Adapt and Survive: the future of Art education

My teaching practice has changed so much over the past decade. In 2003, I was teaching Art & Design in a poorly equipped state school in Scotland. We never had any access to computers! No screen time at all! It seems crazy now, after working at AES where we are richly resourced and students have opportunities I could only dream of back then. I was teaching Graphic Design units without the benefits of computers, digital cameras, scanners, Wacom pens (graphics tablets) or Photoshop. Everything was done by hand. We did at least have plastic rulers to draw straight lines! Students were entirely reliant on me to show them techniques and to introduce them to relevant artists and designers. If they needed to find suitable images to work from, they had to source visuals from the only visual resource bank available: my collection of several thousand photographs, which I cut out of magazines I had to buy myself! This would be an unacceptable practice now that I’m aware of copyright laws and infamous examples like Shepard Fairey.

How different it is now… powerful computers in the Art room with laptops in reserve. Scanners to upload paper drawings. Students can create their own visual resources using digital cameras to record the complexities of the world. Thanks to the generosity of the worldwide Creative Commons community, students also have countless quality photographs to choose from on websites like Flickr. Google searches reveal a world of designers through their websites, giving students access to the range of possibilities and different solutions created by this profession. Photoshop enables them to execute astonishing manipulation of images, changing banal sketches into dazzling designs. Wacom pens allow natural delicate drawings and editing directly onto the hard-drive. Storage clouds, with instant retrieval save student artwork. This all makes the Graphic Design experience more realistic and gives students enormous freedom to bring their ideas to life. What a different picture from just ten years ago!

This is obviously only part of the Art experience. Most of the time, students are involved in the ancient physical media manipulation techniques used since the Neolithic artists decorated their caves and the Renaissance artists mastered the illusions of perspective and flesh. The reality of Art classes will probably always reflect the basic hand-eye co-ordination control of earth-based materials like clay, charcoal and paint. Our ability to manipulate these base elements and create meaning or narrative with the results is always going to be important. So this aspect of teaching will probably remain fairly constant. There will be changes…video tutorials from artists will be used more frequently by students as part of homework. Khan Academy started this format and I hope it will develop to include more about creative idea generation, visual literacy and critical thinking strategies. This will supplement the class instruction to the extent that students will be able to develop their skills at home.

So five years from now…I’ll be teaching in state schools in Scotland again. The Scottish Curriculum for Excellence emphasizes a cross-curricular approach to teaching. Students are encouraged to collaborate and use Art and Design as a communicative medium to relate their findings from a geography field trip or their opinions of a visit to the theater, for example. This is an exciting development, which will show the inter-connectedness of areas of study and life. The stated aim is to make students more able to compete in the global economy, an aim I applaud.

I hope they’ll have caught up with AES, my current school, in terms of technological sophistication, or else these aims of teamwork and cooperation will fall short. I presume lowering costs will allow for more powerful computers, scanners, cameras and more sensitive graphics tablets. Of course it’s unfair to compare the underfunded state system with the abundance of technological wealth, which makes our lives so easy at AES.

Ten years from now, The Scottish state schools will hopefully have benefited from even cheaper computers. Their administrators will hopefully be linked to a worldwide think-tank on the best ways to develop young minds. Pedagogical research will have focused on the key moments and corresponding combinations of tech and teaching styles to suit particular stages of student development. So all teachers will have the ability to scour the web for rich resources to feed the minds of their eager students. The massive divisions between the education systems of Scotland and England and USA, will hopefully have been overcome and be linked by a single system.

My hope for all this is that in fifteen years, when I’m near the end of my career, students will still be drawing with pencils on paper and building with clay to maintain connections with the long history of Art. Also, they will be able to photograph their efforts stage-by-stage to replay at home. If they are unhappy with their classwork, they can access my lessons via YouTube to refresh their memory of how they should have done the task. When they’re next in class, they should feel more confident to try again.

Beyond manual dexterity, I hope that critical and creative thinking will play a much greater role in the curriculum. I like Dan Pink’s references to Atlassian’s FedEx days – once each quarter, employees are given 24 hours of freedom to create whatever they like and present the results. Perhaps teachers will have the freedom to allocate one day per quarter to this autonomous activity in the hope that students will synthesize all they’ve learned to distill it into their own dream projects. How many world-changing ideas could come of this?Pink delivers a captivating description of Autonomy, Mastery and Purpose: the three main drives beyond our basic biological needs.

The top human motivator, he claims, is making progress. I see this in my students now as I always have. With or without technology, they become fixated on developing a particular skill until they feel that they’ve mastered it. This will never change. Our children’s children will still carry this burning ambition inside them. We, as educators, will still nurture their fledgling attempts at representational drawing, for example. Technology will play a small part in that: we’ll keep adding extra tutorial reinforcement to keep them on the right path until we can see maturation of artistic proficiency.

I am a big fan of the iPad Brushes app. My favorite feature of this wonderfully simplistic drawing tool is the playback function. I marvel at the sequential build-up of small lines that replay the order of my drawing technique. It never fails to teach me something about the way I draw. The touchscreen is the best aspect of the iPad, sensitive to the subtle gestures of the fingertips. Magical is a word, which seems fitting in the presence of such a powerful new technology, which brings so much aesthetic pleasure in ways never possible before!

So I certainly see a place for similar touch screen technology in my future classrooms. Perhaps, in fifteen years we’ll have 3D touch screen creativity? Virtual sculptures created through a sort of 3D iPad…. perhaps it’ll be called the iOrb? I can see this sort of device relating to 3D animation, sculpture and architecture.

Well that was my positive outlook…unfortunately, in the UK, funding cuts and the financial crisis may last for generations. Schools there have adopted Public Private Partnerships in order to fund essential buildings. The major cost in education is teachers’ pay. With less funding for real teachers, we may be forced to accept widespread adoption of the Khan Academy model. I can imagine students sitting in classrooms where they are linked to mass-broadcast video lessons. Unqualified and therefore inexpensive “minders” will supervise them as they consume endless lectures online and sit in silence writing essays without guidance. Even if the cost of tech tools continues to fall, students will struggle to afford them in a world where their parents earn less than those in Asia.

The rise of the Eastern giants of India and China will be complete once their education systems surpass our own. The predicted global shift of power is unstoppable. This presents a future where our students will have to be more adaptable than ever before. They may be forced back to the mindset of my youth, where lack of funds encouraged creative solutions to survive and prosper. We can see examples of this in many developing nations, where the idea of disposable products or built-in obsolescence is unthinkable. When my kids break a toy, they’ll throw it away and ask for another. When I was a kid, a broken toy was always mended or cannibalized together with other available parts to create something fun and useful. Perhaps we’ll come full circle. The combination of a tech savvy population and no money may force our students to create their way out of poverty.


Photography by John Oliver : cc some rights reserved.


Posted in Art Education, Creative Thinking, Cross-curricular Collaboration, Design Education, iPad, Photography Education, Technology integration | 2 Comments

Self-portrait iPad drawing unit – CoETaIL 4 final project


Here is my  – CoETaIL 4 final project -Self-Portrait iPad Drawing Lesson Plan in UbD format.

This was an interesting way to embed technology into an existing lesson plan. I don’t know when I’ll get a chance to try this, as High School has few iPads. I’ll try to borrow  some soon…

I predict students will love doing this lesson. The combination of their favorite tech tool and their self image, will surely encourage maximum engagement? I’ll find out soon…

Posted in Art Education, Critical Thinking, iPad, Photography Education, Student Motivation, Technology integration, Visual Literacy | 1 Comment

Seeing the Bigger Picture (Cross-curricular Tech Integration in my Art Class)


I teach three classes – High School Photography, Intro to Art and Middle School P.E. I described one of my uses of technology in Photography in my previous blog.

In my High School Intro to Art class, I use a variety of tech tools to enhance learning. One of my favorite units is Built Environment Drawing, but there’s a lot more to it than drawing. Students learn how to use digital cameras (Nikon D90 DSLRs) to photograph the campus buildings, trees and inhabitants.  


Students then upload these photographs to Photoshop and learn the essentials of editing and using the Wacom digital graphics tablets. 


They print their photograph and use an ancient technique of Gridding-up to accurately reproduce the image in a large pencil and ink line drawing. Particular attention is paid to multiple-point perspective to create the illusion of depth. Students learn to use low-tech string and drawing pins to accurately locate the vanishing points in the photograph and in their large-scale drawings. I enjoy this combination of 21st century tools with what was considered “cutting edge” in the 15th century! This juxtaposition helps students gain a sense of how old low-tech can be a vital compliment to new hi-tech. It teaches them to respect the long trail of progress in technological history.


This drawing is then photographed and uploaded to Photoshop, where students experiment with the image to see the effects of different color schemes such as  Harmonious colors…


 and Complimentary colors….


This is a unit I have taught in the past without the benefits of technology. The difference is astounding! Most students are now able to create convincing and accurate images of campus life, far exceeding their initial expectations. Most noticeably, I am able to offer them a taste of technological tools used by professional artists and designers. The real-world connections are clear for them to see.

I am also able to complete this complex unit much quicker than before. I can choose to spend extra time developing certain Photoshop skills, which suit individual students, or I can point struggling/less able students to video tutorials to re-teach or reinforce key points. I can now easily introduce a PowerPoint presentation of specific artists relevant to each stage in this process to the whole class or specific students.

 The technology frees up so much time, that I can plan explorations of topics which would have been too time-consuming before. The result of all this is greater depth to my lessons, increased student engagement and more experimental image making! This is very fulfilling as an educator.


I can relate to 23 things about classroom laptops” Number 22 “ Plan for ‘wi-fi’ down times or server failures.” [i]  I am sometime frustrated by the failure of the tech tools at crucial moments. This was always in the back of my mind and I’m careful to have analogue alternatives ready so I can keep students moving in the right direction. However, I have to question the subtitle – “Do not make the laptop the center of the activity “ [ii]if we adopt tech half-heartedly, how can we make any real impact? Of course I make computers the center of some lessons. This is the only way to teach specific techniques or to encourage certain learning styles. So I am at the mercy of poorly maintained, old equipment. One way I plan for computer failure is to run parallel lessons – some students work with traditional Art materials whilst others use the available computers; they switch roles after a while. This way I make best use of limited resources and at the same time, feel confident that meaningful learning will occur in any event.

However, most of the time, I have very positive experiences. So I can see the possibilities for improving the diversity of experience for students by introducing them to more varied artistic influences, which I could promote by assembling a collection of relevant websites on my class resources webpage. This would give students the opportunity to visit many websites (in class and at home) and then experiment to find an artistic style more suited to them. This way, I could prevent the similarity of style evident when viewing a whole class of such work. Some students might be interested in developing a more sophisticated variety of line in their initial drawing. Others might prefer to work on a variety of textured surfaces to reflect the represented subjects. There are so many possibilities for increasing the depth of learning in a unit like this. Blog discussions with each other would alert students to the reality that audience opinion will always vary from the planned outcome. Where the artist sees excitement in a complimentary color scheme, some viewers might see anger or danger… meaning is very subjective.


The other aspect of this unit which could be developed using technology is collaboration. The Horizon Report discusses the importance of this in the future working lives of our students. Teamwork could be facilitated using “ tools such as wikis, Google Docs, Skype, and easily shared file-storage sites including Dropbox. “ [iii]  I could have students develop their individual drawings into a large-scale group mural using these tools to draft possible versions of the creative amalgamation. Students could copy, cut and paste each other’s work into a gigantic group creation and communicate opinions on the proposals, followed up with alternative versions which might combine the best of their classmates ideas. This would be an excellent introduction to the future world practice of inter-continental collaborative creativity. This is already a reality for many companies, according to Daniel Pink in “A Whole New Mind[iv]. This will be far more common in the future as companies headhunt the best talent worldwide to work in physical isolation & virtual collaboration. I could use Google Docs initially for this type of whole class teamwork. Realistically, workers would also use Skype for instant feedback/discussion. Dropbox could be a good depository of whole class projects, which could be sifted through for consideration by classmates…

I have considered another tech-based improvement recently. I want to integrate technology to help my students realize the cross-curricular applications of skills they develop in my Art and Photography classes. The Mishra-Koeler TPACK  article mentions  “cross disciplinary boundaries and (the) transfer (of) ideas from one realm to another, deepening (student) insight into both domains.“ [v]   I am very keen for my students to acquire transferable skills and knowledge, to give Art a real-world relevance. I was fascinated by the music arranging “trakAxPC software” which helps “them describe and explain ratios and percentages”. I agree that they “belong to different disciplines (composing music and math) but can, and should, be integrated.”[vi]

This cross-curricular approach is very popular in Scotland where the Curriculum for Excellence  expects all teachers to strive for this level of curricular integration. The opening up of subjects to external influences must help students make connections between areas of knowledge and real experience. So understanding perspective could improve the spatial awareness of a Dance student. Knowledge of camera focal length could be useful to a Science student working with a microscope. This is a massive area I need to investigate further to give my students better lessons for life.


 Citations :


All images by former AES student, Alexander Lobo.

[i]  dskmag. ( 2009).  23 things about classroom laptops.

[ii] dskmag. ( 2009).  23 things about classroom laptops.

  [iv] Pink, D.  (2008). A Whole New Mind.  New York : Marshall Cavendish.

 [v]  Mishra, P & Koeler, M. (2012).  TPACK .

[vi] Mishra, P & Koeler, M. (2012).  TPACK .



Posted in Art Education, Critical Thinking, Cross-curricular Collaboration | Leave a comment

Connectivism in my Photography class

I was impressed by the breadth and depth of this pedagogy during a recent CoETaIL presentation. I saw many similarities between it and the teaching style I use most often. Like most effective teachers, I can see the benefits of many approaches working well at different times, and with students of varying abilities. Connectivism brings together concepts from different disciplines, which is how I think most teachers really work…an idea from here, a technique from there…we all develop a teaching toolbox from which we can select the perfect tool for each different situation we encounter.


My presentation was about Behaviorism (which is incorporated by Connectivism) and I was struck by the limitations of this style. It works very well for classroom management in state schools in Britain, but is seldom needed here amongst the highly motivated students at AES! I do still use positive reinforcement to encourage students. It can be very useful in learning of basic mechanistic skills used in Art or Photography, but it is very constrictive beyond this point. Once a student has learned how to control a camera, I encourage them to become more creative, critical and collaborative in their image making. Behaviorism does not encourage this.


I find myself switching to Constructivism by encouraging students to create meaning based on their experience. Most importantly, I talk to students about building new knowledge on top of their existing understanding. Their mastery of the camera will take years of practice and experimentation. What they learn in my classes sets them on the road to personal discovery, but it is not enough in itself. I want them to challenge the possibilities of image-making. I ask them to find ways of using their current skill set to develop ideas in new and unexpected ways. This creates their own teachable moments where students realize the visual effect of a happy accident and add it to their bank of technical knowhow. This is a delightful process which fully engages students, encouraging them to continue building their repertoire step by step and by the occasional creative leap.   I emphasize that the course from this point on is student-centered not lesson-centered. While they have an over-arching brief, such as Digital Story-telling, they understand that I value diversity and experimentation. By making explicit the notion that we all interpret the world through different eyes, they feel empowered to stretch the boundaries of their brief. So they feel free in their investigations! This is a very liberating way for students to discover the power of creativity free from the worry of grades. Of course, this only works in the early development stages as their final work is graded, but part of that grade is based on how much they have experimented with ideas and techniques.


I like the Technology Integration Matrix (TIM) descriptors of Tech integration into the curriculum – level 5 Transformation fits seamlessly into Connectivism – “ Students often…extend the use of tools in unconventional ways…The technology tools become an invisible part of the learning.” This is the way we work in digital photography. The hours of camera control experimentation (and occasionally seemingly bizarre (mis)use of the camera) and the meticulous Photoshop editing are indeed invisible. All we see is the finished photograph.

TIM also suggests that “The teacher serves as a guide, mentor, and model in the use of technology.” This is how I work most often, demonstrating all techniques and skills to my students throughout each unit and showing them examples of my own creation.  “ The teacher encourages and supports the active engagement of students with technology resources.” I encourage students to use the technology appropriate to their skill level and task.  “The teacher facilitates lessons in which students are engaged in higher order learning activities that may not have been possible without the use of technology tools.” I encourage students to create meaning in their images by finding connections with the visual and the metaphorical.

Also, decision-making is one of my favorite principles of Connectivism.  I’m always asking my students to think for themselves and decide on the best course of action for their work. Questions such as – what is visually more dynamic, this area of a photograph or the other? When is an image edit finished? Which color works best to create an atmosphere or meaning? By understanding the power of their choices, students learn to believe in themselves. Of course, a bit of Behaviorist positive reinforcement helps to encourage them in this process. Once they get a feel for their visual priorities, students start to develop a personal style, just as professional artists have done. The parallels are clear to students after they gain confidence.


One of my favorite principles of Connectivism is the welcoming of diversity of opinions  – this makes it perfect for art appreciation discussions. I encourage this amongst students in face-to-face class sessions and in blogs. Their ease of communicating with each other via blogs is a wonderful aspect of Connectivism. They might well be separated by continents as adults so this will make Students give each other instant feedback and debate is rich and healthy. They are able to direct each other to real world experts’ websites as examples of a point well made. This corroboration of opinion can engender respect and encourage further investigation and possible new approaches to creativity. They relate well to this and it encourages the development of a crucial transferable skill.


This same diversity can be harnessed to another aim – teamwork. Collaboration projects need different people researching different aspects & reporting back to each other. Taking the best bits of research & developing the final product. By encouraging blog discussions from an early stage, we can encourage students to learn more about each other, and use that knowledge to inform their assignment of tasks when working together. This is another key transferable skill for life.


These discussions are often a good way for students to see and nurture connections  – they can relate their own research to the work of another student or professional artist and come up with a new idea which would have been impossible in isolation. They can then take this relationship and incorporate it into their creative process to make a previously unexpected image or object.   This is another valuable transferable skill in high demand by employers.


I was impressed by the TPACK (technology, pedagogy, and content knowledge) presentation by Mishra & Koehler.

They understand of our need to blend these separate areas of expertise in order to use technology effectively in our classrooms. This is Connectivism at the leading edge of educational technology. When they explain it so clearly, it makes no sense for the blunderings of inept educators blindly fumbling their way through. The elegant simplicity of their Venn diagram acts as a path through the tech jungle, which we can navigate to create more meaningful lessons.


Posted in Art Education, Critical Thinking, Photography Education, Student Motivation | Leave a comment

Visual Literacy vs Cultural Bancruptcy


Visual literacy is the name of my game, after all, I teach High School Visual Arts!


This put extra pressure on me to do my very best work for this course. I figured everyone would judge me as a teacher by the quality of the projects I posted…and quite right too……..


I have learned a lot, most importantly, how the power of visuals can increase understanding across a range of learning styles. Despite the lengthy process of creating my infographic, this format revealed itself to be a wonderful learning tool. I will make more on different subject topics in the hope of increasing student comprehension through greater engagement. In Dr Anne Bamford’s Visual Literacy White Paper  , Lapp et al (1999)  emphasize : “the importance of visual communication to capture attention, reinforce knowledge and increase audience responses.”   If an idea is visually engaging, the rest of the brain will take notice.  I hope to try this theory out on my Intro to Art, Drawing & Painting and Photography classes.


Over the past weeks I’ve been making students aware of the future-proofing qualities of Creative Commons. I can relate to Bamford’s belief that visual literacy involves the interpretation of “the content of visual images…purpose, audience and ownership.”  I see my job as to arm students in the art of self-protection against future lawsuits by copyright owners world-wide. I ask them,”Who knows if you’ll be the next big Art star? Maybe your paintings will sell for fortunes in ten years from now! So if your painting  is based on a copyrighted photo, then the Shepard Fairy lawsuit could happen to you!”  His Obama “Hope” painting case has really struck a chord with my students as it has become the  classic  case of “if only he’d used a Creative Commons photo !”


So when my classes are trawling the web for their own photo references, I’ve given students a clear choice: “search for your sources from photos using the Creative Commons license , or create your own visual resources!” Using my skills as a Photo teacher, I can help students re-create images they find online and step it up a notch and really innovate, instead of just making reproductions of someone else’s vision.


These are serious words that go to the heart of education and its true role in our global economy. Visual literacy depends on cultural influences, as shown by anthropologists  Bendis and Mensch in their 2011 presentation. So cultural awareness will still be a crucial element as we work together across time zones. These cultural differences are dissolving as we all share the same pool of creative endeavor through the Web. Is visual literacy the fastest acquired human cognitive skill ? How far we have come since our cave painting days 10,000 years ago…


As Kevin Kelly points out in “Becoming Screen Literate”( New York Times 2008), there are so many adaptations we have made in our transition from a paper culture to a global cyber-culture. The most often-used ability to quickly scan a page and siphon off the relevant and ignore the obscure, discussed by Aula and Rodden (2009), is one which we have to teach to enable our students absorb screen-based information.


I’ve come to realize that I have been (unknowingly) teaching it for fifteen years…. One of my favorite ever lessons is Timed Figure Drawing. I always marvel at my art students’ rapid acquisition of the skill of super-fast figure drawing. First they have 10 seconds to complete a drawing, then 30 seconds, 1 minute, 5 minutes and half an hour.


In the space of an 80 minute lesson, most students start out clumsily finding their connection between eyes, brain and hand; between the model and their surroundings (to use as measurements). They begin nervously scratching at the paper uncertainly, but by the third or fourth drawing, everyone has found a way to make it work for them. Their drawings blossom into a considered, increasingly confident fluency which shows in their style on the page and in their own faces. It’s a lovely adaptation to watch. Quite a complex set of cognitive tasks, as they keep moving the charcoal over the page while their brains ask their eyes “where is the top of the head in relation to the window?” Then they need to transfer that information to their fingertips whist fine-tuning their initial inspection to re-calculate the distance between the eyes or the angle of a leg. All the time trying to make this series of individual puzzles fit together as a whole which meets their own cultural expectations about qualities of beauty! Isn’t that a killer set of employable skills to use in any number of industries which now demand creativity and perception ? Wouldn’t any future-proofing employer want a worker like that?


So visual literacy is a big deal for everyone!


When your colleagues are spread around the planet separated by time zones (as Daniel Pink discusses in A Whole New Mind  2008), the most efficient way to communicate, is though visual representations of ideas to reinforce the spoken or typed words.


Jobs are already being awarded through e-portfolios and Skype. The ability to represent yourself in the most positive light will be a molding force in your future. Visual literacy makes this possible in ways which mere words fail. Our students need to be able to manipulate images AND words to be persuasive in an increasingly crowded world. How do we stand out from the crowd if not by the power of our visual representations?


I have to do this myself now in the search for a job as my last year in India begins. So these CoETaIL courses have been a perfectly timed, cleverly constructed set of real-world learning experiences that will catapult me into my own future. I’m not there yet though, as the learning curve has been steeper than any mountain trail I’ve walked in India!


Progress has increased recently as I’ve started to become more fluent in some of the web 2.0 tools. Combining the power of my chosen tools of Photoshop and PowerPoint seemingly creates magic out of cyber-dust! After so many years of taking so many photographs as ends in themselves, it is a massive energizing boost to create them with so much added purpose.


Creating my Digital Story was a great way to take my collection of photographs of our recent Himalayan High School Mini-course adventure , and re-package the best of them with a few carefully crafted words to communicate the experience more fully than with images alone. It was also surprising simple to put together once I’d chosen an approximate set of images to put in sequence. I really enjoyed the process of choosing the right words for each image.


Saying more with less is a skill which has the potential to catch the eye of my next employer. With hundreds of applicants for each job, they will have very limited time to sift through each CV. So the power of combining images and words has never been more valuable. As true for me as it will be for my students.


I can see how the addition of music would have made it a more complete sensory experience, but ( in my zeal for total originality) I wanted to use music I had created myself on guitar. However, my understanding of GarageBand is too basic to make it work in time. I will endeavor to acquire this skill when time allows in the coming months…


I plan to introduce this as a final project for my Photo students in the coming weeks. The process of creating a sketched/annotated storyboard will be a fairly easy for most students. They can create them on A6 tag board, for durability, before setting out with camera & Storyboard in hand. The sense of purpose created will hopefully drive students to find innovative solutions to the real-world difficulties which may hinder the production of their vision. I can see it will be very popular with my media-savvy students who will probably get a lot of developmental skill-creation out of this type of project.


The working-world applications are clear to see…if a student can transfer their cognitive vision into physical reality, firstly through as series of 2”X4” thumbnail sketches and then into a set of related photographs, before editing and adding carefully crafted text, then couldn’t they also use those skills in so many industrial settings? Are these not the skills used to design any number of new products such as new wind turbines or ships or waste water systems or bicycles or computers? If we are to educate a generation of innovators, then we need to equip them with these sorts of skills.


Thomas Friedman talks about innovation in “Hot, Flat and Crowded” (2008. p165). I was fascinated by his reference to Jeff Wacker, who “likes to say that innovators are those people who know the 99 percent that everybody knows and therefore are able to create the 1 percent that nobody knows.”  We can only know the 99 percent if we are tech savvy and able to access it. These CoETaIl courses have opened my eyes to the vast sea of knowledge out there for us to use as stepping stones to create something new to add to the world.


Of course visual literacy is the essential skill required to sift through the dross to find the nuggets of information. The ability to use our limited research time effectively can reap dividends when we find an image or a sentence or two which spark an idea or even provide the missing link in our own design plans.


The skills involved are those we need to survive in the future economy. A future which recently had me signing my son up for Mandarin classes, rather than French, because of the global economic shift of power from west to east.


This is why I’m always encouraging my own children to be creative instead of only consuming culture through books and TV. Indeed “it is easier to read a book than to write one, easier to listen to a song than to compose one” as Kevin Kelly writes in “Becoming Screen Literate”. So while I know they need to be screen literate, I’m acutely aware that if they don’t learn to produce something soon, they’ll only ever be consumers. How can I expect them to prosper if they’re not contributing? The credit-card debt of UK citizens is a result of this consumer-culture, which is now facing an uncertain future of massive debt and seemingly no way to ever pay it off. When almost everything we buy has been produced in the east, how can we pay in the long term? The burning ambition of the east has started to singe our complacent dominance.


The discipline of creating my Zen and Pecha Kucha presentations was a fine way to learn to identify the key aspects of my messages and to eliminate the padding. For the Zen presentation, I enjoyed the process of editing my previous PPT to give it more impact through elimination of distracting text. I carried this process through into my Pecha Kucha PPT where I looked at an existing set of skills which I teach and found a better way to package them for student comprehension. It was a big challenge to take so much technical information and reduce it to the barest but most essential key words and illustrative images. I’m glad to have had the opportunity to do this and will continue to create similar presentations for other subject areas.


However, my physical presentation of these PPTs has opened my eyes to just how much more practice I need to win over my next interview board.  All of these visual and literary skills may help get me an interview, but it is my presentation skills which will get me my next job. I’m not confident presenting to groups of adults. This command of confident verbal presentation skills is difficult for me when the stakes are high. Oddly, I really enjoy presenting lesson introductions to students, but faced with a critical adult audience, I’m always nervous, which detracts from my focus. So now I have identified this issue, I can start work on strengthening this weakness…


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Pecha Kucha presentation – Digital Photography

Here is my Pecha Kucha presentation….How to Shoot and Edit Digital Photographs

I have posted the version with speaker notes to give a better idea of the whole presentation.

This was created with all my own photographs and words.

I intend to use this as an introduction to Digital Photography in my High School classes.

I found the Pecha Kucha format encouraged me to use the ideas of Zen presentation onscreen whilst giving me ample time to expand on the headline with my live narration.

I will continue to build more of these for different subject areas….

Posted in Creative Thinking, Critical Thinking, Photography Education, Student Motivation, Visual Literacy | Leave a comment

Digital Storytelling – AES Chandrashilla Trek 2012

Here is my Digital Story – John Oliver_Digital Storytelling_Chandrashilla Trek2012_ CoETaIL 3_web version.

All images and words by John Oliver.

This was a wonderful project to work on and I can see my students enjoying the process too.

I intend to try this as a final project with my Photography classes in the next few weeks…

I plan to introduce them to fine art photographers who use narrative in their work – such as Duane Michals and Barbara Kruger.

Then I’ll ask them to consider something personal or an world issue (such as poverty) which is important to them.

Using paper and pens, they will sketch ideas and create a storyboard .

I’ll ask for a minimum of three images and text – beginning, middle and end.

Once they have a good storyboard idea, I’ll help them set up shots to create their idea.

Of course, a lot of the photography may need to take place out of school on the streets of Delhi, but I can prepare them to get the best out of any scenario they encounter or arrange.

Once they have a set of good images, they can edit in Adobe Photoshop before exporting to Powerpoint and adding their text onto the images.

Finally, they could add music (self created or CC-sourced) to enhance the atmosphere.

I think this will be a very engaging project which should boost student motivation and learning.I’m eager to try it….

Posted in Creative Thinking, Photography Education, Physical Education, Student Motivation, Visual Literacy | Leave a comment

Zen PPT Cyber Safety- Unwanted Contact

Here is my John Oliver Zen PPT_Student_Cyber_Safety_ presentation CoETaIL 3 pdf.This is a major re-working of a PPT from CoETaIL 2. My speaker notes are not visible as they seem to get lost in the conversion from PPT to PDF.

Posted in Cross-curricular Collaboration, Cyber-safety, Graphic Design Education, Peer Teaching, Photography & Page-layout Design, Photography Education, Student Motivation, Visual Literacy | Leave a comment

Infographic – Analyzing an Artwork – CoETaIL 3

Here is my rather ambitious infographic ( it’s really 13 infographics in 1 !) – John Oliver infographic Analysing an Artwork CoETaIL 3 pdf version. It should be a valuable teaching resource for introducing my Art students to the process of de-constructing an artwork and forming intelligent opinions using critcal thinking. I’ll get a chance to try it out in the next few weeks…

The real benefit of doing this project is that I’ve been able to set the wheels in motion for a series of similar infographics for a range of Art, Design  and Photography classes. I can see a real benefit from making the ideas more visual. Everyone  has a better chance of understanding the concepts as it appeals to different learning styles.

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Student collaboration and social growth


In A Whole New Mind, Daniel Pink  proposes that, in the near future, many  jobs will be dominated by empathy and collaborative creative skills. Outsourcing will continue to re-distribute jobs around the globe and Web 2.0 tools will connect physically distant workers to focus on projects.

My Final Project UbD Unit plan “Graphic Design and Cyber-safety” uses collaboration to unify the students and give them a reason to communicate, discuss and create a body of work which is greater than the sum of its parts. As Charles Darwin said : “In the long history of humankind, those who learned to collaborate and improvise most effectively have prevailed.”

By setting up a blog forum, I can monitor student participation in the discussion and decision-making process.

I want students to understand that future jobs will rely on collaborative skills as a way of uniting physically separate employees to focus on a team goal .

Graphic designers and illustrators will commonly work with a company (client) to create a visual product which is in keeping with the ethos of the client. This is only possible through empathy  , discussion and multiple re-drafting until the client is satisfied .

By using the Googledoc to post visual ideas /possible re-designs of the slides (e.g. font designs, image/text relationships, color schemes), students can blog to respond, comment and discuss the posted ideas.

Students will get feedback on their work and use these responses to inform their next design steps.

This process continues back and forth until a consensus is reached and a unified visual theme is achieved.

Careful teacher monitoring of student participation is crucial to encourage critical thinking, decision-making and opinion-forming from the entire class.

Collaboration across classes could be useful for a project which is too big for one class. In this way, students can experience the reality of Pink’s physically separate employees working together across time zones. This can help students to learn from each other. Peer teaching is a great way to reinforce understanding. By discussing their work, students form opinions about key aspects of a design, for example. Then they need to use constructive criticism to get across their ideas without undermining anyone. By teaching them to think long-term, students are perhaps more likely to build relationships with class-mates/co-workers in the hope that future work will be productive.

Diplomacy is a key life-skill which all students can practice through collaboration. Dan Pontefract  explains his expectations for worthwhile collaboration in a way which helps us to understand its fluid, fragile nature. Perhaps a synthesized version of his “Collaboration Cycle” could be used to help students begin to work in teams more effectively.

Posted in Art Education, Creative Thinking, Critical Thinking, Cross-curricular Collaboration, Cyber-safety, Design Education, Graphic Design Education, Peer Teaching, Photography Education, Student Motivation, Visual Literacy | 2 Comments