New media, art and design in indigenous Taiwanese schools

The following account is written by and describes the work of Hsin-Mei Lin in her capacity as (new media) artist-in-residence at two rural Taiwanese secondary schools. Hsin-Mei is a doctoral student supervised by Professor John Potter and Dr. Michelle Cannon at UCL Institute of Education. She is the recipient of a national scholarship from the Taiwanese government to explore the reform of the Taiwanese school curricula in relation to new media arts practices.

New media, art and design in an indigenous Taiwanese schoolThe purpose of these projects is to see how new media art practices can assist students’ creativity and develop particular competences based on the specificity of the local context. Attention is paid to innovative practices using low-tech digital devices in an area of low socio-economic status. The participants were from Fungating and Peinan High Schools located in south-eastern Taiwan in the town of Taitung, where Taiwanese indigenous culture flourishes. These schools are known for their experimental programs related to pop music and fashion, and as an artist in residence, I am exploring the processes of developing creative partnerships between schools, the community and the local culture.

New media, art and design in an indigenous Taiwanese schoolMy practice with the children started using the Prototype stage of design thinking, introducing new media materials to facilitate students’ logical thinking and problem solving capacity, as well as their artistic and aesthetic appreciation. In low-tech environments, students generated original ideas in flexible online and offline spaces, engaging in vibrant and coherent storytelling, and creative product design.

Peinan High School – re-imagining the vending bike

Initially, as a visitor in Taitung, I noticed that vending bikes were a common sight in indigenous communities, the kind of vehicle that sold traditional food and handicrafts in markets. Initial ideas for the digital arts project started with a conversation with the owner of a famous tea shop called Dongfan Herbal Tea. The shop had a long family history and had developed a cultural affinity with local tribes and their tea-drinking practices. We acquired a second hand vending bike and reflected on the past and present social and cultural significance of the bike, relating this to students’ daily lives, and, importantly, the possibility of repositioning its use and function.

In the lesson, a concept map guided the students to make connections with the history of the bike, and students were involved in tasting different flavours of herbal tea – matching them with colour cards and taste descriptions. There were three steps to re-imagining the vending bike: firstly, in groups and individually, we used Dixit storytelling cards, to experiment with new designs, colours and scenarios in relation to observations from pupils’ daily lives; secondly, 3D models of vending bikes were generated forming an interactive augmented reality online museum from students’ individual designs. This nurtured a shared sense of accomplishment and apprenticeship in digital design modelling. Finally, the vending bikes were transformed from 3D models into a material installation displayed in Peinan High School. The element of display and celebration of the children’s work was appreciated by peers and teachers as the outbreak of the pandemic in Taiwan took hold.

New media, art and design in an indigenous Taiwanese schoolFungating High School – re-purposing the lecture table as a mobile kareoke machine

A further creative partnership was developed with Fungating High School, on the outskirts of Taitung city, on the basis of a strong indigenous singing culture. This cultural practice has a close relationship with pop songs, which is deeply rooted in this particular school’s curriculum. During our observations and investigations around the school, we saw the many broken and unused lecture tables that had been installed in each classroom – they were gradually falling apart and this had been the case for more than two decades. We started the creative journey to redesign and give new life and meaning to the lecture table by exploring it inside and out. In this phase, there were rich and dynamic conversations between the students and artists during which a collective memory of indigenous karaoke cars emerged. In Taitung, kareoke culture was apparent in the community, the school, and the natural environment near the mountain and the sea. Using the same design thinking and processes as Peinan High School, we turned the analogue and digital drawings of lecture tables into 3D structures, through the various design phases including the virtual art gallery.

There are two notable observations about these projects that I would like to highlight: firstly, the scaffolding of digital processes and the implementation of pedagogies that relate to building social relations, fostered the development of creativity and student dispositions to be able to deal with authentic design issues. Secondly, new media art materials and design thinking approaches facilitated productive links with the cultural life of the local community. Harnessing these contextual factors rehearses new thinking around ‘third spaces’ of learning (Potter and McDougall 2017) and reinforces a commitment to socially and culturally rooted forms of literacy.

My initial findings provides evidence that supports the importance of local practices to creative partnerships, of educational initiatives using new media art material, and of cooperation between schools, artists and the community, and that these practices succeed despite the perceived lack of advanced technology and hardware.

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Potter, J. and McDougall, J. (2017) Digital Media, Culture and Education: Theorising Third Space Literacies. London: Palgrave Macmillan.

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