Author: Kirsten Peterson
Title: Associate Project Director of EdTech Leaders Online
Location: Newton, MA
From 1992 - 1997, I taught high school Journalism in Bozeman, MT. In addition to teaching Journalism I and Advanced Publications, I was also the school newspaper and yearbook adviser.
Bozeman High was fortunate enough to have nearly a complete lab of computers for my Journalism program, and thus the classroom was divided into writing and editing stations. The bi-weekly newspaper, as well as the yearbook, were set up as small businesses with a staff of students running each publication. We used technology for everything: composing and editing our stories; using a spreadsheet to keep track of advertising budgets; photo editing; and publication design and layout.
One observation I made over the five years of advising the publications was that the advanced students tended to gravitate towards the publications classes because they wanted leadership positions, such as Newspaper or Yearbook Editor. These advanced students were easy - they never required extra time or effort on my part, and they always met their deadlines and produced quality writing. These students learned how to use the technology (i.e. photo editing and layout software) very quickly, and seemed to view the technology as just one more tool or step in the process of producing a quality product. All in all, these kids didn't give me any reason to think that the technology, per se, had much of an impact on their learning.
In my fifth year of teaching I did something that I had never done before. I promoted several students with average and below average grades to leadership positions on the newspaper and yearbook staffs. I had noticed the year before in Journalism I, that several of these students were drawn to the technology and were literally out-performing the advanced students in areas such as layout and design, and photo editing. While some of these kids needed help with their writing, they were willing to spend hours both before and after school, so long as they had their "own" editing station (computer) in the Journalism room. These students opened my eyes to the power of technology to provide multiple methods of learning and knowledge representation.
Additionally, I found with my "average" students in leadership positions, both the students and I learned many more ways to use our technology to meet various publication needs. These kids were so interested in the computers and the concept of sharing information over a network, that they became incredible problem solvers. The most exciting example (for me) of their use of technology to produce a quality product came when I took a year off from teaching to attend graduate school in Massachusetts. The students and I had always spent Thursday evenings in our classroom doing final layout edits before sending the paper off for publication. The kids wanted to find a way for me to be involved in the final editing process, even though I was in Massachusetts. At first they thought they could just email me their individual stories for editing comments, and then they wondered about sending the entire PageMaker file with pictures and advertisements, etc. Ultimately, they taught themselves how to upload each page of the newspaper on a school server early Thursday evening when they showed up to do the final edits. I was able to view the paper on the Web while the kids were editing it, and at the same time we were all logged on to AOL's Instant Messenger, "chatting" about what copy and layout edits needed to be made. This was an incredibly powerful experience for both me and my students. I was amazed that they were able to use the technology and their problem solving abilities to come up with a way for us all to sit around on Thursday evenings and continue our regular editing meetings - while they were in Montana, and I was in Massachusetts!