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MANAGING ICT Technology to inspire boys

Greg Hodgson from Chalfonts Community College explains

how the introduction of digital arts has helped to engage boys and raise attainment


ANY TEACHERS will agree with me when I say that one of the most hard-to-engage student groups are teenage boys. We are regularly faced with a “so what?” attitude to school and learning and

unfortunately this can result in some students leaving school with few or no qualifications. When I first started teaching, I saw lots of boys who

were often very creative but for some reason they were not doing as well as could be expected in traditional art classes. I decided to approach art in a slightly different way and appeal to them through their love of images, animation, the internet, games and video by introducing a digital art course. The course was introduced five years ago, when we began bringing Adobe products such as Flash, Premiere, After Effects, Illustrator and Photoshop into the classroom. The products allowed students to learn exciting digital

skills such as photography, film and video, animation, editing, graphics and games design. I could see that my students, in particular boys, not only started paying better attention in classes, but quickly became passionate about the course and the creative potential it allowed them to explore in themselves. Many were so enthusiastic, that

they would do coursework in their own time which went above and beyond the specific projects they were set. At the time, digital arts was not a recognised

part of the national curriculum, however seeing such immediate improvements in both attainment and engagement, we developed a Digital Arts GCSE, run under the Unendorsed Art GCSE, to enable it to become a legitimate part of the curriculum. The take up has been impressive and now accounts for half of the art GCSE. Due to its popularity, we have developed a similar A level. The results were outstanding, we saw boys who

were set to fail all their GCSEs gain top grades in digital art. Others have gone on to get first-class grades in digital media courses at higher education. Another positive is that it does not have to be pigeon-

holed into art and design. The skills learned on the course, such as creative-thinking, complex coding and problem-solving, are all transferable into other subjects,

for example maths or history. In fact, as well as seeing increased engagement of the boys in art and design, I also heard from teachers that they were starting to get better grades in subjects such as ICT, media and technology by applying the new skills they had learnt. One of the most successful projects was an online

gaming course using gaming experts worldwide to share their experiences. Chalfonts had received Creative Partners funding and developed a course based on student demands to teach games design. When I asked my students what topics they would

like to hear more on, they unanimously said “video games”. Obviously we were not able to dedicate a lesson to playing games; however as a compromise we decided to learn how to design them with the guidance of industry experts. We initially created a games design curriculum with

the help of teachers Roxana Hadad and Ian Usher. We decided we wanted to get speakers from the games

industry to speak to the students. The experts we wanted to learn from were based all around the world so we decided to run the entire 10-week course online using video-conferencing software. Each Thursday evening, myself and my pupils

logged onto our computers from home and tuned into Roxana (the course leader) live from Chicago. We listened to a variety of gaming experts speak about the skills needed to succeed within the industry. One of the experts actually worked on the design for the game, Tomb Raider, which was really exciting for my students as they all loved the game. The course allowed students to be challenged while

learning about something they loved and it also allowed a group of top set boys with a real talent in digital arts to learn complex skills such as coding, which I would not have been able to teach. I could not believe how much the students enjoyed the course and even saw that some were logging onto the learning platform during half- term to watch the sessions again. What the introduction of digital arts has enabled the

school to do is better prepare students for their future. One student was introduced to Flash in year 7 and as a key player in the games design workshop has created his own online Flash games and has had several million hits on his gaming website. He is now moving towards making a career out of this and is already doing some work for professional clients. I have been teaching new media for over 10 years

and have witnessed first-hand how it can be used to engage students who were previously disengaged with education. Personally, one of the most exciting things about all this is the potential that digital art has to enhance other subjects and help develop a wide range of skills in students which will benefit their education and future careers enormously.


• Greg Hodgson is a senior leader at Chalfonts Community College in Buckinghamshire.

Further information

Chalfonts is showcasing its work in this area on the Adobe stand at the BETT 2011 Show which is taking place in London this week and runs until Saturday, January 15. Visit

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SecEd • January 13 2011


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