It is no secret that ICT is impacting on education in a massive way. However, there are certain subjects where the benefits of integrating technology might not be as apparent. The emotive reaction from teachers and creative professionals to Education Secretary Michael Gove’s relegation of the arts in the curriculum, combined with local government arts funding cuts, suggest that it is viewed by many as an integral part of education. Performances and art exhibitions are the life and soul of many schools and therefore investment in technology for creative disciplines is just as important as investing in core subjects such as maths and science.
A SMOOTHER PROCESS
Dan Smith, teacher and ICT leader at Pirbright Village Primary School in Surrey, believes that by investing in enhanced technology teachers can make better progress with pupils in arts lessons because it allows them to use their allocated time more efficiently. “For years now, primary teachers have been filming PE, dance and drama activities in their lessons and then playing back performances to their classes to get the children to evaluate what they see and provide feedback to their peers,” he says. “This was often done after the event by plugging cameras into the IWB or uploading films onto PCs – so it lacked the immediacy that could then allow performers to improve their routines there and then.” IPads and tablets, however, allow pupils to work in small groups and review their progress – without the hindrance of cumbersome equipment. And the benefits of integrating technology don’t end there: footage can be easily shared in a range of formats and edited using a variety of apps – adding another layer to the lesson. “So pupils as performers then become directors and producers – live performance crosses into the medium of pre-recorded and edited film, with set audiences in mind,” says Smith.
But does this really bring anything new to drama lessons? “Yes, this could all be done before – but never so easily,” he argues. “I lose track of the times we have hunted for the correct USB cables for cameras and portable hardware, had to convert video files so they could be edited and played back on PCs [or] created music tracks only to find out that the programme we were using would not recognise the formats.” But by investing in a mobile device and a selection of decent movie and image-editing apps, the teacher can have everything they need on one small device.
If technology in this context is fairly new to you, you may be wondering what kinds of applications can truly enrich teaching and learning in the arts. Smith believes music apps are particularly good for younger pupils and can be far easier than using real instruments in many ways. He recommends apps, such as Garage Band, that turn an iPad into a collection of touch instruments and a full-featured recording studio. “No longer is music creation in primary schools just about traditional instruments that regularly need setting up, plugging in, sterilising or tuning. It is about experimenting,” he says. “At the top end, able pupils can apply their musical knowledge and skills to a variety of instruments and compositions within the app, even incorporating live music into the tracks. At the other end, pupils can create effective-sounding tracks, which inspire a love of music and composing, where before some children may have been more passive or less inspired.”
Some schools may have reservations about encouraging the use of technology in subjects as traditional as art, music and drama. But can – and should – technology have a place in creative subjects? “Will anything ever match the look of paint on canvas, or the feel of soft pencil on parchment? Probably not,” admits Smith. However, he maintains that for younger children in particular it can really enhance their understanding and enjoyment of art as a subject. “Primary school art is often about variety: pupils experimenting with a various mediums. They learn to apply their skills to paint, charcoal, ink, etc and work with different materials in both two-dimensions and three. Tablet computers further enhance that provision.”
Chris Hargraves, senior education consultant at Capita IT Services, believes that technology in the arts – as in every aspect of education – is beneficial when used in the right context. “Everything has its place and one form should not rule out any other,” he says. “The different methods must complement each other. Students should be exposed to a wide range of learning experiences to help develop their skills, and the arts are no exception.” He adds that using technological tools will also help prepare students for the world of work by reflecting the tools used in the commercial environment. But he warns schools to be mindful of not distracting students from the lesson itself. “The key is to keep your eye on the educational objectives, and in order to successfully achieve them, ensure that the right tools are implemented, be it ICT or not.” In your search for the right apps and software, Hargraves encourages schools not to be afraid of venturing outside of the educational apps market – because you could be missing out on a host of cost-effective and innovative tools. “Some [apps] may not be developed specifically for the education market, and yet they may still be useful and relevant in an education setting,” he says. “ArtRage is an easy-to-use painting package suitable for all levels of ability from beginners to professionals. For early year’s learners, Purple Mash, a cloud-based resource has hundreds of educational activities.” If your music teaching staff are particularly adventurous there are also a variety of new digital ‘instruments’ that are being created as apps, such as Mugician or Beatwave. Sounds a bit strange to you? Smith believes these imaginary instruments add interest for students who might find traditional music lessons boring. “Music becomes enriched further – with more variety,” he says.
ARTS FOR ALL
Technology can also have a huge impact on accessibility and inclusion in the arts, particularly for students who have special educational needs, who might shy away from getting involved in practical lessons – or can’t have the same level of involvement due to physical disabilities. “Introducing technology can give certain individuals access to information which they otherwise would not have access to,” explains Emma Banks, marketing executive at Iansyst. “Devices such as digital recorders could be used by all class members to note-take or brainstorm ideas. They could also be used to review activities – listen back to music or drama – and record instructions for those who may find writing down information difficult.” Banks suggests using text-to-speech programs, which can enable children to have written information such as play texts read aloud, as well as programs that help illustrate the lesson in a more tangible way. “Mind-mapping can provide a means of collaborative learning and planning, enabling children to work together via a visual non-linear format. This can improve confidence, group-working and give all students the ability to contribute to lessons and planning,” she says. When students are researching artists, actors or musicians, Banks recommends trying CapturaTalk, which gives text-to-speech within the browser, enabling voice notes to be added to text documents and also utilises OCR (optical character recognition) – this means printed text can be photographed and then listened to in voice form.