Tuesday, June 2, 2020

Beyond Online/Remote Art Education Professional Development

Reading about online art education professional development from my colleagues on social media forums, there is a great need for art educators (and teachers in general education) to refine their remote art education curriculum program during this extraordinary time in pandemia.

Let me just say, based on what I know about learning, the best remote art education experiences (or any educational program) are connected to the personal. I am not thinking about personalized learning, but learning that is personal.

During this incredibly difficult time, it is important to set an expectation that regular art making contributions will make up the basis of the online form of one's program. An art making and assessment process that can be sustained without cumbersome interventions by parents and caregivers. An important consideration is that art teachers can support this process with materials and inspiration.

Because we are living in a precarious point in history and because the cognitive, emotive and environmental conditions of our students are aspects of their being we cannot control, teachers must be tolerant. We must be tolerant of the child's output and tolerant of the kinds of art the child is willing to produce on their own. If the child is provided opportunity to practice what it is that artists do, they are truly empowered and and their learning situated in the generation of their own tasks instead of being tasked by a task master. Children will have been granted artistic freedom, learn about agency and through dialogue with one's art teacher, taking the initiative just as real artists must do. Going beyond the given information is an artistic attribute that can be developed by one's self, but is best learned through dialogue with mentors and peers. One aspect of situated studio learning that I have observed is a natural progression of creative growth.

From my own experience a curriculum that provides autonomous learning conditions is an educational framework where rich creative experiences can emerge. I am suggesting that emergent curriculum experiences are feasible for art teachers who work with general populations of children to consider as the basis for their online/remote art programs. 

I believe the important thing for art teachers to do within this new educational landscape, is to provide pathways for students to make art with whatever materials they have in their homes and develop art based on the child's time sensitive, existential interests and concerns. 

There are several critical pieces here. One, children need inspiration to create their art and two, children need skills, knowledge and hardware to document and share their experiences with their art teacher. Once these elements are established in an online art education program, the dialogue, reflection and learning that takes place can be limitless.  

From my perspective, the important thing in setting up a remote learning program is to provide a space where a process based on the learning cycle can play out.

The caveat for art teachers who pay substantial sums of money in exchange for the promise that somebody else will do the hard work of online art program development for them, is they are missing out on important professional development they can do on there own. Let me just say, it is more beneficial for the children and their art teacher if they invest in the hard work of building their own creative structures from the ground up. 

Monday, June 1, 2020

Advocacy for Art Education During #Covid19 Pandemia

#RemoteEducation, #RemoteArtEducation #Covid19 #DistanceLearningArtExperience #distancelearningselfexpression #creativity #selfexpression #visualliteracy

In the early Spring of 2020, in a matter of hours, K-12 educators across the World would reinvent or make major adjustments to their educational programs. Accommodating "Stay-at-home" orders from state and local governments would be another challenge educators would have to overcome in order to provide optimal learning experiences for children. #Covid19 descended upon citizens in the USA like a medieval plague. 

From Seattle to Boston, parents and caregivers of children in K-12 schools would facilitate remote learning experiences based primarily through digital screen interaction. U.S. children and educators would now be engaged in a massive experiment immersed in machine based remote instruction and learning experience. Art educators would be forced into the same paradigm, communicating with their students through virtual reality, mixed reality, hybrid reality and altered reality through digital screens. 


Gone is the reality of authentic, experiential learning in art classrooms with shared moments, shared materials, shared experience and shared learning. Art teachers did whatever they could to optimize their student's on-line art experiences at the close of the 2019-2020 school year. In my case, I provided more activity choices, more open ended activities, more content and more online instruction. I dialogued with students via our learning management program and did some virtual meet-ups also. I trusted students to produce personal art and then encouraged them to reflect and refine on their processes. Through dialogue, relationships are developed and communication is heightened. 


Despite the abrupt change, fear and uncertainty of living in a pandemic, I was happy with my student's level of engagement. One hundred thirty of the one hundred sixty students in my classes were maintaining regular contributions to their portfolios and staying on contact with me. Under different circumstances, with more notice, I'm sure the response would have been higher. Computer-based learning is not the educational program we signed up for but for now, it’s the one we must continue to utilize.

Teaching about the artistic process was the emphasis of our instruction.

Students worked regularly at contributing art to their portfolios and reflecting on those activities. There was little need to make wholesale changes to our program or utilize additional behavior modification incentives to coerce children to make art. The main adjustment during remote learning time was to provide more open ended activities, more choices, daily content and more individual dialogue.

Because human beings are predisposed to use their hands, children of all ages are quite adept at mark making with all kinds of materials and can initiate this process on their own. Similarly, children can play, manipulate and make assemblages and sculpture with all sorts of materials and objects they have at home. We would use any materials or tools available to us, utilizing any ideas that came to us. We had our cameras, digital image making programs and desire. My interest with remote learning, was to help the children recognize their capacity for spontaneous art making, in which they would take the initiative with their ideas. Taking initiative without coercion is always a good thing.

Our emphasis earlier in the year to provide support and structure for the development of autonomy and the practice of freedom served our students well during remote learning time. Students were already on their way to becoming self-directed artists, practicing creative freedom in our studio classroom. Now they would do it in make shift home-studios. I believed the important thing would be to provide children a connection to humanity that would sustain their self-confidence, energy and sense of agency. 

We are now confronted with the distinct possibility of beginning the school year in a remote learning setting again. I think whatever one’s learning management platform might be, leading by example and establishing expertise in your subject matter is critical for the students to believe in their educational experiences and establish a relationship of trust. Understanding my students are unique individuals, instructional goals remain the same. Continue sharing new insights and pathways to art making and maintain dialogue with students about their work, ideas and creative process. Personal interaction between children and their teachers is critical for the process of intellectual development to unfold. 

During #Covid19 remote learning time, I did not want to burden children with tasks that caused undo stress. All activities were centered upon minimal portfolio contributions. I would accept most creative efforts by students, including feral art, they could document through photography, video or other means. Our dialogue was mainly through written correspondence instead of remote meetup/interaction. 

Questions going through my mind during the month of March centered around mental health, “What is the affect of distance learning on the child and the family? “Is distance learning benign or harmful to the family’s cohesion?” “Does distance learning have adverse affects on the relationships of children and their caregivers?” Anecdotally, conversations with busy parents who are participating in distance learning, lead me to believe there are serious problems when it comes to distance learning, tasking of children and remote education. Research reveals there are significant negative impacts to student’s emotional health when it comes to academic learning. Would these stresses be transmitted and experienced to other members of the family? I wanted our art experiences to have minimal extemporaneous impact on students and their families. 

Could student’s remote art activities be self-generated and self-sustaining? Can children carry out remote, self-directed art activities at home without adult support?  Short answer: Yes! Can students generate ideas, realize them, reflect and report their findings back to me? Absolutely! With a learning management platform already in place we continue to communicate instruction in several modalities. I used text, images, video and live meetings regularly for demonstrations, criticism, art history and class announcements. Students need to be comfortable with photographing their work and transmitting the files back to their teacher. They need to be comfortable writing or recording reflective thought. From my experience with electronic portfolios back in 1998, children as young as eight years old can participate in this process. At the beginning of the 2020 pandemic, my goal was for students to continue to operate as autonomous agents just as they were in our regular classroom. 

I cannot understate how important the human and natural-world connection is during this extraordinary time. Human beings are biologically hardwired for experiential, hands-on learning. Personal interaction is critical to the development of creativity and intellectual capacity. 

It seems that for now, remote learning will be a new normal.

Having facilitated #RemoteArtEducation over the past eight weeks, I want to offer some observations and analysis.

Silicon Valley, Wall Street and other advocates of machine-based learning may advertise computer programs as essential to the new educational normal, but as a long-term alternative to educate children for participation in democratic society, there is the question of how behavior modification methods written into these programs, debases a child’s capacity for critical thinking and agency while reinforcing apathy and alienation. Then there is the question of how remote

learning exacerbates screen addiction in the hundreds of thousands of children who suffer from this condition. If policy makers are thinking about narrowing curricula for the sake of efficiency during the Pandemia, they should think again. Children alienated from their school experiences grow up to become adults who are alienated from society and their civic responsibilities. This is not idle talk. One only look at the levels of civic disengagement, mental illness, voter apathy, bullying and school violence to see that the intensification of test driven curricula on computer screens is not the optimal way to educate children of all ages who will soon become adults participating fully in society. Art, experiential learning, aesthetic learning, creativity, social-emotional learning and self-expression could never be more important.

Make no mistake, there is no substitute for real-world interaction and authentic relationships with human beings. Altered reality, virtual reality, hybrid reality, mixed reality is not the same thing as reality. Interfacing with a digital screen for long periods of time causes atrophy of the mind, body and human spirit. I am not happy (horrified is more like it) living in pandemia and fear for the future of public education and art education programs. The pandemia has laid bare a national failure to imagine and prepare for this situation. I look forward to going back to school and working with children inside our art-studio classroom. Art education is more important now than ever before. We cannot afford more future failures of imagination.


Saturday, January 11, 2020

The Comprehensive Curricula: The Importance of Regular School-Based Fine Arts Learning Experience

After the passage of the No Child Left Behind Act in 2002, school districts across the US responded by emphasizing data-driven instruction in math and reading. The pressure on schools to deliver higher test scores resulted in children taking a lot of standardized tests throughout the year (Nelson, 2013). In business, the bottom line is profits and losses. In schools the bottom line is high stakes test score results. Schools are now run like businesses. Sadly, this emphasis on test scores has led to a reduction of children’s learning experiences through arts education, particularly at the elementary level (Sabol, 2010). 

Over the past 14 years I have served AEAI in the area of advocacy, while awareness of the importance of fine arts learning has increased, we have continued to observe the degrading of fine arts programs in numerous ways across Indiana. The state has little information on the vitality of art programs that exist in schools under its auspices. Fine art programs can be cut out of the curricula or reduced by a thousand little cuts. Art and music teachers can be replaced by non-credentialed individuals. Children can be hauled out of fine arts classes required to do missing class-work. This situation has not gotten any better (Parsad & Spiegelman, 2012). Children’s time in schools where annual testing takes place means students are likely to spend lots of time preparing for standardized tests leaving little room for anything else. 

In order to prepare children for high stakes tests their teachers must employ a curricula that covers lots of testing content in a short amount of time. Inside the information processing structure of test driven curricula, students are told what information to learn, when to learn it and how they will learn it. Hiding behind the final test score tally is a learning experience where children are fundamentally disempowered, coerced by authoritarian fear to learn content in a behaviorist experience whose schedule and organization structure they had not consented to participate in. For significant numbers of children, this situation leads to disengagement, stultification and the school to prison pipeline.

If children’s unique developmental pathways would optimally benefit from the intensive data-driven experience they now endure, children’s school-based anxiety, the bullying crisis, and school violence dilemma would be no more. Blaming cell phones is an easy out for these crises but one has to ask the question, why are children in school affected by these issues not in love with their learning?

Human beings are hard-wired to use their hands and whole bodies, integrating the imaginative and emotional realm in their learning. My view is that more opportunities for authentic, time sensitive learning, emergent curriculum, multi-sensory learning, creative self-expression and alternative assessments should be provided in order to alleviate harmful psycho-emotional conditions correlated with the intensification of standardized testing curricula. Cognitive behavioral therapy in schools is a peripheral intervention designed to normalize the child’s response to a toxic curriculum that causes stress and anger. Expanding fine arts education, the humanities and alternative assessment is the antidote to this situation and has never been more important when considering the intellectual growth and physiological well being of children in schools. We cannot afford future failures of imagination.


Aftunion. (2014, June 26). AFT report shows the high cost of overtesting. Retrieved from https://www.aft.org/news/aft-report-shows-high-cost-overtesting.

Parsad, B., and Spiegelman, M. (2012). Arts Education in Public Elementary and Secondary Schools: 1999–2000 and 2009–10 (NCES 2012–014). National Center for Education Statistics, Institute of Education Sciences, U.S. Department of Education. Washington, DC.

Sabol, F.R. (2010) No Child Left Behind: A Study of Its Impact on Art Education. (n.d.). 
Retrieved from: https://arteducators-prod.s3.amazonaws.com/documents/453/469c9979-17ea-4c2d-bc29-e4ea77d5382a.pdf?1452930323.