On the surface, it’s a simple proposition; put down your slide carousel and switch to digital images for your class lectures. But as anyone who has struggled to keep up with the recent advances in imaging can tell you, the transition to working with digital images is more complicated than it appears. Just learning the jargon – pixels, resolution, dpi, TIFF’s, GIF’s, JPEG’s – can cause the most tech savvy computer user to feel like they’re sinking in the deep end of the digital age pool. Add to that the challenge of needing to acquire, organize, and display your images and you’ll have an idea of what the department of Art and Art History was up against when four of its faculty decided they were ready to park their slides and go digital.
With help from A Partnership in Technology (APT) grant, in the spring and summer of 2006, the University Information Technology (UIT) Academic Technology group partnered with the Department of Art and Art History and with the Tufts Digital Collections and Archives group to create a system that would support access to high-resolution digital images for presentation in Art History courses at Tufts. Speaking to the impetus to make this change, Department Chair and Associate Professor Cristelle Baskins says, “The department of Art and Art History had to catch up with visual resources standards nationwide. We could not continue to rely solely on slides for teaching and research.” Eva Hoffman, Associate Professor of Art History and project participant, agrees. “In the image-based field of Art History, the integration of digital technology is no longer a choice, it is an imperative.”
To address this need, UIT’s efforts included extending the Art History department's slide management system and the Tufts Artifact application to enable export of digital image records from the Slide Library catalog to the central Tufts Repository and access to presentation-quality images via Artifact and other digital image discovery and dissemination services. “Our pre-existing database, Artifact, was a good first step but it did not address the overall transformation of our slide collection, nor were the images in a format appropriate for classroom teaching”, says Dr. Baskins. Dr. Hoffman, who, along with Media Specialist Christine Cavelier, Dr. Baskins credits with taking a leadership role on this project, says that the current initiative “…represents a major breakthrough. This will completely transform the way Art History is taught at Tufts, allowing for the integration of a variety of resources and tools. With this initiative, the Department of Art and Art History has taken a leadership role in the technological developments in our field and we have established ourselves as a major player in the national organization of the Art History Technology Consortium (AHTC).”Along with Dr. Baskin and Dr. Hoffman, project participants included Dr. Daniel Abramson, Associate Professor and Director of Architectural Studies, and Dr. Judith Wechsler, National Endowment for the Humanities Professor of Art History and filmmaker. All faced the challenge of learning the digital jargon and software tools used to acquire, edit, and place their images into a presentation format for each individual lecture.
But the most significant change is a subtle one and the credit for making it happen lies with the faculty themselves. It’s the ability to take a step sideways and think differently about the use of images and digital media in teaching. *The biggest change”, says Dr. Baskins “is that my first impulse now is to grab a JPEG rather than to run up to the slide room. I am actually ‘thinking’ via digital images rather than being intimidated by the technology. Without University Information Technology’s support, I would not be this far along in my own transformation.” By opening themselves to this transformation, the Art and Art History department faculty are also instructing the next generation of art historians, museum curators and art filmmakers in the mechanics of teaching with digital images, a process that is likely to spread to university campuses across the country over the next several years.
To read more about this project, the images available through Artifact, or the individual faculty participants, select one of the links below: