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MUSEUMS AND THE WEB 1998

Overview of MW98: Why you should attend MW98 Learn new skills to enhance your museum site Explore issues and controversies facing Museums and the Web Experts featured at MW98 Commercial products and services to enhance your web site Organizations supporting MW98: Online interchange regarding the virtual museum experience Juried awards to best web sites in 5 categories

Archives & Museum Informatics

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published April 1998
updated Nov. 2010

Papers

Teacher as Student, Student as Teacher: Teaching and Learning Through Direct Experience

Louis Mazza, Walker Art Center, USA

Objective of project:

The objective of the Walker Art Center's Teen Web Project is threefold: 1.)To acquaint the selected students with the medium of the web as a means of creative expression. 2.)To approach the construction of our web sites with critical thinking skills. 3.)To guide the teens toward developing their own individual web sites as a response to the issues that concern them as young adults.

Conception of the project:

The Teen Web Project was initiated by Michelle Coffey, Teen Programs Coordinator at the Walker Art Center. She approached New Media Initiatives with the idea of bringing together a diverse group of teenagers from a variety of high schools in the Twin Cities area and giving them access to the tools necessary to create a web site. Her mission for this teen project parallels the general mission of the Walker Art Center as an institution and, more specifically, the mission developed for the Walker Art Center Teen Arts Council. "To build a space and create experiences where individuals can explore; to ask unsafe questions in a safe place that encourages one to make sense of the world and our relationship to it and to each other. There is a natural relationship between teens and contemporary artists, both a probing and questioning their surroundings, their relationship to society, and the world's relation to them. They are exploring boundaries in hopes of discovering, and perhaps building, their own identities".1 With this mission in mind, I was then asked to come up with a syllabus for the duration of the course.

I was suddenly reminded of an article in Wired magazine that I had read in the summer of 1996. The article was called "Kids Cyber Rights" and it was written brilliantly by John Katz, a frequent writer of media and the internet in Wired magazine, among other publications. What motivated me most was his observation that kids and teens are the only group in our country who have no legal civil rights, and that the decisions that were being discussed for how to structure the internet were of great concern to this group possibly more than any other. The focus of his piece was the proposition that kids design a new digital constitution for teens, that they voice their opinions about issues such as censorship along with those who hold the power to make those decisions.

I took this article as the inspiration for the development of my syllabus and began to structure a course that would identify the issues of concern to this class. Once the issues were identified we would then begin to construct individual responses to the issues in the form of "amendments". I was eager to see how a group of motivated, talented and diverse young adults might begin to answer back to the media and the government if they had the forum to speak. The web gives them this forum. Artists have traditionally been the harbingers of the culture in flux, the barometers of the global, cultural climate. if young artists are taught the language of the digital culture and in fact have a hand in creating it, then we have every reason to believe that the web will be a place where the media is spoken back to and looked at with critical minds.

Process

In implementing the ideas generated in the conception of the Teen Web Project, I took a decidedly organic approach, that is, I was open to what the process would become. Having never taught a class on web page construction, I was full of ideas but without the practical experience to realize how the course would fall into place.
In accordance with the syllabus, I outlined the ten weeks of the course into what we would cover each week.

1. Introduction and viewing of other teen sites.
2. Defining the issues
3. Sketches and outlines of individual "amendments".
4. Scripting HTML
5. Scanning.
6. Photoshop workshop.
7. Creating links from the main Teen Arts site.
8. Posting the site with links to the student pages in progress.
9. Finished student links.
10. Critique.

It soon became evident that the timeline of the syllabus would not be sufficient to fully explore and accomplish the objectives for several reasons:

1.)The class was structured into two-hour stretch in the computer lab at The Blake School, a private high school about two blocks from the Walker Art Center. In two hours, we only just scratched the surface of the week's objective. The first two weeks were fine. Discussion and theorizing produced excellent ideas for each project, but when we got into the instruction and practice of using the tools, there simply wasn't enough class time for the students to put the lessons into practice.

2.)The students spanned the continuum of experience and understanding of how the medium worked. Some students had little more understanding of the web than "surfing" while others had already created websites. The task of keeping the class balanced in terms of interest in the material covered proved to be the most challenging aspect. Much like teaching basic math and calculus in the same class.
While addressing questions of basic HTML tagging, others who knew the answers would begin to stray and create distractions for the others. Any substitute High School Teacher can attest to the ingenious (and distracting) ways in which the students can pass idle time.

3.)The failure to factor in the behavior of ten teen-age students together in a social setting with free reign to the internet in front of each one of them simultaneously was, perhaps, an oversight worth mentioning. At any given moment there were sound clips playing, video clips of exploding whales being viewed with delight, students sharing urls to sites from the Jerry Springier show to the South Park animation series on-line. The upside to this is that we would have insightful and enlightening discussions about each of these sites and sounds. One thing WAS working, and that was their critical minds were at work and they began to develop a language and a context, if only theoretically, on which to base their discoveries on the web, no matter how sensational or banal their findings.

4.)Another unanticipated problem was the Blake School's internal network restrictions regarding students use of external programs. There was one version of Photoshop already installed in the lab and three programs obtained from the Walker Art Center through in-kind donations from Adobe. Even with the additional applications, the computer system at the school was configured to dump any programs at shut-down time that weren't originally on the system. As a result, each week we convened for class we had to re-install programs. This added additional set-up time to our already tight 2-hour class.

Lessons Learned

As a result of the unknown variables listed above, the context and dynamics of the class began to change. I found that the idea of the "amendments", while artistically intriguing, was more refined an idea than the students were ready to address. And possibly too restrictive for and introductory course. I allowed the objective of the projects to develop their own directions.
As with any creative process, lessons are learned during the practice of creating. My approach to teaching has been organic and reciprocal. What the New Media does most, for better or worse in terms of the classroom, is create new paradigms for learning. The lines between teacher and student are gradually blurring and in that amorphous soup of variability and self motivated discovering there lie incredible possibilities for teachers to learn and students to teach and lead.
In the Teen Web Project, we began by having critical discussions about the mass media of television, film and print. The common theme I heard loud and clear was that they felt undervalued, misrepresented and unheard. This, I believe, is because what those media don't do is foster input and inquiry. We discussed and listed issues that the students felt were of specific importance to them. Issues that are lost in the majority of TV sitcoms and "Teen" magazines. The crux of the project was, in my opinion and experience, the process of thinking about the media. In this way, the project was wildly successful. The students were beginning to address and respond to issues of gender roles, media control, censorship in the guise of protecting family values. The students were thinking independently and questioning conventional wisdom.
As artists are actively engaged in overturning conventional wisdom, so too are young adults in teen-age years. Each must do a significant amount of probing, questioning, and provoking in an attempt to find his or her place in society, and to create an individual voice. A contemporary art center such as the Walker is in a unique position to provide access to the arts for teens and has focused its resources on teens, an audience traditionally neglected by cultural institutions. This portion of the class was guided and nurtured by myself and Michelle Coffey. Once the students were prompted to investigate their intention they began to consider their projects more carefully. Once the issues were defined, however, the practice of scripting, imaging, linking, networking and general technical troubleshooting were shared evenly throughout the class. Age and experience barriers melted and we merged into a classroom of experimenters. I am the first to admit that I am as much a student as each of them. It is important to note that, since the websites are a continuing and evolving process, the project was continued on an individual consultation basis, with students scheduling meetings and workshops with myself and Michelle at the Walker Art Center on an ongoing basis. The Walker Art Center Teen Programs World Wide Web Project, I believe, has only just begun.

  Footnote:

1 Walker Art Center Teen Arts Council Mission Statement - Michelle Coffey, Teen Programs Coordinator at the Walker Art Center.

 

 
Last modified: March 19, 1998. This file can be found below http://www.archimuse.com/mw98/ 
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