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The right system.

I've received several letters recently that have included questions from teachers who are now in a position to make computer purchases for their art program. What computer should I buy? What software is best? What do I need? How much should I budget? These seem like easy enough questions; I wish there were easy answers like "Buy computer X and make sure you get Y and Z. There are several elements to be considered before you buy or make recommendations for purchases. First, I'll focus in on the computer itself. In later articles I'll discuss software packages, printers, digitizers and scanners.

What's Best for My Art Program?

The key phrase here is "my art program." Every school is different, every art program unique. Constraints and needs are different as well. What are the goals and objectives of your art program? Have you used a computer yet? Do you have ideas on how you want to use computers within your curriculum? Will you be altering your curriculum? Do you have access to computers now? What computer system does your school use? These are critical questions and your answers to them should determine what equipment is best for your program.

Let me make a few assumptions. First, although your school uses computers, you have very little knowledge about them. Second, you have a set amount of money. Third, you are buying one or two computers for use in the artroom itself. Definitive answers are hard to give, but let me offer you some advice.

Talk to Experts

Talk to your computer coordinator or computer science teacher. If your school has computers, there is prob- ably one person in charge of them. Find out what computers are available in your school or school district and who uses them. If you are not familiar with computers or are technophobic, (Many of you have written and said that you are.) stick with a computer or computer system that people around you understand. If your school is buying Macintosh, get them for your art program; if it's IBM, get IBM systems. Computers rarely have technical problems. Often something doesn't seem to work right because of simple things like a loose cable, a switch that isn't in the right position, or the documentation that came with your computer or software is difficult to understand. If you have some one you can turn to with your problems, it will make things a lot easier.

There Must Be A Difference

Years ago there was a great deal of difference between computers. The Apple IIe, the workhorse of educational computing, had color and memory limitations; the Macintosh lacked color; the IBM didn't have enough software and was too expensive for most schools. Prices on basic systems seem to be stabilizing and the difference between computers isn't as great as it used to be. Yes, there are differences, but the point is that while the level of sophistication may vary, all computers will allow you to paint, draw, make signs and banners, do desktop publishing and even animation. So, if you are computer illiterate and have no preference for which computer you buy, take the advice of your computer coordinator or stay with the system your school district is using.

If you're still in doubt, it's important that you experiment with different computers. There are a number of computer dealers who have systems set up in their stores that you can try. Ask a salesperson to load a graphics program for you and try to create some images using the system. Some stores carry IBM, Apple and Amiga; a side-by-side comparison may help you see any significant differences.

There are some basic options you'll want to make sure your computer has. Some of this may seem all too obvious to some of you, but because you can get a good price on package deals, educational packages in particular, you should do a comparison of what you get with each package.

Color Monitor Most (but not all) computers come with a color monitor, and its obviously something you should have for your art program. There are differences between monitors which are very aparrent when comparing cost.

Memory The more memory, the better, particularly when you're creating graphics. Memory is measured in K (kilobyte) and M (megabyte). Older computers came with 64K, 128K and 512K. Most new computers come with at least 1MB RAM (random access memory --memory within the computer).

Storage Most of your storage will be done on disk, especially your students' works. Computers come with 5 1/4" or 3 1/2" drives. The 3 1/2" are more convenient and hold more information. You can also get a hard drive. Hard drives come in sizes anywhere from 20 MB on up. The hard drive is usually used to hold application software (for example, the software you use most) and for temporary storage of graphics. A hard drive isn't essential, but it is good to have. Again, drives are measured in M's, starting at 20 MB

Speed Computers can perform their functions at different speeds. This is very important for business and industry, not quite as important for home or school.

Cost The most important consideration is cost. Decide what is best for your program and what the computer will be used for. Unless you intend to make extensive use of CAD (computer assisted design) programs or desktop publishing or video applications, you would probably be better off buying two or three basic systems then one top of the line computer. Most computers can be upgraded. You can purchase more memory or storage later on if you find you need it.

Make sure the computer you select comes with an input device (mouse or graphics tablet). If it doesn't, you'll have to get one for each computer. You'll also want a printer. Printers can range from $400 to $5000 and up. Do you need a $5000 printer? It depends on your program, but probably not.

Once you have a computer in your artroom, there are a number of costs you may not think of like paper, ribbons and blank disks. Some school systems have a computer budget which handles all of the usual computer supplies; others do not. It is important that you know early on if these supplies come out of your art budget. You should also determine who pays for computer repairs. If maintenance does not come out of a computer fund, make sure you include maintenance in your budget.

Please Be More Specific

I've used IBM, Apple IIe, IIgs, MacIntosh, and Amiga. I know people who are very attached to one or the other. The system you need depends on your program and the money that's available. Cost may be the most determining factor. Amiga systems start at $500 and run on up past $3000; Apple/MacIntosh systems start at $1000 and can run past $6000. The same is true with IBM. You may need only a basic system. In elementary schools where art time is limited, this may be particularly true. High schools may be looking for more sophisticated systems. The more you get (memory, storage), the more expensive the machine. You don't need top of the line equipment, but you do want equipment you can grow with. What is necessary to your program? Does the time spent using computers justify cost?

Let's take one more scenario: You've just learned that you qualify for a $15,000-20,000 grant, how do you spend the money? You could get one top of the line computer (a MacIntosh FX or IBM with "the works" like video capabilities) and a color printer. You could get five to six mid-range computers and a laser printer. You could get ten to twelve basic computers and two to four dot matrix printers. See the choices? Well, there's no room in my artroom for twelve computers and my students don't need all the power and options of top of the line equipment. I would love it, but it's the students we're talking about here! I opted for six computers and two printers. I later expanded the systems to include more memory, storage capabilities and so on.

These are hard times for all schools and school districts. Buy a computer you can work with, you feel comfortable with, and will best meet the needs of your program.

If you have specific questions or would like additional help, please write and describe your program, constraints and budgets; enclose a self-addressed stamped envelope to Debbie Greh, 516 Farley Avenue, Scotch Plains, NY 07076


Judy Leafdale teaches art to high school students in Nebraska. There are about seventy-five students in her program. Judy chose the Amiga 1000 for her students and the works pictured here were created with Deluxe Paint from Electronic Arts. The color prints were obtained from a Hewlett-Packard Paint Jet Printer. Although her artroom has only one computer right now (the school board may be buying one or two more), Judy tells me that there is a student working at the computer every minute of the day. She comments, "I find that students are not intimidated by the computer as they sometimes are by a blank sheet of paper or canvas ... I found students who did not think they could draw at all, find that they really can."

I'd appreciate hearing more stories from people using computers. Please send slides or prints of your students' works so we can share them with our readers.

Debbie Greh is Assistant Director of Communications at St. John's University, Jamaica, New York, and the author of Computers in the Artroom (Worcester, MA: Davis Publications, Inc.).
COPYRIGHT 1991 Davis Publications, Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1991, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Title Annotation:computers for art classrooms
Author:Greh, Debbie
Publication:School Arts
Date:Nov 1, 1991
Previous Article:The culture of the cave people.
Next Article:Scholastic Art Awards, 1991.

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