Not long ago, I had the opportunity to meet with eight high school students from my school division, including three from my own classrooms. Together they form a team of student journalists who will report, in real time, the events of the National Congress on Rural Education being held in Saskatoon at the end of March. Between now and then we have several meetings to become a cohesive team who can collaborate and synthesize high quality digital products, under pressure, against a deadline. All the skills I have been teaching my students for the past year will be put to the test.

Following brief introductions, I provided a overview of the conference and our job. It took a bit for them to figure out what our role in the conference really is. I wonder if it’s because students have so few “real world” roles where their school skills really matter. We need to change that. But as they grappled with the idea of live conference coverage, it became clear.

Here’s what the students brainstormed

After establishing our role, we got to work. The first thing we did? Created a google doc, of course. This comes naturally to my students, and is what happens when students become digitally fluent. They know which tool is the right one for the task and will maximize their productivity. Consequently, the tool fades into the background and the learning, collaborating, and creating take center stage.

To begin with, we’ve created a blog, titled Your Geek Squad, that will be populated with bios of presenters, commercial-like video highlight reels of the concurrent sessions presented throughout the conference,  plus pictures, interviews, and blog entries.  All of these will be created and curated by my students. We also created a twitter account and hashtag for the conference, a QR code that will lead all participants to our blog (see above!), and a flickr feed.

One of the novelties of the conference will be a working QR code built out of Lego that participants can scan with their smartphones and tablets. It will sit in the lobby throughout the conference. In truth, some participants may not know what to do with it, but it’s one way to introduce educators to the use of QR codes in the classroom. We’re also going to have team shirts, which say YourGeekSquad on the front, and have our website’s QR code on the back. The QR code on the shirt should be scannable too.

Paperless, BYOD conference coverage

For the first time, the student journalism team will be completely paperless. In the past, a daily newsletter was created. Here’s the thing, I rarely use paper in my classroom: something about the thought of creating a newsletter that will quickly be tossed in the garbage goes against pretty much everything my students and I believe. Instead, throughout the Congress we’re going to keep a running tab of how many trees we’ve saved, which will be updated on our blog. How will participants know how to find us? At each position on every conference table will be a small QR code for scanning — that’s the extent of our paper use.

Secondly, it’s all going to be done with mobile, BYOD tech. We have a couple of iPads, a couple of laptops, and a whack load of phones. This is the way I like to work. It’s how we do things in my classroom. We use what we have, and it works well. While I don’t have a problem with 1:1 classrooms, I’m not sure it’s the most authentic learning environment. I think 1:1 classrooms are perfect for schools that are trying to bridge economic gaps and provide access to students who don’t have tech at home. However, my students love BYOD because it allows them to work with the tech they’re most comfortable with.

At our next meeting, we’ll create the video that introduces our journalism team. That will be our first attempt to create & learn together.

We’re modeling real work exploration

I think this is the future of education: authentic tasks; embedded, mobile, BYOD technology. I’m excited about this opportunity for our students because, at this point, they’re so few and far between in education. We need to change this.  While my province has a work exploration class, in many instances the tasks our students do are menial or simply involve observation. And while I wouldn’t want a 17 year-old performing a root canal on me, they are competent to do much, much more than they’re usually allowed. As educators we need to make a greater effort to assure they have as much meaningful work as possible.

For me, this exciting and demanding opportunity at the Rural Congress is the “exam” I’ve been preparing my students for. What students can memorize and spew back on a Biology or English final has no ability to tell me how they will perform in a high pressure situation like this. But I think they’re up for the task.

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