Secondary
Art and ICT at KS3 and KS4
Art and ICT at KS3 and KS4

by Alistair Fitchett, digital-arts co-ordinator, Tiverton High School, Devon


Tiverton High School is an 11-16 establishment with approximately 1200 students on roll. The students come from a range of rural and semi-rural villages as well as the urban environment of the town. A higher than average number of students are identified as having SEN. The school has had a strong Art department for several years, with GCSE results regularly above 90% A*-C, and as a result was granted specialist status as a Visual Arts school starting in September 2003.

Hardware And Software Provision

Since attaining specialist status the Art department of Tiverton High School has invested heavily in ICT facilities in order to both address previous shortcomings and to develop new avenues for curriculum development. With a background of ten years of personal involvement in digital arts as a home practitioner, responsibility for provisioning these facilities fell to me. My first decision was over which computer platform to invest in. With ten years of experience using Windows PC machines, and with the school at that point committed to investing in at least one new ICT suite of Windows machines, my initial feelings were to go with what I knew. After some research, however, it became clear that a more suitable platform for the delivery of creative media within the Art curriculum would be provided by Apple computers, and specifically with Apple laptops. We therefore invested in 30 12" Apple PowerBook laptops for Art curriculum use, with a further 15 for community project use. These additional 15 machines are also available to other curriculum areas in the school to use as appropriate. The laptops are housed in three mobile trolleys which also act as a charging base.

One of the reasons for choosing the Apple platform was the ease of set-up, networking and maintenance of the machines. Although the department now has a part-time ICT Arts technician, for the first year and a half all of the set-up and maintenance was carried out by myself, and whilst this was of course a large amount of work, it felt immeasurably easier than if it had been a Windows network. The network itself is a mixture of both wired and wireless connectivity. The wireless networking allows for a large amount of flexibility, whilst the wired network allows for the fast transferral of large media files from the laptops to the Apple X-Serve server, onto which students save all of their work. The ease of set-up and relative inexpensive cost of the Apple server hardware and software (in comparison to a Microsoft alternative) was another reason for the choice of platform.

In terms of hardware, the department was also able to invest in two A4 scanners, one A3 scanner, one A1 large format inkjet and one A4 colour laser printer, 20 digital stills and 5 digital video cameras and tripods. Additionally, funding was provisioned for two digital projectors and one interactive whiteboard, which is positioned in the custom built ICT Arts classroom. It should be noted, however, that although marked as a specialist ICT room, the lack of fixed benching or other fixed furniture ensures maximum flexibility of the space.

Another of the reasons for the decision to use Apple machines was the stability and ease of use of the Operating System and the bundled software. The iLife suite of software delivers a large amount of flexibility and makes the creation and sharing of digital content very simple and straightforward. The integration between all the elements of the suite also makes successful creation of content very easy, allowing students to spend their time considering the ideas which they want to communicate through their work rather than figuring out how to use the technology. Another essential piece of Apple software that we purchased was the Apple Remote Desktop system. This allows the teacher to monitor and share screens of all networked computers, as well as take control of individual machines or make global changes to all linked computers (such as freezing screens or installing software). It has proven itself to be a hugely useful piece of management software.

In addition to the Apple software, we invested in other key software packages, notably Adobe Creative Suite (primarily for Photoshop and Illustrator) and the Macromedia Studio MX suite (which includes the web-page creation Dreamweaver application and the Flash animation package). Another very useful piece of software that we decided to purchase was the iStopMotion application by Boinx. This is a very easy to use stop-motion animation tool which has proved to be hugely effective, particularly in our animation workshop days.

Using The Technology With The KS3 And KS4 Art Curriculum.

Whilst most of the ICT Art teaching and learning occurs in the ICT Arts classroom, it is important to realise that the mobility of the laptops, in conjunction with the school-wide wireless networking (installed as part of the electronic register system) allows for students to use the technology anywhere in the Art department (or indeed the school). Many students indeed use the laptops and Internet for visual research, and whilst this is particularly true for students at KS4, we also try to teach the value of this at KS3. Indeed in year 7 we run a comic-strip project where students use laptops on a frequent basis as a tool for visual research.

Another project that involves the use of ICT at KS3 is the Year 8 monsters project. This year long single themed project allows students to investigate a wide range of traditional and new media whilst providing a thread of connectivity that binds all their work into one coherent whole. They begin by producing observational drawing studies from a range of natural and mechanical forms. These drawings, alongside other secondary source images, then provide the students with visual resources from which to create a new composite monster drawing. This A3 drawing is then scanned and imported into Photoshop, where it provides a good way of introducing key techniques and concepts in the use of this very powerful and potentially complex piece of software.

The basic task that students undertake is to place their monster within a found photographic background, with the scope to then add multiple instances of the monster at different scales and orientations as well as to change the colour of these instances. The key concepts that students are therefore learning in this particular piece of work are those of layering, erasing, colouring and transforming, as well as moving elements of one image to another. Much of this also allows the introduction, or more likely reinforcement of traditional Art concepts such as background, middle ground and foreground and the tonal changes inherent in those elements. In addition students learn about successful image searching on the Internet, which in turn allows for discussion on issues of copyright and appropriate usage of other's images. The Creative Commons website is a good place to start if you want to be sure you are adhering to copyright laws, whilst the Flickr photo-sharing website is a vast repository of shared images, many of which are tagged with Creative Commons usage information.

As a development of this project for the coming academic year, I am considering having students take their own digital photographs from primary sources of natural and mechanical forms and to use these images alongside scans of their observational drawings to allow the creation of a range of monster composite images in Photoshop. In addition, it would be interesting to have students animate their composite monster images using the Macromedia Flash software, although the time involved in such activities begins to raise questions of the balance of new and traditional media and techniques within the already limited Art curriculum time at KS3 (currently all KS3 classes have a single one hour lesson each week).

With two one hour lessons each week, there is more scope for using ICT at KS4 within the unendorsed Art GCSE course. Many students make use of the Internet for visual research to assist with the development of their ideas, and in at least one project (a CD cover design project) students produce Powerpoint type presentations which show the development of their own ideas, supported by secondary source visual resources. During this project many students also use Photoshop and Illustrator software to produce their final design proposals. These designs make use of a range of materials and often combine scanned collages and drawings alongside primary source photography.

Another successful application of ICT in the unendorsed Art GCSE course has been the use of animation. Using primary source drawing studies made from the ethnographic collection at the Royal Albert Museum in Exeter, the students have developed short animated films that allow them to show an understanding of the cultural artefacts, with an appreciation of context. They have used a combination of claymation and charcoal and chalk drawing animation techniques and produced their final films over a one-day workshop, with some additional time in lessons and lunchtimes to edit the animated clips and add soundtracks.

Having said that these opportunities exist for all students at KS3 and KS4, however, the point must be made that actual provision does depend on facilities being available when a class is timetabled, and also upon the levels of staff familiarity and confidence in using the technologies. This in turn raises the very real and relevant issue of staff training, which unfortunately continues to be limited. One very valuable training event that is available, however, is the Apple Teacher's Institute that takes place every year at Cheltenham College. This four day residential event provides fairly intensive practical, hands-on activities aimed at encouraging the use of new digital media in teaching and learning across all age ranges and curriculum areas, and is highly recommended for teachers of all levels of ICT experience.

Discrete Digital Arts At KS4

One of the subject specific targets of the Visual Arts programme was to increase the take-up of Art courses at KS4 level by boys. It was thought that this might be achieved through offering an Art GCSE in digital photography, and with over three quarters of the two classes in the first year being male, it appears that this strategy has been a success, at least in meeting this particular target.

The planning and implementation of any new course is naturally filled with a certain degree of uncertainty, and this course was no different. Indeed, whilst familiarity with assessment criteria helped initially (the criteria being identical to the unendorsed Art course), the determination to keep the work resolutely as digital, screen based media did lead to concerns about how it would be assessed and moderated.

This determination to keep the work wholly screen-based and digital was founded on two main principles. The first was idealistic: a belief that we ought to strive to embrace the qualities of new digital medias, and not attempt to shoehorn them into our expectations of existing media. The second, meanwhile, was purely economic: the price of printing consumables being much too expensive to allow a wholesale printing of images for assessment purposes. Although the department does have good printing facilities, notably in the provision of an A1 large format inkjet printer; these facilities are restricted to staff use and are employed almost solely for outputting work for display purposes.

In practice, this set-up has worked very well, and with global administrator access to the students' work stored on the server, assessment has became a relatively straightforward process. Working in this way does, however, make demands on organisational skills, and decisions on how you want to have students organise folders and files on the server should ideally be made well in advance of lesson times. And whilst it may not be particularly creative or exciting, in the digital age the planned organisation of data is a very valuable lesson for students to learn.

Whilst assessment of on-screen / on-line work has gone smoothly, the moderation of that work has presented many more potential difficulties and problem areas. Primary amongst these is how comfortable the moderator might be with navigating the screen interfaces to view the work. This has been addressed initially by having me sit with the moderator and effectively present the work in question, though this in itself might lead to questions of moderation being truly independent. Other potential areas of difficulty, such as the validity of iPhoto libraries and Flickr web pages being acceptable as work journals, however, have been very quickly passed over with no hesitation.

Out of this experience, however, it nevertheless seems to me that some form of standardised format for digital portfolios might be required in order to enable more truly independent moderation to take place, although what form that might take is most assuredly open to debate.

Developing The KS4 Digital Arts Provision

Although the results from the first cohort to undertake the digital photography course were very positive (75% A*-C from an entry of 38 students), it was felt that the course was perhaps not offering a wide enough range of art experiences. As a result the course offered has been changed to the Edexcel Art Graphic Design course, although it is simply titled as the Digital Arts course in the options information given to students. It is hoped that this course will offer more opportunities for combining traditional media and techniques with new digital ones, and will, as a result, lead to a broader spread of potential outcomes. It is hoped to introduce the students to such topics as web page design and motion graphics through the use of software such as Macromedia Dreamweaver and Flash packages.

The content and classification of the Digital Arts GCSE options offered by the department will naturally be reviewed on a regular basis, and will inevitably change in line with developments within digital media in the marketplace.

Community Work - Animation Workshops

A significant part of Tiverton High School's status as a Visual Arts college is to provide activities for community use. In practice this has led to more concrete Arts links being made with our partner Primaries, and foremost of these initiatives has been the implementation of a Primary Arts Week in the summer term. During this week the Art department offers a variety of workshops, amongst which have been all-day animation workshops. These have proved immensely popular, with students as young as Year 5 producing some highly effective work in a relatively short time-frame.

Some of the key points that have arisen out of these workshops, as detailed in a presentation for Film Education's CP3 conference of summer 2005 are listed below:
  1. Stop Motion is an excellent introduction to animation, and through working in this media students can learn a lot about such things as pacing, composition and scene choreography.
  2. There are many ways of working with the Stop Motion process; as well as the well-known claymation / plasticine type of work, Stop Motion can also be used to animate drawings, 2D shapes, and indeed any moveable object in two or three dimensions. This wealth of possibilities can lead to very rich and creative outcomes.
  3. Stop Motion animation is by its nature a time consuming process that requires a good deal of commitment and extended periods of concentration, although the nature of the exercise often means that students find themselves totally engaged for long periods of time. They often show themselves willing to commit fully to the lengthy process.
  4. The time requirements for Stop Motion animation are generally limiting: one day workshops work very well, whilst single lessons work less well due to the importance of maintaining camera position, lighting etc.
(For the full write up and resources from the CP3 conference animation workshops, please go here: http://www.filmeducation.org/request.php?17)

Flickr Photo-Blogging For Peer Assessment And Assessment For Learning

I mentioned the Flickr photo-blogging website earlier as being useful for finding visual resources, but it can be potentially much more beneficial if used as a means of allowing students to share their own work. The facilities provided by the site make it a valuable means of providing students with a personal virtual gallery space that can crucially act as a forum for commentary and discussion. These facilities make it an ideal technology for encouraging peer assessment and implementing assessment for learning.

One of the strengths of the Flickr system is that it allows students and staff to access their digital work from any computer with Internet access, regardless of whether it is at school, home or elsewhere. More importantly however, it allows the students to engage in the publication phase of the creative process (as outlined in some previous research for the BFI which can be found here: http://www.bfi.org.uk/education/research/teachlearn/pdf/07_fitchett_alistair.pdf).

Concerns about privacy are addressed by the ability for students to mark their work as only being visible to those whom they specifically list as contacts. This effectively ring-fences the students' work and details from the wider Internet population. The Flickr system also makes it very quick and easy to publish selected students' work to the whole Internet population as a school or department website http://www.flickr.com/photos/ths/).

The Future

With the rapid pace of development in technology showing no sign of slowing, and the creative potential offered by it ever-increasing, the future of creative digital arts provision at Tiverton High School (and in education in general) feels like an exciting area of expansion. Indeed, in the coming academic year the school has committed itself to spreading the creative use if ICT into other curriculum areas, with a range of projects supported by myself and the ICT Arts technician to be implemented according to specific area needs. These will hopefully involve digital photography and video (including use of mobile phones), animation and use of blogging technologies.

Watch this space.