1. Art and Technique (a kind of introduction)
The Greek word Techne can be translated both as Art and as Technique. That sounds strange or contradictory at first. We will try to understand why and how in english (as in other modern languages too) the words Art and Technique seem very different. Let's try, but certainly it's not easy as it looks.
Think of a craftsman, the joiner for instance. His profession consists of his own ability to build wood objects. He has to understand how the built object will look when finished. His craft is made of technique, but the work he makes is made with skill. That means he has a special sensitivity for that object. We could say the same about a blacksmith or other craftsmen, but... could we say the same about Giotto ?
"The difficult technique of fresco stays at the basis of Giotto's art", could answer a technician. On the other side, an artist could answer,
"The artistic feeling inside Giotto leads him to a perfect knowledge of
the fresco technique". Good sense would bring us now to a first general answer, maybe
something about the applied arts' conception and its history, from Greek
pottery to Della Robbia's and from William Morris to Marcel Breuer.
The techinician and the artist represent the two faces of an old problem in the whole of the cultural world, especially in the Italian culture. The separation of culture into two different branches. From one side the practical technician and from the other side the idealist artist. It is really an old mistake, that must be corrected as soon as possible.
My hypothesis is that NOW is the good moment. It's not a case that the world of culture, especially one with a humanistic heritage, follows with full attention every debate about multimedia and its unpredictable developments. While all these things happen, the School, that is the basis of the culture of a nation, cannot be left behind.
2. School and informatics. The program of the Italian Ministry for Didactic Technologies.
In May 1997 the Minister Luigi Berlinguer made public, also in the Internet, the text of a document, the so called document of the sages. Even today that document represents the heart of what Luigi Berlinguer does for school's culture; he wants to inform and consult everyone who is interested in reforming the Italian School.
Not forgetting that the Bassanini Law introduced many new things about autonomy in each school, a big work that is still in progress.
In 1997 the Ministry proposed a new and very interesting plan for the future of informatics in the school, the Programma Ministeriale delle Tecnologie Didattiche 1997-2000. Many schools joined the plan. Among them, the school where I've been teaching Arthistory since 1987 - the Istituto Statale d'Arte "Ulderico Midossi" di Civita Castellana, a public school for arts and crafts (pottery).
I believe that my experience qualifies me to discuss the advantages, as well as problems with the use of informatics tools in the school
It must be evident since now that we are talking about informatics tools and not about Informatics. Informatics as a school discipline is another argument, concerning only technical high schools. The purpose being, to make every student able to use a Personal Computer in every school subject. This is obvious even in the plans of the Ministry, that addresses its instructions about informatics to every kind of school and to every teacher, not only to the teachers of Mathematics (as it did some years ago).
2.1. The projects 1a and 1b.
The names of the first two parts of the general program are project 1a and project 1b. The first part (project 1a) assigned to every school that would join the programme 9,000,000 liras (about 5000 $) for buying new tools and 3,000,000 liras (about 1650 $) to pay for lessons of informatics to the school teachers. The second part (project 1b) assigns 40,000,000 liras (22,000 $) to every school that finished the first part and has prepared a didactic plan. In my school this didactic plan had to involve four classes and consisted in building a big Website about the school itself using HTML.
First question: why should learning to write an hypertext be good for students ?
which are its peculiarities and how can we distinguish it from the old way of putting together arguments from different disciplines making the typical class research ?
My answer again is that we have to try to put together arts and techniques; that is invention and development, that is idea and practise, that is the visionary power and the sight. An hypertext has a complex structure, while a normal research is linear. Building that structure has to be done during the bulding of the hypertext itself. This is not so obvious as putting together things in a linear sequence.
Suppose now that the teacher knows HTML and Hypertexts, all that is necessary; he can describe these aims in three points:
A- The students have to understand the logic HTML definition of every kind of element they will put in the Hypertext.
The teacher would organize the classes this way:
B- The student will understand what is a Hypertext: building the pictures, the sounds and the animations, using their own creativity.
C- The students will realize how much the Hypertext is present in their world: in TV, movies, newspapers and magazines. They will understand that Hypertext is a new tool, for a common purpose
A- He will define how many hours are necessary to teach HTML, keeping in mind that some students have to learn the way to write with the PC, the way to draw and to acquire pictures and so on. The school has to be connected with the Internet of course.
B- After some time, maybe two or three months, the students will begin to build their Hypertext. First they could copy some good sites visited in the Web and change them by replacing texts and images. They could think of it like a screenplay, maybe even a comic one.
C- When something good is done, students can show it to their colleagues and friends. They can modify their works now, but they can also add something that comes from other people - they have to realize that this is always a "work in progress".
In my own experience, in the school year 1998-1999, I had many problems and many satisfactions too. In the end, I worked mostly with only two classes and with the collaboration of only three collagues. Anyway, the results look fine and I'm sure that the best results are not only the ones we look at.
I worked much especially with one class, a second class of boys and girls of 15 and 16. They worked with PC's programs by turns, two of them were writing with Word, two were painting with CorelDraw, two were making pictures with a digital camera, two were looking for something in the Web... Not all the students have their own PC at home, and this makes me feel that the final results of their work are good.
The project 1b will finish next year, 1999-2000.
3. Teaching with PC
Why the results were good ?
In order to answer, I guess I'd better talk about usual teaching, that can make the PC a good tool for its aims. Think about a normal class, in a school with a multimedia room, a normal school life, with lessons, oral and written examinations, and some videos sometimes to be seen, (Art History for instance...). What happens when it is a teacher's turn to show multimedia to the students? All the students always ask him to go to the multimedia room! But the lesson in multimedia room is always a lesson! It seems however that this lesson is different and here we can find the core of what I'm saying here.
Students find the PC monitor to be a familiar tool, with which they have confidence, with which they'd love to have more confidence. The monitor looks like a TV, looks like videogames, it is magnetic; it captures their eyes and their attention.
Which are the best teaching tools we can use in the multimedia room? There are the CD-Rom's of course for every discipline, but not all are good.
I think that students must learn to write, to paint, to acquire, to build a cartel with Excel and so on. All these things are good teaching subjects.
The Cd-Rom's represent a good proof to understand the power of PC at school. I have used them extensively and I think I can talk about that. I saw how students remember with precision some painting of Leonardo and Caravaggio that I showed them only in the PC. The painting they studied from their book were not so well fixed in their memory. But the formers stood in front of their eyes just some seconds, the latters were printed in a book! We do infer, that their concentration in front of the monitor was very high, and very low in front of the hated book!
4. The Net
I often let some students navigate in the Internet by themselves. Some of them improved their speedness in typing thanks to the chat in IRC (this is culture too!). But for teaching the best new tool is obviously the World Wide Web.
The most interesting experience with the Web was with the fifth class, with boys and girls of 18 and 19. They had to find news, texts, images, for their final short thesis. I knew that the WEB in Italy is not as good and rich as in other countries, but it's useful especially for people that live in towns and little towns. Civita Castellana, the town where is my school, has 15,000 inhabitants, many other towns from which our students come have no
more than 5,000 inhabitants. It's difficult to find a good bookshop or a good library in this area. It's easy to understand how much the WEB can be useful here.
We had many problems in the end of the year. We have only one PC connected with the Internet, and many students don't understand English, many of them don't know anything about PC's! The texts and images we found were enough, but I'm sure there could be many more.
I guess that navigation in the WEB is possible for only three or four people together, not more. They have to know what they are looking for, and have to write a list of subjects. The results have to be written too. Anyway I did notice the effects of monitor's power even here, when images come and students look at them with unbelievable attention! The monitor seems to be very incisive !
5. Art and technique (a kind of conclusion)
I cannot find better words to conclude this short diary about teaching and multimedia, than Prof. Roberto Maragliano's words written into the document of the sages. It's about school and art education. Has the new marriage of Art and Technique to be based on these arguments ?
...School is the only seat where the institutions of every knowledge are explained methodically and completely, whilst the informations that come from other seats are usually more or less occasional and not co-ordinated.
... ..Visual arts offer great and irreplaceable chances for the development of invention, effectiveness, communication, opinion. A desirable promotion inside the school of all the activities related to the conservation and the utilization of cultural assets would bring to the maturation of the historical sense and to a greater environmental responsibility, and to the
growing of sophisticated technological abilities.