Critical Digital Making: 21st Century Art Education (in)Formation

Karen Keifer-Boyd
The Pennsylvania State University, USA

Aaron D. Knochel
The Pennsylvania State University, USA

Ryan M. Patton
Virginia Commonwealth University, USA

Robert Sweeny
Indiana University of Pennsylvania, USA

Citation: Keifer-Boyd, K., Knochel, A., Patton, R., & Sweeny, R. (2019). Critical digital making: 21st century art education (in)formation. Transdisciplinary Inquiry, Practice, and Possibilities in Art Education. University Park, PA: The Pennsylvania State University Libraries Open Publishing. DOI: 10.26209/arted50-12

Abstract: The following is a transcript from a roundtable session at The Penn State Seminar in Art Education @50 on April 2, 2016 titled “Critical Digital Making: 21st Century Art Education (in)Formation.” Four roundtable respondents discussed their research and collaborative work together to present emerging formations of curricular spaces that conceptualize critical digital making as a form of learning that negotiates technological materialities and computational approaches while cultivating semiotic and performative expressions relevant to the arts. The respondents discussed critical inquiry as an important contribution from the field of art education and contemporary art practice as it applies to the intersections of transdisciplinary curriculum in STEAM and the do-it-yourself (DIY) ethos ascribed to maker movements. The conversation was offered in relation to insights from the various authors from the Research report from the Seminar in Art Education for Research and Curriculum Development (1966) as respondents endeavored to synthesize the past with the present.

Keywords: maker movement, transdisciplinary, STEAM, critical digital making

Participants in this roundtable presented speculative musings concerning critical digital making and “informing disciplines” for 21st-century art education from intersecting energies between makerspace practices, STEAM curriculum initiatives, contemporary art, and critical, embodied, participatory, inclusive, feminist art pedagogy.

In a 2009 speech launching the “Educate to Innovate” campaign, President Barack Obama called upon educators to create opportunities that “encourage young people to create and build and invent—to be makers of things, not just consumers of things” (para. 69). President Obama’s call echoes a tidal wave of enthusiasm around the idea of making, but the current surging cultural capital for making has ironically captured the public imagination in a time when arts education programs are under extreme duress. So, what kind of making is valued?

The excitement around makerspaces and ideas of tinkering and inventing that are garnering so much attention has been embedded in programs intended to advance experiential curricula in the science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) disciplines. STEAM (adding the “A” for Art) has gained momentum as a curricular approach as it is taken up in the popular press as a conundrum for educators (Jolly, 2014) as a way of merging art and science education (Chen & Cheers, 2012), and a way to “encourage holistic learning” (Krigman, 2014, para. 1). There has even been a call from federal legislatures for “reintegrating the two [STEM and Art disciplines] in our classrooms” (Bonamici & Schock, 2014, p. 2), but the lack of substantive funding continues to marginalize initiatives in STEAM (Hynds, 2014). Importantly, the rationale of an impactful STEAM curriculum is the centrality of “thinking through materials” (Guyette et. al., 2014, p. 17), but there is also a significant component to this initiative that grapples with how to keep education relevant within the context of rapidly evolving digital making.

It is precisely this intersection of transdisciplinary curriculum in STEAM and the do-it-yourself (DIY) ethos ascribed to maker movements that the authors would like to assert critical inquiry as an important contribution from the field of art education and contemporary art practice. The following is a transcript from our session at The Penn State Seminar in Art Education @ 50 on April 2, 2016 where roundtable respondents discussed their research and collaborative work together to present emerging formations of curricular spaces that conceptualize critical digital making as a form of learning that negotiates technological materialities and computational approaches while cultivating semiotic and performative expressions relevant to the arts. We chose to submit the transcript to the proceedings in the spirit of the original proceedings (Mattil, 1966) that included transcripts of audience participation involving the authors in question and answer sessions. Our conversation is offered in relation to insights from the various authors from the research report from the Seminar in Art Education for Research and Curriculum Development (Mattil, 1966) as respondents endeavored to synthesize the past with the present.

Transcript of the Critical Digital Making Session

Aaron Knochel: My name is Aaron Knochel, this is Karen Keifer-Boyd, Ryan Patton, and Bob Sweeny. We’ve been working together in various ways in different styles of presentations, formats and workshops for a number of years now. So, I put in a proposal to bring all of them into a conversation around this idea of “critical digital making.” Ryan and I have used that term in a publication that put together (Knochel & Patton, 2015), and I think in some ways we all grab onto to words in that spectrum. I think that “critical” can talk about this in ways that we need to think about in a really important way, but I also want to acknowledge that we can all identify with the ways that critical theory moves within all of our work, not only in education but in how we approach the arts. I think that would be seconded by colleagues as something we have in common. Our presentation today will be given in a format that will take place in rounds. We’ve identified three concepts that we are going to be looking at: making, spaces, and STEAM. I’ll try to keep time, keep things moving around, as we each have short responses to these themes that will build a collective. We’d like this to open up into a discussion as we keep this moving along.

I’m going to open up with a quote from Arthur Foshay (1966) who is the non-art educator in the Red Book. I find his article about educational innovation and art education really interesting as I am interested in how we think of innovation. My whole investment in considering the Red Book is in looking at it to consider now and the near future. So, Foshay states,

The first thing to recognize about the criticism of an art object is that it is not you. It is, as has been pointed out, radically other than you. While your engagement with it — its immediate effect on you, and what it calls up of your experience — is of importance, there are things of considerably greater importance: all those things that have to do with the fact that it exists independent of your experience of it. The radical otherness of things is difficult to accept, especially for children. If, therefore, one was to attempt designing an innovation that sought to introduce to children the possibility of art criticism as a valid way of knowing art one of the first tasks would be to deal with the fact that art objects exist, whether you know it or not, and that their existence is in no way contingent on yours. One might ask "as a teacher, what is it that one can do that will bring home the realization of radical otherness?" (p. 364)

Now, anyone who has been paying attention to the evolution of theory in new materialisms will notice that Foshay’s concept of the art object could easily contribute to one of those contemporary publications. The idea that object agency in the world that is entirely outside of us. The non-human impact on the world and how we respond to our relation to that is an important consideration in art and education. This quote leads, for me, into considering how methods of production are radically changing the possibilities of material exploration and methods of fabrication. I’m drawn to the term fabrication. The innovative technologies of what I call collectively digital fabrication (3D printing, CNC, laser cutting) are changing how we conceptualize making in education. The term “making” has a lot of cultural capital right now and I’m very interested why we are using this term of making right now. Ironically, the power of the term making is coming at one of the more dire times for art in education. Making in educational settings is the active construction of things in the learning process that focus on “hands-on” experiences (Honey & Kantor, 2013, p. 4), “creative production in art, science, and engineering” (Sheridan et. al, 2014, p. 505), combining “computation, tinkering, and engineering” (Blikstein, 2013, p. 7), and “designing, building, modifying, and/or repurposing material objects, for playful or useful ends, oriented toward making a ‘product’ of some sort that can be used, interacted with, or demonstrated” (Martin, 2015, p. 31). These quotes describing making start with at art educator and end with an engineer educator, so you can see an interesting progression in the purposes of making.

By contrast we have the concept of “materiality.” I’m trying to articulate a difference between the idea of material in relation to its formal realization as being an important part of what this idea of making is all about, but it also has to be related to the idea of materiality. Materiality” indicates a theoretical approach that focuses on physical things as one starting point for building an understanding of thought and behavior (White 2009). Many of the discussions of materiality dwell on its nature as matter, as things and objects, but devolve quickly into indeterminacy as digital materiality rears its head in social interactions. The term "digital materiality" does not yet have a fixed meaning, but it has been used to refer to the physical manifestations of the computer age (Manoff, 2006), to the processes by which digital representations become physical architecture (Gramazio & Kohler, 2008), or to the effects of digital information in the modern world (Leonardi, 2010). Materiality has also been defined as to its properties to do something, what objects do, or what science and technology studies scholar Andrew Pickering (1995) calls “material performativity” (p. 7). Pickering (1995) states

Scientists, as human agents, [aside: notice that we are talking about scientists and not artist here] maneuver in a field of material agency, constructing machines that, as I shall say, variously capture, seduce, download, recruit, enroll, or materialize that agency [aside: sounds like an art object to me], taming and domesticating it, putting it at our service, often in the accomplishment of task that are simply beyond the capabilities of naked human minds and bodies, individually or collectively. (p. 7)

So, there is a world of material agencies doing things in the world, but that doing is never alone: for example, the digital materiality of something like software is not tangible matter, but rather its material agency to interact with its human counterpart accounts for a certain character of materiality. I am trying to get to the thinking of, or how we think through the material performances of those makers who are using software and computation as a material performance. It is not yet a physical object, although undoubtedly the computer itself is a physical object, rather this making exists in a world of virtual form that is a part of that manufacturing or digital fabrication that is my central concern. This interaction between the material as thing and performance makes it important within curriculum as a way to follow material agencies in ways that engage, disrupt, and conjure modes of making.

Karen Keifer-Boyd: In our circle around this square of tables, we are thinking about the past as far back as 1965, present, and future. So, in each of our responses you may see this pattern, certainly in mine.

I begin with the past. This is a cover for the Red Book. I’ll pass around a copy for everyone so that you will have this in front of you as a making space on the opposite side of the cover. On the Red Book cover side is the past, 1965, and then on the other side is a large white cover, the present, your maker space. However, I’d like you to think about what making we will be in 10, 25, 50 years; and use the paper as a space to speculate what that may look like. Go ahead and create with your makerspace at any time, even when one of us is talking and you may hold up your making to share at any time.

If you want to share we can think of this as a disruptive technology, only with pen and such, because when you see something it reshapes the words coming out of your mouth. Brain research shows that these socio-visual cues will impact how the mind forms language (Fiske & Taylor, 2013). Therefore, if you hold up your work it may impact what I am saying or what anyone else is saying so that this space will be changed by what you do. This is your makerspace to think about making.

June King McFee (1966) was the only woman-invited speaker to the “Seminar in Art Education for Research and Curriculum Development” held at The Pennsylvania State University (Penn State) (Mattil, 1966). In her speech, she encouraged art educators to address mass media and its effect on social change. She emphasized “there has been extensive concern over violence on television but little for this subtler influence of its distorted picture of the good life” (McFee, 1966, p. 131). She is talking about the unattainable, a farce of a good life; and she talks about how mass media can create frustrations and hostilities among the economically deprived. While smartphones were not conceptualized in 1965, she warned to consider an infrastructure for access to information communication technologies. Economic privilege has much to do with who gets to play with technology. As much as it seems access to the Internet is accessible, there is still deep, systemic, and widespread poverty in the United States and a digital divide. McFee emphasized in 1965 the impact of new technologies in relationship to poverty and consumerism.

McFee also raised issues of automation in relation to work and play. She refers to automation as a fourth area of change. One concern she noted was that many people have stereotypes of art as play for the leisure elite. In 1965, McFee is talking about the baby boomers reaching 17 years old, being out of school and looking for work. Her concern is when you are out of work that unemployment is not leisure, but again you’re struggling to find a job. Her concerns are of a pattern of poverty that has not [been] been dealt with in terms of making. As June King McFee forewarned there is much disparity in access to making with new technologies.

Given McFee’s view of the role of art education in 1965, let’s look at the present state of art education. The baby boomers are now elders. I am the youngest of the baby boomers. Since 2003, the cost of 3D printers continues to decrease. Aaron has one in his office and so do other colleagues in the School of Visual Arts. I expect in the next decade that many people will have 3D printers in their homes. So as a baby boomer seeing the first computers fill several rooms, making a whirling noise and producing much heat, I did imagine mobile devices when I began to teach art in the late 1970s. In the future, with 3D printers, we will order raw materials to use for printing objects. Art education is beginning to explore and teach about the properties of materials and 3D printing. In the future instead of buying shoes, for example, we will select and buy materials and designs, and perhaps know how to custom design. Art educators need to be prepared for teaching students the potential and limits of materials situated in intersecting social, political, and environmental systems around the world.

Ryan Patton: I was fortunate enough to start thinking about the Red Book earlier in the year when Aaron invited me to be a guest speaker for the Colloquium they had here at Penn State in the fall. Originally, I was going to focus on the Kaprow (1966) chapter, but because of the nature of the sessions we were doing in looking at technology as it relates to the Red Book, Aaron suggested I look at the Hausman (1966) article, which I was glad to do as I got into it. At the time when I was reading it I was really looking at the article in terms of technology, where technology was in 1965 and where it is now. But rereading it for this conference I really noticed Hausman’s theme in a way that I had not noticed before, [which] was about change and progress. His major point in the essay is about change, the need for art education to keep up with change and keep up with the modern day. He is not saying progress is necessarily a good thing, or that we need to be focused on progress, but we need to adapt and recognize change. So, I’m going to, as it relates to the making theme, I’m going to read you some quotes from Jerry Hausman:

Given a greater sense for the changing forms and styles in the traditions of art, made more aware of the changing purposes and values motivating the creation of art, and conscious of new materials and images, today’s artist is, at once, faced with an infinity of possibility and the responsibility of (their) own choice (p. 97).

So, in this quote, Hausman is saying now artists can do a greater range of things due to the number of material choices that they have. One other quote in terms of making is:

Students should become more aware of the limits and possibilities for their tools and media; they can consciously seek inventive, aesthetic, and craftsman-like solutions to the problems they undertake (p. 102).

Based on the discussion from other presentations today, it is really interesting to go back to 1965 to find a quote that is really relevant to today. That is one of things that struck me in reading this is just what Hausman was trying to say, in terms of change and progress, and being able to adapt, to think about art education as constantly going through change is so relevant today.

Some things about making in terms of in the past versus current and future times, I have recently authored an article on the media arts standards that its natural home is in the visual arts and that if we as art educators resist media art and all the things involved in the media arts, we are doing ourselves a disservice. Again, not changing to contemporary times, not that it is necessarily a progress thing, but rather it is about change and adaptability.

One of the things that I am doing in my research is having students make video games. This is research I’ve been doing for 10 years, working with K-12 students with video game development, developing curriculum, having my students at VCU help me with that curriculum to develop it further. One of the things about starting my dissertation research is that it opened up for me all the different ways that you could also be making that ties back to video games. While many people may think that video games are a natural introduction to coding, it also led me to thinking about physical computing and the devices you use to play with video games, sounds design, audio production, animation, all of these things that go into making video games but don’t necessarily have their own disciplinary spaces. For me, video games are a great gateway to get K-12 students engaged because they are already interested in video games: they already have extensive language about it, they already have great knowledge of video games, and making the games provides them a tremendous opportunity to develop that.

In terms of making and the future, one of the things that Aaron and I have been writing about recently is the need for collaboration within art education and between fields while embracing the idea of open data, open material for collaboration to have that material, that data available to everyone to use and manipulate in their way and open to sharing. While the structures, and structures have been a popular theme at the conference, may be limiting, I think something we can do to subvert that is to not think about the structures of tenure, institutions, or copyright. If we embrace openness with what we are collecting, what we are researching. and other join into that, then there are limitless possibilities.

Robert Sweeny: I’m going to start by structuring my comments by going back to the Red Book and not dismantling it, although you know that there are 5 copies of the Red Book in the library at my university and it is interesting to go back to those and think of those as an artifact from this period because now we are easily able to make copies [referring to the cover prints that Karen had passed out]. So, to do this to the actual books would be a different experience. There is something to making with materials that is easily replenishable, that are common, versus ones that have a different cultural impact. Even just starting to prepare my comments for this conference, I went back to the Red Book and it is a document from 50 years ago. So, we are marking that time at a certain increment, why at 50 years have we fixed that cultural meaning on that increment? Its relatively arbitrary if you think about it. Had we not had this conference I would not be looking at the Red Book. I understand the importance of it, but it would not be coming to my mind and attention. So oftentimes we need these arbitrary structures to be imposed upon us to make us say oh let’s see what was happening. So, that’s my introduction to making, really making sense of those original texts.

The two texts that I found made the most sense for our talk are from Allan Kaprow (1966) and June King McFee (1966). In terms of making, I pulled this quote from Allan Kaprow who was not entrenched in art education and his perspective and writing really reflects that in his eventual suggestions are antithetical to art education. From the professional artist’s viewpoint and especially those that are also teachers, art education from the primary and secondary schools suffers from one simple defect no contact with art. His solution is to bring artists into the schools and have them perform as what he describes as “pied pipers” in this magical, somewhat loosely defined improvisational way which in the comments people are raising concerns that this is counter to what is being discussed about institutionalized art education, but he is not talking about artist-in-residence working with art educators, he is talking about artists teach students in schools. He suggests a three-tiered system that he has thought out. When I was a student in grad school here at Penn State I found one of his writings, he was an artist in residence in Wichita Public Schools with a project called Blind Sight. It is an interesting text, as Kaprow, one of the founding creators of happenings, he was having students do these works that were improvisational, performative and very loosely defined.

I think that this idea of bringing the artist into the classroom now is also a current issue in that the art is at the click of a button. If we are open to defining art as art, design, fabrication, new media etc., in this expanded vernacular, which I think we are, then Kaprow’s suggestions maybe are already happening. Maybe we don’t need to have that person deemed the artist in the space with the space, because the students are already going online, viewing tutorials, finding information in a variety of places, playing games, getting kids feeling all fuzzy. They have access to it. It challenges the role of the educator in the art educational space, because do young people need a mediator for these types of experiences and ways of making? I would argue, perhaps counter to many art educators, that the experiences that they have with media, with artists that are working in a variety of spaces are already happening without the help of art educators.

Aaron Knochel: Okay, so I am sure no one is surprised that we have gone over our original allotted times, so I’d like to open it up to discussion.

Karen Keifer-Boyd: Perhaps we could share what we decided to do with our making space.

[general noise, people holding up their papers]

Aaron Knochel: I defaulted to the most basic thing I know how to do with a large piece of paper, I did a contour line drawing of the people in the room.

Participant 1: Bob, you folded yours up. Is it a camera obscura?

Robert Sweeny: No, I folded so that you can experience the text in a dimensional way, like a cityscape.

Aaron Knochel: It is a good example, though, of the idea of thinking 3D That to me is one of the most important shifts in how I conceptualize what needs to be happening. Not even working in clay per se as a 3-dimensional sculpture, but rather thinking 3D on the screen or in your hands. That is a really powerful set of technical and conceptual skills that are vital for maker right now.

Ryan Patton: I think also, going back to a presentation that the four of us did at NAEA 2016, about placeability. The layer of GPS data as another form of space. If I place it here via GPS, at State College, you can have that experience is local because of that capability.

Participant 2: I have a comment. I’ve taught at a vocational high school for 16 years and I have always been concerned about the lack of communication between relationship between traditional art and vocational art. It has always been my concern. I have tried to figure out how to integrate the two using fine artists, because there is really not a support system for digital art in a vo-tech, CTE (Career and Technical Education) environment. You really are out on your own. The state curriculum is not worth looking at, but I don’t know how those two worlds can meet. And I know it is based upon funding, because traditional arts get 500 and vo-tech gets 5000. There is such a huge difference, but they overlap so much.

Ryan Patton: My understanding of it, is that the decision makers are looking at the economic outcome from that education. So, if a student knows how to use a graphic design software like Photoshop in a vo-tech setting they can then do commercial printing. Funders are not thinking that those technical skills can be learned in the fine arts environment as well.

Participant 2: Thing is vo-tech education has changed now. Kids are not coming out of high schools getting jobs in say photography studios, straight to industry, so you have to go to school to get that training. That is no longer the society that we live in: straight from high school into the field.

Aaron Knochel: That is that pipeline rhetoric that we keep hearing about. I think that there needs to be a recognition that even to make a film there are layers of understanding of social-historical factors that flesh out your technical skill set in order to achieve a kind of aesthetic experience. Part of the vo-tech problem comes from a burden of naming, recognizing that individual teachers often have no control over naming, but the identification of program is important. I mean, fine art is really an old school way of thinking about the arts learning environment.

Karen Keifer-Boyd: And that’s a very political thing. Even the National Core Arts Standards using the term media arts is very political in that it is about economics. There is this idea that media arts need to be separate from the visual arts like vocational media, not media art, so that students are prepared for industry jobs. Although there are possibilities to teach yourself, typically credentials—such as a university diploma, graduate degree, or certificate in a specialization—are needed for employment.

Participant 3: I’m interested in this idea of considering 20 years from now, and I think that this consideration for credentials will end up caving in at come some point. Obviously, students need to make a living and what’s happening more and more is this DIY culture so how can we embrace that in the K-12 environment while school is free? Really the elephant in the room is that tuition is insane. If you think 1965, my mom went to Penn State and paid $550 a semester before housing. What going to end up happening is that learners are going to be forced to operate on the outside more and more. Even at the same time when this is happening, out cultural labor is not being compensated either. I think for these reasons that it is going to cave in on itself and there will be an occupy the institution movement. There is just no way to suck blood out of a dead horse

Aaron Knochel: But you can suck blood out of the National Science Foundation and I say that as kind of a joke, but I think what begins to happen within such a pessimistic outlook is that you begin to strategize. So, I’ll rephrase this again, that the anxiety in striving to be a discipline in 1965 I see as being parallel to our striving to understand transdisciplinarity right now. It’s a survival mechanism. I think it is deeply intellectually satisfying, but I think it is emblematic of, or symptomatic, that need to be strategic. It’s like Ok well that funding has dried up so how do we begin to think through conceptualizations of art as being much more embedded and connected to practices where funding can be found.

Robert Sweeny: Let me follow up on that metaphor, do you have the antibodies to not become the host because that is the challenge. When you go for NSF grants and star to use that language, can you subvert that within the field of art education or are you now a part of that field? For me it was a real wake up call to start teaching in a middle school with one section of technology education with a set curriculum and all the resources needed to teach the class: everything was labeled and boxed, all the assessment was there and it was like done and done. I thought, wow this is much different than art education which is DIY. I think there is some issues with branding, some political issues within our field that when design was being brought up as a part of the field and not endorsed within the ethos of the national organization that made change difficult. Change can be good, but change is change.

Participant 2: One of the problems is that art is not looked upon as technical. Like technology electives are all about testing and if it is another kind of assessment it is not valid. There is no reason why a 1st grader cannot learn Photoshop, but that is not going to happen. As long as art is looked at as leisure, something for play, a time for the classroom teacher to get a break, as long as the art teacher is teaching on a cart and without a real classroom it will not be taken seriously. The technical part of teaching art will not be taken seriously.

Ryan Patton: I was just reading something automation in various forms for example filling out legal documents will lessen the need for lawyers. Same for accountants, auto mechanics, to the point where 50% of the jobs that exist now will be automated and now longer need human workers (Pugh, 2016). Like no one will need to make salad because this machine will make it for you. The article makes the case that if this trend continues there will be a need for a standard living stipend so that people can survive, but that will significantly free them up, similar to the ways that the industrial revolution created a leisure time for the middle class, but there were not robots back in the 19th century.

Aaron Knochel: To follow that line of logic, the robots are going to make us more important as creative practitioners?

Ryan Patton: Not more important, but more free time.

Aaron Knochel: To make art

Participant 3: That was an argument from the 1950s

Aaron Knochel: Can robots make art?

Karen Keifer-Boyd: That was June King McFee’s concern that leisure time was the privilege of elite populations. For example, to receive a National Science Foundation (NSF) grant, you need to have a Ph.D. to be considered for an NSF grant. There is so much divide. It really comes back to that elephant in the room, that McFee was warning us about, the notion that many people will not be able to get the appropriate education. Some will but others will not. Even downloading legal documents may seem convenient but when you walk into court with a high-profile lawyer you will more likely win your case then if you come in with a form you downloaded from the Internet.

Participant 4: I also wanted to point what has been the bane of art, artist, and art educators for a long time, and what I am even now finding at a private institution at the collegiate level looking at accreditation, we are still getting asked the same questions. If you develop curriculum what are the objectives, what will it actually prove out, and if you are not able to make that evident then they are not interested in identifying that as a viable art class. Literally we are writing stuff up that feels very technical and very grasping and a total rejection of art students that have been art students for 12 years and now they are going follow a strict path.

Participant 2: It was funny at my last school the principal decided to change up the assessment so besides have tests, he wanted the academic subject teachers to have a portfolio of all of their writing. I’m looking at him like how are we supposed to accomplish this? All of the teachers now are managing tests and portfolio assessments for 30-40 students.

Karen Keifer-Boyd: You can make a test for any subject, but whether that is something valuable and captures really anything about learning is questionable.

Participant 2: Yes, that had these forms and teachers would record if students had improved without really knowing.

Aaron Knochel: They had a similar situation in New York where they introduced Student Learning Objectives assessments, SLOs ironically, as a part of teacher evaluation in the stipulations of Race to the Top funding. Schools would develop SLOs in all subject areas and so, for example, in the elementary school the classroom teacher would be working with 30 students but the art teacher would be working with 600-800 students. There was no recognition from the administrations of schools in the difference in that assessment burden. Many of districts went through a full year of planning and implementation and when the scores came out the scores were so erratic, the assessment system of baseline testing was so irrevocably broken, that some districts chose one subject by which to judge all teachers. It is this utter failure of the kinds of policies and systems of school accountability, but when you get down to the brass tacks of implementation there is a lot of missteps and misconceptions of what is possible.

Robert Sweeny: Aaron, you’re involved in other conversations of say engineering education, so I wonder if STEM fields are also scratching their heads.

Aaron Knochel: I think their burden, that they recognize, at least in the conversations that I have had, is that they are incredibly isolated in who they are reaching. They are reaching white boys and so I think they are looking at interdisciplinarity as a possible way to open up spaces, but that is coming from more progressive educators. I am generalizing of course, but I think there is an understanding of value, and an alliance that art educators can make, around project-based learning. Engineering educators are feeling the burden of standardized testing and curricula as really limiting to what they can achieve in a robust engineering program, because they cannot develop those broader projects. That, again, is an alliance that we have with them. Laboratory sciences such as biology, chemistry, etc. have the same challenge. The hands-on laboratory learning is being demoted to standardized testing. So, I think in some ways STEM disciplines are our major allies in contemporary education. Ten years ago, I would have not seen this landscape of allies, but increasingly as I conceptualize the future of education I see the centrality of project-based work as a mode of connecting STEM and art subjects in ways that subvert trends in standardized and limiting assessments models.


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Karen Keifer-Boyd, Aaron Knochel, Ryan M. Patton, and Robert Sweeny

Dr. Karen Keifer-Boyd is professor of art education and women’s, gender, and sexuality studies at Penn State. She co-founded the journal Visual Culture & Gender, is an NAEA Distinguished Fellow, 2012 Fulbright Distinguished Chair in Gender Studies at Alpen-Adria-Universität Klagenfurt in Austria, 2006 Finland Fulbright awardee, and co-authored: Including Difference (NAEA, 2013); InCITE, InSIGHT, InSITE (NAEA, 2008); Engaging Visual Culture (Davis, 2007); Real-World Readings in Art Education: Things Your Professors Never Told You (Falmer, 2000).

Dr. Aaron D. Knochel is Assistant Professor of Art Education at Penn State School of Visual Arts and an affiliated faculty at the Art & Design Research Incubator (ADRI) in the College of Arts & Architecture at The Pennsylvania State University. Generally, he tries to live up to his @artisteducator twitter bio: artist-teacher-visual culture researcher-digital media flaneur-novice hacker and pixel stacker.

Dr. Ryan M. Patton is an Associate Professor of Art Education at Virginia Commonwealth University. Ryan taught art in the South Bronx and animation and game design with the Smithsonian Associates. Ryan has explored digital media with CurrentLab, a new media art education research initiative for developing curriculum, teaching tools, and best practices for visual arts educators. Ryan’s current research interests include: play and games-based pedagogy, physical computing, socially-engaged art practices, and urban education.

Dr. Robert W. Sweeny is Professor of Art Education at Indiana University of Pennsylvania. He studies digital visual culture. He is the author of Dysfunction and Decentralization in New Media Art Education (2015, Intellect) and is the editor of Inter/Actions/Inter/Sections: Art Education in a Digital Visual Culture (2011, NAEA). He is incoming Associate Editor of Studies in Art Education (2019–2021) and is former Editor of The Journal of the National Art Education Association (2012–2014).