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Chuck Carney
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Last modified: Thursday, March 10, 2011

School of Education researcher investigating how 'Guitar Hero' might produce the next prodigy

Wallace Foundation funding a review into how digital arts tools might best promote arts learning among youth

March 10, 2011

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- You might wonder what kids who spend a lot of their time playing "Guitar Hero," messing around in "Garage Band," or painting a picture on a Wii game system might be getting out of it. An Indiana University School of Education professor wonders why they might not get a real passion for the arts.

The Wallace Foundation has funded a new review underway by Kylie Peppler, assistant professor in the Learning Sciences Program of the Department of Counseling and Educational Psychology, to examine how new technologies widely used by youth might better entice them to seriously pursue the arts. Peppler is conducting a study to review technology, discover the best research through workshops with leaders in the field, and produce a study featuring the most successful models and how educators might create innovative ways to promote arts with technology.

"Teenagers are consuming over 10 and a half hours of media a day but are generally not avid producers of it," Peppler said. "Many technologies are now available designed to offer alternatives to direct arts instruction. Given decreasing funds for the arts, it's worth exploring the potential for new technologies for self-directed arts learning."

Peppler notes music and visual arts-oriented games and computer applications have been extremely popular with youth. The electronic game "Rock Band," which allows players to simulate being the lead or bass guitarist or drummer in a rock group, has sold more than 4 million units worldwide. Such popularity led Peppler to conduct research at the Bloomington Boys and Girls Club. Youth who frequent the facility weren't -- in large numbers, at least -- taking advantage of free violin lessons offered on site. But things changed after a "Rock Band Club" was created.

"Most of our kids in Rock Band signed up for violin lessons," Peppler said. So she directed her research assistants to learn why. "The participants would say, 'You know, I really want to learn the guitar, but I figure if I can play the violin and learn to read music, I should be able to learn the guitar.' So they're seeing the connection between orchestral music and the kind of music that they're interested in -- and how they're going to get there."

With that type of evidence, Peppler has moved into investigating how youth turn from simply digital arts consumers into creators. Two workshops to be conducted in New York City will focus on those answers by inviting many of the leaders in developing technology tools for the arts. The first workshop will review technologies that support "self-directed" learning in the arts, such as the "Brushes" painting app for the iPhone, or "Scratch," a program that allows young learners to create interactive stories, animations, games, music, and art on a computer. The second workshop will focus on how social media is helping youth become public performers through channels such as YouTube and Facebook.

Peppler said that to this point, there is little research focusing on how these new ways of creating might change how people participate and learn about the visual and performing arts. "To my knowledge, my lab is probably the only one doing research on arts learning and new technologies," she said. "New technologies represent other ways that we can introduce kids to the traditional ways of creating art outside of schools and after-school clubs."

Peppler received a 2009 Governor's Award for Tomorrow's Leaders and has conducted several research projects on learning through new technologies. She co-edited a book, The Computer Clubhouse: Constructionism and Creativity in Youth Communities, which focuses on her work with media arts as a tool to help improve literacy and learning for young people.

She introduced a media arts program at the Bloomington Boys and Girls Club. In the program, youth are introduced to a visual computer programming and design tool that allows them to create anything from a short animated story to a music video. Children use not only their imagination, but literacy and computer skills, to create a unique expression of self which can then be shared worldwide on the Internet.

About The Wallace Foundation
The Foundation is a nationally recognized philanthropic organization known for its involvement in educational and cultural programs. Its mission has the goals of strengthening education leadership to improve student achievement, improving after school learning opportunities, and building appreciation and demand for the arts. It grew from the Reader's Digest Association, created by DeWitt and Lila Acheson Wallace.