The Power of 'Fingertip Knowledge'
How students learn in an art classroom.
“Fingertip knowledge”—what a fun coin phrase to refer to how nearly every question anyone has about almost anything imaginable can now be accessed online in a matter of seconds. This is a relatively new concept that is an absolute game changer in how humans interact with information.
After being in the classroom for nearly 14 years, I have slowly seen my role as a teacher and how I facilitate learning with my students change. As an art teacher, like any content area, there are an endless amount of facts that are topic based. I used to be heavy on the memorization of artist names and titles but have most recently put less emphasis on this. From a production standpoint, I am first and foremost a visual learner. If someone is in my proximity and demonstrating a new process or technique, my eyes are glued to them.
With this said, I value the importance of modeling techniques and processes with my students as well. It seems the most relevant in intro classes where, for many, learning about any media is new.
Things have been in a constant stage of change, however, when it comes to my advanced art classes where it is not unusual to have a classroom of students all working independently on projects in a variety of different medias and processes. I have most recently observed my role in this as much a facilitator as a teacher.
“Fingertip knowledge” in my room translates to a student being able to pull up videos of professional artists demonstrating any process in any media known to man within seconds. Becoming proficient and learning about any media has never been easier or more convenient for a student.
Our AP Studio Art and International Baccalaureate Visual Art curriculum emphasizes originality, breadth in student portfolios and overall independent work. It has become a necessity for me as a teacher to properly facilitate these experiences through the aid of online learning.
Most recently, I had one of the most significant experiences I have ever witnessed in the classroom that reflects on experiences pertaining to fingertip knowledge and the power of the internet as a learning tool for student interactions.
A group of four of my students have embarked on a journey to create a 12-minute documentary in honor of the life of an "unsung hero" they discovered, Alice Seeley Harris, The project is part of the Lowell Milken Center for Unsung Heroes, an international nonprofit and affiliate of the Milken Family Foundation that discovers, develops and communicates the stories of Unsung Heroes who have made a profound and positive impact on the course of history. (Read more about the project.)
After many conversations with students to narrow down our topic, which will be celebrated and advocated for in our documentary and later submitted into a competition, we began to do internet research on potential primary resources we could use for interviews.
The following day one of the group members came back with a list of three to four names, including their email, postal addresses and other contact information. We were all amazed at how quickly she had found this information online.
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We used her contacts to make an international phone call to Liverpool, England, and chatted with a receptionist at a museum. We then emailed one of their exhibition officers in hopes of getting more information. The following morning, one of our team members came into class full of excitement.
Apparently, the museum contact had forwarded our email to Rebecca Seeley Harris, the great granddaughter of our documentary topic and hopeful primary resource, who forwarded the email on to an author in Canada who had recently written a book about our topic. The author, Judy Pollard Smith, had sent us an email and was excited about our project and offered to assist in our journey to compile information. She went as far as to mail us a copy of her book the following day.
As if it weren't enough to see how quickly and easily contact information was found on the internet, it was unimaginable to witness how quickly one email could ping-pong across the Atlantic and connect multiple primary resources needed for the documentary. In the weeks to come, we have hopes of interviewing our contacts through Skype using HD video, which will later be included in the documentary.
The experiences with the project so far have challenged me to reflect and question how my students learn and how the four walls of my classroom do not technically exist.
Milken Educator Brad LeDuc teaches art at Washburn Rural High School in Topeka, Kansas, and has inspired thousands of students to discover a visual voice they may otherwise not have found. This article was originally published in February 2015 on the student Unsung Hero website.
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