Their Instagram-based homework assignments show how smartphones can be used appropriately in the classroom.
As smartphone culture rapidly takes over classrooms and the attention of young students, educators are beginning to realize that digital interference is not only unavoidable but also a potentially rich source of bonding experiences and learning activities.
Web artists and designers Giorgio Mininno and Giovanni Fredi held a Computer Art course at the LABA international Academy of Arts, based in Ningbo, China. They were faced with a double challenge: not only was there a significant language barrier between themselves and the students, but these young kids were all smartphone addicts. To create relevance between the students and the curriculum, they concluded that the key was visual communication.
One additional barrier was the differences in what is perceived as ‘art’ in Chinese and Western culture. The topic of Net.art naturally came up, and the Chinese students thought the examples Fredi and Mininno showed them were confusing, and even ugly. The social activism and ideas behind these works were often not clear to a cohort brought up on technical ideals, such as developing precision and speed by copying the masters.
To emphasize their distinctly Western perspective that art should communicate ideas, the teachers decided to take technical skill out of the equation. Their first assignment was for the students to tell a story using emojis and unicode characters only. With instructions to post the results on their Instagram accounts, the students combined the elegant visuals to create simple stories. Another assignment had the students exploit bugs and limitations in smartphone apps, such as using a moving figure in a panorama-making app to create a “multiple shot effect.”
Aside from probing the limits of the virtual world that had been officially offered to them, Fredi and Mininno also encouraged the students to use VPNs and make Facebook accounts, despite the fact that the social network remains banned in China. A few students did make accounts, but ultimately it was the promise of self-expression that motivated them. Emojis, for now, seem to fit the bill.