Saturday, June 14, 2008

Audience Matters

It’s that time of year again. The end of the year frenzy is in full swing -- - the field trips, the yearbook deadlines, the sports banquet, the concerts, the report cards! The computer lab is buzzing. The eight grade yearbook team is asking for help trying to convert Photoshop files to a PDF files so they can rush them over to the printers. Students and parents are learning how to convert their Photostory slideshow for the sport banquet tonight. A group of sixth graders are using Audacity to edit the recording of the end of the year concert. A classroom teacher calls to cancel her computer lab reservation because they have to finish another pencil and paper assessment. The spot is quickly filled when another teacher calls begging for any available computer time because they have two more writing portfolio pieces to squeeze in to meet the state requirement.

Some of the frenzy makes me smile; some makes me sad. I think about the stress our system puts on teachers and students this time of year. I wonder about the validity of test scores gained from students this time of year. I wonder what the teacher comments will look like on those last writing portfolio pieces? Will the students get to see them? Will they learn from them?

But then I smile again, thinking about the seventh grade student who eagerly shares with me the latest statistics from Google analytics of the viewers who have read his latest blog post. I think about how the ‘rap’ song '802' composed by two Vermont student about their state capitol caught the attention of thousands of You Tube viewers, The New York Times and other news sources. I think about the third graders who posted a description about their town on Wikipedia sparking a series of related articles. I think about the 4th graders exchanging their music scores electronically in the Vermont Midi Project’s online space getting feedback from real music composers. I think about the DVD of short movies produced by the fifth graders at Waitsfield Elementary School and the premiere held at their local movie theatre.

And suddenly I know exactly what my Google Teacher Academy video entry about Motivation and Learning will be about! Producing the video contributes to more ‘end of the year’ frenzy for me – the type that makes me smile. I start to brainstorm possible lyrics and images on a wiki. Throughout the day, my son in New York State, and I were collaborating on music and lyrics using the wiki, cell phones, and the ability to compose and share music electronically. Within the next day, his brother in Connecticut, was using different software in the production process, adding the voices of young children. Meanwhile, Mom was collaborating with hundreds of photographers she had never met from the Flickr community who post their images with Creative Commons licenses. By the end of the week, the words, images, music, and videos had been edited in 3 different states (hundreds if you include the Flickr community) and was ready to be published in a venue where the audience could be from many different countries.

This is the type of “transformative” application of technology 21st century classrooms are filled with and that Grappling’s spectrum speaks of. It makes me smile to think of all the teachers who have moved beyond focusing on a checklist of technology skills; it makes me smile to think of the teachers who have moved beyond the “do something; do anything” with technology model; it makes me smile to see examples of teachers who are redesigning learning in transformative ways that would not have been possible without today’s technology.

The fact that Google Teacher Academy designed an application process that goes beyond ‘written applications read by a panel’ and included a product with a real audience models using technology in transformative ways.

Thank you to Google for giving hundreds of educators an opportunity to step back from our end of the year routines and feel the excitement of reflecting, creating, producing for a real audience. Thank you to all the teachers whose experience, passion, insight and creativity matters to the audience that watch your one minute videos on motivation, learning, and innovation. I invite readers to share stories stories and links of examples where audience matters to you and your students.