Yesterday we had a Bendigo-wide professional development day, and I had a very interesting conversation with an art teacher about ICT and the arts. As you probably know, ICT (stuff with computers) is pretty hot stuff in education these days. Never mind that we’re light years behind the students…I’ve been boxed as the ICT-guru at our school for my efforts with podcasts, which brings me to the conversation. We talked about the limitations of ICT for the creative arts: painting, pottery, photography, fabrics, cooking. We’re meant to be “integrating ICT” into everything these days, but what if ICT actually damages teaching and learning in a subject area? What if the nature of ICT diminishes the ability of a student to engage with the subject, and limits their capacity to learn? Is is possible that this could be so? I reckon so.
In subjects like history, maths, science and English the use of ICT is natural and easy, because ICT acts as an extension of the tools we use already: pens, calculators, voice, whiteboard, books. That is because these subjects are literacy-based. There are many ways in which ICT can be used to extend the learning process without damaging it. For example, presenting a historical topic in a video instead of an essay, or using mathematical software to perform complex equations, or using GPS data in geography. None of these damage learning in these areas because the central question is still the message (ie. the meaning of ANZAC) rather than the medium (video, essay, podcast). Literacy based subjects are less concerned with the medium.
When it comes to the creative arts, message is still important, but the medium is more crucial than in the literacy-based subjects. By medium I mean: paint, clay, fabric, wood etc. The student needs to be immersed in these media in order to be able to capably and masterfully use them to create an artistic piece; especially if they want to communicate a message with them. So much of the creative arts is about the medium, and using ICT does not extend capability in the medium. I guess it could be used to “engage” students, but it does not teach them how to paint or pot.
I think ICT damage can also occur in other subjects. ICT connects students to other young people and other worlds, but it also separates use from the real and authentic. I know, I can here all the cries of “but MySpace is real for me”, but I don’t adhere to such a relativistic concept of the “real”. What is real and authentic, at some point, has to include actual places, connecting with actual people, face to face, at the same time. Internet dating leads to actual meeting, otherwise it remains a fairytale.
The emphasis on ICT in schools reminds of the famous Leunig cartoon where a child is seated on the floor in a room which looks out to a beautiful vista. The child is not looking out of the window, but at a television on which there is an identical image of the beautiful vista. Of course, the child is experiencing something real – but it is less real than the actual vista outside the window.
ICT is not a panacea for engagement, to use an overexercised term, and it definitely is not a solution to the problems my school faces. As Marco Torres, one of the presenters at yesterday’s conference emphasised, the point is the message, not the way it gets put across. For the creative arts, the same is true, but one needs immersion and skill in the method before any message can be artfully communicated.