October 8, 2013

New Opportunities for Interest-Driven Arts Learning in a Digital Age

By Kylie Peppler, 2013

Commissioned by the Wallace Foundation, Kylie Peppler’s recent study New Opportunities for Interest-Driven Arts Learning in a Digital Ageattempts to understand how we can best support students who independently pursue arts experiences during their out of school time. By reviewing the literature surrounding arts learning and out of school student engagement, this study asserts that young people are already exerting a large amount of artistic energy on a variety of digital platforms that either combine arts mediums or exist outside of the realm of traditional arts disciplines. That being the case, Peppler sets out to explore how we can tap the natural arts interests of young people and meet them where they are.

To establish the problem space of her study, Peppler begins with Project Zero’s Studio Thinking framework—an exploration of the“habits of mind” that are at work when young people participate in visual arts education. While acknowledging the benefits of this PZ study, Peppler suggests that Studio Thinking is limited by its exploration of in-school arts learning experiences focused on the visual arts. By comparison, Peppler’s study is focused on the mostly digitally-oriented arts learning students engage in on their own time. She calls this “interest-driven arts learning,” which she defines as “an eagerness to explore that springs from youth’s own creative passions” (p. 6).

Peppler’s new framework has four main parts, which she refers to as “practices” for cultivating interest-driven arts learning in the digital age:

    • “technical practices, such as computer coding for artistic projects;
    • critical practices, such as carefully observing and studying an artwork to understand it;
    • creative practices, such as making choices [about] how to handle a project by applying artistic principles; and
    • ethical practices, such as giving credit to the original creators of a work.” (p. 7)

There are many instances within this report that resonate with the Agency by Design initiative. First, Peppler builds off of Studio Thinking, a well-known Project Zero framework, to establish new opportunities for engaging young people in arts learning experiences. Second, the study’s emphasis on looking carefully at an artwork to understand it aligns with AbD’s concept of “sensitivity to design.” Third, “interest-driven arts learning” has deep resonance with the concept of agencythat we are exploring in our current study. And lastly, the study makes explicit connections to the technological aspects of the maker movement and the importance of making in supporting young people’s interests in the arts.

Given the focus on STEM subjects that is frequently cited by maker learning advocates, it’s interesting to read a study that firmly situates maker/making learning experiences within the realm of the arts. It’s also exciting to see a study push beyond what we traditionally understand as arts learning by introducing a whole new array of aesthetic practices.

Edward, October 8, 2013