Technology in the Art History Classroom this semester

I was asked to give a couple of presentations at FIT on Second Life. But instead of talking myself, I invited Elaine Polvinen from Buffalo State College, and she had two Second Life contacts that we invited to join us as well, Nyla and Shenlei Winkler. Here’s a blog all about this.

When I taught the High Renaissance a few weeks ago, I took my students into Second Life to see the Vassar recreation of the Sistine Chapel. They were very excited to see Second Life (95% of them had not heard of it) and they had lots of questions about it. I didn’t stay in the virtual Sistine Chapel for more than a few minutes, it seemed a little difficult to teach the chapel from there, instead of with static images.

Click here to see a slideshow of photos of the Chapel in SL.

I suppose there must be more creative ways to use it in teaching — where the students visit themselves, but I am not really sure how to create a learning activity around it. We also looked at youtube tourist videos from the inside of the chapel (see example below), as well as the Vatican Museum’s site which is quite good.

I am pretty sure I am the only art historian in the department to use the internet live in the classroom (instead of ARTstor’s Off line Image Viewer) and I am also teaching art history (all but one of my classes) in the computer lab (anyone else out there doing that?). The students get on ARtstor at the same time as me, and can follow along, and zoom in and out etc. As a result, they are getting very familiar with using ARTstor, and not simply using it to see my image groups when it is time for the test or something. In fact, I think the students in the Survey course that I am teaching, which does NOT meet in the lab, probably never consult ARTstor at all. Why would they? 90% of the images I teach are readily available in google. My sense is that some students are emailing and not paying attention, but would they be paying attention in the classroom? The vast majority are following along diligently in ARTstor, zooming in on the image and engaging with it and at least being more active than they would be in the classroom. Once in a while, they will also look things up on the internet that come up in class.

One time, I had them pick the name of an artist out of a hat, find an image by that artist and then describe it as carefully as they could, then they swapped their descriptions with another student who had to try to picture the image in their heads and ask questions. Then they got to see each other’s images. It was a fun activity and taught them a lot I think about how difficult close description is — but also (and this was the key point) that close description would bring them closer to understanding the meanings of the work of art. It would have been a pain to do this in the classroom with reproductions that they would have had to hide from each other.

My students in the Modern Art sections are making web pages using Wetpaint. When they are done I will ask their permission to link to them here. And in my survey course, students are working in groups on multimedia final projects. We’ll see how those turn out.

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  1. I’ve heard that Second Life has lots of areas that can be used for teaching. Most recently, I read an article about the University of Plymouth in Britain creating a sex education area for teens. I’ve never used SL myself, but it appears to have some great uses for teaching!

    Also, I just want to mention that I’m currently a photography student but I plan on switching to art/art history education after I finish with this degree. Reading your blog is very inspiring for me. It’s great to read about teachers who really get into their subject. So, thanks!


  2. I’ve been to the Sistine Chapel and the two things that really ruined my viewing experience were the crowds and the constant pleas of the museum security for “No photos”. The YouTube video appears to be exactly the type of bootleg footage they are trying to prevent. Showing this to a group of students would seem to encourage the behavior. When you show something like this to your students, do you talk about being respectful and following the rules when they visit these sites in person?


  3. Hi Beth, remember me? We were in touch last summer and collaborated on a Jan van Eyck Voicethread. I’m so excited to read the news about the book about teaching art history with technology you and your colleague have contributed to. I’ve love to hear more about it!

    I’ve been experimenting also with new technologies in teaching. My online art appreciation students kept their own blogs this semester and my history of women in art students collaborated in Voicethread discussions. I’ll be posting more about this on my blog soon.

    Keep up the great work. Second Life intrigues me also. I’ve been to the Sistine Chapel as well. I just need more hours in my days to get more entrenched in it!



  4. Sorry for the double comment but I just remembered about a recent presentation I heard on Second Life, that discussed students using Second Life to “role play” with other students. I imagined a group of art history students creating personas as artists from different time periods (Leonardo, Rembrandt, O’Keeffe, etc.) and then having discussions with each other using factual information. How’s that for a learning environment?


  5. Hi Michelle, of course I remember! I keep hoping I’ll have time to work with you again on something! I love your idea about the role playing. Can you send me links to what you did with your students this semester on voicethread? I’d love to see/hear. Would you be interested in running a pre-conference seminar at Educause next October on teaching with images?


  6. Hello,
    I was just curious about what your superior in the art/history department thought of your use of this experimental way of teaching art history?

    I like how you had students draw an artist out of a hat to do research on. I’ve noticed throughout my school life that I often find some of my favorite aspects of the subjects were a specific part of the topic given to my randomly.


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