info @ archimuse.com
published April 1998
updated Nov. 2010
Teacher as Student, Student as Teacher: Teaching and Learning
Through Direct Experience
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
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.
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
1. Introduction and viewing of other teen sites.
2. Defining the issues
3. Sketches and outlines of individual "amendments".
4. Scripting HTML
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.
It soon became evident that the timeline of the syllabus would not
be sufficient to fully explore and accomplish the objectives for several
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.
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
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.
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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