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Arts Education Moves Beyond the Classroom

By guest blogger Kevin Connors

As K-12 schools continue to cut funding for arts education, kids are increasingly using new technology and online learning communities to pursue these interests outside of formal school settings, according to a recently published report.

The report, commissioned by the New York City-based Wallace Foundation, argues that new technology is making arts education more accessible and more engaging for students in the modern era, in ways that traditional K-12 settings sometimes do not.

Many students want to learn about the art and digital media they are exposed to in their personal lives, but according to Kylie Peppler, the report's author and Assistant Professor of Learning Sciences Program at Indiana University, school arts programs often teach more traditional forms.

"Kids listen to music all day on an iPod but they aren't producing it," Peppler told Education Week. "Why is this happening? Maybe it's because the artists our kids love are Disney and Pixar filmmakers, but in school they are still using clay in art class—if an art class is even offered."

According to the report, youths spend an average of nearly eight hours per day using tech gadgets, and two-thirds of online teens actually produce their own content at some point—through blogs, web pages, videos, photos, or other forms of artwork.

"This trend is driven in part by the proliferation of technologies that put production of arts—music composition, dance, design, and visual arts, among them—within the reach of anyone interested," the report stated.

Peppler found that captivating and easily accessible applications on tools like iPads, smartphones, and computers intrigue potential artists while also allowing students to produce high-quality products. And because schools are either not equipped with the new technologies, or because they have reduced the number of art classes offered, kids are increasingly exploring arts studies on their own. The report calls this form of learning in non-traditional settings "interest-driven arts education."

Learning communities—virtual, physical, and both—have also sprung up in the wake of the interest-driven trend, according to the foundation's report. (Disclosure: The Wallace Foundation supports Education Week's coverage of leadership, expanded learning time, and arts learning, though the newspaper retains sole editorial control over the content of this coverage.)

Social media outlets like Twitter, YouTube, Facebook, and many other online communities for artists allow young people to post digital portfolios, collaborate with their peers, view and comment on one another's work, and even interact with professional artists, according to the report. Physical communities like The Computer Clubhouse Network, which provides free media arts experiences to teens at public studios, have also emerged in churches, libraries, and other community centers.

Together, these virtual and physical communities provide the structure, access, and feedback that young artists need, Peppler said.

Research indicates that students are gaining the same set of skills in interest-driven arts education as they do in traditional K-12 settings, Peppler said. But she noted that there is much more to learn about the field and the overall effect of these informal communities.

For that reason, schools still play an integral role in the advancement of arts education, Peppler said. By embracing the technologies youths are using outside of school, as well improving pre-service and in-service training for art instructors, schools can provide a reliable structure and environment for learning to flourish.

"In the perfect landscape," she said, "we see better coordination between schools and non-traditional forms because there is so much untapped potential. So many kids are exploring art on their own, and schools will hopefully find a way to support that learning."

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