Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Authentic Audience

It was almost 10 years ago that a group of Vermont students discovered the power of the World Wide Web to provide an authentic audience for their student work. Our rural community had just joined the ranks of those with local access to the Internet. Prior to that, access was available only to those who could afford a long distance call to an AOL or CompuServe number. While exploring this new medium, we stumbled across forward-thinking educators from The Global Schoolhouse, who encouraged students from all over the world to harness the power of the web by publishing stories of their communities as part of an International Cyberfair.

Energized and excited by the power and potential of web publishing with students, I quickly organized my students to produce their first Cyberfair project. We had to work quickly; the project deadline was less than a month away. Within weeks, the students from North Country Union High School published their first web site about the beauty of their Vermont community affectionately known as the Northeast Kingdom. A few days later the following email from Seattle, Washington appeared in our inbox.

From: Claude Williams
Re: Treasure Found

Dear students of NCUHS
I think you might be able to help me take care of something that has been on
my To Do List for a very long time. About 15 years ago I was scuba diving in the
Philippines when I found a shiny object. It was a ring with a bird of prey on
it, the letters ‘NCUHS’ on one side, and Class of ’78 on the other side. The
letters “TKD” were engraved on the inside. Through the years I’ve searched
several directories trying to find its rightful owner. Yesterday I was learning
to use a search engine called Alta Vista and decided to type in the letters
NCUHS which lead me to your web project. Could this ring possibly belong to an
alumnus from your school?

The students quickly ran down to the school library and dusted off the 1978 Falcon yearbook. One student’s initials matched the letters TKD. After a brief inquiry, we were able to locate a Virginia phone number for Mr. Todd Durkee. He seemed a bit puzzled when we asked him if he had ever lost his class ring, but answered “yes… I lost it cliff diving in Hawaii”. We asked his permission to pass his phone number to a man who may have found his ring. Not only did Mr. Durkee get his class ring back, but the two men found several other connection, including having served on the same naval ship. Meanwhile, we started a small classroom geography activity exploring theories of how the ring might have traveled from Hawaii to the Philippines. But mostly, we were so thrilled that our student project was not only read outside our classroom, but had actually reunited a man from the Northeast Kingdom with a long lost treasure. We named our Cyberfair project that year "Kingdom Treasures."

For the past ten years, the Internet has provided an authentic audience for our student work. I look forward to exploring the infinite power of the web to expand thinking by connecting people, places, and ideas.