Digital natives

BLAIRSBURG – It was a unique experience for Sherry Leksell’s Northeast Hamilton ninth grade English Lit students when they ventured to an Iowa State University College of Education classroom on May 14.

What made the trip so special wasn’t because they were touring the university campus as high school freshmen, but instead it was because they were actually giving a demonstration on technology in the classroom to future teachers.

Leksell has been working with her English classes on how to incorporate technology into the classroom since NEH introduced iPads into the high school curriculum two years ago.

Initially not a digital native, Leksell reluctantly began the transition to learn the new technology. Last fall, she began taking technology in curriculum and instruction classes at ISU from Dr. Shu-Ju (Diana) Tai, Postdoctoral Associate in Center for Teaching Technology in Learning and Teaching.

During the second semester at Northeast Hamilton, Tai visited Leksell’s classroom to observe the projects and progress of the Blairsburg students.

This school year the students have been adapting available technology for use in their literature studies, said Leksell. Projects included the development of book reports and documentaries that were researched, written and produced by the students.

The adaptation of Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet” as a social media experiment was the final project for the year, said Leksell.

The students first studied the Bard of Avon’s teenage love story written in 1594 and then recreated dialogue with a modern twist.

“The students rewrote ‘Romeo and Juliet’ into modern syntax with modern conveniences (added to the drama) such as iPhones,” said Leksell. The students were then divided into groups to interpret the play through the social media of Facebook, Twitter and Snap Chat.

The entire class worked together to produce their modern version as an iMovie. Snap Chat is a form of communication using photos accompanied by only 30 characters per correspondence. Twitter is digital communication using hashtags and is limited to only 140 characters.

Facebook is the social media phenomena in which people post events in their lives and share it with all their friends. Those friends share it with their friends who can then pass it on to all their friends. It has the potential to reach millions of people within a short period of time. Following the exercise, the students critiqued each form of communication.

“Twitter was stupid because of the use of hashtags,” said Makayla Tapper.

“Yeah, with hashtags it wasn’t romantic, it was just creepy,” said Devyn VanKooten.

The students concurred that the use of Snap Chat was effective in a visual sense, but it was difficult to convey the nuances of the love story through that limited form of media.

Facebook was an effective form of conveying the story but it would have changed the outcome of the drama which as rewritten, was posted on their class wall.

“We could talk back and forth and comment on the posts,” said VanKooten.

“We put up pictures and everyone could ‘Friend’ each other, said Tapper.

Writing, editing and performing in the play was also an exercise that forced the students to adapt the language arts of old to a plugged-in, modern world.

These were some of the projects that the NEH students shared with the soon-to-be teachers at Iowa State University in May.

“They were surprised that we used (technology) in the classroom,” said VanKooten.

The NEH students were equally amazed to discover that not only were the college students doing the same type of digital learning as they were, but often the high school students were ahead of their college contemporaries.

“It showed us how technology will be used by teachers in the future,” said VanKooten, who noted her class’s progress. “We are doing things they aren’t even doing yet.”

Despite the age difference, only a few of the NEH students were intimidated by the college students.

“They looked uncomfortable,” said one NEH student of the college audience.

“That’s because they did not grow up as digital natives,” said Leksell who explained that today’s high school students grew up in a digital age so they have an ease with it as compared to older people who are just learning about digital technology.

Learning is a two-way street and the NEH students learned from the experience, also.

“I learned that it is a benefit to know all platforms,” said David Koch, who observed that different colleges will use different operating systems. “That will help a lot.”

And the students were matter-of-fact about the future of technology.

“If you don’t learn it or don’t know that everyone uses it everyday, you are out of luck,” said Koch.

Technology in the classroom is not new, but as it advances, it is being used more often.

“Technology is familiar to the young generation who are considered digital natives,” said Tai. “To be honest, it doesn’t mean that a teacher has to incorporate technology every minute of the class time or everyday. What is more important is that teachers take advantage of what technology can (offer) to help them achieve the teaching and learning objectives.”

Tai noted that technology wasn’t initially created with classroom applications in mind and so it shouldn’t be incorporated into a classroom for technology’s sake. Instead, she said, it should be used as a tool to motivate, engage and allow students to initiate their own learning process.

That philosophy is reflected in Leksell’s students, many of whom consider technology a good thing. For others, not so much.

“I don’t like it,” admitted Taylor Olson. “I like to sit and write and be less distracted. With everything at hand, that is distracting.”

“I was one who sat back at first,” said Ashley Dilley, who has since adapted technology for 4-H presentations. “Now I’m a Tech Wizard.”

“Using iMovie helped me to understand visually, which is how I learn,” said Maegan Nicholson.

“I’m the same way,” agreed Makayla Tapper. “I have to see things in order to learn. When I work on vocabulary, I have to write it down first. I like to see what I am learning.”

For others, it’s not so complicated.

“I like using social media in the classroom because I am addicted to it,” confessed Devyn VanKooten.