Visual literacy in the information age

ching-chiu1Ching-Chiu Lin is a founding member of the Youth Community Informatics project. Her work with Timnah, Lisa, and Karen at the Urbana Middle School integrated art, music, story-telling, cultural heritage, and multimedia in an after-school program. That’s one of the models for our current work.

michoacanChing-Chiu’s dissertation, A qualitative study of three secondary art teachers’ conceptualizations of visual literacy as manifested through their teaching with electronic technologies, analyzed similar arts and new media projects in three schools. I’ve learned a little while ago that it was awarded second place for the 2008 Eisner Doctoral Research award. This was officially announced at the National Art Education Association (NAEA) convention in Minneapolis this month.

Congratulations, Ching-Chiu!

Fondation Connaissance et Liberté (FOKAL)

accueil_biblio1 I was very fortunate to hear Elizabeth Pierre-Louis speak yesterday.

Elizabeth was on campus to accept the 2008 Young Humanitarian Award. As Director of the Library Program at Fondasyon Konesans Ak Libète (FOKAL) in Haiti, she helped to set up 45 community libraries across the country. She coordinates the training and management of these libraries, which are improving the quality of live for the people there. Elizabeth described a wide variety of programs of FOKAL, including projects on supplying running water, developing basic literacy, supporting the visual arts, dance and music, debate, and economic education.

Throughout these many programs, there is an emphasis on participatory democracy, including organization and responsibility of citizens, leadership, financial and technical management, resolving conflicts, and collective decision making. Elizabeth’s work is just part of an amazing organization helping people work together toward common purposes.

The photo, of the Monique Calixte Library in FOKAL’s Cultural Center, and this text below are from the FOKAL site.

The Fondation Connaissance et Liberté / Fondasyon Konesans Ak Libète (FOKAL) Cultural Center, built in 2003 in the center of Port-au-Prince thanks to funding from the Open Society Institute (OSI) and support from George Soros, is designed for meetings, training, reading, debates, recreation and discovery.

The center is comprised of a public library, with a membership of over 5,000 where children and youths from the poor neighborhoods of Port-au-Prince have access to reading materials in optimal conditions, a small auditorium, a café-terrasse and a cybercafé. The UNESCO auditorium is a hall designed for conferences, debates, meetings, audio-visual presentations, films, concerts and theatre. The center also includes a large atrium where one can discover the works of both Haitian and foreign painters, writers, and sculptors; and a sound and video production studio, a training hall and gardens…

FOKAL’s cultural center offers a place, eminently rare in Haiti, where peasants, women, children and youths from poor neighborhoods have a chance to interact with each other and with representatives of all sectors of society on subjects which concern education, the environment, culture, and democracy…

Arts and the cognitive life of the university

Harvard has issued a Report of the task force on the arts (2008, December), which argues that the arts are an integral part of the cognitive life of the university. Similar reports come out regularly from other institutions; this one is notable mostly because of Harvard’s stamp on the value of the arts, especially for inquiry in all fields. There is (belated) attention to a wide view of arts both in appreciation and in making, as well as the use of new technologies:

The use of new digital and media technologies—in virtually all forms of inquiry—provides an unprecedented opportunity for our students to take art-making seriously “for itself,” while seeing it as an enhancement of their own specific scholarly and professional interests. “Making” in the visual arts, for instance, is no longer restricted to the hand-held technologies of pencil, brush, chisel and camera…The availability of computer software for creative purposes allows for a range of artistic practices that may not “train the hand and eye” in the time-honored traditional sense, but whose imaginative and aesthetic possibilities provide the important cognitive and conceptual training of an “art-making” education. (pp. 8-9)

One side note is the recognition of Harvard’s “unusual, if not unique” relation to arts practice. The report notes for example that

By 1869, Yale had opened the doors to its School of Art . Yale now confers graduate degrees in arts practice from four separate professional schools—the School of Art, School of Drama, School of Music, and School of Architecture—and it provides as well profound opportunities for mentorship and instruction within the talented undergraduate population. (p. 6)

Teaching as bringing to life

During the time of the semester when grades are due, it’s difficult to ignore the aspects of the teaching job that involve judging, ranking, sorting, and critiquing in the sense of finding and documenting fault. But these aspects have little to do with teaching, and usually stand in the way. When one is learning, it can be helpful to know where one has gone wrong, but more often the wrong is painfully obvious and what we need even more is to know what of our fragile attempts can be brought to life. For that, we need critique in another sense, one that’s a friend to the new, brings ideas to life, and makes quality vivid.

Anton Ego, Michel Foucault, and Elliot Eisner speak to this issue:

We critics risk very little, yet enjoy a position over those who offer up their work and themselves to our judgment. We thrive on negative criticism for it’s fun to write and to read. But the bitter truth we critics must face is that in the grand scheme of things, the average piece of junk is probably more meaningful than our criticism designating it so. But there are times when a critic truly risks something, and that is in the discovery and defense of the new. The world is often unkind to new talent, new creations. The new needs friends. –the critic, Anton Ego, Disney/Pixar movie Ratatouille

I can’t help but dream about a kind of criticism that would not try to judge, but bring an oeuvre, a book, a sentence, an idea to life; it would light fires, watch the grass grow, listen to the wind, and catch the sea-foam in the breeze and scatter it. It would multiply, not judgments, but signs of existence; it would summon them, drag them from their sleep. Perhaps it would invent them sometimes – all the better. All the better. Criticism that hands down sentences sends me to sleep; I’d like a criticism of scintillating leaps of imagination. It would not be sovereign or dressed in red. It would bear the lightning of possible storms.–Michel Foucault

If connoisseurship is the art of appreciation, criticism is the art of disclosure. Criticism, as Dewey pointed out in Art as Experience, has at is end the re-education of perception… The task of the critic is to help us to see. Thus…connoisseurship provides criticism with its subject matter. Connoisseurship is private, but criticism is public. Connoisseurs simply need to appreciate what they encounter. Critics, however, must render these qualities vivid by the artful use of critical disclosure. –Elliot Eisner, 1985, pp. 92-93


Eisner, Elliot W. (1985). The art of educational evaluation: a personal view. London: Falmer.

Foucault, Michel (1980, April). The masked philosopher. Le Monde, interview by Christian Delacampagne.

Smith, Mark K. (2005). Elliot W. Eisner, connoisseurship, criticism and the art of education. The encyclopaedia of informal education.

Stake, Robert E., & Schwandt, Thomas (2006). On discerning quality in evaluation. In Ian Shaw, Jennifer C. Greene, & Melvin M. Mark (eds.), Handbook of evaluation: Policies, programs and practices. Sage.

Children’s House (Çocuklar Evi) in Çanakkale, Turkey

On Monday, I was invited by Ebru Aktan Kerem, an early childhood teacher/researcher at Çanakkale Onsekiz Mart Üniversitesi (in Turkey), to visit Çocuklar Evi, or Children’s House. Ebru’s innovative research contributes to a wonderful, university-based school for children, ages 3-6, and a site for learning for teachers and researchers.

The Principal, Derya Bedir, and the teachers use persona dolls to help develop understanding across differences. They promote art, music, science, and healthy interaction in the spirit of Reggio Emilia or the University (of Illinois) Primary School.

Some visitors apparently observe for an hour, have tea, and then leave. They come away with a rich picture of an outstanding school. But I was captivated by the children and the creative activities led by the teachers. I hope I didn’t overstay my welcome. I joined in on the Turkish songs and taught the children “Skidamarinkadinkadink.” They helped me with my Turkish. One activity led to another, then lunch, and then interesting art projects after lunch. I kept up reasonably well, but was reminded that preschool children can get up and down much faster than I can!

Click once on a photo to enlarge it; click again to enlarge it further.

first Youth Community Informatics Forum

In the Youth Community Informatics Forum held June 27-28, 2008, about 40 young people and youth leaders came to Champaign from a variety of economically disadvantaged, mostly minority communities throughout the state.

There was a youth media festival on Friday. Then on Saturday, participants spent the morning working in one of four small groups to investigate “information spaces” in the community. These included the Center for Children’s Books, Champaign Public Library, the Independent Media Center, Espresso Royale, Native House, Cafe Paradiso, Transit Plaza, Illini Union, and bronze plaques around campus. The group leader introduced a staff member from the center to the students for a small tour and helped them use a Flip video camera and a GPS receiver to record their observations.

At each site, the youth asked questions such as:

  1. What do we see in this information center? How do we like it?
  2. What is this center about?
  3. What do we want people to know about the center?
  4. How can we give others a clear idea about the center through watching/hearing our report?

In the afternoon, they created a Google map with their videos, text, and GPS coordinates. They also added music (an innovation we hadn’t planned on, but perfectly appropriate). They then shared their findings in a public presentation.

The activity was conceived in terms of an Inquiry Cycle:

Inquiry cycle

Inquiry cycle

  • Ask: What are the information spaces in the community?
  • Investigate: Visit, listen, explore, video, determine geo-coordinates.
  • Create: Make a GIS site with video, music, text.
  • Discuss: Share the product and the findings with others.
  • Reflect: Think about issues of journalism, democracy, careers, technologies, etc.

We found that the students learned technology skills, problem solving, cooperative work, writing, public presentation, specific information spaces, community journalism, university life, and much more.

Although the June activity made use of diverse new technologies, it is important to note that the focus was on learning about the community, asking questions, and sharing findings with others, not on the technologies per se. The most effective use of these technologies in libraries and similar settings would likely involve embedding that use in a larger, purposeful context. That context in turn could be a way to help connect youth with other resources, such as books and structured activities.

We’re now planning a similar activity in October with the Mortenson Center Associates, a group of visiting, international librarians. This will be the first day of a two- or three-day event. The longer time will allow for discussion about how the information spaces might differ in different countries, what technologies are available in different contexts, how valuable the activity would be for youth in their libraries, and so on. Students from the Community Informatics (LEEP) course would lead the investigation of the local-area information centers.

Both youth leaders and young people said they enjoyed the Forum, learned a lot, and hope for more. One youth leader said that next year he’d like to bring a much larger group. Another wrote,

I believe, in the not too distant future, that this conference will be seen as a landmark in developing a new perspective as part of the partnership between those marginalized sectors of civil society and the university in bridging the digital divide.

As Myles Horton might say, that’s a long haul, but at least there was good spirit of cooperation in learning, which I hope will carry over to continuing work in these communities.

[Cross-posted on social issues]

Community as Intellectual Space: Aesthetics as Resistance

CIS flyer The 4th Annual Community as Intellectual Space symposium is being held this week at Paseo Boricua in Chicago, June 13-15. Events will start at the Puerto Rican Cultural Center (PRCC), 2739/41 W. Division (near corner of Division and California).

This year, the focus is on Aesthetics as Resistance: The Act of Community Building. There will be artist-led tours of the beautiful murals found throughout the neighborhood, the annual People’s Parade, a delicious Puerto Rican dinner, workshops on community-education activities as diverse as urban agriculture and computer programming for children using Squeak, meetings with local Humboldt Park/Paseo Boricua community and government leaders, including Rep. Luis Gutierrez and Rep. Cynthia Soto, and panels on liberatory education. [Click to enlarge the poster or follow the link above for more details.]

Aesthetics as Resistance promises an active dialogue on art, identity, and cross-cultural community building with community leaders, artists, educators, librarians, activists, students, and residents. It expresses the PRCC’s vision to build community grounded in cultural practice, including murals, poetry, music, and the People’s Parade. These practices are both creative and political acts to develop community out of local funds of knowledge.

Paseo Boricua has a motto: ‘Live and help others to live.’ It is known for its multigenerational and holistic community activism around human rights and social change. Education is structured around the belief that ‘the community is the curriculum,’ reflecting the ideas of Paulo Freire and providing a contemporary version of Hull House.

With its many academic partnerships, Paseo Boricua also provides an outstanding example of university-community collaboration in research, teaching and public engagement. For example, last year the community hosted a tour and visit for the John Dewey Society. This furthered dialogue around how the community answers Dewey’s call for critical, socially-engaged citizens, for an active public, and for education as lived experience.

[This announcement is also posted on the John Dewey Society Social Issues blog.]

Best stories for digital story (re-)telling

Digital storytelling can be for any kind of story, but one application I see a lot in schools is essentially responding to a story by retelling it in a digital form, often with interesting rewriting done by the students. This is carried out using software such as Comic Life or PhotoStory, or sometimes with full video. There’s often the use of clay or puppet animation.

I’ve seen all sorts of stories and media used, such as claymation in a 1st-grade class around The Little Red Hen or in a third grade around The Three Little Pigs. You can see in my blog a post about The Hundred-Mile-An-Hour Dog in a fourth grade.

A teacher asked me whether there were any best stories for this, especially in the context of introducing the technology to other teachers. Other than thinking that stories with distinctive characters and action plots lend themselves well to digital storytelling, I hesitated to recommend any particular stories. But he wanted to have some suggestions of what has worked well, or is likely to work well, in terms of engaging students and making good use of the media.

Do you have any experience with this, or suggestions about his question?

Ching-Chiu Lin, who works in this area, says:

I thought about an article in Art Education that discusses ways that illustrators tell stories in picture books, such as pace of turning the pages and arrangement of images (see below). Instead of seeking exemplary books for teachers to use, another suggestion is to think about the possibilities of transforming/applying these artistic storytelling styles into digital form.

For example, David Wiesner’s Tuesday and Flotsam (style of combination and arrangement of images) may encourage students to write their own unique stories (scripts) based on the same images they view. The use of diagonals and geometric patterns in Gerald McDermott’s Anansi The Spider may be easy for younger students to making their videos by using the collage style animation. Or students can use a story from one book and represent it by borrowing another book’s style.

This line of thinking may help teachers not only thinking about the story itself, but also ways of presentation, learning objectives, and learners’ prior knowledge.

Eubanks, P. (1999). Learning to be a connoisseur of books: Understanding picture books as an art medium. Art Education, 52(6), 38-44.

Literacy in the information age: Inquiries into meaning making with new technologies

liabookEducators today want to go beyond how-to manuals and publications that merely celebrate the many exciting new technologies as they appear in schools. Students are immersed in an evolving world of new technology development in which they are not passive recipients of these technologies but active interpreters of them. How do you help learners interpret these technologies as we all become immersed in the new information age? Continue reading