn't going to break them. and then later as holders of information and an array of tools for making art and writing. this recent confidence though, stems from the belief that what i am doing with computers in my life is meaningful.

i had a dream, a bad dream last week in which i basically was told by elementary art teachers and media specialists that they thought i was unqualified to teach art and that i had allowed myself to become too immersed in technology - that i had only taken this route to please administrators and get hired. at the time the dream was troubling. upon reflection i can see that it is based in my ongoing struggle with worrying that how i present technology to my high school students is evenly balanced in meaningful art making and comprehensive understanding of the skills related to technology. and in addition, what i constantly struggle to understand for myself - the importance that i give technology in my life and in my art.

by feeling more confident i guess i mean that i am understanding more than i am struggling to understand about the technical aspects. i am able to step back and reach a point now and then where i'm able to ask myself about the bigger issues an make important choices about what it is i teach and create myself.

i have never once been uncomfortable not knowing the answer to a high school students question about technology - my response is "let's find out." around adult students however, i am less comfortable with this response. i find that adults want to know and not experiment - as a time saver i am sure but it puts me in the position of having to be more of an "authority" which makes me feel uncomfortable, especially about something as everchanging as technology. i think there just needs to be a point where people concede that there is only so much they can learn in a day especially when it comes to technology, and that no one person can know everything.

reading about the skills that gilster lays out for internet users, those specifically of evaluating content (gilster pg 112-116) i realize that i want my high school students to have these - or at least recognize why these skills are necessary. which raised this ongoing problem i am always trying to resolve - the balance between the technology and the art. the how and the why. the two extreme approaches of the spectrum for teaching my computer graphics course are very different. one is a strictly computer based approach which lessons' involve photo collage, "trickery", logos and repetitive structured designs, and specialized internet searches about topics in art. these lessons are designed to teach specific skills related to paint/art software, internet searching and evaluating, and multimedia design issues. this approach is not necessarily keeping technology at a healthy distance for recognizing it merely as a tool and not an end in itself. the idea that comes across is that the computer does all of the work for the student and they are not required to work on a creative level.

the other end of the spectrum views the computer as just another art media. lessons involve making artwork to scan, taking and scanning photographs, doing artwork based on other artists (using the computer as a medium) and taking computer printouts and combining them with other media in the art room. this approach is not necessarily giving students skills related to computer technology or pushing the concept of electronic media as an artform in itself to be explored. multimedia (electronic) design issues are not the focus.

of course a balance is ideal. 12 weeks per trimester has not proven to e enough time to examine both approaches as completely as i would like. i believe it's in this class that student should get more of an education about how the technology works, how to evaluate and create for the web and other forms of multimedia. but it tends to move away from the type of content of the other art courses in the curriculum. merely how to scan, use the digital camera, the internet and photoshop takes a great deal of time to teach and the content is not enough. add to that the expectation of meaningful content and the technical skills begin to not be covered enough - simply from a lack of studio time. the bottom line is for non and college bound students i aim to show them the exciting direction of technology, introduce them to basic internet, multimedia and production concepts that will be reinforced later in college years and the workplace - and then we make art.

four seasons analogy of the phases one goes through with media/ technology.

spring = infatuation, novelty, learning, everything is new

summer = immersed, up to date, in the heat of it

fall = cutting back, disillusioned, limited activity

winter = resolved, taken in healthy small doses when necessary

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the below section of this writing is based on the conversation that i had with my brother ben on the parts of the internet that are not simply email or webpages (that other stuff that is covered in part on pages 49 - 56 and 106-112 in digital literacy). i'd like to share with you my understanding of the differences between newsgroups, list(serves) and newsletters. this was an issue that was muddled in my mind and i wanted clarification. after conversing with ben, i reread these pages and now am more clear.




also called USENET groups

also called mailing lists or discussion lists

not to be confused with mailing lists or listserves

text only (usually)

text only (usually)

text only (usually)

you, the user, post text on an electronic bulletin board

same as newsgroups but the data is delivered to you by email once you have subscribed

a one way list. you, the user cannot post data, there is no online discussion

you send an email to a computer that will post your data on a server for everyone who visits to see

you subscribe by sending email to an address and an automated system puts you on the list

the author of the newsletter sends you via email their publication. you can only respond directly and solely to the author.

20,000 - 40,000 exist. each have a specific topic

you send (rather than post) an email that all subscribers will receive as an email message

the author does not post data on a server - rather they have your email address and send you mail.

the names reflect the topic. general to specific, alt.oprah.books
alt=alternative, rec=recreational

can become very overwhelming if it's a large listserve

newsletters can be advertised on websites, newsgroups, listserves or in journals

your text (& everyone's) just sits there
anyone can reply
replies get organized into a "thread" by the subject, re: tony morrison, the computer files replies in appropriate place

2 types of email addresses:
-one for sending out your data (will go to all subscribers)

-one for subscribing or unsubscribing to a listserve (only goes to a computer)

to advertise, find a newsgroup on a similar topic and post every 6 months the announcement of your newsletter and provide your email address needed to subscribe.

common problem: lots of garbage posted, fights or "flaming" hidden personality slams, also lots of advertising

some are moderated - if so can be very interesting information. if not moderated, can be a mistake.

or create a website with "for more information" and provide email address needed to subscribe.

some newsgroups are "moderated" - human editor who screens out the garbage

website of lists to join

when sending out newsletter use the bcc: address line which means blind carbon copy
prevents subscribers from knowing who else is on the list

faq file outlines the rules of the newsgroup

listserves are easier to start than newsgroups


new newsgroups must be approved by the USENET committee
they review new proposal and may suggest using a currently existing newsgroup

listserves are more local
if they become too large they're not useful


to access you need a news viewer
in netscape go to window/ news
load up directory or newsgroups and select the ones of interest

there are millions of little ones- for example a university class of 20 students and 1 professor is a listserve that can be very helpful