Artifacts in cyberspace: A model of implementing technology into art history education

Artifacts in cyberspace: A model of implementing technology into art history education

Halsey-Dutton, Bonnie

A Model of Implementing Technology into Art History Education

How can art instructors use technology to help students to understand art history better? Imagine being in a darkened classroom in which an image of a prehistoric sandal is projected. Students are challenged to ponder the age of such an artifact and the information that it imparts to archeological science. What fibers were utilized in creating this sandal, and what does this information reveal about where it originates? What was the life of the person who wore this sandal possibly like? What is the age of this artifact, and how was it found? The projected image this class is viewing is a scanned photo from a recent archeological discovery, and through the magic of cyberspace, students are able to contemplate a recently uncovered phenomenon from the past. This article offers a model of a secondary school art history course, entitled Multi-Media Art History, in which the tool of technology plays a large role.

The Internet-based course described in this article requires students to compile a comprehensive collection of art from around the world, gathered from various time periods and cultures. With the resources at hand through technology, lack of access to art history resources is no longer a limitation. Students in Multi-Media Art History conduct research in order to be proficient in their understanding of a chosen topic. They trace this topic through various cultural units. From their research, students are challenged to identify and discuss a variety of cultural motifs and compare and contrast these to other cultures studied. As implied by the article title, technology holds the key to being able to accomplish this intense learning experience. Artifacts abound in cyberspace, and discovering them via technology can be a very exciting experience for today’s students.

Personal Observations Regarding Technology in Art History Education

As an art educator, I find strength for my program by embracing technology. Technology is quickly becoming an essential part of everyday life and inevitably is emerging in the art classroom. As art educators struggle to stay afloat amidst shrinking funding for their programs, technology can offer an infusion of interest in the importance of art instruction. Art classrooms increasingly take on the role of training our young people to utilize technology and to use it creatively. Teaching students not just how to use a computer, but how to create and innovate with one, is a strong argument as to why students need art as part of the curriculum.

It is pointless to argue the merits or limitations of technological instruction over traditional practices. Technology integration is a reality in today’s educational environment and can be a valuable tool in art history education. Opportunities for distance learning are increasing, and a technology-based art history course such as this can be adapted to this mode of instruction. Although most electronic media are still one-directional, this is likely to change soon. Advancements are being made towards interactive potential we can only imagine.

In the course being examined, Multi– Media Art History, the technologies utilized are: Internet sites, CD-ROM art collections, computers, digital scanners, and digital cameras. When students in my class study ancient Egypt, they can go via the Internet to the Cairo Museum to compile information and view a virtual museum collection. This does not replace traditional methods of art history instruction, but vastly expands access to information and collections of instructional visuals.

Technology Considerations

When implementing this model, an instructor must be aware of some technological considerations. Students enter a technology course with varying degrees of experience, and a great deal of one-on-one teacher assistance may be required at the outset. The heavy reliance on technology in a course such as this necessitates student comfort and mastery of the machine. The instructor is obligated to be sure each student is learning the necessary skills to be successful in the course. When implementing technology, an educator has a responsibility to teach ethical use. It is important for instructors to model proper software application and respect of copyright. Copyright laws are a serious issue for artists and educators, and this issue needs to be presented to students when utilizing technology. The legal rights to Internet and CD-ROM images are often vague, but in a classroom environment, images taken from technology sources should be treated as print materials and proper credit given in classroom presentations. Commercialization without express written permission from the source is prohibited.

Curriculum Considerations

State and national standards for art education reflect the importance art has in our society. In art education,

aesthetics and art criticism have become part of the National Art Education Standards (National Standards for Arts Education, 1994). These standards are broken down into six content standards. In designing Multi-Media Art History, it was important to me that all six of these standards be addressed. This course offers an opportunity to emphasize critical analysis and interpretation activities along with production. It is essential that a course such as this elevate cultural study to include higher– level thinking, class discussion, and reflection.

Cultural Impact

Technology not only affects classroom practice, but the culture of humankind as well. As we become increasingly global, understanding and respect for other cultures is of increasing importance. This course seeks to create an enhanced understanding of various cultures’ history, traditions, and values.

Today’s students are exposed to a large body of visuals and information, much of which was not previously readily accessible to them. Because students need to be able to process this wealth of information, visual literacy is a communication skill that is becoming increasingly appreciated. According to the National Standards for Art Education (1994), students not only need to communicate verbally, but also to be able to read and process visual information as well.

Course Description

As a semester-long course, Multi– Media Art History incorporates units from ancient civilizations to modern day. The amount of material covered in this period of time is extensive. In designing curriculum that incorporates technology, emphasis should be placed on developing assignments that probe students’ critical thinking skills and go beyond web surfing. Assignments should require students to draw conclusions, uncover additional questions, and engage in a higher level of thinking. Another paramount consideration is maintaining cultural integrity. Cultures studied must be presented in proper context and with consideration and respect.

Methods of Teaching Multi-Media Art History

Students keep a sketchbook in which they write class lecture notes and record observations from their independent research. These journals are resources that can be utilized in open-note tests. The students’ journaling include sketches of cultural motifs and decorative designs. Recording images helps to familiarize students with design elements found in various cultures and enables students to readily identify these cultures during tests and classroom projects.

Students compile a technology presentation during the semester and find examples of their topic in each unit studied. They carefully record where they access their information, which they include in a final reference slide at the end of their presentation. Due to the size of these presentations, students save their images to a zip disk. Their compiled images are made into a PowerPoint presentation, which at the conclusion of the course is presented to the class. The assessment criteria for the presentation is as follows:

Inclusion of all periods

Informative text added to slides or given verbally

At least 3 maps

A report on a selected 19th-century artist

Presentation of information

Neatness and organization of presentation

Knowledge of topic

Speech clear and loud enough for the class to hear

Mastery of software program

Reference slide at end of presentation

Additional areas assessed in the course are the students’ independent research in their journals, contributions to open discussion, and the students’ ability to apply critical thinking to concepts being explored. Evidence of critical thinking is gathered from assigned student journal entries and quiz and test scores.

Project Ideas

To add interest and variety to the research, students undertake projects that are inspired by art from units studied. Some of these projects are developed to facilitate class discussion. In one project, the class is given archaeological dilemmas that require students to debate and explore moral and ethical choices. Another class discussion activity challenges students to discuss and evaluate famous artworks within particular criteria, such as selecting the work with the strongest use of line, or one that has a masterful use of color. Students must defend their choices. Each students knowledge base and the choices and defenses volunteered are enlightening. I observe that my students are highly conservation-minded, yet practical of monetary cost considerations. These two concepts often come into conflict in these exercises.

The elements and principles of art are introduced, and students critique a variety of ancient to modern artwork, using particular design considerations. The questions raised lead to enlightening classroom discussion. What criteria define something as a work of art? Does giving the historical importance of an artwork as the evaluating criteria change the discussion? Is viewing the object as a cultural icon important to its classification as a valuable piece of art? It often takes several weeks into the course to build a students comfort level in offering his/her observations and viewpoints. Often having students record their personal observations in their journal prior to small group discussions is helpful. There is not a right or wrong answer sought, but rather the ability to form and voice a personal opinion in regard to an artwork.

Students enjoy the role of art critic, in which they view particular artwork with an assigned mind-set. Example questions to ask: Which artwork is of the greatest historical importance? Which artwork causes the greatest emotional response? Again, students debate and defend their choices to the class. This often leads to lively and informative discussions. Students generally enjoy the fact that there is no right or wrong response, and after some time getting used to what they are being asked to do, are able to volunteer insightful observations.

When studying a culture, music from that culture is discussed and played as students work independently on art projects. This helps to establish the mood and gives the study a more indepth cultural meaning. Pairing visual art from a culture or art movement with music from that same culture or time period allows for comparison and contrast opportunities. Doing this helps to show students how principles such as rhythm, harmony, and movement can broach other art forms. Observations of cultural celebrations and foods found in a particular culture add infinite interest. Videos of dance, topography, and monuments found in countries studied further enhance student learning. Teaching a course such as this can be interesting, and the main frustration I observed is that the resources for learning far outnumber the time available for the study!

Hands-on projects are especially valuable in learning about various cultures and time periods. For example, students can render a drawing based on ancient Egyptian tomb painting or emulate the shading found on a Greek statue. My students have opportunity to observe a collection of Sumerian tablets at our local university and then create their own symbolic pictorial signature rolls in clay. The class can explore stamp printing when studying Africa by emulating Adinkra cloth. The students may experiment with Sumi painting when studying the art of Japan. They create woodblock prints to understand the stylized art of the Inuit culture. Impressionist use of color and brushwork in painting is explored by emulating a master from that time period. The time for hands-on projects is limited by the course constraints, so projects are designed to be short in duration, but long in content. The enthusiasm generated by the accompanying projects adds a spark of learning to each unit. Particular grading criteria are always established prior to undertaking the projects, and student understanding of the process should take precedence to mastery of the medium.


Seemingly infinite volumes of information and web sites are available on the Internet. This resource provides educators and researchers access not only to a wealth of information, but access to each other as well. There are many noteworthy database lists available on the Internet. Art foundations and art museum lists are especially useful. The Getty Institute and the Kennedy Center both produce comprehensive web sites that are designed with art educators in mind. Many major world museums offer educational and interactive activities on their web sites.

Personal Observations and Evolution of the Course

I want my students to be aware of preconceived beliefs and prior knowledge that they bring to each culture we study. Students keep journal entries recording their initial ideas about various cultures and time periods. They later reflect upon what they learned as well any misconceptions they find they had. A post-course questionnaire taken by my students indicated that they were more appreciative of various cultures’ artwork once they had a broader understanding of it. When asked how the course shaped their cultural perceptions, or impacted their lives, students responded:

“Learning things I didn’t know about a country gave me more respect for their artwork. I liked talking to my family and seeing something on TV and being able to say `That’s a vanGogh’.”

“I went into a different art classroom that had paintings on the wall, and I knew most of the time periods they came from and some of the artists… that was cool!”

“The course was not just an Art History course, but more specifically, it covered individual cultures, one at a time. I learned a lot about art from individual cultures.”

“I have learned more about how art has influenced our lives and many others. Now, I know how to tell most art pieces apart. I know more artists and different movements in art history.”

Implementing technology into my art classroom is a wonderful learning challenge for me. I find that it is both a curse and a blessing to have access to such a vast array of information. I am obsessed with gathering visuals from various sources and have a file cabinet drawer filled with PowerPoint presentations that I continue to compile to introduce my various units. This is a tremendous time– involving pursuit, but these collections of visuals are enormously helpful to me as an instructor.

Ours is a smaller world than ever before, and cultures are becoming increasingly melded. Evolving methods in which art educators will utilize technology to teach art history will result in exciting new ways to explore the culture of humankind. In the study of art history and global cultures, greater understanding of humankind is the goal, regardless of the methods used to get there.

In Conclusion

Imagine again, a classroom of students sitting in a darkened room. An image of the Great Wall of China is projected on the screen. Traditional Chinese music fades in, and students ar challenged to realize the magnitude of this huge wall, the millions of people required to create it, and the time period in which it was made. The class has studied the technologies of that century and the warning societies that made this undertaking a life-and-death necessity. Sitting in a classroom, these students are experiencing something outside of their community, outside of their country, outside of their time in history. This class has been able to experience and learn from an artifact transported via the magic of cyberspace.


A special thank-you is extended to Dr. Tim Molseed, Dr. David Calhoun, and Mr. Jim Knutson. These three instructors at Black Hills State University served on my graduate committee and assisted with the editing of this article.


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Bonnie Halsey-Dutton is an art instructor at Spearfish High School in Spearfish, SD. E-mail: Dutton@ rushmore. com

Copyright National Art Education Association Jul 2002

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