In a digital age where great ideas can be uploaded in a matter of seconds and downloaded at an even faster pace, it is essential for teachers to develop a critical eye as consumers of visual culture and digital media. As a current visiting faculty member in the Visual and Performing Arts department, teaching pre-service art and elementary teachers art methods, I am as guilty as anyone in liking something daily on Facebook, Pinning, this or that on Pinterest and using my iPad more than I dare admit. Therefore, as a fellow consumer of visual and digital culture, I feel it is my work to help students understand and recognize the practice of meaningful art integration. They must be empowered to develop a critical eye with which to read the overabundance of “art” lessons and project ideas posted on Pinterest for every occasion. Now more than ever there is a call for art educators teaching at the high education level to teach our pre-service teachers to read these image and ideas we are confronted by every day as we go about our internet ways.
Throughout the semester, the current elementary art methods course at Luther College (Art 228: Art in the Elementary Schools) challenges pre-service classroom teachers to examine their notions of meaningful art integration through readings on current art educational theory and pedagogy, an understanding of contemporary art, studio projects, and critiques of elementary art lessons and project ideas found on the internet. The goal is that students walk away empowered to develop contemporary curriculum integrating art into their classrooms inspired by contemporary artists, visual culture, social justice issues and technology; encouraging student creativity rather than prescribed cut and paste craft projects producing identical results.
Inspired by several of my students' original lesson plans written during the culmination of the Art 228 course last semester, I submitted proposals to both the Art Educators of Iowa conference and the National Art Education Association conference to co-present with students on this topic. Having just returned from the Art Educators of Iowa conference less than two weeks ago, I am inspired by the ripple effect this experience has generated.
Upon being granted student travel funds by the college, three of my current Art Ed students (one senior and two juniors) accompanied me to Cedar Rapids to co-present at the conference in a 50 minute best practice lecture. The students presented their research and original lessons plans inspired by contemporary artists, iPad apps, elements of art and principles of design in a presentation titled, "Empowering Pre-service Teachers to Develop a Critical Eye in the Era of iPad and Pinterest." The students presented with confidence and enthusiasm for our topic to a room full of Iowa art educators and the positive energy was infectious.
Through the course of the weekend, they were approached numerous times by elementary and secondary teachers, as well as AEI board members offering complementary remarks and support as they seek placement for their upcoming student teaching. The students' presence commanded a buzz throughout the conference. Faculty from UNI and U of I welcomed Luther College with open arms and one of our students was approached about serving as the pre-service teacher delegate for the AEI board. They connected with keynote speaker and 2007 Luther alum, Jessica Balsley, founder of The Art of Education website, who was so impressed by their enthusiasm and excitement to be at the conference, that upon the culmination of the weekend, she wrote her weekly blog/newsletter on the subject of mentoring pre-service teachers. During this post she recounted her experience at the conference, being inspired and energized by the three pre-service educators from her alma mater (complete with a link to the Luther website). Hundreds, possibly thousands of art teachers from across the state and across the nation (subscribers to AOE), received that message.
Upon returning to campus students were enthusiastic and reaffirmed in their chosen career path. Currently the three conference attendees are digging up a charter for future art educators that Balsley started during her time at Luther, but has been abandoned for some time. They have a list of projects and events they hope to achieve yet this year, connecting campus with community through hands-on exploration, and are recruiting other Art Ed students to get involved. Within two weeks, one of the students has been nominated to the AEI board. Most importantly, these three students are now members of a new family that will help them to network for placements and eventually teaching jobs in the State of Iowa.
As I prep for my spring courses, I am mindful about our experience at the conference and how the ripple effect energizes and inspires me in my teaching going forward. I will bring three other students to the National Art Education Association Conference in San Diego where they will present their original lesson plans and research on our same topic. Although only a few students get the opportunity to have this conference presentation experience, the ripple effect reaches many more. Often, I candidly admit to my students that there is nothing more intoxicating for an educator than seeing your students confident, excited and enthusiastic about their learning--these are the moments that energize us as educators in our ever-developing praxis, and encourage us to continue teaching, learning from our students along the way. The goal is sustaining that ripple effect and enabling it to continue through our students, into our schools, extending into our communities, and out into the larger world.
Lea Donhowe Lovelace, visiting art faculty at Luther College, is the co-founder of ArtHaus--Decorah's center for visual, performing and literary arts offering programming for all ages. As current co-director of ArtHaus, Lovelace oversees all visual arts programming including classes and workshops for youth and adults as well as bi-monthly art exhibitions featuring regional visual artists.