I have turned into a techno geek. Thanks to my recent course work in online teaching and learning at Bemidji State University, I have discovered the power and possibility of using technology in teaching. It can make the work more accessible, add dimensions I didn’t think possible and bring the arts to students in remote places.
In a recent residency in a small community in South Dakota, we attended a performance of Prairie Home Companion, watched a Poetry Slam in Chicago and chatted with students in a rural school in Minnesota and never left the classroom. I am developing an online project in which students in two different schools, in two different parts of the country, will write a script and create a final product on film.
Thanks to online, collaborative work spaces (there are many available – including PBWorks and Google Docs), Green Screen and digital filming and editing, YouTube, the Celtx group script writing site, video and voice conferencing and free classroom space on Moodle we can work together in the comfort of our own classrooms – anytime of the day or night. This collaboration would not be possible, or affordable, without the use of technology. If I can find a way to constructively use technology in my classroom work – I will!! I have found endless possibilities for incorporating online learning and using technology to teach the arts. To me, this is the brave “new world” and I am Columbus on my ship.
On the plus side, using online teaching tools allows an artist to be in multiple locations at the same time, broadens options for delivery methods of instruction, opens up new avenues for creativity and adds a different mode of student engagement. It also allows me to create digital portfolio and assessment tools – just to name a few.
When we pull out the computers, many a reluctant student participant wants to join in. My use of technology has also allowed me to work with teachers before my arrival and develop easy to use follow up activities after I am gone. I can also continue my correspondence with students on my chat site. I, along with my teaching artist partner, Brian Proball, have developed an online teaching site to teach playwriting, theater basics, and scene design – expanding the concept of “residency in the school”. A sampler is available at www.theheroesproject.net; I will be writing about that experience in a later story.
But, like Columbus, there are navigational problems that could and do take me off course. One of the ongoing and serious issues connected with using technology is what is referred to as “the digital divide” – or the growing and widening space for learning with technology that exists between “those who have access and those who don’t”.
I am so used to all my technology “toys” I forget there are many, many out there who do not have home computers or internet access because they can’t afford it. Schools, across the nation, fall into all categories from one old, out of date computer in the corner of each classroom to every student having their own laptop, reading tablets and constant access to wireless Internet.
Another hurdle is every school district has a different technology policy concerning access on school computers and the Internet. These policies are in place for sound reasons – from students being able to access inappropriate materials to the chance a virus could invade and destroy the entire district system.
Finally, although it may be hard to believe, despite high school students’ “so called” technical knowledge, many students don’t know how to use technology to create projects, write papers, do research, etc. They know how to use computers and cell phones (yes, those smart phones can be used, constructively, in the classroom) for social media sites, gaming, texting and email, but, in essence, they are technologically illiterate for any constructive activities. All of these factors come into play when designing arts in education and technology projects.
I recently completed a wonderful, technology-filled residency in Sisseton, South Dakota at The Sisseton High School. I worked hand in hand with two dynamic English teachers – Cindy Hofland and Sharon Prendergast (who also serves as the Speech and Theater teacher). In my next installment I will share our techno/residency experience and some student work created during the process.