Technology and the Arts Merge

Posted by Lisa Marie Gonzales on December 17, 2011

Great news in recent weeks coming out of the Khan Academy. A grant of $5 million has been awarded to the Khan Academy to expand its creation of videos to include the arts and humanities.

Khan Academy began a few years ago when Salman Khan tried to create and send YouTube videos in order to tutor his cousin in math. His initial work on videos has developed into multimillion student uses every month, mostly in the STEM content areas (i.e. science, technology, engineering and math).

A grant from the O’Sullivan Foundation will enable the staff at the Academy to grow from one lesson producer to at least five full-time equivalent teachers. Appointed in the area to grow the arts are Dr. Steven Zucker and Dr. Beth Harris, who will oversee the production of content in the arts, history and the humanities. Zucker was the Chair of Art and Design History at Pratt Institute and Harris was Director of Digital Learning at the Museum of Modern Art in New York.

Zucker and Harris had previously partnered to create SmartHistory, a free and open, not-for-profit art history textbook.  Using multimedia to deliver unscripted conversations between art historians about the history of art, they sought to provide an alternative to the large, expensive art history textbook.

When I first visited the SmartHistory site, I was impressed with the user-friendly approach. I must say that, with my elementary background, the content may be a bit challenging for the elementary folks, but there is great promise at the middle, high and post-secondary levels.  SmartHistory currently contains some 436 pieces of artwork and 365 videos so far. Even though it was only recently launched, the site is averaging close to 170,000 hits per month.  The videos currently explore Ancient Cultures’ artwork from around 400 A.D. to the 1960’s Age of Post-Colonialism.

Some new videos that have been added include “A Venetian in Florence,” “Botticelli on Neo-Platonic Beauty,” and “The Gospel According to Donatello.”  (Okay, not being an art history aficionado, these are a bit over my head.)  Already, there is content here for a 15-week Western Culture course, complete with a course syllabus and tools for teaching with the images and videos.

“The Skill of Describing” is a great example of what SmartHistory has to offer.  It is built around a series of questions that overlay a picture. The questions can easily guide a class discussion about how to observe a picture.  The questions really drill down and when examples are given of what could have been observed, it’s a great model for students to see how deep they can go with their observations and what they can really talk about. Better yet, the guidance it provides a teacher means that the teacher could watch the video, get some great ideas, and do the same leading discussion with a different piece of artwork.  This process could be adapted all the way down to kindergarten, exposing students to prominent pieces of art (like the Mona Lisa, Monet’s water lilies, The Scream, and Eric Carle’s spider).

Thanks, Khan Academy. I can’t wait to see the addition of more videos and how they are able to really enhance learning and bring the arts back into our schools!


A Kindle in Every Backpack?

Posted by Susan Brooks-Young on August 3, 2009

Which one hides the Kindle?
Which one hides the Kindle?

When Amazon released its second generation Kindle in February 2009, there was speculation that the enhancements in this new device would make it a natural for storing and accessing textbooks. But the limited number of textbooks and other instructional materials available in Kindle format made this seem like a pipe dream. Now, as the true impact of the recent fiscal crisis continues to make itself felt nationwide, there appears to be increased serious interest in schools making a switch to electronic textbooks or ebooks to save money.

Just this month, ABC News and several other news organizations reported on a document released on July 14 by the Democratic Leadership Council (DLC). Titled “A Kindle in Every Backpack,” this report suggests that the government could purchase a Kindle or other ebook reading device for every student in the U.S. so that textbooks could be distributed and updated electronically and to enable teachers to customize instructions for students. The proposal still needs a lot of work, and the initial cost would be high ($9 billion the first four years), but members of the DLC predict that schools would save hundreds of millions of dollars in subsequent years.

Amazon is not the only business looking at this market. There are a number of ebook reading devices currently available as shown in this table. And there are websites like Shortcovers that allow users to purchase and download ebooks onto a variety of devices ranging from ebook readers to laptops, MP3 players and smartphones. In other words, it might be possible for students to shift to use of some electronic texts right away by using devices they already own!

With states scrambling to cover huge deficits, it may be time to serious consider ways this technology could be used to reduce costs and make sure students have access to up-to-date instructional materials in a variety of formats. What are the questions you would ask?