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News . Feature Stories . Intuitive, Accessible, Portable, Multi-Functional


January 01, 2012

Intuitive, Accessible, Portable, Multi-Functional

iPad incorporated into CIA's Foundation program

Within minutes of un-wrapping their new iPads last August, members of the Class of 2015 were making sketches, paintings, films, photographs and sound recordings using the latest tool to be presented to incoming freshmen. They may also have been making history, as CIA became perhaps the first college of art and design to integrate iPad use into its Foundation curriculum.

Students quickly proved what Foundation Environment Chair Petra Soesemann ’77 hoped for when adding iPads to the classroom: that they are valuable tools for teaching “the entire creative thinking and making process.”


The iPad roll-out — each freshman received one to keep — was part of a larger Digital Canvas Initiative that also includes improved wireless access to the Internet on campus, and an information-packed web log at The Digital Canvas Initiative was the brainchild of Information Technology Director Michael Kimmel and Assistant Professor Scott Ligon, author of the book Digital Art Revolution: Creating Fine Art with Photoshop (Random House, 2010).

Ligon readily admits the iPad won’t replace other equipment students will eventually need — such as high quality cameras or actual paint and canvas — but a semester’s worth of results shows the iPad allows students to dive into complex assignments and make remarkable progress quickly. Ligon frequently refers to CIA students as ‘digital natives,’ people who have grown up using digital tools to create, research, and entertain. The iPad supports this learning style by providing one tool that integrates sound, pictures, film, research, and original work. “The iPad is a hub for consumption that inspires creation and supports a student’s ability to work with all digital tools,” he said.


The timing for incorporating the iPad into the curriculum proved fortuitous. The device came on the market in the spring of 2010, just when CIA faculty members were working on revising the Foundation curriculum for freshmen.

Faculty members were looking for ways to increase students’ thinking, learning, and collaboration skills, across all first-year courses. They developed a series of seven- week charette courses offered for the first time this past fall. A slight corruption of the French word for cart or chariot, the term is thought to have originated with 19th century French design students working together to quickly finish their illustrations on their way to class, “en charrette.” For modern-day designers, the charette is a creative brainstorming process used to develop visual solutions within a limited timeframe.

The iPad turned out to be an ideal tool for charette assignments, said Assistant Professor Jimmy Kuehnle.

“I used the iPad a lot in the charette class. Students would collect observations in the field and use the iPad to record sound and video and take photographs, and then edit and organize that content in a presentable way, all in an afternoon class,” he said. “The iPad was really good for that entire iterative process. Every day we had a capsule of the creative process from beginning to end.”

Visiting Instructor Barbara Chira taught a charette course titled “Self and Other Voices,” which sought to guide students through both self-exploration and an understanding of how their ideas can connect with an audience.

“The iPad enabled the students in my charette course to do everything they needed to do in the way of thinking, problem solving and learning with one digital tool. All the information could be collected here in real time, immediately, and then processed as a group with the instructor,” Chira said.

Her students’ final projects were impressive. Lindsay Suarez created a suspended, kinetic photo sculpture and sound accompaniment illuminating her research on the effects of denial on a person with severe depression. The sculpture features doubleimage photos she designed using an iPad app that blends photo layers.

Maria Rouzzo’s final project was a video documentary titled “Secrets.” She used the iPad to film three different students talking about their deeply personal struggles with family, sexual identity, and health.

“The iPad was really helpful for documenting all the research that we were doing,” Rouzzo said. “It was so much easier than having to use more than one device.”

Chira proudly displayed the projects as part of the Foundation show. “It would have been unheard of for first-year students to do this caliber of project within seven weeks without the iPad,” she said.


Professor Richard Fiorelli ’74 taught a charette course that focused on the resources and people in CIA’s Jessica Gund Library. One assignment required students to take photos in the library and incorporate soon- to-be discarded slide mounts into each image to frame their subjects. The result: a 23-foot-long banner on display in the library that consists of more than 300 photos.

The size and format of the iPad have proven advantageous for such assignments. “One of the perceptions people have about technology is that it separates you from life; like you’re sitting in this cold dark room and word processing. But people bring the iPad out into the real world,” Ligon said.

One of Ligon’s favorite examples of that was an assignment that adjunct faculty member Diana Chou gave to her freshmen art history students last semester. The students met in the Cleveland Museum of Art where they were to explore the collection, iPads in hand, as they looked for answers to questions like: how did visual representations of the human figure develop from the works of the ancient Greeks to those of the medieval era?

On a scavenger hunt through the museum, students found examples and used their iPads to photograph, film, sketch, take notes, or even record their spontaneous reactions to the artwork. They then re-grouped in the lobby to share what they had collected. “It was this very tangible application that was really engaging to students,” Ligon said.


One of the biggest surprises in the roll-out of the Digital Canvas Initiative was that Fiorelli — who did not use email, the Internet, or a computer — embraced the iPad wholeheartedly. In fact, the hundreds of sketches he created in the first few weeks of the program became the subject of a display, nose to the grindstone, that Kimmel mounted in the Gund Building lobby, using a bank of 12 iPads.

Fiorelli explained that, in fact, he attended the first workshops offered to faculty when computers were introduced at CIA in the early 1980s and found himself hooked. But he intentionally walked away from computers when he realized how isolating they were. With the iPad, he said, “I got the human contact back; we’re not sitting in a back room staring at a tube.”

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