ICT won’t save the world, or the arts

leunig tv sunset

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.


About Dave Fagg

I'm a dad, husband, and resident of a regional town in Bendigo. I earn a crust through freelance writing, and youth work. I am also studying sociology. When I'm not working I love reading on the couch, playing soccer with my son, and musing.
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3 Responses to ICT won’t save the world, or the arts

  1. Robyn Currie says:

    Hello David,
    I agree that ICT should not be forced on a subject but I think in the case of Arts there are still areas of Communicating, Thinking and Creating that it can be used to aid the students’ learning. For example using a program like Photoshop to change a painting to black and white or colours different to the original could help students see the impact of colour; in design, students could get a picture of the likely end result of a piece of work, be it a painting, or in textiles a garment or quilt,etc. There is also the general research facility of the web, which is an important part of Visual Arts, particularly at Senior levels. I have also seen Art students using grahic organisers, to gather information, plan essays and make comparisons between works of Art, a function more common in the subjects you mention.

  2. davefagg says:

    Thanks for your comment, Robyn…I mostly agree! There are certain areas in which ICT is applicable in the arts, and can be used to gain insight and extend capability. But again I would say, ICT can’t be a major part of the arts if basic skills in the creative arts are not there.

  3. And don’t forget Fractals! Which are a fantastic way to meld computers and art. As you can’t generate fractal art without a computer.

    See: What are Fractals? http://www.rupert.id.au/fractals/index.php

    There are many online fractal image galleary see:

    Some of my own:


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