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The computer: an essential artroom tool.

This article begins another series of Bits and Bytes. On alternate months, I plan to write articles on the use of technology in the art program. We'll also be featuring articles by other teachers who ]lave ideas to share. It's been a while since I began using computers in the artroom. This article is by a teacher who recently incorporated computers into her art program. She might provide you with a few good reasons to use the computer as an art tool. She'll also give you some tips on how to get started and what to watch out for. Her insights and lesson ideas may be helpful to those of you just beginning. Until next time, Debbie Greh

Five years ago, no one could have convinced me that computer graphics would become an important part of the art curriculum at the Franklin Avenue Middle School. I was under the misconception that the only art that could be produced from a graphics program was termed "clip art"--those generic canned symbols that are part of a program and can be included on the printed page if you are not interested in drawing original pictures. If this were the only art that the computer could produce, it certainly could not foster creativity in my classroom.

My preconceived notion of computer graphics changed in 1987, when I attended a computer workshop and had my first hands-on keyboard experience. As I looked at the monitor which boldly displayed a graphics program, I was amazed at all the symbols which represented the artist's tools from which I could choose to create my own drawing. Then with the touch of one key all the tools would disappear, leaving me with a clear white screen and my own drawing tablet.

In no time at all I was hooked. I was full of ideas for using these graphic within my program. I knew that my students would be as excited as I was. It was time to bring the computer into my artroom and investigate its creative possibilities.

I began with one Apple IIgs and two graphics programs suggested by our district computer coordinator. Interested students volunteered to experiment with the programs when their class assignments were completed. Soon students were fighting for computer time during their lunch and activity periods. By the end of the first year, the students were hooked and I had become literate enough to make a serious decision: Was I going to make a commitment to use the computer as a tool within my curriculum, or would the computer remain just a fascinating toy?

A look at the advances in visual technology and the many career opportunities in the field which developed as a result of the establishment of computer graphics in business, convinced me that I had a responsibility to introduce my students to the computer as an art tool. I began by examining my curriculum and choosing a few lessons that could be adapted to the computer. I discovered the key to the successful integration of the computer into an already established and overcrowded curriculum. I needed to utilize lessons in which the concepts could remain the same, only the tools would change.

A grade seven inventive texture lesson, previously completed with sgraffito knives on scratchboard, could easily become a computer project where students use the tools of the graphics program to create their drawings. This lesson fit nicely into the same ten, forty-five minute periods allotted for a scratchboard unit. The lessons, however, had to be restructured. Now, more time was spent learning to use the tools. It took three classes to teach students how to use the computer and become comfortable with the tools. Previously a demonstration and lecture were completed in one period. The repetitious creation of textures with a sgraffito knife on scratchboard, which took eight periods, could now be completed in a shorter time period. Students could develop and fill textures in areas of their drawings with a few simple commands. This assignment was done in black and white to simulate the scratchboard lesson, thus keeping the emphasis on texture rather than color.

Another lesson easily adapted for computer use from my curriculum was a grade eight Cubism lesson. After studying Picasso during the Cubist era, students were introduced to a step-by-step process where a realistic picture could take on a Cubist format. After carefully drawing a realistic picture and adapting it to the qualities of Cubism, students were ready to move to the computers. Again, the lesson had to be restructured, but the amount of time necessary to familiarize students with the computer program was balanced by the shortened period required to complete the project. Using the program's tools and a few computer commands, students discovered that straight lines could be instantly and precisely drawn and colors, as well as patterns, could be added as a quick final touch. As a bonus, students could utilize information previously learned during a color unit to mix customized colors on the computer. This step was added to the lesson because we started executing this project in computer graphics. Previously, we settled for whatever shades and tones of a color our markers offered us.

Over the last several years, the computer has become firmly established within the grade seven and eight art program at the Franklin Avenue Middle School. Many lessons have been adapted to allow the use of the computer as a drawing tool. Presently, students use the computer for a variety of projects during fifteen consecutive forty-five minute periods. Apple IIgs computers with one meg of memory and ImageWriter II printers are rolled into the artroom on carts for this unit, joining two permanent computer stations in the art facility. Enough computers are now available so that no more than two students are assigned to a computer during each class.

For the students who are "turned on" by computer graphics, the artroom's two permanent computer stations offer computer time all year long during a daily, thirty-minute activity. During this period, students may experiment with a variety of graphic and animation programs that are not used in the curriculum. They may also choose to experiment with interfaced hardware, such as a digitizer and video-camera, a graphics tablet or a scanner. Suddenly, the artroom is filled with students who may have never chosen art as a free-time activity. The computer expanded their world, as well as our program.

How does an art teacher begin to use the computer in class? First, don't be afraid to turn students loose. As long as you can turn the computer on and boot up the program, you are safe. Students will teach themselves, each other and you. Each new discovery made will be exciting for everyone. Second, sell your program to those in charge and get a firm commitment. You will need money for software and access to a lab or enough computers to accommodate two students per computer in each class. Third, re member that the computer is a tool, not an end in itself. Its use must be tailored to your curriculum, your needs and the amount of class time feasible for computer use in your setting. Fourth, realize that what you teach today may be obsolete next school year. Be prepared for constant change and the excitement of continued growth. Network with others to update your information. There is far too much to learn to go it alone. And last, but certainly not least ... enjoy! A whole new world will open up to you!

Susan Tomeo teaches art at the Franklin Avenue Middle School in Franklin, New Jersey.
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Author:Tomeo, Susan
Publication:School Arts
Date:Sep 1, 1991
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