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!

Creating opportunity through new media

clay_animationOne of the most impressive set of projects I saw while in Dublin, Ireland last year was the Community Links Programme out of Dublin Institute of Technology. It was established in 1996 by DIT lecturer Dr. Tommy Cooke to help individuals and communities reach their full educational potential. Programs include psychotherapy, music, and courses for mature students.

One important component is the DISC Programme, which operates in 38 inner-city disadvantaged primary and secondary schools. DISC installs computer resources in schools and community centers, and trains teachers to integrate the use of computers into the teaching/learning process in all curricular areas. Projects include the use of comic creation, clay animation, video production, class blogs, podcasting, video game making, 3d design, and robotic Lego.

Staff such as
Ian Roller and Riona Fitzgerald bring knowledge of pedagogy together with skills in video and computers to help teachers and youth leaders do amazing projects. More importantly, they do it in a way that empowers teachers as creative agents in the education process.

You can see DISC publications, including their very useful monthly newsletter online. Here’s the April edition.

Sixth sense machine

The SixthSense “is a wearable gestural interface that augments the physical world around us with digital information and lets us use natural hand gestures to interact with that information.” It could also be described as a low-cost, portable interactive whiteboard, one that integrates sensing, search, display, and interaction. It can use any surface, respond to the environment, and enable much richer interaction.

It was developed by Patti Maes and Pranav Mistry at the MIT Media Lab. For $350, it’s already less than the $10,000 whiteboards that schools and universities are buying. But the current version is a one-off, so the cost should come down considerably in mass production!

Sci-fi needs to reinvent itself.

Blog surfing

broulee-surfingAnyone who writes a blog is curious about who’s reading it and is usually interested to read on similar topics. Both of those motivations lead to an interest in blog aggregators, sites that bring together blog posts from around the world.

Some of these are automatic, based on keywords in the posts. In most cases these turn out to be spam sites, promoting a product or service. I suspect that the large number of hits I received on a post about youth may have come from an automatic aggregator.

There are also more intentional aggregations such as blog rolls or blog carnivals. At blog carnival, for example, you can find carnivals on many topics, and submit your own posts to them. You can also create a new carnival on a topic of your choice. Some of the existing ones are elaborate, representing considerable effort, such as Carnival of Education. But even the best of the carnivals have a little of that quality of random listing that one sees in the spam aggregators.

smokeThere are now in between sites, such as Alpha Inventions or Condron. For these, new posts are harvested automatically, but you can also submit a post and categorize it. Visitors to the aggregator site see a slide show like presentation of other sites, often constrained by topic or language. This leads to an enormous boost in hits on blog posts, especially from Alpha Inventions.

Lesley Dewar has been running some experiments on this at No Tall Poppies. I plan to replicate those here, and share the results.

The big question of course, is not whether some scheme can produce more visits to a web page, but what if anything leads people to engage in what they read, to think critically, and to integrate that with their own experiences. My guess is that somewhere in all the surfing, syndication, aggregation, cross-linking, and such, that there are occasional sparks of real connection, but that there’s also a lot of smoke without fire.

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)