The landscape of Australian education has changed dramatically over recent years with the increasing importance and value placed on the use of technology in the classroom. With the government’s backing of the ‘digital education revolution’, technology is now having a significant impact on the way that educators teach and students learn. Although the use of technology as a learning tool has vast implications across all subjects, the art syllabus has been affected in a more specific way. Mainstream subjects such as English, Science and Maths (to a lesser extent) are utilising laptops primarily as a research tool and to aid the process of constructing essays, presentations and projects.
However, the art classroom has seen a whole new medium introduced and an entirely new art making tool that has redefined the way in which students can not only learn about art, but make it too. The syllabus has therefore had to adapt to the changing learning environment to recognize a whole new range of art making capabilities that have come with the advancements and accessibility of technology in the classroom. With the advancements in technology has also come a generation of students who have an entirely new set of interests and avenues to explore them.
Expressing and sharing creativity has never been easier for students who now form the generation of children who have been born in to a society where computers, mobile technology and the internet are all integral components of modern society’s fabric. These students, also known as ‘digital natives’ are changing the way in which educators must now teach. The term ‘digital native’ was coined by Marc Prenksy in his 2001 article ‘Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants’ and the topic has since been expanded on with such books as Don Tapscott’s ‘Educating the Net Generation’ and Diana Oblinger’s ‘Growing Up Digital’. Prensky and Tapscott explain how children
“…have been ‘bathed in bits’ since birth and that therefore their brains have developed differently from previous generations who were not exposed to digital technology at a young age.” (Kirkman, 2012)
Students now have the opportunity to engage with each other in entirely new ways and the opportunity to be exposed to a world of art and creative exploration beyond what any of their predecessors could have experienced. Through the Internet, students can now explore blogs, social networks, video sharing sites and the wider web to discover art from all over the world. Students are no longer confined to the restrictive environment of a library or just prescribed texts. The Internet provides an almost limitless environment for those that wish to learn more about art. Apart from learning about art, the Internet also provides students with the ability to share their own works. Whether they curate their own website or blog, upload video works or maintain a presence with their photography on photo sharing websites like Flickr, a student artist now has the ability to publish their work to the world and to receive real time feedback. By engaging students through a tool that their generation embraces both academically and recreationally, educators have an opportunity to highlight to students the important role that visual arts plays in society. As Anne Bamford explains in her book aligned with the NSW Syllabus,
“… throughout time, art has been used to help people understand their personal, social, cultural and spiritual lives.” (Bamford, 2004)
All these new technologies and exciting opportunities are of great benefit to the student studying the HSC Art syllabus. That is because the syllabus has adapted to embrace technology and to recognize the importance that it not only has in education, but specifically with Visual Arts. As it states, “In Visual Arts Stage 6 students develop skills in the use of both contemporary and traditional technology in the practice of artmaking, art criticism and art history. The range of technologies used may include film/video, computer hardware and software, printmaking equipment and a variety of materials used in the expressive forms.” (NSW Board of Studies) The onus however is on the teachers to capitalize on the technological tools available to both them and their students. The teachers, or ‘digital immigrants’, as opposed to ‘natives’, can often be reluctant to embrace the technological tools that their students are so capable of using. However, as William Glasser highlights in his book ‘The Quality School’,
“Teaching is difficult under the best educational conditions, and this failure to take into account the needs of students makes what is already a hard job almost impossible.” (Glasser, 1998)
For educators to be at the forefront of the advancements in technology, they must engage with technology on a continual basis to ensure that they keep up with the ever-evolving landscape. If they fail to do this, then the challenge they will find is that there is a disconnect between their technological knowledge and that of their students who are spending more and more time engaged with their computers and the internet. With the syllabus now incorporating technology in to the prescribed expressive forms, students now may produce a body of work in through a variety of media that are heavily reliant on technology, such as graphic design, time- based forms, photomedia and documented forms. Considering the proportion of this syllabus that relates in one way or another to the advancements in technology, it can obviously seem like a daunting task for those educators that are resistant to the changes and prefer to educate in a more analogue way. However, that way of thinking will leave them behind in this digital education revolution. For the resistors to change, comfort can be taken in studies such as one in 2009 that found the neural circuitry in the brains of older volunteers who had never searched on the internet before began to adapt after only a week of online searching. The research concluded, “…the brain is trainable and flexible.” (Kirkman, 2012)
In recent debate over the national curriculum, opinion was divided over proposed changes to the arts and the suggestion that the various disciplines inside the arts be streamlined in to one subject. Regardless of differing opinion, one statement from the debate highlighted the significance of technology and the role that multimedia plays in the arts syllabus. Roger Dunscombe, the co-chairman of the Australian Teachers of Media stated that
‘’Media in itself is really a 21st century subject - students look at what they are doing in the classroom and can apply it immediately to the world around them.’’ (Topsfield, 2010)
In the Visual Arts classroom, technology will play three key roles in the learning process according to the Department of Education and Training. 1, Creating; 2, Exhibiting; and 3, Research & Critical Study. Considering the breadth and capability of technology in this environment, it is clear that visual arts students will be given enormous opportunity to progress their learning in new and exciting ways. Through Creating they will be able to use a variety of tools such as digital editing software, design and 3D tools and video editing and production suites. With hardware such as laptops, scanners, cameras and printers they will then be able to produce tangible outputs. Through Exhibiting, students will now be able to share their creations with a far wider audience, even on an international scale. With the ability to create their own websites or use other portals to display their work, students are given a whole new world of options for displaying their art to others. With Research & Critical Study, students will be able to use the incredible research tool that is the Internet to explore topics, artworks, artists and theory in ways that their predecessors never could. With virtual galleries, informative podcasts from leading academics, online journals and forums for open discussion; the ability for students to gain a deeper understanding and further their exploration in art is greater than ever. The range of skills beyond these three key roles will improve a wide range of other skills in students, according to a report on ‘Educators, Technology and 21st Century Skills’. Other skills that benefit include;
“Skills in accountability, collaboration, communication, creativity, critical thinking, ethics, global awareness, innovation, leadership, problem solving, productivity and self-direction.” (Grunwald and Associates, 2010)
For teachers that are enthusiastic towards embracing the changes that technology has made to the Visual Arts syllabus, they will welcome the freedom that they are given in relation to developing relevant lessons. Regarding creating, exhibiting and research,
“Visual Arts teachers have the autonomy to develop teaching and learning programs based on these three areas of content and it is recommended that they connect students to their own world and contemporary art practice and provide students with ICT experiences to create and manipulate digitally generated images.” (NSW Department of Education & Training)
Visual Arts students learn to experiment, research, collaborate, improvise, explore, reflect, discuss, critique and evaluate. They learn as individuals and in groups of various sizes. As a report from the NSW Government states,
“Laptops for learning will provide a significant tool that students can use to support this learning.” (Digital Education Revolution NSW, 2010)
A report that was released to highlight the benefits of the laptop roll out to visual arts educators explains the range of benefits that teachers and students will enjoy with access to the technology provided.
“Laptops will be an invaluable tool to support learning in the visual arts classroom, providing students with the software to manipulate text, images, audio and video to create artworks; to record their work digitally as a component of their visual art diary, use video to document works in progress, to undertake tutorials, and to connect with artists, critics, curators and historians through video and podcasts.” (NSW Department of Education & Training)
Teachers must however be cognisant of the fact that technology must not be their overarching motivator in all lessons and teaching methods. Although a fantastic tool, educators must be mindful that it is just a ‘tool’ and therefore it is the content and the teaching methods that must still be of paramount importance. As Holmes states,
“The focus will never be on the technology. Rather, it’s the pedagogy that counts. It’s worth keeping in mind that laptops are only a tool. They’re at our disposal to make learning easier, and more enjoyable and meaningful for children.” (Holmes, 2008)
When students study the HSC Visual Arts Syllabus they will notice that it is built around communication and meaning. Giving young artists and academics the ability to pursue their creativity and developing further knowledge with the aid of such a tool has been a dramatic change in art education over recent years. Students will be given the best opportunity to push their skills and abilities as far as possible if they are willing to engage with technology and have the support of willing and enthusiastic teachers who are progressive in their methods and adaptable to change. Technology in visual arts, as in the rest of modern life, is not going away, so it therefore more important than ever to develop the skills required to get the most out of these invaluable tools.
Bamford, A. (2004). The Visual Arts Book. Port Melbourne: Heinemann.
Bennett, S., Maton, K., & Kervin, L. (2008). The ‘digital natives’ debate: A critical review of the evidence. British Journal of Educational Technology
Digital Education Revolution NSW. (2010). A Box of Promise. Glasser, W. (1998). The Quality School. Harper Collins.
Grunwald and Associates. (2010). Educators, Technology and 21st Century Skills. Walden University.
Kirkman, J. (2012, May 1). Don’t Panic! A hitch-hiker’s guide to teaching the digital native. Australian College of Educators .
Kist, W. New Literacies in Action: Teaching and learning in multiple mediaTeachers College Record Volume 107 Number 11
NSW Board of Studies. Visual Arts Stage 6 Syllabus. 2012.
NSW Department of Education & Training. (n.d.). Laptops in the visual arts classroom. Retrieved May 13, 2012, from Digital Education Revolution: http://www. curriculumsupport.education.nsw.gov.au/digital_rev/creative/visual/index.htm
Oblinger, D. G., & Oblinger, J. L. (2005). Is it Age or IT: First Steps Toward Understanding the Net Generation. In D. G. Oblinger & J. L. Oblinger (Eds.), Educating the Net Generation (pp. 12-31): EDUCAUSE.
Programme for International Student Assessment. (2005). Are Students Ready for a Technology-Rich World? What PISA Studies Tell Us. Retrieved from http://www.oecd.org/ dataoecd/28/4/35995145.pdf
Small, G. (2008). iBrain: Surviving the Technological Alteration of the Modern Mind. New York: Collins Living.
Tapscott, D. (2009). Part One: Meet the Net Gen. Grown up digital: how the net generation is changing your world. (pp. 9-119). New York: McGraw-Hill.
Topsfield, J. (2010, October 8). Debate rages over arts curriculum. Retrieved May 14, 2012, from The Age: http://www.theage.com.au/national/education/debate-rages-over- arts-curriculum-20101007-169r2.html