Learn What Doesn’t Change

Two minutes into his MGFest 2009 presentation How To Be Creative And Get Paid, Nick Campbell summarizes my concerns about cigotie’s technically proficient mimicry.

Campbell tells the crowd to learn what doesn’t change.

design, storytelling, animation, typography, composition, color theory

We are awash in shiny cheap tools, a reality which is both wonderful and maddening. These creative disciplines have changed very little in the last several centuries and yet when edubloggers talk about creativity in 21st-century schools they talk overwhelmingly of the tools and, occasionally, of who found the tool first.

I paint with a broad brush here but for every 100 posts celebrating the easy-bake aesthetic of Wordle and Animoto you’d think I could find one celebrating the use of color toward easier, more satisfying communication.

Just gotta make it look new maybe. Like maybe we lose some vowels, rename it colrthry or something. We’ll give it a logo with a gradient, add some social networking functionality, and if our district IT guy blocks it maybe then we’ll start talking about what’s more important to art than the tools we use to make it.

I'm Dan and this is my blog. I'm a former high school teacher, former graduate student, and current head of teaching at Desmos. More here.


  1. “The worrying view coming through is that students are lacking in reflective awareness…Technology makes it easy for them to collate information, but not to analyse and understand it. Much of the evidence suggests that what is going on out there is quite superficial.”

    Rose Luckin, Professor of Learner- Centred Design at the London Knowledge Lab on a current study examining the internet’s impact on pupils’ critical and meta-cognitive skills | Times Online


    It’s like it always is. People look for shortcuts and fall in love with flash and marketing. Teaching these skills is hard. Assessing them effectively is often as hard or harder.

  2. When we talk about art in all its forms and the masters of art, think about how these people got started. First a student gets interested by exposure to the art. Then they mimic. They then apprentice themselves to someone who is willing to work with them. The next step is experimenting by using their knowledge and tools in very different ways, rebelling against the master they have learned from. It is this last step that we as teacher must nurture. I think this is missing in so many of our classrooms. We ask and expect students to conform to rules and this is the easy part of teaching. It is the nurturing of those rule breakers that is difficult. It is easy to assess work that fits into our rubric. How do we get students who are very good at what they do to break out of the molds we create and model?

  3. Cigotie is learning. He’s doing tutorials, ‘copying’, he’s learning his craft. Think about him as a builder. You wouldn’t just go: “Gee nice house, but you just followed someone else’s plans, I’m worried about your indepedent -and creative thinking skills”. Let him gain the skills, his independence will come naturally. Or it won’t. But it won’t come without a grounding in the skills, which is what he’s demonstating.

    Also Vicky: Give me a student who is a “rule breaker” (who by definition already knows the ‘rules’ I’m trying to impart) over a student who couldn’t care less about the rules or doesn’t have the assumed scaffold. I’ve had a couple in computer animation, and they’re gems. They force me to learn. It’s wonderful!

    Not to be completely contrarian: I concur fully with the posted slide. Spot on. (I don’t this contradicts my first paragraph.)

  4. How do we get students who are very good at what they do to break out of the molds we create and model?

    I ran across a guy who has some ideas on this at http://www.goshen.edu/~marvinpb/arted/tc.html

    His most important idea appears to be to force creativity by giving restrictive assignments so a student can’t just use what they used to do in the past, which sounds plausible. Obviously for this to work you need to give lots of assignments with different limitations from assignment to assignment.