When Futurist Alvin Toffler published his theory of “The Third Wave” in 1980, he identified the current wave of technological influence to be one of Information (Laureate, 2010b). Society had entered the age of the computer and the person who harnessed information could find success in business and society. Dr. David Thornburg hypothesized that with the advent of the Internet, we had entered the “Communication Age,” where “collaboration and social constructivism” ruled (Thornburg 2010a). Unfortunately, our schooling system, with its method of “dividing students by age group and content area,” still mimics an Industrial Age “assembly line” (Thornburg 2010a). So, we as educators have some catching up to do. To bring classrooms up to speed with the world at large, teachers must move toward the model of collaboration and social constructivism that Thornburg explained is the hallmark of the communication age (Thornburg 2010a), and one way to do that is to harness the positive aspects of the read/write internet by creating a blog for students.
Teaching computer graphics to high school students is a perfect match for a class blog. Not only is it an excellent forum for students to display and showcase various project they are working on, it provides a natural forum for critiquing and commenting on work. Computer graphics students are already creating his and her pieces of work on the computer, whether she is using Adobe Illustrator, Photoshop, or the web animation software, Flash, she has the capability to instantly create a web-ready image or animation. And with the ease of “sending an e-mail” and without “[requiring] any knowledge of code or FTP” (File Transfer Protocol), a student can publish his work to a class blog (Richardson, 2009).
After a work in progress has been posted to a class blog, classmates now have the opportunity to critique one another’s posted work. Any Art teacher who routinely involves students in the practice of critiquing can attest to the difficulty of getting students to think and speak critically about one another’s work, beyond vague comments of a piece being ‘nice.’ The problem is not that students are too harsh, it is typically that they do not want to say anything at all. The advantage of requiring blog comments is threefold: first it allows students time to sit and observe the piece and organize his or her ideas into a thoughtful reflection. Putting students on the spot in a group setting where there is pressure to ‘come up with something’ quickly often leads to non-committal responses. Secondly, the veil of relative anonymity that the internet provides can encourage students who are less likely to verbalize an opinion in a group setting, to showcase their thinking and writing skills in a less intimidating arena. Finally, requiring published, written responses is an opportunity for a teacher to emphasize the difference between the casual internet voice, and the “proper etiquette” voice used for answering a scholarly question (Laureate, 2010a).
One thing that a teacher of Art, especially computer graphics, focuses on is building skills that are applicable to students in their lives as adults and eventual workers. Teacher and blogger Kathy Martin asks, “what do [her students] need to know for the future? What are some skills they’re gonna need to have in order to be successful?” (Laureate, 2010a). This very valid question is one that every teacher should ask. In Art class, we build problem solving skills, develop creativity and through critiques, show students how to give and receive constructive criticism. Learning to accept direction and advice, as well as how to give it with respect is something that a student will use for the rest of his life, no matter what industry or society he chooses. These are life skills, not art skills or computer skills. And a blog that students are excited about is the ideal forum for nurturing these, “new literacies” needed to navigate “an ever-expanding information society” (Richardson, 2009).
Beyond the advantages of being able to post artwork, a class blog can enhance lessons in exposing students to visual resources that they may not have been able to find themselves. As a professional artist and teacher, I can provide students with a framework of inspiration and historical references that they do not have the experience to know about on their own. There is a whole world of ‘bad design’ out there on the internet, where objects of value and substance are presented with as much frequency as those without. It is a teachers job to guide and sharpen a students eye for recognizing quality work, and posting examples of great design is one way of accomplishing this.
It is not enough for educators to try to catch up with the present, we must look to the future. Laureate’s presentation “Avin Toffler’s Wave Theory” puts for the question, “how do we prepare our students for the next wave of history and beyond?” (Laureate, 2010b). First, we must know what the next wave will be. Dr. David Thornburg projects that the Age we are entering, or at least headed towards is the Age of Creativity (Thornburg, 2010a). Author Daniel Pink supports this idea in his book A Whole New World: Why Right-Brainers Will Rule the Future, explaining that computers have automated so many of the processes that people used to perform, and “abundance” has enabled people in first world countries access to just about any object they could ever want. So the man or woman who is creative enough to develop services that recognize and fill a need for society will be the most successful in the future (Pink, 2009). So, to really prepare students for the future, we have to give them skills that are creative and adaptable. To foster creativity, problem solving skills and versatility, is to prepare a student for anything. And since none of us really know what the future holds (did any of us see the ubiquitousness of text messaging coming?), we must arm our students with 21st century skills, and a digital classroom is the first step.
Laureate Education, Inc. (Executive Producer). (2010a). Spotlight on technology: Blogging in the classroom. Understanding the Impact of Technology on Education, Work, and Society. Laureate Education, Inc.
Laureate Education, Inc. (Executive Producer). (2010b). Alvin Toffler’s wave theory. Understanding the Impact of Technology on Education, Work, and Society. Laureate Education, Inc.
Pink, Daniel. (2006). A Whole new world: Why right-brainers will rule the future. Riverhead Trade.
Richardson, W. (2009). Blogs, wikis, podcasts and other powerful web tools for classrooms. Thousand Oaks, California: Corwin Press.
Thornburg, D. (2010a). The third wave [Motion Picture]. Understanding the Impact of Technology on Education, Work, and Society. Laureate Education, Inc.