Academic journal article Social Education

Worth the WAIT: Engaging Social Studies Students with Art in a Digital Age

Academic journal article Social Education

Worth the WAIT: Engaging Social Studies Students with Art in a Digital Age

Article excerpt

Artistic depictions of historical events can capture students' imagination. Art can also be used to develop analytical skills. To give a complete interpretation of any piece of art, one has to consider the context to which it was created. The events and emotions that bring a painting into being are critical to understanding the work as a whole. (1)

As the opening quote reveals, using art in the social studies requires moving beyond art appreciation toward nurturing a more nuanced level of inference and criticalinterpretation. (2) Developing a student's sense of "interpretative authority" beyond print and language-based conceptions of literacy is emerging as a challenge in the "new media" age. (3) If the mission of the social studies is to educate global citizens for the twenty first century, then students must learn how to engage in the type of systematic and sophisticated literacy work that recognizes the power of images as well as texts. In an era of high stakes testing, it is not easy for teachers to find time to locate appropriate art, never mind organize field trips to art museums. Yet educators in both museums and schools are starting to see that some of the most powerful collaborations are those that harness the promise of technology. (4)

Our paper introduces one such collaboration--one that leverages Web 2.0 technologies to scaffold inquiry and interpretation. Through this collaboration, we developed a scaffold to support the interpretation of works of art (REED-LO) and an accompanying freely available Web-based Art Interactive Tool (WAIT). Together REED-LO and WAIT allow students to virtually visit with selected works of art from the museum's collection and, more importantly, move beyond the "sit and get" experience normally associated with Web 1.0 technologies (or just visiting a museum for that matter) toward a "sit and give" experience where students have the opportunity to publish their own interpretations and perspectives on works of art online.

Students as "Produsers" on the Read/Write Web

Over the years, Social Education's technology issue has explored the emergence of what Will Richardson calls the "Read/ Write Web." Through blogs, wikis, and podcasts, the Read/Write Web is emerging as a space where we are not inactive readers or consumers of information. (5) Axel Bruns coined the terms "Produsage" and "Produsers" to illustrate how many students are creating and producing materials to post online. (6) Recognizing this trend served as the catalyst for building a partnership between the Taubman Museum of Art in Virginia and social studies educators. (7) Our efforts are informed through understanding that: (1) seeing and interpreting images is a vital part of what it means to learn and know; (2) in order to support teaching multiple literacies, as James Gee details, students must be overtly taught to engage in and critically reflect upon situated experiences; and, (3) the Internet can serve, as Peter Doolittle and David Hicks contend, as a valuable tool to support and scaffold interpretation, perspective taking, and meaning making in the constructivist classroom. (8)

We designed the REED-LO scaffold and WAIT, the supporting web tool, ( to help students explore and interpret art. WAIT is not simply designed to allow students access to art, but to act as a "feedback loop" for students to share their interpretations with peers and teachers. (9)

REED-LO and WAIT--Scaffolding, Creating, and Sharing Interpretations

Scaffolding student learning is a vital process in the teaching of social studies. The REED-LO scaffold supports teachers and students through a careful and contextual interpretation of art as part of the process of constructing accounts of the past. REED-LO is an acronym for the supporting stages students move through as they formulate an interpretation of a work of art. The initial step, Reacting, is followed by Embracing, Exploring, Deciphering, and then Locating the work in its historical context. …

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