April 11-14, 2007
San Francisco, California

Video iPods and Art Education

Julie Springer, National Gallery of Art, Washington; and Paula White, Albemarle County Public Schools, Virginia, USA


Image-enhanced podcasting may be ideally suited for teaching and studying visual art. In museums or school classrooms, on-site or on-line, image-enhanced podcasting expands options for those with visual, audial, and kinesthetic learning styles. The iPod’s appeal to young audiences also favors its use in the art museum, where youth are typically underrepresented. This paper reviews the use of podcasting using video iPods during the National Gallery’s 2006 Teacher Institute, Dutch Art in the Golden Age. Participating teachers – most of whom had no experience with the device – created short podcasts on a Dutch painting of their choice after a four-day immersion experience in more traditional art historical subjects. The program goals, instructional design, preliminary findings, and next steps are summarized by the two staff members primarily responsible for its conception and planning.

Keywords: podcast, MP3, teachers, education, art museums, instructional technology


Each summer the National Gallery of Art offers a six-day professional development seminar for teachers. Taught by staff and outside specialists in art and education, the Teacher Institute provides information about art in its cultural context and models techniques for incorporating art across the K-12 curriculum.

The 2006 Teacher Institute focused on Dutch art of the seventeenth century, a period when the Netherlands enjoyed a ‘Golden Age’ of economic success, world power, and prolific artistic production. Paintings were considered within the broader context of seventeenth-century Dutch life; this made the program particularly appropriate for teachers of history and social studies as well as studio art and art history. During the last two days of the program, teachers explored ways to integrate art into classroom studies by creating podcasts about art.

Note: While the term podcasting denotes a subscription-based, serialized system for downloading and playing digitized files, the use of the term in this paper refers to the creation of a single, image-enhanced audio file that could be serialized as one within a series. A better term might be “artcasting” (Samis & Pau, 2006).

The 2006 Teacher Institute


Goals of the Institute

The goals of the program were to

Earlier Programs

Since 2001, the Teacher Institute has incorporated digital media as a teaching tool. This follows on school mandates to increase teachers’ technology skills and on recognition overall of the educational potential of digital media in K-12 education. In the 2001 and 2002 Institutes, teachers designed interactive lesson plans using objects from the Gallery’s permanent collections, some of which are now available through the museum’s Web site ( From 2003 through 2005, teachers explored storytelling in visual art and then created their own digital stories about art objects of their choice using Apple iMovie software. These programs were all framed according to constructivist, or learner-centered, philosophies and charged teachers with tailoring their own approaches to teaching with the museum’s collections (Springer, et. al., 2004).

The iPod

With the October 2005 advent of Apple’s video iPod, the stage was set to take the best aspects of digital storytelling about art into the more ambulatory realm of the museum’s galleries. When used in tandem with the Belkin TuneTalk Stereo, which plugs into the base of the iPod and allows it to function as a portable recording device, teachers were able to capture their immediate responses to an object while standing directly in front it. Stronger, more persuasive podcasts resulted from teachers’ ability to produce them at the source of inspiration – the artwork itself.

One of the drawbacks of earlier digital storytelling programs was that teachers were too often tied to a desk-bound computer. The iPod allowed teachers to do a little more of their work in the galleries, face-to-face with the artwork and its attendant sensory qualities. Nonetheless, many aspects of the original do not translate to digital or other forms of reproduction, including the physical scale of the object, the tactile qualities of paint on canvas, and – in the case of Dutch art especially – the gem-like radiance of oil applied in translucent glazes. Thus, in its best applications, the imaging capability of the video iPod complements the viewing experience, without competing with the original object.

Instructional Design

From the outset, teachers participating in the 2006 Institute were encouraged to be thinking about objects for their podcast as they studied the Gallery’s permanent collections. Most program participants had viewed in advance examples of image-enhanced podcasts available on the password-protected Web site established to help prepare them for their week in Washington, DC. They were provided with brief guidelines for making an effective podcast (see Appendix), and those who wanted more structure could follow an outlined approach to the project as detailed below.

What’s Dutch about Dutch Art?

Select a painting that speaks powerfully to you about seventeenth-century Dutch culture. In what ways does this object relate to something significant you have learned this week?  How might it stand as a visible embodiment of Dutch culture? (Your response might be to style, subject, and how that subject is interpreted).

Begin your podcast by writing a script (for voice-over narration) in which you analyze the object and argue your points. Be sure to defend your rationale by referring to the objects’ visual evidence. Have fun!

On the third day of the Institute, teachers were given an overview of podcasting through an hour-long PowerPoint presentation aimed at helping them circumvent the mistakes commonly made by beginners, such as speaking too formally and didactically (Samis & Pau), or not clearly identifying the intended audience. As youth have led both production and dissemination of the podcast medium, exemplary and innovative student podcasts were screened in order to demonstrate the iPod’s potential in the classroom. Many program participants were unfamiliar with podcasting, and only a handful of the younger teachers reported already owning and using an MP3 player. To maximize time and facilitate learning, the iPods were issued early in the week so teachers could familiarize themselves with the user interface at their leisure. Additionally, the iPods were loaded with short podcasts about art to introduce a few models and give teachers some ideas for creating their own.

Having thereby mastered the mechanics, they were ready to focus on production issues when they reached that portion of the Institute on day four. The next day – the first of two full days devoted to podcasting – the group worked with writing and technology coaches. Since there were only enough computers to accommodate half the group at a time, the group was split in two. While half wrote their scripts for the voice-over narration, the others learned GarageBand. The third and last day of podcasting saw a flurry of activity – selecting and formatting pictures, recording scripts, and mixing audio with imagery – as teachers pushed to finish before the filmfest when individual products were shared with the group. From the outset, teachers were asked to limit themselves to objects in the Gallery’s permanent collection, and if desiring a soundtrack, to use GarageBand ‘jingles’ or other copyright-free music.

To make the most of their podcasts, many teachers worked on them well into the last evening (in fact, up to the last minute), revising and fine-tuning their narratives. Some doggedly pursued a particular image or piece of music. Others revisited art historical sources, checking and rechecking their facts. The high standards they set for themselves and their level of engagement suggests that the task was both challenging and genuinely meaningful. This is every educator’s wish fulfilled, or in K-12 parlance, an occasion for “authentic” learning.

Exemplary Podcasts

The same high level of personal engagement characterized the best podcasts. The most compelling were those that revealed a powerfully felt connection to the objects chosen. The process of interpreting the picture in historical context was often the occasion for self-reflection, and the choice of image came from a strong sense of identification with the subject. Studio art teacher Melissa Carl was drawn to the self-portrait of Judith Leyster (see Fig.1), as were several women in the group who chose it for their podcasts. Leyster’s early success, later eclipsed by motherhood and the career of her spouse Jan Miense Molenaer, struck many as paradigmatic of issues women still face. Moreover, the youthful self-portrait has a spontaneity and charm as the elaborately dressed artist turns from her easel, smiling, lips parted, as if on the verge of speaking. The immediacy of the work inspired Carl to write her narrative as an imaginary dialogue with the artist, an approach that made the painting come alive, while making it more accessible to her students.

Carl’s podcast also demonstrates many of the qualities emphasized in the tutorial. Her voiceover narration is spontaneous and conversational. She adeptly melds creative interpretation with factual information. She refers to the visual evidence of the painting without sounding officious or didactic. Her podcast engages and enchants adult and youth alike – while providing enough substantive content to qualify as a digital lesson for her students.

Fig 1: Judith Leyster"s Self-portrait ...

Fig 1: Judith Leyster’s Self-portrait was a popular podcast subject among women
(c. 1630, oil on canvas, National Gallery of Art, Washington,
Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Robert Woods Bliss, 29 3/8 x 25 5/8 in.).

Humanities teacher Mary Marshall produced an unusually ambitious and insightful overview of Dutch painting, noting its wealth of subject matter and the multiple levels of meaning informing seemingly ordinary scenes. At a crossroads in her own life, she was particularly struck by a Vermeer (Fig. 2) that spoke to her not only of seventeenth-century Dutch culture, but also of issues she personally grappled with:

Even the most casual observer of seventeenth century Dutch art will notice that it offers us a vast array of subjects, and takes these on in a variety of ways. From portrait art and still life to historical and genre painting, the Dutch artist sets out life as he or she knows it, or perhaps imagines it, and invites us, the viewers, to make something of it.

What are we to make of this world? Is man really the measure of all things, as an enlightened Renaissance thinker would have us believe? Or is there more to it? Is there something to be said for taking one’s own measure and finding oneself lacking? Are all things under the sun vanity and foolishness, as Solomon the Wise asserts? Or should one gather her rosebuds where she may?

Vermeer’s Woman Holding a Balance suggests that the choices one makes in life matter – and matter greatly. The painting hanging behind the woman alludes to Christ’s Last Judgment, and reminds the Christian faithful that he or she will help Christ judge the living and the dead, as written in first Corinthians. But interestingly enough, the woman is not yet weighing or judging anything. Instead, she seems to be contemplating the very idea. Both the scale and her face are bathed in light, suggesting that the moment is important. She is reflective and thoughtful – contemplating weighty matters of the soul,  perhaps taking her own measure before she actually weighs the material object . . ..

Fig 2: Vermeer's Woman Holding a Balance ...

Fig 2: Poised between thought and action, spiritual and material worlds,
Vermeer’s Woman Holding a Balance
signified the complexity of the best
Dutch paintings, while mirroring the author’s own process of self-examination
(Oil on canvas, c. 1664, National Gallery of Art, Washington,
Widener Collection, Fund, 15 7/8 x 14 in.).

Preliminary Findings

The following observations will help us fine-tune the next program.

The process of creating a podcast about art was eye-opening and mind expanding. The level of dissonance was just enough – uncomfortable enough to provide a stretch – satisfying enough to make me want to do more.

Next Steps, And Implications For Learning

In 2007, the program on Dutch art will be repeated and will incorporate improvements based on feedback and observations from 2006. With the help of Randi Korn & Associates, program evaluation will aim to discover what, if any, aspects of the Institute teachers have adopted for classroom use. Using a combination of participant questionnaires, direct observation, and follow-up interviews, we hope to determine whether teachers attending in 2006 and 2007 are any more comfortable with digital media, understand the potential for podcasting in the classroom, and have been able to actually use, or adapt, the model presented to them during the Institute.

Podcasting Supports Learner-Centered Education

Based on these experiences, Institute staff are convinced that podcasting has great potential in learner-centered education. As with digital storytelling, it is a process that requires individuals to chart their own voyage of discovery, establishing their desired destination and determining the best strategies to get there. When pursuing topics of genuine interest, participants are much more inclined to be engaged, resourceful, and creative. They can work at their own level and pace, while instructors must differentiate among student needs and abilities, and individualize their coaching accordingly. Staff have found that podcasting students - adult as well as school-age – typically impose standards of quality for their work that are far higher than those of the instructors. They willingly record and re-record their voices to get just the right intonation, or repeatedly edit sequences of image and audio, working well beyond the time assigned. Because podcasting integrates a wide range of tasks, it allows teachers to address multiple learning styles within a single project. Because it can draw on a wide range of academic subjects and skills, it has great cross-curricular potential. Because it affords students a fair degree of autonomy and creative control, it has the potential to engage them in ways many traditional school projects do not.

Other Cognitive Benefits?

There may be more substantive cognitive benefits to image-enhanced podcasting as well. Paul Messaris (2001), of the Annenberg School for Communication, has found that active engagement in making visual media – not merely consuming it – is critical to building visual literacy skills. While it is possible to view imagery and not comprehend it, the task of structuring meaningful sequences of imagery builds skill in the conventions of visual communication. He argues further that visual literacy skills can carry over into other areas of cognition, specifically citing film and image editing as enhancing students’ spatial intelligence and aptitudes for analogical thinking – skills critical to advanced studies like algebra, calculus, and physics. His findings reinforce Howard Gardner’s well-known theories on multiple intelligences, and suggest that the process of podcasting with images may prove to be a very useful pedagogical tool.


National Gallery of Art Teacher Institute  2006
Guidelines for Creating a Podcast

Key idea

Focus on developing one key idea, and keep it simple. (You have 2-5 minutes). Pick one object, or use a couple, but use them toward a single theme.

Identify your audience 

Who is the audience for your podcast? Your students? Your peers? Yourself? Your personal response to a work – its power, significance for you – may be the most evocative and compelling for your audience.


Keep your tone conversational and personal. Avoid the didactic, or omniscient voice of authority. Here is what one Institute participant noted about voice, while making some other valid points about the potential of podcasting:

The podcasts that were that were the most effective (I felt) had a conversational quality that, for me, communicated volumes about what the speaker knows about the art, and how they feel about art. What’s the point of a podcast, after all – isn’t it to teach how to talk about art, how to think, and how to look at art? I mean, we’d like to make the art come alive, so it isn’t relegated to some distant period . . . . the podcast has the potential to bring the past into the present.

Make it visual

Help your audience see what you see in the object. Avoid lecturing or talking about things external to the image itself. Exploit what the medium offers: the visual and auditory.

Example: The Museum of Modern Art’s short podcast about Matisse’s The Piano Lesson is an excellent example of a podcast that illuminates what one sees. In less than three minutes the listener/viewer understands how the design choices Matisse made actually shape the meaning, or content, of the image.


The authors wish to thank their colleagues at the National Gallery who actively planned or participated in this pilot program: Zev Slurzberg, John Scribner, Susan Farr, Yuri Long, Phyllis Hecht, Arthur K. Wheelock, Jr., Carol Christensen, Neal Turtell, Eric Denker, Suzanne Sarraf and Guillermo Saenz. They also wish to thank all the technology coaches who were indispensable to the program.

The 2007 Teacher Institute is supported by generous gifts from the William Randolph Hearst Foundation, Annetta J. Coffelt and Robert M. Coffelt Jr., the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation, and the Sara Shallenberger Brown Fund.


Messaris, P. (2001). “Visual culture”. In J. Lull (Ed.), Culture in the communication age (pp. 179-192). London: Routledge.

Samis,P. and S. Pau (2006). ‘Artcasting’at SFMOMA: First-Year Lessons, Future Challenges for Museum Podcasters. In D. Bearman and J. Trant (eds.). Museums and the Web 2006: Proceedings. Toronto: Archives & Museum Informatics, 2006. Last updated March 4, 2006, consulted June 14, 2006.

Springer, J.,  S. Kajder and J.B.Brazas (2004). Digital storytelling at the National Gallery of Art. In D. Bearman & J. Trant (Eds). Musems and the Web 2004: Selected Papers. Toronto: Archives & Museum Informatics, 2004. 123-130. Also available

Cite as:

Springer,J., and P. White, Video iPods and Art Education, in J. Trant and D. Bearman (eds.). Museums and the Web 2007: Proceedings, Toronto: Archives & Museum Informatics, published March 1, 2007 Consulted

Editorial Note