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SITE 2001

I presented with Avril Loveless and Terry Taylor at the Society for Information Technology and Teacher Education. Our title was: 'Creative uses of digital technology - developing visual literacy and ict capability'
When Mar 07, 2001
Where Orlando, Florida

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The paper we presented:

Creative uses of digital technology - developing visual literacy and ict capability

Avril M. Loveless, School of Education, University of Brighton, UK,
Terry Taylor, independent artist, UK,
Richard Millwood, Ultralab, Anglia Polytechnic University, UK,


How do we approach research into the creative uses of digital technologies and evaluate what we have learned from the progression of practice and understanding through our experiences in recent years? The three members of the panel and authors of this paper share a commitment to the promotion of the development of visual literacy and information and communication technology (ICT) capability in children and young people. A practising artist and two teacher educators represent different practices and priorities in researching this process which provide stimulating and provoking perspectives on the growth of our understanding of issues in the area.
Over a period of five years the authors have been involved in the co-ordination, implementation, research and theorising of a range of projects in which digital technologies have played a role in creative expression, dialogue and critique in the visual arts. (References to a range of associated publications and websites are given at the end of this paper.) In reviewing these projects it has been possible to identify progression in a number of key themes relating to the nature of visual literacy, the contribution of ICT, the development of ICT capability, conceptual frameworks of subject knowledge in art and ICT, links with contemporary culture, interactions between artists, teachers, mentors and students, models of resource management and evaluation of pupils’ learning in art and with ICT. The paper and panel presentation address these issues, demonstrate and contextualise key themes by reference to examples of the work made by children and young people and discuss research questions which can underpin further project developments and collaborations.


The projects, which have been written up and presented in a number of formats and forums, are described briefly below. The asterisks indicate those projects which had a specific research focus. The research paradigm was interpretive and hermeneutical adopting ethnographic methods and a grounded approach to analysis and interpretation.
*The Glebe Project 1995
Focus: The observation and description of elements of visual literacy, the contribution of ICT to the activities and changes and challenges to pedagogy.
Context: The 24 primary pupils involved were eight and nine years old, working outside their usual classroom activities with a digital artist and a researcher, using a scanner and image manipulation software. The outcomes were presented with multi-media authoring software. The project lasted three months.
The Bristol Internet Project 1997
Focus: The collaboration between children in separate schools through the exchange and development of visual ideas
Context: Six and seven year old children in two primary schools in the city of Bristol worked with two artists who also worked in each school. Digital cameras, image manipulation software and e-mail were used to capture, develop and exchange images and text messages. The project lasted eight weeks.
*TheAccess Project 1998/99
Focus: The development of visual literacy as a dialogue in making meaning. Collaboration between practising teachers and an artist.
Context: Three teachers in three primary schools worked with their classes of children aged from eight to eleven years. Using the artists’ work as a starting point, ideas were explored in a variety of media. Digital cameras, image manipulation software were used to capture and develop images. The project lasted an academic year.
*Art on the Net 1999/2000
Focus: The development of the role of artists in residence collaborating with practising teachers.
The contribution of digital technologies to art processes. The development of models of access to resources.
Context: Artists and Art teachers in four secondary schools worked with pupils from fourteen to eighteen years old. The artists all used a range of digital technologies within their work which encompassed sculpture, photography, video and performance art. The project lasted a year and was reviewed and exhibited a year later.
Ultralab VI Form Project 1999
Focus: The use of multimedia technologies to document and publish art work undertaken for Art Advanced Level examination. The role of ‘multimedia mentors’ working with school students.
Context: Seventeen and eighteen year old students from one school worked with undergraduates on a Multimedia Degree Course. The work was undertaken at Ultralab away from school. The project lasted eight months.
*MMM: Media and Messages Multimedia Project 1999/2000
Focus: The use of multimedia technologies to relate the art curriculum to contemporary art practice. Changes in the expectations in the teaching and learning environment.
Context: Secondary art teacher and university researcher planned and prepared. Fourteen and fifteen year old students worked within the art curriculum and examination preparation. The project lasted a year.
Genes and Makeup 1999/ 2000
Focus: An art/science collaboration to provide opportunities for young people to use multimedia technologies to explore future identities in relation to genetic engineering.
Context: Two artists and a scientist worked with a group of 8 fourteen and fifteen year old students. They worked away from the school at Lighthouse, the Brighton Media Centre. The project lasted a year.


Visual literacy
The early project, The Glebe Project, recognised 9 elements of children’s experience and expression reflected in their work and evaluation. These elements — narrative, content, audience, colour, text, design, approaches to the technology, affect and ways of working — went beyond those described in the English National Curriculum for Art and encompassed wider cultural influences and affect. It also identified a range of pedagogical practices and processes in which the artist and children were engaged when supporting and facilitating the work. Subsequent projects developed this approach to visual literacy as a cultural practice by highlighting the nature of the dialogue which developed between the work and the maker who drew upon a range of influences and techniques in order to make meanings and develop visual, expressive ideas.
The contribution of ICT
ICT can be described as embodying four characteristics which interact with each other to provide opportunities and experiences which are distinctive in the use of these technologies — interactivity, provisionality, capacity & range and speed & automatic functions. (DfEE, 1998) A range of digital technologies was used for the construction, capture, manipulation, integration, projection and display of meaningful images incorporating visual art, sound and movement. The capacity for interactivity and provisionality in the use of the technologies supported the process and dialogue as the students expressed and developed their ideas, evaluated and reviewed the outcomes and displayed and discussed their work with a wider audience. Whilst the projects focused on the context of expression and learning in the art curriculum, not the technology as a medium or a tool, the characteristics of ICT played a significant role in the process and the priority of policy and funding of resources for the projects.
The development of ICT capability
ICT capability has been described as the ability to participate in a rapidly changing world of technology; use ICT tools to find, explore, analyse, exchange and present information responsibly, creatively and with discrimination; employ ICT to enable access to ideas, experiences, people, communities and cultures; and make informed judgements about the use of ICT and its implications for home and work. (DfEE, 1999) The term ‘capability’ encompasses far more than ability with particular ICT techniques and implies an active, informed and critical approach to using technology appropriately and purposefully. The development of ICT capability within formal schooling structures can range from the teaching of specific techniques to the use of ICT to support teaching within a subject area. The projects demonstrated the situated, contextualised nature of the ways in which students drew upon and developed their experience and expertise of using ICT. These embedded experiences highlighted tensions within the organisation of the students’ ICT experiences in the school, raising questions about where ICT was ‘taught’ and whether students required specific ICT techniques or support in developing approaches to working with new technologies in a range of different contexts.
‘Is this art?’ - conceptual frameworks of knowledge of art and ICT and links with contemporary culture.
Each project highlighted students’ responses to their understanding of the nature of their activity. Many did not consider the work to be ‘art’ as it related to their experiences within the more traditional art curriculum. The outcomes of the work were broadly described as ‘media studies’, ‘drama’, ‘ICT’ and ‘playing’, whilst the connections between the processes in which they were engaged and the variety of tools and techniques employed were often not considered to be ‘art’. Issues were raised about the perceptions of art within the school curriculum, its relationship to the impact of digital technologies in wider culture and teacher knowledge of and access to contemporary practice with and through ICT. Students demonstrated a range of levels of the use of ICT which related to both their confidence with the tools and their active choices about the appropriate media in which to express and develop their ideas. A strong theme in much of the work was the personal nature of the expression of meanings.
Interactions between artists, teachers, students and mentors.
A significant aspect of all the projects was the range of interactions between the participants and the ways in which they shared and developed their knowledge of visual literacy and ICT capability. One approach observed was an open shifting and sharing of roles between students, teachers, artists and mentors to provide support and challenge in techniques, process, evaluation and audience. Another type of interaction highlighted tensions between practitioners and teachers in terms of role expectations, subject knowledge and pedagogy. Such tensions provided opportunities for discussion and action in trying to resolve the issues to reflect and model different ways of working. Questions were raised about ‘what knowledge?’, ‘whose knowledge?’ and the description of a ‘community of practice’ within a curriculum which enabled students and teachers to work with practising artists and multimedia specialists in a variety of settings, spaces and times.
Models of access to resources
The projects raised important practical and political questions about the allocation, organisation and management of ICT resources in models appropriate to learning and teaching processes within different subject areas. The National Grid for Learning Initiative in the UK has provided resources for networking capability in schools. The local management of these ICT resources does not always, however, reflect the needs and working practices of subjects, particularly Art. Many of the resources have been placed in central suites shared between all curriculum areas, rather than placed in subject departments and made available with space and software appropriate to the curriculum area, thus perpetuating an approach to ICT capability which focuses on decontextualised techniques and skills. The projects demonstrated the need for flexible and appropriate models of access to both physical resources and networks of support and professional development.
Evaluation of learning and teaching
The discussion of formative and summative assessment of the process and product of art in the curriculum highlights a number of issues of exchanging ideas, supporting process, identifying criteria for assessment and engaging in evaluative judgements. These discussions arose from the nature of the work itself and the working practices developed within the collaborations, but the issue was particularly pertinent in the school phase of ‘high stakes assessment’, that is, external examinations. The assessment and examination systems within schools define boundaries and gateways to particular choices and do not always reflect the knowledge and processes of practitioners. Within the projects which involved students undertaking work for examinations there were discussions of the nature of art and the type of work expected by external assessors and the degree to which students could explore new ideas and new media without ‘penalty’. Some UK examination boards now recognise digital work with screen-based media, but the debate is ongoing as understanding develops within the profession.
The contribution of research
The overview of the work in this particular group of projects reflects a wide range of contexts, participants and areas of focus. It describes a variety of activities and interactions taking place within many different contexts. It is interesting to consider the ways in which the questions for research and enquiry which underpinned the projects have evolved and inform subsequent projects. The questions have changed in focus from enquiries into the expression of visual literacy and the development of dialogue, to the nature of the collaborations between students, teachers and practitioners and the different settings in which they can be developed. Enquiry into the particular contexts of the case studies has also identified some common themes, raising issues which reflect deeper questions and tensions in such work. These include questions about ways of knowing, expressing and analysing ideas - what knowledge?, whose knowledge?, how can it be expressed and developed? What role does ICT play in these debates? Is technology a tool, a medium, a catalyst or a new lens through which to view these questions? What is the impact of ICT in contemporary culture and how the art curriculum might play a more proactive role in the education of young people? What are the challenges to pedagogy and professional development highlighted by such collaborations? How do studies such as these provide rigour and evidence to inform decisions by practitioners and funders in future initiatives? What are the connections between being visually literate and ICT capable in the broader sense of being creative and confident learners, inspired to work with spirit and imagination; to make decisions which might be collaborative and difficult? No one case study or survey can provide easy answers to these challenging questions, but it is timely to consider the role of research in providing both a stimulus for new work and a space for reflection and critique. Patterns and processes can be observed in the ‘bird’s eye view’ which indicate promising directions for further exploration and analysis.

Related References and useful addresses:

Art on the Net and associated projects of work with young people:
Ultralab and Plume School outcome:

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The dissertation and portfolio for Richard Millwood's PhD by Retrospective Practice titled 'The Design Of Learner-centred, Technology-enhanced Education'. education & The dissertation and portfolio for Richard Millwood's PhD by Retrospective Practice titled 'The Design Of Learner-centred, Technology-enhanced Education'. employment

The dissertation and portfolio for Richard Millwood's PhD by Retrospective Practice titled 'The Design Of Learner-centred, Technology-enhanced Education'. project

The dissertation and portfolio for Richard Millwood's PhD by Retrospective Practice titled 'The Design Of Learner-centred, Technology-enhanced Education'. professional

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The dissertation and portfolio for Richard Millwood's PhD by Retrospective Practice titled 'The Design Of Learner-centred, Technology-enhanced Education'. teaching

The dissertation and portfolio for Richard Millwood's PhD by Retrospective Practice titled 'The Design Of Learner-centred, Technology-enhanced Education'.selected for the PhD