The iPad provides us with endless possibilities for innovative teaching and profound potential for learning. However, the iPad is such a poweful tool that introducing apps and workflows into units requires art teachers to see beyond what the iPad can do, beware of the ‘wow factor’, and ensure that real learning is at the core of it’s use. A couple of ideas…
Art teachers know that great art education has very little to do with making stuff that is nice to look at. Of course there are the aesthetic things, but it is important to remember that the depth of understanding in areas such as visual literacy, critical analysis, etc. is what matters. The iPad is such a powerful tool for art making it can, and will, produce imagery or enhance it almost on its own. As such, activities, processes and assessment using the iPad must be designed with this in mind.
As an example, there may be no real value in a task that has a student enhancing photographs ad-hoc, adding filters to an image to make it look grainy and yellow. When playing around with effects on the iPad, often made with just one touch, they may change a photograph significantly. However, if they do not understand concepts of layering, the function of filters, the purpose of the image manipulation and cannot explain the reasons behind their choices and changes within the image, the they may be wasting valuable learning opportunities in your class.
All the parts of a creative task must have value to represent best practice. Here is a true story, shared by a teacher as an example of a ‘great iPad activity’, but one that I believe actually falls into the category of ‘what not to do’… This teacher showed me student work from a task that involved one app and a quick process to show students ‘how abstraction works’. The student was asked to select a photo from their camera roll and then abstract it…and all it took was one touch.
My major concern was that the richest part of the task, the engagement with the process of abstraction (the purpose of the lesson and the bit with the most opportunities for learning), was not actually supported by the choice of app in this situation. The ‘abstracting’ was being done for the student by the device. Worse still, the app did it all in one step, without the process being made explicit. There was no real room for the student to engage with creative decision-making. Yes, the app took a representation image and abstracted it, but had the student understood the process, engaged with the manipulation of art elements such as line, colour, shape, etc.? What about composition, balance, symmetry, pattern? Sure, the image looked great (thanks iPad!), but where was the learning? Did the student understand what had taken place, could they do it themselves, do it differently, create it in another context or with another medium? Could they teach another?
The lesson here for teachers is that the iPad is a teaching tool like any other.
I can think of an extensive list of problems and missed opportunities in this task, but the upside is I can also think of endless way in which the task could be improved, and easily. As a few quick examples using this same app and a similar task, more valuable learning could be embedded for the students by modifying the task to include opportunities for them to;
* Explain the similarities and/or differences in the representational image and the abstracted one (this could even be done using the iPad by using an app as a visual diary).
* Compare and contrast four abstract works generated by the app, analysing the differences in the composition of each. The surrounding discussion could include structured reference to art elements such as colour, shape, etc.
* Predict what the representational image may look like once it has been ‘abstracted’ in the app. This prediction could be based on a discussion related to dominant elements in the image with explicit links to the process of abstraction.
* Create new abstract works by using those created in-app as part of a further work-flow. For example, students could use the app-generated images as starting points for new works, importing them into apps that allow them to change colours, filters and add more drawings into layered compositions. They could be given freedom or they could be asked to demonstrate their understanding of the elements of art by adding line, shape, colour, depicting a feeling, creating a mood, etc.
The iPad provides us with endless possibilities for teaching, but the instructional design must be considered to make the most of the potential learning.
Some quick ideas for using the iPad to make the process of abstraction explicit
* All students could use the same image as a starting point for their work. In comparing them with each other the infinite creative possibilities of abstraction can be explored.
* Students use an app that allows them to manipulate an image in a variety of ways (try OrangeCam, Megaphoto, etc) and produce a folio of diverse works from one starting point. The affect of their decisions (such as changing colour, rearranging elements, etc) and the process of abstraction is made explicit and can be reflected on.
* Students use screen shots to record stages as they work across a variety of apps to abstract their image. These images can then be used to create an animated gif to demonstrate deconstruction and reconstruction.
Check out another post about abstraction on the iPad here.