September 12, 2017

Eyebeam celebrates the return of Digital Day Camp

by Lauren Gardner

A personal view of Eyebeam’s singular approach to artist-led learning by Associate Director for Education, Lauren Gardner.


Since opening our doors in 1998, Eyebeam has served emerging and mid-career practitioners critically engaged with the impact of technology on culture at large. From inception, Eyebeam’s programming included Digital Day Camp (DDC) as a platform to share artists’ research with a larger community, youth and teachers in particular. For the past few years, DDC has been on a break but we’re happy to announce its successful return and share with you what we’ve learned by re-launching it.

Eyebeam aims to provide artists with the space, resources, and community to foster collaborative experiments with technology geared towards a more imaginative and just world, and this is core to our pedagogical framework. Over the past nineteen years, by incorporating our values into curriculum, Eyebeam has created healthy habits for students as well as artists, and educators. Open dialogue through public discourse and critical thinking is key to refining an artist’s vision and growth, the same is true for a student. Furthermore, coaching young audiences allows teaching artists to reflect on their own work. The artist/student relationships formed at Eyebeam has proven to be a beneficial and reinforcing activity which strengthens our community. This has only become more visible and meaningful as our students start to develop careers and practices of their own.

 

 

DDC is a multi-week, arts and technology intensive for approximately 15-20 students held at Eyebeam. Students work alongside artist-educators and staff, engaging in lectures and hands-on workshops focusing on art and technology, tools, careers in the field, and relevant social and artistic topics. DDC has provided free, out-of-school, STEAM based art & technology education to hundreds of youth in NYC public high schools.

Students work under the guidance of teaching artists and practitioners from the Eyebeam community. The theme of the program changes each year adapting to both cultural trends and those in technology, this year’s theme was POWER. Examples from previous years include:

– DDC 2002 investigated architecture, public art, and memorials in contemporary society. The program addressed both the area destroyed by the September 11th attacks and its impact on the city’s collective consciousness.

– DDC 2006 focused on the relevance of and issues surrounding biotechnology projects created by artists and activists.

What makes this after school program unique is Eyebeam’s ability to challenge youth to apply creative thinking strategies across a range of technological tools and topics with the goal to help them develop critical, empowering, and sustainable relationships with technology.

It’s been a few years since we’ve run a DDC and we wanted to re-launch a program that focused on our strengths. First, we researched and evaluated the NYC afterschool landscape to see what gaps needed to be filled. We were interested in looking at two factors of afterschool experiences, the subject matter they teach and the type of learning environment they offer (pedagogical format). We determined that the sweet spot for us is right in the middle of this spectrum.

Copy of Eyebeam Education afterschool landscape, pedegogy overview - simplified

Regarding subject matter, we are inspired by the pedagogical concepts of humanistic learning, and active research. In short, these learning ideas view an educator’s primary role as a facilitator where the teacher (or admin) will seek student’s feedback on how to better support their growth. So we talked to previous Eyebeam students and education facilitators to gather feedback on what they thought was special about our DDC program. From the conversations, three points kept resurfacing.

 

  1. Curriculum should ‘feel’ like an Eyebeam experience, not a class

The benefit of an after-school program is that it’s not a school. Eyebeam is a twenty year old institution full of artists passionate about developing and sharing their craft. There is a rich history of experimentation and invention at Eyebeam. We wanted to create an immersive learning experience reflective of that history in hopes to encourage and inspire younger students to experiment in DDC and beyond.

Our aim was to present a diverse array of classes, subjects and teachers and have the DDC session feel coherent. To achieve this, we created a pedagogical framework to lead DDC’s learning session and every one of Eyebeam’s education projects going forward.

The educational philosophy is based on Eyebeam’s mission statement; Openness, Invention & Justice. Eyebeam’s educational philosophy is to:

– Empower youth to see technology as a tool for creation enabling them to be producers, not only consumers.

– Engage students to think critically about technology practices and how they can further social justice, equality and activism.

– Mediate technology education through art to encourage self-expression and inquiry to create learning habits that are long lasting and self-perpetuating.

– Teach fundamental technology concepts with methods that require minimal materials for maximum impact.

This philosophy, in combination with the year’s theme of ‘POWER’ helped teachers craft their curriculum and allowed us curate an array of teachers with different practices and pedagogical approaches.

We published the open-call, sharing the theme and philosophy, asking our residents and community to submit class ideas. In order to provide a consistent experience across the fourteen different teachers and subjects, we curated classes that provided a scaffolding effect over the two weeks so each class built on top of knowledge or skills learned in previous classes. The idea of scaffolding, much like leveling up in a videogame, is to move students progressively toward stronger understanding and, ultimately, greater independence in the learning process.

 

     2. Pay students for their time and effort

If you want education to be accessible, it’s not enough to offer a free after-school program. Reimbursing students made a huge difference on whether or not kids could attend the program. To provide an equitable opportunity, Eyebeam took into consideration the outlying and unplanned costs of participating in the program like travel costs, lost wages and food. DDC students received a daily stipend of $20 based on their attendance and we always had a well stocked supply of options for breakfast, lunch and snacks both during class and for the students trip home.

We strongly valued students for their commitment, participation and engagement with the program. We encouraged students to be active participants in class, by asking questions, engaging with teachers, providing feedback, and helping other fellow students. DDC is a competitive program, we receive more applications than we can accommodate and paying students for their active participation and adherence of the code of conduct sets a level of expectation they excelled during the learning sessions. Students from New York’s five boroughs were invited to participate, and to some this meant a three-hour trip. The commute plus a five-hour day packed with two classes makes an intense and challenging day, so yes, we absolutely want to set the expectation in which their time and professionalism is highly valued.

 

     3. Classes should be taught by artists, teaching their practice.

It really benefits students to learn from active learners. Core to our pedagogical mission is to instill autodidactic behaviors, these are habits of lifelong self-learning that will carry students through their journey of learning new skills. This is of fundamental importance with the rate new technologies, programming languages and educational frameworks are being introduced. Students will need to know how to continue learning when they graduate and enter the workforce, and teaching artists embody this practice.

Teaching artists can personally demystify the path to mastery of a specific skill or subject. Furthermore, they speak first-hand about roadblocks they’ve encountered and how they overcame them. Demystifying failure helps students adopt a growth mindset, and develop realistic expectations of what it takes to succeed, both in a classroom setting and in the world at large.

This teaching-practice also benefits the artists, like the Latin proverb says ”docendo discimus”, which means by teaching, we learn. Teaching is an active process where both teachers and students share knowledge, experience, questions and opinions. This active exchange allows teaching artists to engage with a new audience whom have different perspectives and experiences. Artists get the (often critical or blunt) feedback from DDC students allowing them to reflect on questions or assumptions that arise. This process of reflection allows artists to reexamine and reframe thoughts around their practice. Usually by breaking down large concepts into smaller examples or by expanding the language they use to describe something, so their artistic practice is instantly relatable to an audience with no prior context. This active process of teaching often results in new ways for artists to view their practice and enables new ideas on how to explore it.

These are just a few of the reasons we are excited about DDC’s relaunch. However the benefit of having a program that has lasted for 20 years is seeing the long term effects it has had on the community, and we’ve seen a virtuous cycle that benefits everyone involved. We’re excited and looking forward to building a sustainable platform for the education program at Eyebeam that ensures the importance of arts in a technology engaged future.


Article by Associate Director for Education, Lauren Gardner and edited by Leandro Huerto. 

Learn more about us at:  eyebeam.org/education