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Incidentally Teaching Ethics in Digital Art and Design Instruction

Authored By: 
Cavin Thuring, Technology Teacher

After teaching Digital Imaging with Adobe Photoshop and Digital Illustration with Adobe Illustrator here at The Beekman School, I’ve come to realize the classes not only serve to teach the students various aspects of art and design, but also give rise to teachable moments in the responsible use of technology.

Students, as with any adult who has used the Internet, will stumble upon images on that are used to convey messages that are either constructive (uplifting or supportive) or destructive (denigrating or disparaging).  It is these images that influence what students want to create in my digital classes with the powerful image manipulation programs they learn.  It’s never an issue when a student’s source of inspiration is constructive.  It’s when it’s destructive that it gives rise to a moment of ethical and moral discussion.

Every now and then a student wants to use the image of another person in a way that can only be taken as insulting.  I once had a student in my Digital Imaging who wanted to use Photoshop to place the head of another student onto the body of an animal after seeing a similar image on a Facebook group to which she wanted to post.  It became my task to tell the student that it shouldn’t be done and to explain why.  The rest of the class was drawn into the discussion.  We went over why the project idea was destructive not only towards another person, but also ruinous for the student herself (through the repercussions of posting such an image). Through this full class dynamic the student learned not just from me, but also from her peers about how to think more responsibly regarding what images they create and post.

These teachable moments are most welcome. Ethical and moral considerations should be a part of a student’s critical thinking and decision-making. It adds to a student’s ability to self-analyze—not just in class, but online on social media websites.

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