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Left Brain Activities Image




Information in Formation: Repositioning Artists on the Crest of the Third Wave

by Jeff Gates


At a time when a lot of new information is becoming available, most people don't know how to begin to gather it and how to determine what is credible or valid. I see this in my teaching, in my commercial web work and in daily life. As a teacher, I now emphasize methods of learning and information-gathering much more than I ever have in the past. It's critical that students know how to find what they need and be able to determine its value. Finding what other people need is a talent that will also serve them well when they graduate.

When students ask me "What do I need to do to get an A?, " I now tell them "teach me something." What I'm implying is let's acknowledge the changing structure of the teacher-student relationship and see if we can exchange information. We may have something to teach each other.

Marshall McLuhan wrote some thirty-odd years ago that "electronic circuitry is Orientalizing the West. The contained, the distinct, the separate, our Western legacy [where, by the way, we all knew our places and our roles] are being replaced by the flowing, the unified, the fused." New organizations are forming where the information flow is more circular, rather than streaming from top to bottom.

text So, how are we preparing for this shift, not just in the classroom but throughout our institutions? It's obvious that technology is changing what we teach, but are we prepared for the social changes taking place in our schools and departments? With the advent of institutional web sites and e-mail, the whole nature of a school's "community" is changing and enlarging. And our relationships with each other are changing as well.

One of the more intriguing paths we are developing is distance learning. While much of the next two days will be devoted to exchanging information and experiences in this area, let me offer some observations from my own experience.

As I watch students "surf the Net" I'm beginning to be concerned that the internet is becoming as passive an experience as television. While the Web allows access to information heretofore inaccessible, what can we do to encourage our students to break through this passivity?

We're already starting out in a deficit. Remember, we're getting these people after 12 years of multiple choice education: one which often emphasizes facts and dates, rather than communication skills and developing a point of view. We teach them to use interactive programs and make interactive pieces, but how can we teach them to "interact?" Without the skills to understand the social underpinnings of "information design" and the changes in our social structure, how can they develop truly interactive work?

Teaching art (or any discipline for that matter) can no longer be narrowly defined by parameters arrived at just a few years ago. Remember, things are constantly changing. I've always thought it was strange to teach computer courses by discrete "applications," that is, by teaching a class in Illustrator and Quark. It compartmentalizes learning and experience when we are moving to a process of interaction and integration.

Is all of this making you nervous? I can only say "get used to it." Falling behind and catching up has become a cyclic experience for me. It's all part of this new process.


© 1996 Jeff Gates. No reproduction in whole or in part may be used without prior consent of the author.

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