Digital Tools to Design Art Museum Activities

moma teen | MoMA | Voluntaries Service: MoMA Teens + Dean Moss

Sometimes for logistical or financial reasons, students are unable to visit art museums. Today’s interactive technology, like Google Art and other sites like it, enables students to take an up, close and personal tourobserving every brushstroke of Van Gogh’s Starry Night without ever leaving the classroom. MoMA and so many other museums have opened their doors virtually, sharing their exhibits, art history and instruction to reach visitors far beyond their physical walls.  Educational programs in many art museums are leveraging the power of free web 2.0 tools, social media and MOOCs to expand learning on a global scale for educators and students of all ages and means.   However, visiting an art museum whether virtually or in person is not enough if teachers do not offer art museum activities so students can engage with the works of art in meaningful ways.

In Week 3, MoMA’s Art and Inquiryexplored the concept of discovering meaning

in artwork through activities.  In art museum education, activities include any strategy not involving a group discussion about artwork.  Activities are meant to address the needs of different types of learners, deepen students’ encounter with art and help students discover how art informs other disciplines and experiences.   

Week 3’s reading describes 3 types of museum activities, which allow students to engage with art purposefully and hone their critical thinking skills. When students are unable to visit art museums in person, there are many sites and tech tools for students to still have the opportunity to engage in art inquiry. I have listed the museum activities from the week’s reading along with a brief description of how particular digital tools can facilitate learning about art in the virtual or face to face classroom.    
Activities that frame encounters with artworks
1.) Activities can introduce a key concept– If the goal is to examine the role of materials in a variety of artworks, students can use FlickrMentorMob, Pinterest to curate artwork by theme or concept, historical period, or role of materials. Students can even write emails to each other to describe the rationale they used to curate the artworks they chose.

2.) Activities can act as hooks into a work– With Voice Thread the teacher can frontload and prepare students for deeper inquiry by adding an image, a video, article, or other print or non print text that hooks students’ attention about a work. Students can add their verbal or written predictions, comments, questions or a variety of reactions before delving deeper in the work itself.

3.) Activities can help record a sequence of encounters– After a virtual tour of artworks, students can create a Mixbookincluding the images they viewed, and write a curatorial comment card to describe their impressions and any contextual background learned. They can also engage in synchronous discussions with other classrooms around the world via Today’sMeet to evaluate and synthesize their encounter with the artworks.

4.) Activities can facilitate reflection about a museum session– Students can use Twitter to tweet themes, questions, comments, critiques and more. They can reach out to connect with the artists to ask them questions as well, or use Facebook Voice Thread, Google HangoutsSkype, email to connect synchronously and asynchronously with other teachers and students around the world through written and spoken reflections. Podcasting, video-casting and blogging are also ways students can express their virtual or face to face museum experience. 

Activities that deepen and enrich an engagement with a work 

Bloom’s Taxonomy and Digital Tools

1.) Activities can foster close observation- Voice Thread
2.) Activities can access immediate responses- Fotobabble
3.) Activities can elicit embodied responses-  Bomomo  Google Sketchup
4.) Activities can access the emotional tone of a work- Vine, Audioboo, Voice Thread, podcasting
Activities that connect experiences with artworks to other realms of learning, creation and experience
1.) Activities can take an idea put forth by an artwork to other areas of learning or of the students’ world- Thinglink, Storify
2.) Activities can help develop non-art skills related to the school curriculum- Wordle
3.) Activities can help inspire artistic creation- Glogster, Storybird, Storyjumper

4.) Activities can help develop discrete art making skills – Google Sketchup
Whether students visit an art museum in person, or virtually, designing art activities integrating digital tools ensures students engage in high order thinking skills they need to develop meaningful relationships with art.    

My Week 3 Inquiry Based Conversation and 
Art Activities using Digital Tools: Twitter and Storify

For this week’s assignment, we had to use the artwork we posted last week in the discussion forum, ask a friend or family member to help us practice leading an inquiry based conversation around it, and talk about it in the forum: describe our experience. 

  • What was easy? 

I led an inquiry based conversation with two 16 year olds, both rising juniors in high school, my daughter Elizabeth and her friend, Michael. Both of them are National Honor Society students and enjoy learning for learning’s sake. They are both interested in art and photography so it was easy to get them to volunteer to talk about Abelardo Morell’s “Empire State Building in Bedroom”. Our conversation lasted about 30 minutes, on and off camera. Other than some initial camera shyness on all our parts, we felt comfortable conversing about the piece. It was easy to ask the students the following questions because they were eager to express their thoughts.
  1. What do you see?
  2. Why do you think the photograph is in black and white? 
  3. Would the use of color have changed the tone of the work? 
  4. What does the bed/room suggest about who sleeps/lives there?
  5. What do you think the artist was trying to tell us?
  6. Why do you think the artist juxtaposed the image of a bed and the Empire State Building?
  7. How do you think Morell created the upside image effect in the photograph?
  8. What is Morell trying to tell us about our perception of the inside environment and the outside world? 
  9. What images would you pair together from the outside and inside world and why? What message would you want the pairing of your images to convey to viewers? 
  10. How does your perception of the photograph change if we juxtapose it with Richard Blanco’s poem “America”? 
  • What was challenging? 

While asking the questions was easy because the students were quick to share their interpretations, knowing when to interrupt students to weave in contextual background posed a challenge because many of their responses anticipated questions I wanted to pose to lead into sharing the background information. For example, before I was able to explain the camera obscura technique Morell uses to superimpose images, Michael, shared what he thought the artist had done to create the upside down effect. I allowed him an opportunity to speculate, and then I defined and explained Morell’s camera obscura technique.

A personal challenge for me involved having the time to prepare, research and gather enough contextual information about the artist, the piece, the camera obscura technique and even the poem and poet to provide students with the necessary background that would inspire them to explore all of these further. After our conversation, I found a National Geographic Youtube video explaining how Morell uses camera obscura, and felt had I had more time to prepare for the conversation, watching this one minute video during the conversation would have benefitted students in gaining a better understanding of the camera obscura technique, and would have possibly inspired them to create their own photography using the technique.  

Overall I was impressed with both Elizabeth and Michael’s interpretations. They both brought up the topic of the work’s tone without me asking them this very important question, and they cited examples from the piece to support why and how they thought its tone was somber. When asked what contrasting images they would pair, Michael said he would juxtapose the image of a lush forest with that of an industrial plant to convey a message about protecting our environment. Elizabeth mentioned she would pair the image of a tree house and a child’s apartment bedroom to contrast how the lives of children differ in urban and rural settings.

Both Elizabeth and Michael had attended Richard Blanco’s poetry reading in Vermont a few weeks prior and recalled the poem “America”. When I asked them how this poem might influence their perception of the photograph, Michael talked about how the images of the plain bed and surrounding furniture revealed the hardships faced by immigrants and how the image of the Empire State Building bleeds into the living space overwhelming the inhabitants. Elizabeth pointed out how the plain bed sheets, and the night table both suggested a modest life and the Empire State Building invaded the space as a constant reminder for the people/person who live there to strive to live a better life.  

I enjoyed hearing Elizabeth and Michael’s insightful analysis and without much reminding they offered examples from the photograph to support their interpretations. It was challenging to get them to pause and take their time to think. They preferred to offer responses seconds after I asked them a question, and we discussed why I wanted them to allow some wait time before they responded.

We closed the conversation with one activity because of time constraints. I asked them to tweet their questions, comments, interpretations, etc. using my Twitter account and the hashtag #artinquiry. Elizabeth asked if they could pose questions to the artist himself, which I had not thought about, and so they did. A few hours later, Abelardo Morell, the artist himself, replied to Elizabeth’s tweet about what he meant to convey with “Empire State Building in Bedroom.” His reply disheartened us a bit at first because we had spent so much time analyzing, perhaps overanalyzing the piece, we felt certain Morell’s photograph had some sort of message for its viewers.

His tweet taught us a most valuable lesson to always remember during art inquiry. My frainger Cathleen Nardi explored this topic in her latest post. During art inquiry, the viewer brings his/her past experiences, personality, and knowledge which influences his/her perception and is just as important and relevant as the artist’s intentions for creating the piece. So Morell was not making any sort of social political statement at all, but nevertheless, as viewers, his art and art in general, invites viewers to take the time to think and discuss what they see because when we take the time to see art, it enriches our life in ways that are not always plainly understood.