Whenever I grow frustrated and disillusioned about technology integration and educational reform, I now have a new place where I can go to lift my spirits — ipadartroom.com! I had the privilege of listen to Cathy Hunt twice at ISTE 2016, and I will seek out any session that includes her whenever I have the opportunity. The work she is doing with her own students at St. Hilda’s School in Australia and with thousands of other students around the globe is mind-blowing. Cathy constantly finds new ways to inspire them to blur media, techniques, academic disciplines, and digital & analog possibilities to create art that is radiant, remarkable, and revolutionary. Best of all, though, is that those stunning pieces are a byproduct of her real aspirations and accomplishments. More than anything, Cathy wants every student to become a self-confident, independent thinker who makes conscious, thoughtful, authentic choices and who is able to collaborate effectively, accept and receive genuine feedback gracefully, and challenge the status quo regularly. She is an artist in ever sense of the word and creation is her constant state of mind.
Cathy takes the exact same approach when she works with other educators. One of my sessions with her was a BYOD class focused on using iPads to create visual art. And, while we made some incredibly cool images during our hour together, Cathy’s deeper intent was for us to recognize that we can do tremendous things with our students through technology tools, especially when we start to breakdown the barriers schools tend to naturally generate. (In other words, to tell our students, “do,” when our initial reaction is to scream, “don’t!) Cathy even told us that the apps she had picked were ones a school would usually not select. One of them, MegaPhoto (a ridiculously large collection of selfie filters), would seem frighteningly frivolous to most educators, even those deeply committed to educational technology. Yet, Cathy rapidly showed us how effective it could be as a creation and creativity tool. And, while we were using it to generate some truly incredible images, her real hope was that we would see how the apps students already have on their own devices can be some of the best options for breaking education out of it continued twentieth century, teacher-centered mindset. By opening ourselves to apps and options like a MegaPhoto,our classrooms can become more engaging and more student-centered while also helping student tap their own innate potential and letting them see the miraculous things that are possible when they become more intentional and thoughtful in their decision-making.
And, exciting as those prospects are, Cathy also made sure that we know the process will be messy, uncomfortable, and scary. The best picture Cathy displayed at ISTE 2016 was a table covered in painted papers, surrounded by students some of whom were still actively painting, while the others were holding iPads and photographing sections of the art (coming frighteningly close to wet brushes filled with paint, fresh painted paper, and uncover palettes of paint). Even the most die hard technology enthusiasts had to have cringed when they saw it — I certainly did. And, that is exactly why Cathy included it. If education is truly going to adopt real transformational reforms, we have to take tremendous risks. We have to let students get paint on their iPads, and rather than shame them for that, we need to celebrate that they were bold enough to capture a brush in mid-stroke as paint sprayed off the bristles. The technology coordinator in me, who loving cleans student iPads each summer to make them pristine again, feels nauseous at that prospect. But, the committed reformer knows that reality rings with pure truth and is elated by it. Letting go means letting go. Knowing and learning is MORE important than the tools we use to get there. It is the ultimate example of NOT letting the tech drive the teaching. Those of us who for years have equated the importance of a one-to-one device to that of other tools like pencils and pens now have to accept that device damage should be treated like a broken tip, especially one that results from enthusiastic, passionate writing. I would never fault a student for breaking her or his lead because the student was so engrossed in writing a piece that she or he pressed too hard, so how is getting paint on an iPad because the student was so committed to capturing an incredible image any different. Without risk, there is no learning. And, embracing risk means accepting the consequences, unconditionally. Perhaps, that lesson from Cathy Hunt is the one that I will cherish most of all!