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"Electronic songlines": Computer technology in a collaborative and cross disciplinary context

Robert Farnan and Tony Kastanos
Hamilton Secondary School
Phil Callen
Scotch College
Adelaide, South Australia

As a group of three, artist/film maker, state school secondary art teacher, and private school primary teacher, we have run projects across the primary, secondary and tertiary sectors of education in South Australia, as well as inservicing teachers. This presentation focuses on our work with primary and secondary schoolchildren however. We enable students to work with computer animation, sound (whether music or dialogue), and text to create video presentations in a variety of curriculum areas. Whilst not particularly ideologically or theoretically driven, we feel our cross curricular and open ended approach offers a very integrated method of exploration which is close to lived experience. We observe high levels of motivation amongst our students and feel it has very much to offer all students, but particularly those who are out of the mainstream. We are strongly attracted to collaborative and cooperative methods. Whilst we have been driven largely by an interest in making interesting video work and challenging students' abilities, on analysis there is clearly development of literacy skills of a high order as work must be created, structured and presented using movement, graphics, sound and text to convey meaning.


In whatever subject area we happen to be working, the first step is to set a task and to organise work groups, frequently pairs. The second step is to generate some sort of script, whether completely original or adapted. The third is to story board this script (ie to create a cartoon strip like sketch of the script, a visualisation of events on paper). Dialogue and sound can be written in beneath the appropriate frames. Then the drawing on computer occurs. The final piece may be an animation. It may equally well be a "slide show", a succession of drawn screens (in many respects this is a simpler but conceptually more demanding approach!). Sound, whether music, sound effects or dialogue may then be added. Finally the finished work is transferred onto video tape (the work can equally well stay in computer form however).


The key concept in our approach it would probably amount to a conviction that this technology has the potential to enable students to take control of their own learning. Following on from this there are several relatively distinctive features of our approach.

We are very much cross curricular. As the title of our presentation, "Electronic Songlines" suggests, we are employing an essentially arts based approach to structure students' understandings in various subject areas. Just as (following the late Bruce Chatwin's popularisation of the concept) the Australian aborigines are said to used their ritualised song cycles as a way of linking their spiritual world with particular trails from one place to another, or with particular places, so in a similar way we seek to use the integrative power of the medium to return to a more integrated and natural form of knowledge or understanding (incidentally Tony has also been doing some specific work of this type with students of aboriginal descent). So we are employing visual arts skills, music, sound and text in the service of learning in areas such as Language, Science and the Social Sciences (we also employ them in the expected areas of the arts and this is ideally where skills development occurs).

Following on from this we are very much concerned with that educational perennial, motivation. This integrated approach appeals to students, video is also the contemporary medium of course. A wide variety of learning styles is catered for because of the combination of movement, sound (music and speech) and text. Our experience seems to suggest that students who experience writing difficulties are a particular group who enjoy the expressive potential available. Second language learners appear to also appreciate the reduced emphasis on text alone to convey meaning. Gifted students appreciate the technical challenges as well as the flexibility and open endedness (ie they have control over how far they progress). The variations are endless.

Whilst we have a variety of particular interests amongst us, in our various ways we are deeply involved in fundamental processes of literacy development. The creation of work, its structuring and presentation in a medium which includes movement, sound and text, involve literacy skills of a high order.

We are committed to collaborative, cooperative work. The pliable nature of the medium encourages this; the endless ability to add or delete, to move and to transform (this is an unexpected thing given the individualising, antisocial reputation of computers!). This consultative process is a literacy and communicatory bonus as well as a socialising plus. Learning can be fun!

It also follows that we feel that there is far too much slavish acceptance of computer technology as an end in itself rather than as an educational tool with exciting potential. Computers are still not essential for learning. They can not replace thinking - but they can develop and enhance it! We also deplore the educational systems' power plays constructed around the technology, small is frequently beautiful, only high quality concepts will result in high quality output, high quality output will frequently come from very modest equipment, in our experience.

There needs to be much more analysis and criticism of our teaching methods and curricula in this general area. In the end we must remember we are looking for achievable and sociable outcomes which meet the same educational criteria we have worked with for many years.

Authors: Robert Farnan and Tony Kastanos, Hamilton Secondary School, 515 Marion Road, Mitchell Park SA 5043.
Phil Callen, Scotch College, Adelaide, South Australia.

Please cite as: Farnan, R., Kastanos, T. and Callen, P. (1994). "Electronic songlines": Computer technology in a collaborative and cross disciplinary context. In J. Steele and J. G. Hedberg (eds), Learning Environment Technology: Selected papers from LETA 94, 73-74. Canberra: AJET Publications.

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