I was asked this week to think about the considerations I would take when designing an online course. Frankly, I think specific online courses will eventually phase out. Students' attention spans are limited and ain't nobody got time for that. The true future of education will be an a la carte experience where students can watch online videos, Google graphics, and download chapters of books, like singles instead of an album and cobble together a playlist for their own personal curriculums. Learning will eventually break free of the constraints of time and place when students can simply do an internet search for anything they want to know by pulling out the super-intelligent piece of glass in their pocket.
I did my own quick search to help build my own playlist to inform this blog post, and I came up with two of my favorite vloggers: CGP Grey and Veritasium (videos below).
As long as all the information is equivalent, there is no significant difference between methods of delivery. Studies have shown that if they all say the same thing, then a classroom lecture, a video, and a book are all on a level playing field when it comes to successfully teaching content.* But many of those studies were so focused on creating a controlled experiment where each media was equally effective, or equally ineffective, that they failed to ask the question "What experiences best promote learning?"
That question is being answered now. Recent research has concluded that combining technologies carefully can promote more effective learning. The danger is over-using or over-crowding the video, presentation, graphic, etc. It can be easy to distract or confuse your audience.
CGP Grey (the one with the stick figures and the sexy radio voice) believes that the internet will eventually make teachers and the traditional classroom obsolete. The internet provides students access to more teachers and more information, and could eventually create individuated curriculums for each person, or "A Digital Aristotle for Everyone."
Derek (Veritasium, or "Pretty Derek, as he is referred to by Grey) argues that while the internet is the the new source for content, effectively replacing the old model of what a teacher was, the teacher becomes even more valuable as the coach or facilitator. They are there to guide the student, but the student need not rely on them for information. "The job of the teacher is to inspire, to excite, and to challenge the student to want to learn."
This is what art education has been for years. Teachers ask students to go out in the world, look around them, experience their environment, then return to the studio ready to apply their findings to their work. Where both Grey's and Derek's predictions appeal to me is that they both call for students to take ownership of their educations and actively engage in what they are learning. A student's success should not be limited to their immediate teacher's own talents, expertise, and style. I never want my kids to be constrained by what I do not know.
*This doesn't take into account Multiple Intelligence Theory, which is another post for another time.
As I admitted last week, my bonafides as an art teacher are unusual, and perhaps unimpressive, but I keep showing up to work anyway. We opened the Spring Final Art show last Friday, and as a new teacher, it was encouraging to see not only the improvements my students made since the fall, but also how the overall quality of my students' work has been elevated since the Spring show a year ago. Now that the paintings have been framed and hung, I finally have time to reflect on how we got here.
Every year I write a syllabus, and every year I have to ignore it. I learned early on not to assume anything about my students. The lessons I learned in my public middle school art elective are not the standard lessons every student who comes to my class has had. I get students from private schools, international schools, home schools, un-schools, and public schools. Their adolescent art educations are as varied as the words available for the color "orange".
I can't trust that students already know how to use linear perspective or a vanishing point. I can't rely on them to know what a complementary color is. I can't assume that they know that the eyes are located in the middle of the face, not up by the hairline. Nor can I assume that they are uncultured idiots. More often than not, I get students who have natural talent, a great color sense, and exceptional motor skills. But to expect many of them to be able to articulate how they can do what they do is the same as expecting them to be able to explain how their lungs fill with air and then empty again without them noticing.
In light of this, I have developed an assignment that I use as diagnostics to help me evaluate a student's skill and what they are interested in. I call it "Bootcamp" and the student is expected to create as much work as they can in a small period of time. Their grade is based on quantity, not quality, and they are encouraged to spend no longer than 15 minutes on each drawing. Through this, I can get a sense for whether a student has been exposed to the basics (perspective, contrast, composition, color, etc.) and if they are naturally creative. From this, I look at the whole class and I build the curriculum for the rest of the semester.
It wasn't until I started this Masters program that I stopped to think about whether there were any learning theories or institutional wisdom that could direct how I develop classes. Lesson plans... What are those? Doesn't every teacher decide 5 minutes before class what they want to teach and how they want to teach it? They don't make it up as they go along? Oh...
I vaguely remembered something about "The Socratic Method" from high school, a practice that tended to be more trouble than it was worth for me when I discovered that my college friends didn't like being called on to defend themselves constantly, and that being devil's advocate wasn't considered "cute." As a teacher, I found myself imitating my favorite instructors, a habit that was either a success or a disaster with equal frequency.
After being exposed to a few theorists and theories, I began to understand how my successes happened to align with proven educational wisdom. Most specifically, I discovered how intuitively or idiotically, my classes seemed to naturally follow Robert Gagne's "9 Events of Instruction", which provides a template for how to effectively structure classroom activities:
1.Gain Attention- Simple. I'm pretty short, so I may need to stand on top of something, but this is pretty straightforward.
2. Provide Objectives- Ok, Whippersnappers, today we are going to learn how to make an object 3D and like it's going back in space using perspective!
3. Access Prior Knowledge- What happens to an object as it moves farther away? It get's smaller? Correct! 10 points to Griffindor!
4. Present Content- Check it. I made a video and everything. Swag.
5. Provide Learning Guidelines- I'll be honest, this is where I tend to lose focus. I'm getting better at articulating my point to my students, but sometimes I don't know what it is until the end.
6. Elicit Performance- Alright monkeys, time to dance.
7. Provide Feedback- We usually critique every project as a class, but between crits, I wander around the class with my cup of coffee in hand and give 1-1 instruction.
8. Assess Performance- I hate this part. The question is not, "How do you grade art?" but rather "Why did you give me that grade, Ms. Green?"
9. Enhance Retention and Transfer- Fail often, fail fast. Make more work to get better and get it right the next time.
The longer I do this, the less likely I will feel like a student and the more I will feel like a teacher. I'm not convinced that's a good thing, but it's hard to be discouraged when you stand in the gallery and take in all the work my students have created this year. I may not know what I'm doing, but I seem to be damn good at it.
Oh wait, let me introduce myself!
An introduction. Yeah, that would be good...
I am an art teacher at an American boarding school, and I got here by way of an environmental science degree and a few years working as an admissions counselor and financial aid officer. I've had five years working on both the administrative and the classroom sides of private education, and now I am 4 credits and a thesis project away from a Masters Degree in Education, Leadership, and Emerging Technology. I work at a small school, and we have a remarkable amount of control over our curriculum and access to motivated and talented students. We are also subjected to families who pay a lot of money and expect an individuated education for each of their children. My experiences this far have led me to search for solutions to the following problems:
1. Is it possible to be everything to everyone? What responsibility do I have to making sure tuition-paying students and families learn the skills and subjects they want to learn?
2. How can we expand and specialize the curriculum if we can't hire more teachers with specialized skill-sets or build more classrooms?
3. How can I teach my students to take risks and teach themselves the skills they want to learn so that they are not limited by my own abilities and talents?
With these questions in mind, I have reflected on my own art education, which has been cobbled together through a combination of formal classes, casual experimentation with materials twisted together or cut apart by restless hands, YouTube tutorials, blog posts, and hours of practice. Add a little praise from from a social network of dilettantes, who shower me with encouragement in the form of Facebook likes and Instagram posts, and you get an artist who finds time to cultivate her talent whenever and in whatever way possible. I am not classically trained, but I am not afraid to teach myself or seek out internet wisdom for how to create something cool. As a result, I am a teacher with a patchwork of experience and knowledge. More often than not, my response to a student's question is, "I don't know. Let's Google it."
My Master's thesis seeks to discover strategies to target this habit into something more intentional. I want my students to never allow themselves to be limited by who is around them and what their teachers can tell them. I want them to push through challenges on their own, and seek solutions to their failures by consulting their peers or seeking guidance from an online community. The ultimate goal is to teach my students to become their own instructional designers, and to create the curriculums they want for themselves. I believe that these skills will help them to become innovators and create the industries of the future. Whether it results in them becoming better artists remains to be seen.
The day-to-days of an Itinerant Illustrator