Towards a new media Expo Night
In late May, we had our second annual Expo Night, an academic fair that showcased students’ favorite projects from the year. Last year, we held our inaugural Expo Night, and nearly all of the work shared by students came from art class. This year a number of mosaic and sculptural projects came from art class, but the majority of students chose to share technology-infused projects from humanities and science classes.
Seeing so many technology-infused projects together helped me reflect on the complementary roles played by writing and new media in students’ learning and reflection on it.
Students assembled presentation boards for Expo Night that surrounded their creations or computers with writing about their projects.
Once a student selected a project to share, we asked him or her to write a brief essay about why the work mattered so much to the student. We used four essential questions to prompt the essays:
- What did you make?
- How did you make it?
- Why did you make it?
- Why is this project quality work (work that the student intrinsically values)?
These are the same questions I like to ask students in advance of project work in class – they proved to be successful summative reflection questions, as well.
Most of the technology projects in the show came from science class, from an inquiry-based project called “Becoming an Expert.” Students selected topics in science, developed guiding questions, researched answers, and assembled multi-media resources in Prezi to share with their classes.
This kind of technology-enabled inquiry seems to me an excellent starting place for shifting traditional classroom projects using limited physical resources to creating familiar, but new types of student work with the practically limitless amount of information and learning objects and authoring tools made available to students over the Internet.
- Resources like Wikipedia and Youtube let students “get to the library” inside and outside science class – and sometimes outside of school – and allowed students simultaneous access to identical resources. Thanks to the Internet, teachers need not limit the number of students researching related topics because of resource scarcity.
- Tools like Prezi help eliminate the kind of viewer bias operational when we compare reports with and without covers or illustrations. The mix of media embeddable inside of Prezi also points to a future in which students and teachers share a broader notion of literacy, communication, and assessment than that held by traditionally print-bound classrooms and schools.
- Expo Night remained an important event, school remained an important place, and writing remained an important part of sharing students’ work with families. The technology available to our students – mostly laptops – gave them an object around which to organize their display boards and writing. Since we haven’t yet developed a way to digitize students’ presentations entirely, we were able to rely on traditional literacies in writing and visual presentation. This helped teachers and students, I believe, envision their Expo Night displays more easily than it would have been for all of us to share a common vision of a digitized expo. While such an expo (or school) might be something to work towards – to publish and archive student work – I think we’re at a place familiar to many schools. We’re at the intersection of old and new media that is useful in that it lets us see all at once where we’ve been and where we might go as a community and school. It’s easy to see that writing about our work is a crucial part of our journey to here and our journey into the future.
Carefully communicated artistic creativity, inquiry, and technology can all democratize the quality and publication of student work. This Expo Night leaves me excited for the next one, hopeful of broadening our toolset and notions of literacy, and determined to keep communication and appreciation of diversity at the center of the work and relationships I share with my students.