This story originally appeared in the May print edition of The Cougar.
As the developed world’s appetite for the latest products from Silicon Valley remains insatiable, teachers are increasingly incorporating these new gizmos into the projects they assign students. In our highly industrial age, technology has become a new medium for learning, in some cases replacing traditional pen and paper with touch screens and spreadsheets.
Though the classic elements of research and drafting are still critical, the format in which students are required to present their information is changing. Academic teachers are trading in formal essays and reports for paperless editions, such as podcasts and documentaries. They require students to become skilled with complicated, and oftentimes stressful, editing software like GarageBand and iMovie, or even more complicated applications.
This year, EDSET students produced podcasts and documentary videos; CONNECT students regularly make digital media projects.
Though these computer glitches can be unnerving, the real struggle arises in the daunting task of articulating one’s argument in these modern settings. Teachers, who are often unfamiliar with both the technology and techniques of contemporary media arts, lack the professional expertise to teach students the PEMDAS of advanced multimedia algebra.
This two-fold challenge — technology and technique — poses a dilemma: teachers often expect students to guide themselves through the uncharted waters of industrial science without first dipping their toes in themselves. If teachers don’t have background knowledge, should students be expected to tackle such endeavors solo?
English and Journalism teacher Ned Purdom explained,
“There’s a lot of attention and money at the state and national level focused on marrying core academic subjects with career and technical education, like English with digital media or math with construction technology.
“While most of the Albany faculty could assign and evaluate an intelligent writing assignment, only a teacher or two really knows digital video or audio. We have to find ways to get more advanced media skills to more teachers.”
Trying to do a simple video or a podcast can be frustrating, simply becuase of the availability and reliabilty of Albany High’s computer tools. The frustrations students face using various editing programs, such as the work not being saved or a version of a file not being compatible with another, can be overwhelming. Countless hours are devoted to resolving these issues.
Availability of certain real-world software applications is also an issue. Lots of students learn PhotoShop or other professionally used Adobe tools in Graphic Design, Digital Photography, Journalism and CONNECT. While basic digital media tools like iMovie or Garage Band are all over AHS, they are not generally used in professional settings.
“We can introduce someone to the basics, but access to professional equipment, such as Avid or Final Cut Pro X, is much more limited. And, these pro packages require a lot more teacher knowledge,” said Purdom.
Purdom believes the issue far greater than software availablity or what buttons to push is how to think digitally. “Reading an essay into a microphone is not a podcast nor is a documentary following someone around with a video camera,” Purdom said. “It requires a whole new way of thinking for the teacher and the student. Writing to pictures or to sound is a very different process. It is a process we should teach and that our students should master, but Albany needs to get better at understanding digital media and how it fits into the classroom.
Regardless of the numerous difficulties, digital media communcations skills are relevant now and for students’ future academic and processional goals.
Jessica Park, an English and EDSET teacher who has assigned both podcast and video documentaries, explained, “When students create their own digital media projects they are forced to look ‘behind the curtain’ and see the mechanism and the work that people do to present information. This way they can be more critical when consuming media, and know how to better package information for consumption themselves.”
“Their ability to connect to and persuade an intended audience is a key skill that not many have or are able to use effectively. It is unlikely that most students will have to think about presenting information in paper format. So it’s useful for students to see and practice other modes of presentation,” continued Park.
As this contemporary knowledge replaces more traditional skill sets, Albany High School will need to reevaluate its technological infrastructure and IT support so that it can continue to prepare high-achieving students for this brave new world.