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Portraits of Peace
Using Information Technology as a Collaborative Tool in the Classroom

Vivian Komando
Art Teacher
Niceville High School *
Niceville, Florida
January 2002

Using information technology (IT) in my classroom as a research tool for students to learn about art history, media techniques, and current art happenings seemed to me a very efficient manner to work within a 50-minute class period since I have computers in my classroom. Creating a collaborative portrait project utilizing IT seemed a natural extension of activities already occurring in my art room.

What originally began as a proposal for my Fulbright Memorial Fund follow-up plan, developed into a collaboration between schools from Japan to Canada to Puerto Rico to Kentucky to Florida. The purpose of this collaboration was to create a dialog with a new person, as well as to see if and how new ideas from another part of the world can perhaps change one’s view on peace and how we connect to each other in a peace effort.

The original proposal was for my students and students from a high school classroom in Japan to collaborate via email by exchanging ideas about peace, their cultures, and symbols that they would integrate into a personal portrait of peace. When yearly school schedules for Japan did not coincide well with our schedule here in the U.S., I posted on two list serves for additional partners to collaborate with my students. Teachers responded from various places and the Portraits of Peace lesson began with my students being given one or two collaborative partners to contact. Students collaborated by emailing their partners at least twice a week as they exchanged ideas and definitions on peace and discussed how they were working on their projects.

As this lesson developed, I found that students today are not of the same mind-set as the students of five years ago. Today, many of their lifestyles revolve around computer technology. Email and instant messaging (IM) are quite familiar tools of communication for the youth in my classroom. In this shifting environment of progress, computer technology, educational goals, and tradition, I attempted to integrate IT into the communication and collaborative skills of art making.

The attempt was not to alter the media as much as to alter the mode for students to communicate and use this communication in an intelligent manner in their art making. I wished to use the integration of computer technology in a form that would enrich expression and experience. I was looking for modes that incorporated the two worlds of art and technology.

The Portraits of Peace lesson had students look at a theme in depth and at the same time have a dialog with a peer located somewhere else on the globe. This collaboration through technology would be navigated between the youths of two unique cultures and could be extended throughout the communities here and abroad via local art exhibitions and via websites that displayed the collaborative works.

The lesson itself was inspired by an exhibit of work by Maggie Taylor and a collaborative partner. The show was called Common Elements. Both artists used the same symbols in artwork created miles apart. The pieces were displayed side by side at the exhibit showing how both artists had used the common elements. In my lesson, I incorporated the use of elements as personal symbols for my students to define themselves and their exchanged ideas on peace.

There are two versions of the lesson. The first version is Project A. Both students involved in the collaboration define peace with a chosen definition. Each student then selects a personal icon or an object that symbolizes something important or that has personal meaning for the student. The students also pick a cultural symbol that is defined by the individual’s own culture. They then select a third symbol based on peace. This peace symbol is given by the student to the partner in an exchange of hope. A portrait of peace is to be created using the student’s personal symbol, the cultural symbol, and the exchanged peace symbol. The students are free to use their own peace symbol as well in the composition.

In Project B, the students also define peace with a chosen definition. They collaborate where each individual selects a peace/hope symbol and gives it to their partner. This makes two symbols, their own chosen symbol and their partner’s chosen symbol that the students will use in their work. A third, agreed upon symbol is discussed and chosen to be used in the portrait of peace, as well.

Both projects require students to share ideas on peace over the Internet and to explain what each is planning to do for their project. While collaborating, students are to ask their partner if they have any suggestions to help develop the project. Choice of media to create the project is decided by the students. Digital images of the project are to be taken once the project is complete. The digital image will be emailed to the partner. In return the collaborative partner would email their final project. The pieces will then be printed (8” X 10”) and hung next to their partner’s work for a Peace Portrait art show at the end of the year.

An extension of this project involves an aspect of mentoring to younger students. The high school students are encouraged to visit an elementary school and share their experience in collaborating. The students will show the work created through the collaboration and encourage the younger students to create their own portraits of peace.

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