Digital Notebooks in the Arts Studio

In my in-person art classes, I am often able to walk around and interact with students while they are in the process of creating work. This allows me to make note of student progress and development. I wanted to recreate something that resembled this process of engaging students who are learning at a distance. I also wanted to find a way to deliver information in manageable bites. The goal was also to create assignments that build up in steps to streamline growth and development. I decided to use Google Slides as a digital notebook to collect weekly updates in the form of work in progress. The slides allow me to interact with students through the comment feature. It provided me with the ability to see student progress and development on a weekly basis.

My Google Slides digital notebooks are created with instructions and areas to add progress on a designated slide. Each slide has an area to add an image of the student’s work in progress and a few questions with a text box area for students to fill in. Some examples of questions are:

  • Log: How long did you work on your project? What area did you work on?
  • Successes: List what is working successfully. Why do you think it is working well?
  • Difficulties: What are some challenges/difficulties that you are experiencing?

Progress on assignments is recorded each week and that gives us the ability to look back on a student’s individual development since the first week of school. This has become an essential resource for me and it helps me personalize how I guide my students through their work. Most importantly, students have been very thoughtful with their submissions. Weekly reflections and comments to describe successes and difficulties have been helpful for my understanding of each student’s development. I believe these questions have guided students to better self-analyze their art-making process. The questions also seem to make students much more intentional about how they approach their work.

In my International Baccalaureate classes, I broke down the criteria provided by IB to create a required document called a Comparative Study. In this document, students were asked to compare three artworks by at least two different artists. The IB Comparative Study notebook consisted of 26 slides. Students were required to answer questions about a particular aspect each week. This notebook was later used as an outline to develop the final comparative study by condensing it to 15 slides while editing and adding analysis. Google Slides provided 24/7 access to student work and the ability to comment on their slides. During class, it also allowed me to have a live conversation with a student while we both accessed the same document.

IB Visual Arts exam requires 20 slides for comparative study and 18-25 slides for a Process Portfolio. There is an enormous amount of information about how to approach these documents (60+ pages of guidance) that outlines the criteria. Using the digital notebook approach with Google Slides has helped students break down these requirements. Each week students work on a portion of the required criteria. This approach of working on bite-size assignments has converted a daunting task into a manageable task.

For IB, the experience of using Google Slides as digital notebooks has been a huge success. The dynamic documents allow for edits and real-time assistance. It is a constantly developing and growing document and being able to add comments has been a great way to help students.

In fact, digital notebooks have become a central hub for all of my classes. They allow me to see students’ progress as they work on their documents. They also allow me to specifically comment on their progress each step along the way. Recently I started using an addon called Mote, which allows for voice notes on Google Slides. This has also improved my comments by allowing better communication.

Though I developed digital notebooks in response to the need to create a way of asynchronously interacting with my students during the pandemic  I definitely plan to continue my use of this tool next year. I may make adjustments to timelines for some assignments but using digital notebooks and has become an absolute necessity for my class. The use of these notebooks has allowed for better documentation, reflection, communication, and development. The possibilities are endless and I am constantly looking for ways to improve the delivery of my course content.

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