The New Literacy and Art

brushes iconMr. Warlick has had some wonderful commentary about the new literacy in his blog and in his podcasts. Long story short: old literacy = reading & writing, but new literacy = reading, writing, instant messaging, blogging, wikis, and any other way modern technology uses language nowadays. It’s important to stress the new literacy because it involves skills used in the “real world” but not skills that are traditionally taught in the classroom. Does this catch your interest? Great! While you let David Warlick’s pages load in other windows allow me to entertain you some more.This whole idea of new literacy is interesting to me partially because of the parallels you can and can’t draw to the world of Art. You see, there was a time when the only art that would be taught in a serious school was the kind that would show up in a museum. This was placed into three categories: sculpture (usually stone or metal), drawing (“real” drawings, not those childish cartoon doodles!), & painting. This triad of genres is often referred to as “high art.”

Naturally, everything else fits into the realm of “low art,” although it’s also referred to by that wonderful word: “Kitsch.” Crafts, cartoons, photography, printmaking, advertising, anything that reflected pop culture, etc. – any person that did these things and called themselves artists was setting themselves up for ridicule.

But time moved on, as anyone who’s taken an “Art Since 1950” course can attest to. Many photographers learned the rules of composition from established painters. Andy Warhol did things with silkscreening that made the world question the boundaries of art. Roy Lichtenstein elevated cheap cartoons to the level of high art by hand painting things to look like they were mass-produced. “High” and “Low” are terms still used today, but the two circles in that Venn diagram have been overlapping more and more every year.

Then came computers, the GIF and JPG files, scanning, digital photography, computer generated images (CGI), and much more. Most of this high-tech stuff has come late enough in the game to simply ride it’s way into the art mainstream on the coattails of the postmodern art movements.

So you see, most artists have already won their battle for the new literacy. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for those of a more verbal and less visual nature. What, I ask, is the difference between moving from a textbook to a wiki and moving from a museum to a flikr account? True, the textbook and the museum both still have elevated status in our society, but online ways of sharing information are increasing in popularity and slowly eating away at the market share of the older media.

And through all of this, I still see a comparison to high art vs. low art. Over time it became high art and low art, and today there are many (including myself) who would tell you that high art is low art.

I can’t wait for the written word to catch up to us.

As always, your comments are very much welcome.

5th Podcast – 6th Grade Videos and Bob

Click to play or download.[EDIT: I’ve moved this mp3 file to and changed the link to match the new location.]
Number 5 is alive!

This episode, expect to hear…

  • Students like being on both sides of the camera – it can spice up almost any lesson.
  • Students who teach more learn more, so put them in teaching situations.
  • History According to Bob – a great series of podcasts delivered in bite sized chunks of goodness. This is one of those sites that should always rank higher than me on Podcast Alley. (He’s number 6, so I think he’s in the clear here.)
  • This episode’s music is “Molecules” by Patrick Schouten

Yeah, I should probably post some non-audio stuff soon for those of you who don’t like podcasts.

4th Podcast – steps forward and back.

Click to play or download.[EDIT: I’ve moved this mp3 file to and changed the link to match the new location.]
I always wanted to go fourth

Ok, bad puns aside here’s this
podcast’s breakdown:

  • Art Teachers are (technology) people, too.
  • Look, I CAN be tech support!
  • Is all it’s cracked up to be?
  • How many times can I say .com when I meant to say .org?
  • This episode’s music is “A Casual Emergency” by Paul Reller

I’m also probably going to be plugging my favorite podcasters in the next

Relatively Famous (Again)

Boy, is my face red – Steve Dembo plugged my site in his podcast again, and I didn’t know about it until just now due to a half gigabyte backlog of podcasts to which
I’ve been meaning to listen. (Curse you, Leo Laporte!) Thanks, Steve – your comments really made my day (In addition to today’s first grade ceramics project … more on that later.)

If you aren’t listening to / reading teach42, then you should. How else will you hear people saying nice things about me? ;) Seriously though, Mr. Dembo might say that I find some cool links, but I wouldn’t be sharing half as much stuff if itwasn’t for his site inspiring me.

3rd Podcast – Corrections and Questions

Click to play or download.[EDIT: I’ve moved this mp3 file to and changed the link to match the new location.]I just keep cranking these out, don’t I? This time I have a few corrections / clarifications from my last podcast, as well as a very important question.

The question is: why do those of you that return to this page come back? what is it about this site that you like and you would like to see more of? What would you like to see less of? Ok, so that’s more than one question, but you get the idea.

Shownote Links:

Opus Instrumentalus – the album by Trance Blackman that includes this episode’s background music, “Blue Sky & Rain.”

Feedburner – RSS stats and more

Podcast Alley: Education Podcasts – C’mon, you know you want to vote for me … right?

2nd Podcast

Click to play or download.[EDIT: I’ve moved this mp3 file to and changed the link to match the new location.]Looks like I didn’t learn my lesson – here’s my second podcast in all it’s glory! (And it’s a day early, no less!) It’s much shorter this time, so it only came to 12.3 MB.

It also looks like practice makes perfect. I still flub things here and there, but I heard fewer “ums” and unintelligible dialogue this time around.

This time through I stuck to my notes, discussing my quest for a Linux server, my school’s multimedia multicultural extravaganza, and the start of a multimedia club for next year.

Shownote Links:

acapulco sunset – A song by Martin Sarna, hosted on – All kinds of media with all kinds of licenses. The web site of Steve Dembo – the man, the myth, and my inspiration for podcasting.

How to install Knoppix on a hard drive.

Linux Home Networking – tips, tricks, and forums for help. – Linux versions galore, and information about them. – Have a large file you want stored somewhere, but don’t have the space on your own server? Check this place out.

YaGoohoo!gle – It’s Google, it’s Yahoo! Stop, you’re both right!

Linux, me, and the 1 to 1 ratio.

circuit boardI’ve been wanting to move this site onto it’s own dedicated server for a while now, which for me involves getting working versions of Linux and Apache on a clunky 6 year old Compaq and combining that with a high speed connection.A while back I tried Linspire (Formerly Lindows). The installer hung up every time.

Then I got my hands on a copy of Simply MEPIS. It would boot, but the GUI wouldn’t load well and I’m not enough of a tech person too do command line stuff all the time.

Last night I burned myself a copy of KNOPPIX and, miraculously, IT WORKED! Alas, I couldn’t figure out how to install it onto the hard drive. It’s a Live CD, after all.

So now I’m torn between Debian (KNOPPIX is based off of Debian, so I’m guessing they’re quite similar…) or KANOTIX (which says it’s a Live CD but that it can install Debian). I’ll probably try KANOTIX first, since it’s fewer CDs to mess with, but if I can’t create a swap file like I could with KNOPPIX then I just don’t have enough RAM to run it.

So where am I finding out about all of these Linux versions and where to get them? Why, of course! If you have any interest in playing around with Linux (Even if you want to put it on a Mac – there are versions made for Mac hardware now!) I sincerely recommend trying that site out. You’ll have to do a bit of searching, but it’s worth it.

But why am I talking about all of this? It’s partially so you all know what’s going through this twisted mind of mine, partially because some Linux guru might email me and give me some sage advice on what to do or not to do, but mostly as an example.

I’ve learned more Linux stuff in the past week of playing with Linux installations than I have in the previous 27 years of my life. Why? Because I’m experimenting with it. I’m playing with the software and doing trial and error things that might crash my computer, but it’s a spare anyway. I have a feeling that if you ask me again next week I’ll know five times or more about Linux than I do right now. It’s not as hard a learning curve as most people think it is, thanks to the graphical user interfaces that they have in most distributions now.

Imagine if a school on a budget crunch got a bunch of old PCs or stretched their tech budget by buying 10 old computers instead of 1 new one (That’s not much of a stretch – I can easily get my hands on a computer with an 8 gig hard drive and 64 meg of ram for $70 or less), then installed Linux, OpenOffice, The GIMP, and Mozilla on them. They would have 90% of the functionality of a Windows machine for a fraction of the cost, and the school’s Technology Coordinator wouldn’t suffer too much from culture shock because of the change – provided he or she was given a little advance warning. I see this as a powerful option for schools who want to come closer to that 1 computer per student ratio. On top of that is of course the increased security found from using a non-Windows machine. (Yes I know Symantec just came out and said that Macs might be less safe now, but perhaps they should focus more on their own concrete flaws before they start talking about hypothetical ones.)

Now do I think that it’s the best option? Personally I’d rather that every student was handed a shiny new Powerbook or iBook, but there aren’t many school districts that are willing to toss out the cash for that. … Maybe a Mac Mini for every student. After all, you can get an education discount whether you’re a school, teacher, or student. (Yes I know Symantec just came out and said that Macs might be less safe now, but perhaps they should focus more on they’re not so perfect either. Windows is still the least secure OS I’ve ever experienced.) When push comes to shove I’m willing to set aside my zeal for the Mac OS in favor of still having a computer available to as many students as possible.

Aw nuts, now I want my own computer lab more than ever.

I’m now on Podcast Alley!

circuit boardSo if you feel moved to do so, you can vote for me there. They ask for an email address for verification purposes, but you can use a throw-away one if you feel especially paranoid.At the time I’m writing this I’m ranked #21 out of 51 Educational podcasts, but that’s with a single vote so any support would be greatly appreciated. (However, if you find a podcast there that you like more I would not feel insulted if you vote for that instead.)

My first podcast!

Click to play or download.[EDIT: I’ve moved this mp3 file to and changed the link to match the new location.]Once again I’m bandwagon jumping, but now I present to you my first audio rambling in all it’s glory! (Just click in the little icon to get it.)

I’m not sure how many of these I’ll be able to fit on this server before moving them over to (This one’s 26.3 meg! Ouch!), but as I only have high speed at school and our firewalls here block’s nifty uploading tool, I’ll hold out for as long as I can.

Two things I noticed when editing this: As everyone finds out when they first record themselves, I say “Um” a lot. I edited a good many of them out, but left them in when I felt doing so would hurt the rhythm of what I was saying too much (In other words, it was too much work to cut them all out.)

Also, I tend to speed up or slow down when I’m talking, thus making my words a little hard to understand at times. This was a little harder to fix in post-production, so I just hope that I can work on this next time I’m recording.

Shownote Links:

Creative MuVo TX FM 1 gig: My mp3 player / audio recorder of choice. It’s small, it’s cute, it’s USB 2.0! The web site of Steve Dembo – the man, the myth, and my inspiration for podcasting.

Wikibooks: I mentioned this when I was recording but couldn’t remember the name of the site. Wikibooks is an online collaboration open to anyone that wants to help create free online textbooks.

In defense of analog.

brushes icon

That’s right, analog. Just because you can go digital doesn’t mean you should go digital with everything.

No, I’m not one of those people who still only listens to records because I think they sound nicer, but analog does have it’s benefits.

I decided to write about this after reading about a study where technology was found to have no positive impact on student performance. In fact, the study said they did better if they didn’t have computers. Shocking, I know. As a culture, educators often do tend to think (even if only subconsciously) that a computer is a magical device that will alter our students’ DNA to make their brainpower increase tenfold. (Edit: Although technology can and does help raise test scores in some instances.)

You see it’s not whether or not you’re using technology, it’s whether or not you’re a good teacher. A shiny new Macintosh will not magically make your student ace his or her SAT because it’s not a magic pill. However if you already are a good teacher, the increased use of technology can be a boon to the classroom as you now are better able to address the multiple intelligences found among your students – provided you do not then decide to get lazy and let the educational software do all the work for you. (I’ve seen that happen too, fortunately not at my current place of employment.)

This is even more obvious in an Art classroom. I love technology – I routinely play around with computers, digital cameras, digital video, web pages, RSS feeds, podcasts, the list goes on. I’m planning on having my 6th graders make a video for the upcoming multicultural dinner, and I’m really excited about it too.

However, I don’t do these things in every class. There’s still something to be said for the act of putting a pencil onto paper, for painting over crayons with watercolors and watching the crayon show through, and for following a series of folds to make an origami frog that can jump across your table. Sure, I could do some of this on a computer, but I could not do it as well.

A computer, like any other educational resource, is a tool – and tools are only useful if they’re used for the jobs for which they are best suited. Perhaps that aforementioned study found such low progress because too many people thought you could hammer a nail with a screwdriver. You can get it to work, but it’s a lot more effort than using the right tool for the right job.

So I’m all for computers and digital arts. Bring on the 1 to 1 computer/student ratio, I’m all for it!

… but when I show up to teach your class you shouldn’t be surprised to see my cart’s still full of markers, crayons and paint. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have an art supply budget to complete.