As technology continues to bring about new teaching methods in core subject areas, it is also being integrated successfully into the arts curriculum in classrooms across the country.

Art teachers say there is still no substitute for learning to use traditional media first, such as chalks, watercolors, oils, markers, pencils, and so on. But painting, drawing, and graphic-design software can add new dimensions to art education that these traditional media cannot, technology advocates say–such as the ability to publish student work and share it with others online. Also, students learn to use tools that professional designers use, which helps prepare them for careers in graphic design.

GeeGuides, a program offering an animated, web-based, interactive art-education curriculum, helps educators teach students about art by exploring art principles, learning about art history, and experiencing hands-on creation. The company launched its first educational series, geeART, in July at the National Educational Computer Conference in San Diego.

Erika Hupperts, a fourth-grade teacher at Riverview Elementary in Durango, Colo., used GeeGuides’ geeART16 curriculum in a pilot program last year, and this year she continues to implement the curriculum. Hupperts said her students were enthusiastic about the lessons, began using new art-related vocabulary words right away, and quickly identified with the program’s animated helpers, a penguin and a polar bear.

“I’m thrilled to be able to help my students, who live in a small mountain town, see pictures of artwork from around the world,” Hupperts said. “Because we live so far away from any metropolitan area, the students have very little access to art museums or even traveling shows.”

Hupperts added that by using the curriculum, her students have the opportunity to view traditional masterpieces and use those experiences as the basis for their learning, helping them build a deeper understanding of art and design.

Using geeART16 lets Hupperts “integrate technology with learning and exploration. This isn’t an entirely novel experience for our students, but using a complete curriculum that is accessed through the internet is,” she said. “An important aspect of the use of this program is that it is entirely designed for student success. Students move at a pace that is independent. … Kids can go back and forth within a lesson to enhance their understanding of the concepts taught.”

“A structured and well-rounded art curriculum, such as the GeeGuides program, is key to facilitating a constructive learning environment that truly educates students to make and understand meaning in art,” said Eric Guaglione, president and chief executive officer of GeeGuides. “Art is such a valuable gateway to the development of higher-order critical thinking skills, as well as to a better understanding of other subjects, and for these reasons should not be excluded from the core curriculum.”

geeART16 has 16 lesson modules that include cross-curricular connections, online activities, self-assessment challenges, teacher lesson plans, and more. It comes with Corel Painter Essentials 3, a digital painting application that gives users the experience of working with a variety of art media.

“Our curriculum teaches students artistic concepts, showcases how past artists have used these concepts, and then puts students in the driver’s seat to try out those concepts in their own art creations,” Guaglione said.

Another program using electronic means to teach about and create art is Cosmic Blobs, a computer program that lets user create and interact with three-dimensional computer graphics. The software comes from SolidWorks Corp., which is part of Dassault Systemes, a French corporation. It has modules for students to create, decorate, and animate their creations. Students use their computer’s mouse to control how their image moves and looks, and they can bend, squish, and stretch the image on screen to manipulate its shape.

Cosmic Blobs also comes with an educator web site and teacher lesson plans. The Cosmic Blobs Professor Program solicits volunteers to create lesson plans, worksheets, and curricula for classroom educators. Lesson plans include 3-D representations of how the seasons change, phases of the moon, and ocean environments.

While not exactly an art-education program, a life-skills program funded by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Disability Employment Policy, the Oklahoma Department of Education, and the Oklahoma Department of Rehabilitation Services is harnessing students’ creative powers to research real-world careers and gain important office skills.

Tech-Now, a program using CorelDRAW to teach students with disabilities the skills they need to succeed in the business world, takes high school students through multiple creative steps as they research a career or field they’d like to enter after school.

The program begins with an introduction to the software and leads to research in the form of a poster, said Rick DeRennaux, president of Tech-Now Inc. Tech-Now isn’t an art program, he said, but it does draw on students’ visual and creative skills as they learn more about potential careers.

“The students create a poster about the career [they’re interested in]; essentially it’s a visual research paper,” DeRennaux said. “By taking all the steps of a research paper and making it visual, kids can explore, take pictures, and scan images.”

Other tasks include using a 3-D design program to create a cereal brand and box based on a student’s chosen career. DeRennaux said a student who wants to be a marine biologist might create a cereal called “Fishy-Os.”

“It’s kind of like a visual exploration of these careers–visual, but the students are still learning a new vocabulary, and it becomes a new tool they can use,” he said. They’re also learning valuable technology and team-building skills in the process.

DeRennaux said the program includes a team project that recreates an office environment–a departure from most school activities, including tests and research papers, which are individual.

“We try to mimic the way it would be in a company,” he said. “What we’ve tried to do is make sure that each person has to rely on another person, so they understand that if you don’t do what you’re supposed to do, it affects you as well as others. We’re trying to take abstract concepts and make them as concrete as we can.”

As part of the program, kids work in teams to create and market a product, then compete against other teams in a statewide competition that judges each project on its design, business case, and marketability.

Each team must design all the graphics a business would typically need to bring a product to market–from product designs to the posters and packaging. The graphic design components of the curriculum are based on the CorelDRAW Graphics Suite.

Students also create newsletters, develop web banner advertisements, use digital audio engineering software and hardware to create a radio commercial, and create movies. The Tech-Now program has been implemented in more than 26 high schools throughout Oklahoma.

Students are using technology to create art not only in their classrooms, but around the world. Connect and Join, a family support and educational services company, recently launched the “Connect with the Troops” portal, which offers free tools that allow students to communicate with and express support for U.S. troops or individual soldiers. The company is holding a nationwide scrapbook initiative to have school children create the “World’s Largest Scrapbook” in support of the troops.

Teachers and students can download free scrapbook and photo page templates from the portal and decorate or add photos to the pages, then eMail or snail-mail their creations to the company to be included with the scrapbook, which will be presented to the troops in December.

“This communications tool is our response to the many teachers who have asked for a way for their students and classrooms to connect with the soldiers who are serving our country,” said Linda Dennis, publisher and founder of Connect and Join.

The web site includes scrapbooking instructions, as well as lesson plans and suggestions for how teachers can make the scrapbooking activity into a standards-aligned learning experience.

Technology also is making its mark on arts courses in higher education. Salisbury University, located in Maryland, is building a new integrated media center, scheduled to open in the fall of 2008. The Center for Integrated Media will allow students to collaborate across disciplines on projects that encompass audio, video, digital photography, and graphics. Though the applications will reside on high-end editing stations in the media center, no servers will be placed in the building. Instead, to minimize support costs, the media will be stored in the university data center and accessed through a high-speed Gigabit Ethernet network.

The school’s art students will be able to create and apply their designs through film, web sites, DVDs, or other interactive media. Performing-arts students will use the facility to design, perform, and record their productions.

University officials say the development of this new media center also might lead to new majors, minors, and areas of concentration.

Integrating technology into the arts curriculum was the focus of ZeroOne San Jose, an art festival held in August that ran concurrently with the International Symposium on Electronic Art. Conferences focusing on art education and technology are becoming increasingly popular. ZeroOne San Jose featured sessions on how educators can incorporate technology into their arts curriculum and also showcased student-created digital art.