Friday, May 1, 2009

Building Virtual Audiences for Students

Teachers' Lounge Series, part 4 of 4

Ron and I were talking about podcasting several months ago, and during the course of our conversation he inquired about my course web sites. He expressed an interest in developing a drama department site, and I've been nagged by the thought ever since. My course sites were pretty easy to develop with Apple's iWeb-- It's user friendly and I had several months experience.

I think course web sites are important because 1) They allow a much better view of the class than a mere paper syllabus. 2) People simply expect to get detailed information online these days. I think a 1:1 computing school like mine should put as much well designed information on the Web as possible.

In creative areas like drama this seems particularly desirable. But why should it be on the drama, poetry, or music teacher to design and maintain the site? Shouldn't a school's community resources be used to actively support the efforts of our artistic teachers and students as they try to build their audiences?

As I've argued in "Tooting Your Horn", students respond to performance and since those outside our walls are coming to expect information about us at their fingertips, why not show them the best of ourselves? To illustrate how effective this can be, I've found four different high school sites that I would hold up as examples.

I loved the student art portfolios at the Conestoga H.S. site. It is my impression that
the department has taken the initiative to archive its students work this way. Most extraordinarily, it appears that each student has designed her own page with links, so the media itself communicates the message of this department being exceptional.

The Parkview High School drama site is absolutely packed with production photos and slide shows. I would have loved to see some video, but obviously they are exhibiting their students in the next best way. Northampton High School Theater Net appears to be a beautiful work in progress. Simple tools have been used to create an elegant design for a site packed with information. They are beginning a wiki, which contains a very interesting layout. Imagine how such a wiki could accommodate student memories of their experience with a play or club at your school.

The Wooster High School Music Department won't perhaps win any awards for design, but I was blown away by how much actual music I could find there. What is more, the site contains very creative ways to make connections with members and alumni. I loved the "history" page and the way bios of middle school teachers are included on the staff page. The site is dynamic and fun. If I had a young child in the district I would conclude that my child would have a great experience if he or she were part of this program.

I have a couple of reflections before I conclude this topic that I keep pounding like a drum (see
vlog/blogs and Staff Development, part 3). First, I'm in two departments which work very hard at our school's open houses to recruit students. Yet, in both we lay out our texts in order exhibit what we are doing. It seems to me that exhibiting our students' accomplishments gives far greater testimony of how we stand out. Secondly, I recently sought waivers from a few parents in order to exhibit their kids' videoes online. One student told me that her dad had balked. Fine, except this same student had been recently featured in our major daily newspaper with photographs, and unlike my exhibit, with full name and personal information. I think both examples indicate that many of us still cling to printed paper as a privileged way to communicate. From here in the trenches this seems irrational and the sooner we take advantage of broadcasting our students' achievements ourselves, the better.

As I postscript, I note that I am interested in starting a Web Design club at our school to help folks like Ron show off the fabulous work that his department does.
I envision club members could benefiting from mentoring by alumni and parents in our school's extended community. I already have a prospective partnership with a web design ace-- my friend, Rick (Who will be guest blogging on these pages soon).

But to tell you the truth, I am skeptical about pulling this off. Ambitious projects like these need the support and encouragement of folks throughout entire school. I think we all have to embrace the reality of the communications revolution and make the vey best of it.

"E.E.D.L.M.V." Exhibition by moi Creative Commons photo courtesy by Simon Pais-Thomas


Rick said...

As a parent, tech enthusiast and a wannabe educator, I applaud Mr. Baker for the Teachers' Lounge series and his efforts to bring these essential tech skills to our students and educators.

It may be a labor of love, but I can't think of a better gift that you can give our children.

There is an incredible amount of technological resources available to everyone -- much of it "open source." Yet I'm noticing it pass our students, educators and workers by. It looks like Mr. Baker will help uncover these gems for the kids.

Tech skills have allowed me to stand out where I work, have a lucrative side income, and help my kids get a considerable "edge" in college and high school.

Rock on, Mr. Baker!

Detroit Sports Dork said...

Amen, Rick! Tutorials, applications, storage for free. The popularization of web use through Google,iTunes Facebook, Amazon Flickr, etc. have made internet use easier and less mysterious. Countless times I've told my students, "Upload it like Facebook". On the other hand, they don't know. Some of our friends remain needlessly bewildered by this stuff. And I wonder how many schools have invested TONS of money on hardware and software (outdated so fast!) yet have pinched pennies on fast tracking staff (and student mentors).

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