Blended Learning, High school / Secondary 2, International, Interview, Required, Students, University & College - Written by on Wednesday, March 14, 2012 6:00 - 0 Comments

Interview: Cartoon Movement’s Tjeerd Royaards Connects Students & Artists Digitally

 Cartoon Movement Editor in Chief Tjeerd Royaards

BERLIN – Dutch cartoonist Tjeerd Royaards draws political commentary and increasingly sells these drawings digitally. He decided to use the digital platform for an interesting project in 2010: Connect 120 cartoonists from 65 countries with 300 school children between ages 15 to 18. They encouraged the students to come up with cartoon ideas related to the UN’s Millennium Development Goals and development policies of the European Union. The students submitted 400 ideas and the teams collaborated on 98 of the best ideas. The cartoons were published in book form. And now Tjeerd and the other cartoonists would like to continue collaborating with students. He answered questions from Wired Academic managing editor Paul Glader.

WA – When we met in Berlin at EDUCA online in December, your Cartoon Movement project was aiming to expand beyond the 15 classes at high schools in the Netherlands. You wanted to connect your 120 cartoonists to collaborate with more than 300 students ages 15 to 18. How is that going? 

TR – We are talking to a number of Dutch schools with international contacts in education to set up an international project later this year. Through these schools we can reach out to schools elsewhere in the world (in this particular case in India and Turkey), and start a collaborative project between are 130+ cartoonists and not only Dutch schools, but schools from other places in the world as well, adding a new international dimension to the project.

WA – How does the collaboration between cartoonists and students work exactly? 

TR – When we start an educational project, we begin by choosing a particular theme. Around this theme we build a digital classroom (which we call a newsroom), where we invite students to think on a particular subject (like hunger or poverty, or human rights) by coming up with ideas for cartoons on this subject. Together with professional cartoonists they talk about the ideas, and vote for the submitted sketches. The best ideas are taken up by the cartoonists and transformed into professional cartoons.

WA – Why do you think this project is helpful to young people? How and why does cartoon collaboration impact young people?

TR – Thinking about a subject in terms of cartoons proved a new and unique approach to looking at problems. We want to encourage students to open their minds to other perspectives. We believe that an understanding of the principle of ‘there is more than one truth’ leads to a better understanding of the world. Besides, they discussed events as they happened; they broadened their horizons and developed their language skills along the way.

WA – What is the target demographic of young people? And the target Geography? 

TR – The beauty of the combination of cartoons and education is that the target audience is very broad. For the educational project on the Millennium Development Goals our target group consisted of students between 15-18, but we’re also doing a project in collaboration with the London School of Economics, making editorial cartoons that will be used in discussions with students in the age group 20-25 about transitional justice and security in conflict-affected areas. We’re also making an interactive comic about the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague to show students the multiple perspectives on this organization. The Geographical scope is also very broad, we would say: ‘the broader, the better’. One of the unique aspects of our platform is that it is truly global. We connect students to artists from all over the world, from Sudan to Nepal, and from Peru to Russia. As I mentioned earlier, for the next project we will be working with international students as well, making the whole project as international as it can be.

WA – What are some common themes and important themes you see young people thinking on these days when it comes to cartoon ideas? 

TR – Environment is always a popular topic, as are poverty and hunger. What we were surprised with during the first project (on the MDGs) was how many students cam up with cartoon ideas and sketches that focused on human rights, power abuse, corruption and freedom. Among cartoonists these are some of the most popular themes to draw about, and this affinity was shared by the participating students. This may have something to do with the Arab Spring, which has kept the focus of the international media on these issues throughout 2011.

WA – How is your project funded now? What other funds would you like to raise to expand and how will you do so?

TR – The first educational project was a pilot, financed by the Dutch Government through a foundation (NCDO) focused on spreading awareness about the Millennium Development Goals. Our current projects our funded by the educational organizations themselves. When three or more schools team up for a project it becomes very affordable for them, with project fees per school below a 1,000 euro. And then they are of course also free to decide on the theme they would like to work with.

WA – The Dutch tradition in cartooning – and about approaching to cartoons as a source of power and change – seems strong. Where does that come from? What is the explanation? 

TR - I think the Dutch tradition of editorial cartooning is strong because our tradition of freedom of expression and tolerance is strong. The creation of an open and tolerant society led to, and was further facilitated by, a strong free press. Within that press (especially newspapers), there has always been a place for editorial cartoons. Unfortunately this press is now in crisis, and the position of editorial cartoon is threatened by this crisis. At Cartoon Movement, we try to use the Internet, seen by many print journalists (and cartoonists) as one of the main causes of the current media crisis, as a new opportunity for editorial cartoons.

WA – What are you hoping to accomplish long-term with this project? And what do you hope it looks like in 5 or 10 years?

TR - Our main mission is to help build a sustainable future for professional editorial cartooning. We see educational projects as an important foundation to do this. Through this we can show the world that the use of cartoons is not necessarily limited to the op-ed page in newspapers, but that they can explain problems in a unique way. And the cartoons that are created in these project provide high quality content which we can publish on our platform to continue promoting cartoons to an international audience. In 5 to 10 years we hope to have a number of long-term cooperations in place, doing regular projects with a large number of schools and universities, that will have added cartoons to their curriculum. We aim to have cartoons (and comics) recognized as a valuable learning tool.

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