Tech in the Classroom

I’ve been having a lot of fun lately exploring how technology is being brought into the classroom and how Digital Democracy can build on the tradition.

Family Photo

Family Photo

The initial Project Einstein in the refugee camps in Bangladesh was an incredible experience that I haven’t written much about here. Empowering marginalized youth with any sort of positive education is an incredible experience. Having the opportunity to work with them on the art of photography was absolutely extraordinary and I appreciate What Kids Can Do for opening me up to the experience. My colleague Emily and I created a model to have the kids build off one another by having them work in self-selected groups. From there, they chose topics and we worked with them to develop stories around these topics. What I hadn’t fully foreseen was their ability to adapt and produce so quickly. Despite operating in a foreign language and with new technology for the first time, they caught on quickly, figuring out hidden camera features by day 2.

Working digitally meant that they had access to real time feedback, both from their peers but also from a closed feedback loop from the technology itself, and from our curriculum. The morning was spent learning, mid-day shooting in their groups, afternoon classroom editing around a laptop. At the end of the training, each student chose their favorite photo to be printed out. We also printed a photo of them with their families. In many cases, these were the first photos the children had of themselves aside from their IDs. The project was put into a book that you can preview and that we have for sale online.

Project Einstein was named so by the kids “because Einstein was a refugee but could still do great things.” We’re now developing this project into a digital pen pal program, initially connecting youth in Indianapolis, Indiana, those recently resettled into that community from refugee camps in Thailand, and those still in the camps. It’s a challenge to get these resettled youth to college, much less to have the youth in those schools understand where they’re coming from or to give any support to youth in camps halfway around the world. Our theory is that can change if leveraging technology properly.

Project New Media Literacies put out a white paper Confronting the Challenges of Participatory Culture: Media Education for the 21st Century (Jenkins et al., 2006) identifying three core challenges faced by students today: the participation gap, the transparency problem and the ethics challenge. The paper also shares a provisionary list of skills needed for full engagement in today’s participatory culture. We are now partnered with MIT’s New Media Lab to extend these findings, as well as our own field work, to refugee populations and with more of an international focus.

This has left me knee deep in Drupal, exploring the benefits of utilizing systems like Development Seed‘s new Open Atrium and Howard Rheingold’s new Social Media Classroom. As two different builds for intranets, it’s been interesting to work with the team to see what works and what doesn’t. Both literally with the technology and for what the youth would require.

In exploring the landscape of what else is currently being used in classrooms, I’ve come across a lot of interesting instances but they’ve een most succinctly compiled into a series of slideshows compiled by Tom Barrett (blog / twitter). Unfortunately he doesn’t have a slideshare account, so I had to upload some of them to my account in order to embed them here:

My first experience with Twitter in the classroom was being invited to present at Patrick Meier and Joshua Goldstein‘s Digital Democracy class at Tufts University, where they (and we) tried to engage students with Twitter. We were all confronted with the issue that young people don’t tweet, but I’m interested to watch as that, and other barriers, shift and how some of the ideas presented in these slides will become more pervasive.

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