High School Kids, Part Two

Yesterday’s post about my encounter with NYC high school students was exciting and unnerving enough to send me back to rewrite the sections of my Blogtalk paper on the digital divides (yes, plural, for I do believe there are a multitude of gaps we educators must consider as we work with students who are both bolder with the technology and hemmed in by what they anticipate–and correctly in most cases– to be the constraints on their creativity by an antiquated system of scholarship.) Then I turn to my email this morning and am sent a link by Héctor to , the new course blog for his upcoming first-year seminar, The Future of Communities. Further enlightenment. Eureka!

Now I knew that his kids (my kids, too, at this point since he and I are collaborating on an experiment, bringing these 14 students to campus a week early to a program I direct, The Project for Integrated Expression) were going to be online before they reached campus, learning to post to the blog through a knowledge tree exercise a la Pierre Lévy. I had invited this remarkable group myself, and so I knew that they all have intensely interesting life stories, dreams, accomplishments and passions. But–I didn’t anticipate how much I would learn about what it means to be them about to come here to college, and what technology has to do with them, eighteen-year-olds from every corner of the country. Not all of them have posted yet, and they are just learning about how to interact online in this forum (with Héctor’s modelling and probing), but boy oh boy are they already shedding light on what’s to come for us in all our classrooms. Read all their postings here or my excerpts/commentary below:

Eli from Alaska starts things off with a wonderfully written, wry look at his relationship with his computer–how it is, in a sense his lifeline to the world:

My greatest literary influence, Gabriel García Márquez, once wrote, through his character José Arcadio Buendía, “[Ice] is the greatest invention of our time.” As a guy who swings his way from one software update to the next, I have never been able to appreciate the truth behind this statement. And while I greatly admired its different point of view, my technological friendly brain still has trouble comprehending. How could ice be better than my new “Titanium 6 CD burning software”, how could ice be better than “Microsoft PowerPoint 11.0?”

James from DC describes two moments when it hit him how much he depends on his cell phone:

Cell phones have played a large role in my community in recent years. It was easy to take my phone for granted on Monday September 10th, 2001. However, it was my most important possession on that Tuesday. After learning of the attacks and hearing rumors of imminent others blocks away. I immediately tried to call my mom on my cell phone. I received a strange message saying that all lines were busy. I’d never felt so isolated in my life. Trying to get a call through was like trying to call into a radio station for prized concert tickets.

Emily from Alabama follows up with a more ambivalent take on cell phones and the disruptive qualities of technology:

Whether we think much of it or not, cell phones have drastically changed the way our society moves through the day. Though they connect us electronically to the person on the receiver, they ironically disconnect us from those around us – and especially with nature.

Julio from L.A. writes about his own shortcomings and disappointments with technology on a roadtrip:

Traveling through the dusty road from Los Angeles to Las Vegas, I peered out the window to see the sun baking the scorched desert. As we continued through the I-15 Freeway, we traversed dry chaparrals, rolling plains, and rugged mountains. What was left to do but write down my thoughts? I began writing all that was happening to Microsoft Word, ready to transfer them to the website should that opportunity come. Arriving at Salt Lake City, I plugged in the laptop. Not being quite sure how to access the internet, I spied a sign stating that the use of their modem would inquire a $4.95 fee per hour. Quickly, I tried transferring the files, but also just as quickly, came to a dead end. This was my job; my responsibility and it seemed like a failure. Not knowing what else to do but also too ashamed to ask for a simple hand, I gave up.

And Daniel from South Pasadena, California recounts his first digital movie-making experience:

The technological achievement was The Homeland, a thirty-minute film created by my friend Ian and I. It was filmed on a digital video camera and edited on Final Cut Pro, advanced editing software that allows for great creative freedom. Advancements in technology had allowed me to evolve from grainy video and VCR editing to capturing lucid images and toting creative license with their sequencing. Sound mixing, special effects, and basic fine-tuning were delightful amenities to our filmmaking process. The Homeland was our first film born into an exciting time for amateur movie technology.

What’s clear about these incoming Middlebury students, is that they use new media technology eagerly, though not always comfortably. They see its value AND their own reliance on it. They see the humor, the potential, the dangers. They are thoughtful about how technology is changing the world and their own place within it–indeed, they are in a unique position, I think, to comment on the impact of technology and on how we teachers and educational institutions might use the tools better. We should be listening. We college educators should be out there on the road in high schools looking at what they’re doing, following their lead instead of the other way around. Above all, we all should be talking to the kids with the imagination, the time and the chutzpah to take these tools and run with them.

Instead of those “Take Your Kid to Work” days, we should institute a “Take Your Professor to Play” day. I mean it. Imagine what we would learn… I can’t wait to meet these kids.

Again we’re talking collaborative learning here; we’re back to “apprentices and experts”; we’re zeroing in on distributed knowledge, collective intelligence, emergent forms of learning.

And it isn’t, as Héctor is showing us in this class and in the Community Collaborative Digital Storytelling Project, just about using the tools at all, it’s about media literacy, about thoughtful dialogue about the place of technology in our lives–what it gives us and what it takes away.

Anyway, these kids are clearly ready for anything we can hand them–the question is, are we ready for them?

I’d like to hear Will Richardson weigh in on this topic from his perspective as a high school teacher devoted to helping teachers and students make their way with technology though I know he’s taking a well-deserved vacation from blogs and school considerations.

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