Living the Questions: Technology-Infused Action Research in Art Education

By McKay, Sara Wilson | Art Education, November 2006 | Go to article overview

Living the Questions: Technology-Infused Action Research in Art Education


McKay, Sara Wilson, Art Education


Chill bumps erupt on your arm as you watch a 7th grade student use her finger to trace the cross-hatching on a John Biggers' reproduction while explaining the importance of the artist's mark to a fellow student.1 A flutter moves in your chest as you listen to three 4th graders in the museum construct the narrative of a soldier's departure and return in a pair of paintings, watching them celebrate their visual analysis skills as they read the title and confirm their vivid interpretation.2 A warm feeling washes over you as a 2nd grader rushes up to you the day after art class and excitedly describes the patterns in his living room because he had never noticed them before.5 Wonderful moments like these, evidence of learning in art, suggest that we are indeed doing many things well in the art classroom, but they are unfortunately moments that are difficult to quantify, expect, or reproduce predictably due to extreme variability in art education and its contexts.

Viewing this variability as a strength rather than a weakness, imagine a vast and diverse digital collection of student artworks, art teacher reflections, videos of students explaining an aspect of art in their world, a museum educator's personal reflection on a school tour with 3rd graders, comments from parents, principals and classroom teachers about their observations of a child's art learning. What would be possible if we started collecting a wide array of evidence of student learning in art? What might such a collection show us about learning in art generally?

In Texas, a project is underway to build and use such a digital collection of evidence of student learning in art. Conceptualized at the moment on the state's essential knowledge and skills (TEKS) in art (recently required teaching by state legislation), the digital collection will include multiple examples and varied types of evidence to show student learning in art. Using the TEKS as a guiding principle for initially collecting evidence according to grade level and competency, participants identify and propose their contextualized evidence of learning targeting a specific outcome. For example, a digital photograph of a student's artwork with an audio recording of the student describing her process might demonstrate an 8th grader's ability to "apply design skills to communicate effectively ideas and thoughts in everyday life," (TEKS 8.2b) or a video snippet of a class critique might show Art IV high school students' ability to "analyze a wide range of artworks to form conclusions about formal qualities, historical and cultural contexts, intents, and meanings" (TEKS IV.4b).A scan of a parent's written correspondence might illustrate how a 3rd grader is able to "relate art to different kinds of jobs in everyday life" (TEKS 3.3c).A goal of the project is to have many examples in the collection for each of the TEKS so that there is varied evidence of many ways to show student learning in art.

Living the Questions in Search of High Quality Art Education

The project described in this article seeks to interrupt the isolation of art educators-a corps of dedicated professionals each trying our best to feel our way into doing good work in art education. But what is "good work" in art education? In a time when numbers and percentiles define much of what counts as learning across the country-/Vo Child Left Behind (NCLB)- how is it that we know what counts as knowledge and learning in art? Would we know if we committed to exploring the role of standardized tests in art, or is it better to argue vehemently against such measures because art is such a different animal? Does good art teaching mean a mandate to teach visual culture or rather a strong focus on observational drawing skills? ' Add into the mix the fact that much about art is considered to be inexpressible and difficult to characterize, especially given the shifting boundary-pushing quality of art. Multiple interpretations of art also yield multiple versions of art education, and what looks like learning in one context may not be the same learning in another. …

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