|Volume 57 Number 1
Building Cultural Bridges with the Language of Art: A Grant Proposal for International Videoconferencing
Pope John Paul II High School, Hendersonville, TN
Presented as a part of the program, Annual SIS Student Research Forum.
Conference Abstract: School of Information Sciences students present their research in this annual TLA event. Join these future librarians as they share their original research projects that are relevant to libraries and information services.
This proposal for international video conferencing developed from research as a second-year graduate student at the University of Tennessee School of Information Sciences. Video conferencing is an innovative and dynamic use of technology that can support educational goals and enhance student skills in information literacy. Use of video conferencing programming as an outgrowth of classroom learning supports the Information Literacy Standards for Student Learning: the opportunities for active discussion encourages students to evaluate information critically (standard 2); the potential for student-developed programming supports the goal of using information accurately and creatively (standard 3); and perhaps the most distinctive aspect of video conferencing is that students have the opportunity to reach out into the community, to contribute positively to the learning community...and participate effectively in groups to pursue and generate information (standard 9) (American Association of School Librarians 1998, p. 8-9).
The first part of this research will describe uses of video conferencing to enhance learning and evaluate the challenges and benefits of current local, national, and international programs. The second part of this research will detail an action research project involving a high school in Nashville and an American School in El Salvador. The goal of this collaboration was to develop an interactive information literacy skills/art program to support a cultural exchange of art critiques. This collaborative project was then submitted as part of a grant proposal to acquire video conferencing equipment to link the two schools through technology.
Uses of Video Conferencing
What is video conferencing? Envision a classroom without walls, one in which students can reach out to community organizations, museums, experts in all professions, as well as students from other schools without ever leaving the classroom. All of this is possible through the technology of video conferencing (VC).
How does it work? VC allows a real-time interaction between locations through an ISDN (phone line) or IP (internet protocol) connection. A VC camera at each participating location sends the image and audio of the audience to the other location through a TV monitor or a computer projector that is equipped with speakers.
Some of the earliest uses of VC involved remote site communication for NASA space flight in the 1960s. VC continues to be used in the business sector for long-distance meetings and training sessions. The educational field has used this resource successfully since the 1980s. In the Nashville area, two organizations support development and programming for VC in schools. Dr. Steve Shao, TSU professor, began Project DIANE in 1991 to help schools connect with community experts at locations such as the Science Center, Grassmere Zoo, and the Elephant Sanctuary. Vanderbilt Virtual School formed its community outreach program later that year. Vanderbilt has provided programs as diverse as discussions with a Holocaust survivor; viewing archeological evidence in Antarctica of early plant life or taking a close a look at shards of Greek pottery at a dig in Greece; and listening to political experts discuss the process of campaigning and voting and then students participating in a nationwide mock election. These VC programs are often referred to as “virtual field trips” because these programs allow students to partake in educational experiences without leaving their school.
International Videoconferencing Organizations
In addition to program development and support on a national level, VC has taken the “leap” to global connections. Developing a successful international VC program requires mentoring, training, networking, and educational resources. Several non-profit organizations assist educators and community members who are interested in international VC. These organizations provide several services including technical advice and training, community connections for conferencing opportunities, and lesson plan ideas.
Three organizations that provide national and international VC programming connections are
- International Education and Resouce Network, (iEARN) (http://www.iearn.org)
- Global Leap, United Kingdom (www.global-leap.com)
- Center for Interactive Learning and Collaboration (CILC), United States (www.cilc.org)
iEARN. The organization with the longest history of international collaboration is iEARN, which began in 1988 as an online program to link schools in the US and Soviet Union. This program now has organizational websites in North America and the Caribbean, Latin America, Europe, Middle East, Africa, and Asia and the Pacific. This organization organizes primarily Internet collaborative projects, though new technologies are encouraged. A $100.00 yearly membership fee provides the school educator with collaborative links to over 200 ongoing projects and a training guide to instruct other educators about the program. The mission of this organization is to create “global citizens who make a difference by collaborating with their peers around the world” ( "International Education and Resouce Network" 2006).
Global-Leap. Mike Griffith began the Global-Leap VC program when he was still the Assistant Master at a school in England. His students launched the program with a 16- hour global VC with countries including Australia and Peru. Since then, Mike has worked for the Schools Division of the Department for Education and Skills in the United Kingdom. He develops programs and facilitates connections between educators and virtual field trip experiences that extend the curriculum of the classroom. The Global-Leap website now contains over 400 developed “field trips” to museums, galleries, and even nature explorations, such as a visit with a diver to explore the reefs of Australia. Additional support is provided by standards-linked lesson plans; teachers can access these plans and engage students in background learning activities to better prepare the students for the program. Some of the VC programs have fees as well as the costs of phone connection, if connecting by ISDN instead of IP. For instance, the Reef Videoconferencing with a diver in Queensland Australia has a cost of $255.00 for the diver. Most of the gallery/museum visits do not have a fee ("Global Leap" 2005; "Global Leap" 2006).
CILC. This U.S. based, non-profit organization began in 1994 with a strong mission to use VC and other technologies to help schools build collaborative ties with the community. Their mission is to “make strong correlations between classroom learning and the real world” and to develop “critical thinking, research, and presentation skills required to be active members of the community" ( Center for Interactive Learning and Collaboration" 2006). A small membership fee of $20.00 allows access to program listings and networking with other CILC members. In addition, the organization offers many training opportunities and webinar conferences. For example, in Nov. 2007, Dr. Lynell Burmark presented “An Exploration in Visual Literacy.”
Several challenges must be considered for schools setting up a VC program. One of the biggest trends in VC has been the move from an ISDN (phone line) connection to an IP (internet) connection. Vanderbilt Virtual School helps to provide programming and link Nashville area schools, but as of Fall 2006 they posted on their website that they would no longer be able to provide connections unless the school had an IP connection. This has caused some schools to be stranded, but Vanderbilt coordinator Patsy Partin said that “the jump from ISDN to IP is necessary because of the high cost of phone connections for national and international calls. For instance, some international calls cost $90.00 a minute.”
Cost to maintain a VC connection is also a factor to consider. The monthly cost of an IP connection is approximately $80.00 a month for a digital cable line; the bandwith of the line needs to be at least 384 kilabits, which prevents detrimental viewing and audio connections (at slower connection speeds, images of participants may “freeze” and the delay of the sound matching the movement of the speaker’s mouth is disconcerting to viewers). A T-1 line connection would deliver the fastest connection, at 1.5 megabits and a monthly cost of $700-$1000.00 a month, possibly a cost-prohibitive choice for schools. The cost of equipment itself can range from used equipment at a cost of $1500 to $3000 for a VC unit, to $10,000 to $15,000 for a new unit.
In addition to the challenge of connection and program costs for VC, scheduling VC programs in a school day is an additional challenge that requires some creative solutions. Scott Merritt of University School hosts an annual VC connection with a school in Japan. Because of the time difference for the connection, Scott plans a “slumber party” at the school for students participating. This allows them to connect during the Japan school’s normal class time. The difficulties of working VC programming into a fixed school schedule is also a problem for Christy Foreman, Library Director of Fr. Ryan High School in Nashville, TN, who has coordinated VC programs for the past 8 years. She finds scheduling to be her biggest hurdle because block scheduling of classes does not allow much flexibility. For instance, Vanderbilt Virtual School offers many wonderful programs that link to high school curriculum, but their program offerings are slotted typically in two blocks in the morning. This morning connection may not correspond with a high school classroom’s schedule.
Although challenges of costs, IP connectivity, and scheduling must be overcome, many special benefits await in developing a VC program. One benefit of VC is the opportunity for collaborative learning. An example of classroom collaboration which incorporated VC was a folk tale/animal unit that I organized with fourth grade students at Overbrook School in Nashville. The student learning objective of the project was to develop an original folk tale based on the African tale, “Why Frog and Snake Never Play Together.” Students incorporated researched facts about the animals and their habitats, and students used creative writing skills to develop a script that presented the conflict between the characters of frog and snake and resolved the conflict. This project linked several curricular areas: library, science, reading class, art, computer and music. Each fourth grade class performed their story (one story set in the desert, and one story set in the swamp) to both Overbrook students and Nashville schools through VC. The opportunity for discussion with students from other schools made this collaboration effective.
In addition to collaborative learning and the opportunity for classrooms to reach out into the community, schools can connect with other countries and benefit from the cultural exchange of ideas. An example of a current global project is called Machinto. This project is facilitated by educators in the U.S. and Japan, and it is based on a children’s book by the same name. The focus of the project is to have students investigate the aftermaths of war (as the story character Machinto was effected by the bombing of Hiroshima). Students research effects of war, such as the displacement of children and the refugee situation. Then students create their own picture books of their thoughts and good wishes for peace. These books will be given to these victims of war in an effort for students to create solidarity with students in other countries who are suffering ("International Education and Resouce Network" 2006).
International Art Critique Project
As a high school librarian and former art teacher I explored an action research project in which art students would conduct international art critiques, eventually enhanced through the technology of VC. Two schools, one in Nashville, TN, and one in El Salvador, participated in this project. The goal of the project is to conduct international art critiques in which students use the language of art (principles and elements of art) to critically analyze (critique) student artwork. This interaction provides the opportunity for a cultural exchange and appreciation of art, society, and language. The two participating schools are St. Cecilia Academy in Nashville, TN, a small, Catholic, all-girls high school and Escuela Americana, an American high school in El Salvador with a strong international population (79% of the students are country nationals, 15% are U.S. citizens, and 5% are from other countries including Korea, Taiwan, Canada, South Africa, and Peru).
In my role as the library media specialist, I collaborated with the art teachers Barbara Gronefeld (SCA) and Jennifer Skipper (Escuela Americana) to develop a Teen Ad Lesson. In this lesson, students looked closely at advertisements in a magazine geared to teens in their country and explored how these ad images reflect their cultural concerns as teens. The lesson was comprised of three parts: 1) student response to a “Teen Ad Survey” (statements about ads such as, “Trying to achieve the kind of beauty promoted by ads seriously jeopardizes one’s health”); 2) student discussion of scholarly articles about the effects of advertisement on teens; and 3) student partners evaluating a teen ad for use of color, line, wording and how these design elements can manipulate teens’ views of themselves.
It was amazing to see the students point out design elements such as color and angles of lines that led the viewer’s eye to the product, and students pointed out slogans or words that made unrealistic claims, such as “365 days of Glowing Perfection” for a “natural look” artificial tanning cream. The students used their art knowledge of design and joined it with their “critical eye” based on the knowledge they gleaned from the advertising/manipulation research articles. The students then created their own art image to comment on media manipulation in teen ads.
An artwork example from a St. Cecilia student shows a collage of female images striving for perfect beauty, such as model Paris Hilton, whose face is diagramed with dotted lines to “correct” her lip line or suggestions for additional shading to improve the shape of the face. In an art example from a student at Escuela Americana, a series of identical figures clad in bathing suits is joined with the slogan, “A Sunless Tan As Individual As You Are.” The irony of the identical figures suggests that in seeking a “perfect look/perfect tan,” the individual loses her own identity.
A grant for VC equipment has been submitted to foundations to purchase the equipment for these two schools, but these art students have already begun to share their art images and art critiques through two new directions of using technology. Through the support of the University of Tennessee, guidance of Professor Dr. Allard, and group efforts of graduate students Thomas Moseley and Andrew Coleman, a Digital Art Library was established at UT’s D-Space. In this Digital Art Library, student art work has been catalogued so that students can search images by the principles and elements of art (such as line, color, etc.) and engage in classroom critiques of artwork. In addition, a wiki was created at Schtuff.com so that students can independently search images and type in comments/critiques of the artworks.
This collaborative project awaits further connections through a possible grant to provide purchase of VC equipment. However, the students of St. Cecilia Academy and Escuela Americana have already experienced the benefits of using technology creatively to link their schools in the virtual art critiques. In a 1996 technology study by Jukes, two central considerations for evaluating effective use of technology are: “What worthwhile activity can this technology allow that could not be done before? What worthwhile activity can this technology allow to be done substantially better?” (Donham 2005, p.208) Using the technology for these art classrooms enhances both aspects: As a worthwhile activity, use of the Digital Art Library and Schtuff wiki links students internationally in ways not otherwise possible otherwise given the time constraints of the school day, limited school resources, and transportation concerns. It also substantially improves opportunities for interactive, collaborative art critiques between the students of these schools. A future connection through VC will be an exciting addition to this project and the immediacy of the medium and opportunities for group interaction, in-depth discussions, and critical thinking will further engage student learning and promote information literacy.
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Foreman, Christie. 2004. Interview by Joan Lange, 11 February, Nashville, TN. Site visit and interview. Fr. Ryan High School, Nashville.
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Merritt, Scott. 2004. Interview by Joan Lange, 6 September, Nashville, TN. Phone conversation. University School, Nashville.
Partin, Patsy, director of Vanderbilt Virtual School. 2006. Interview by Joan Lange, 27 October, Hendersonville, TN. Phone conversation. Pope John Paul II High School, Hendersonville.
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