Every few years, I need to do a hands-on technology project with school-age students, as a reality check on my theories about electronic portfolios or digital storytelling in education. This week, I worked with two dozen eighth grade English students (my daughter's students at a private school in Anchorage). The experience was eye-opening, exhausting and exhilarating! We produced 22 digital family stories, between one and three minutes long. We spent one day in a portable classroom, where only one computer had Internet access. I had a small office to do the audio recording, which did have high speed wireless Internet. As a private school, there are not the technology resources available (the classroom computers were still using Windows 98). There was no computer lab available to us during the period when the class met, but we reminded ourselves that is was a writing activity, not a computer lesson!
While we struggled with the technology (or lack thereof) as well as the wide variation in students' technology skills, we explored a variety of strategies to be able to accomplish this task with the resources at hand. Several students brought in their own computers, usually at the wrong time. After all of the student stories were written, recorded, and pictures collected, we were in the school until midnight last night, putting them all together using iMovie5, which worked for us flawlessly! We will duplicate a CD of the movies for all of the students next week. It's been an eye-opening experience for me: how to do 22 digital stories with 8th graders using two Mac G4 Powerbooks, two scanners, two digital cameras and a few other internet-connected computers for finding pictures.
We are both planning digital stories about the process. I was reminded that the project we did with these students in 6 hours of class time (plus a lot of pull-out time for individual work) is what we normally do with adults in 16-24 hours. These are not CDS-quality stories, and we ran out of time to select music to go along with any of them, but most of the students were very pleased when they privately reviewed their stories with me this morning. But I also realize that it would have been impossible for my daughter to do this project alone, with the constraints she has, both in block scheduling (we didn't see the students every day) and with the technology constraints. And she only had 13 students in each class! I have a greater appreciation for my fellow Apple Distinguished Educators who support these types of activities in schools every day! I also know why many, if not most, teachers would not take on such an ambitious project without a good support system, which is lacking in many financially strapped educational systems today. Nor is there time in the curriculum because of accountability demands....but that is another story!