Phones, Cameras & Games in the Classroom

Héctor speaks quite convincingly about how this new generation of adolescents is not truly the Net-Generation, but rather an in-between generation, neither here nor there, because they have heard as much about the time before computers as they have experienced life with computers. Until recently, I didn’t completely agree with him, but following some new-media moments with my students and my children, I’m coming around to his way of thinking.

Some observations about these kids:

Their parents are immigrants to cyberspace–they are, then, first generation inhabitants of this world. And as such, they move between the old and the new, largely being schooled in the old traditions (the old country, if you will, of a classical education) while living with their peers in the new world where they move with an uncanny (but oh-so-privileged) ease with their cellphones in their pockets, their iPODS in their backbacks, their laptops underarm. Of course, these plugged-in students swarm to the open spaces of our new library to work in close quarters with one another at the college computers (where are those laptops now?), watching movies or writing papers or conducting research or IM-ing–all of the above, probably, simultaneously– back-to-back, side-by-side tapping away, lost within their own little worlds but touching one another, together, as much as possible. (I’ll have to post a photo of this phenomenon sometime soon.) Accordingly,there’s an electric atmosphere tinged with tension–feeling the excitement of the new land while carrying the expectations of the old.

I watch in wonder as they roam so fluidly, integrating the various media seemingly seamlessly into their lives. My daughter at Barnard will call me from the streets of New York as she exits the Metropolitan Museum with a clutch of friends, to tell me that she saw her favorite Degas again; I can hear in the background her friends talking; she breaks away from me briefly to say something to them; a taxi horn blares. “Bye, Mom–gotta go catch some dinner now,” she says and hangs up. Calling someone is a much more deliberate act for me–I isolate myself from everything else to hold the receiver in my hand and focus on whomever I am calling, at least for that brief moment. Not so this generation. (More on cellphones here)

And my younger daughter sits in the back seat of the car, as we drive home, text messaging and chuckling to herself, and once we’re home, races to the computer to IM while she hooks into some music station, plays a few rounds of some online game or other as she does her homework. I am often aghast. And in awe. My brain just can’t cope with so much simultaneous stimulation.

We, old-country denizens, fret, “It’s a fractured, fragmented, shallow way of living.” And yet, the bolder among us, those with some vision, see that perhaps we can learn a thing or two by bringing computer games, interactive television, texting and the like into our classrooms. It’s not exactly a “If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em” mentality, but a realistic and open-minded inquiry into the possible benefits of the characteristics of this new world.

I, for one, would love to get my hands on one of the new iPODPhotos to try out in my classes–podcasting and the like.

I’d like to think about how FLICKR might work in my arts writing class, especially when we’re on the road and have camera phones handy.

What if my students wanted to create something truly interactive, a game for a final arts project? Several of them have already moved past me in their projects, composing music, taping phone conversations (with permission) to post, conducting online interviews for their artist profiles. Of course, they also get very very frustrated when the computer freezes or crashes, when they lose files or something seizes up somewhere. They’re incensed and swear they’d rather do without technology altogether. Ha–I’d like to see ’em try!

Will these kids get out there and vote tomorrow? That will be my first question in class in the morning–before “What’s new on the blog?“–did they (or will they) vote? Will these first-generation cyberspace inhabitants see voting as old-country or new?

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Sites related to texting and gaming I plan to spend more time checking out in the coming weeks, to think about how and if some of these approaches make sense in my classroom include:

The Shifted Librarian’s thoughts on text messaging in educational contexts (thanks to Will Richardson)

Work being done in the UK on computer games in the classroom, Here and here (thanks to Stephen Downes

And Flashstories from Stories1st.org.

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