A Ballet of Light & Sound

Of all of the mailing lists, of which I am a member, my favorite is WWWEDU (pronounced “We Do”). Moderated by Andy Carvin, of the Digital Divide Network (http://digitaldivide.net/), this is one of the oldest and most influential online communities on the Net. It has one real problem, though. Because many of the members are long-time educators and followers of the effects of the Web and related technologies on education (not to mention the smartest people I know), topics tend to stray away from the original intent, using the Web in educational environments. Andy, being the father-figure that he is (is he 25 years old yet?), regularly has to bring us back on course.

Straying is what has been happening over the past weeks as the group debates whether technology in schools is good for our students, or actually a detriment to achieving standards. One of the members, an education leader in NYC, lamented the other day that education in the U.S. has such constraints laid on it because of this that and the other.

Now I am a true believer in the power of the story. One of my all time favorite keynote speakers is Dr. Jennifer James. She talks about the leader who affects change by telling a compelling story, and a compelling new story is what we need to reshape the image of the 21st century classroom.

So I asked the group to tell their stories. What stories do you tell your students, teachers, administrators, board members, or the community that you hope helps them to change the lens through which they see classrooms and school, to a lens that is more relevant to the future for which we are preparing our children. I set up a SLATE (http://tinyurl.com/4hgr5), inviting people to submit their stories on a discussion board, and a few have already. I posted a story last night that I am still in the process of polishing, but I thought I’d also post it here for your consideration.

It could be most any early evening in the Warlick household. But this particular story focuses on a quiet Friday in early December, 2004. Supper is over, the dishes away, the sun is down, and the family is settled. Brenda, my wife, sits in a comfortable chair by the large window that opens to the deck. With a floor lamp, shining over her shoulder, she is reading a book — a historical novel.

I’m downstairs in my office, reclined in my padded chair, ear buds plugged in and watching the DVD playing on my notebook computer and projecting on the external 19 inch flat display — probably my fifteenth personal viewing of The Bourne Identity. My wife and I are both settled back enjoying our stories.

The house is quiet except for my son, Martin, who is laying on the sofa in the TV room, game controller in hand, and barking orders over his headset to no visible person. His game system is connected to the Internet, via broadband service, and he is directing the actions of four other players. Two of them personal local friends, and the other two are friends he has only met within the virtual environment of the game.

To the uninitiated, they are playing a video game, attempting to defeat the alien soldiers of an invading army in a place called Halo. Yet, the activity that holds the attention of the players is not a game at all. On close inspection, it may surprise the casual observer that Martin is not playing on the 30″ TV, but on his computer. The Mac savvy observer may also think it odd that he is actually playing through iMovie, Apple’s pre-installed video editing software, and that Martin is capturing the video of the game as the players interact. With no aliens in sight, they are engaged in what could only be called choreographed calisthenics.

Martin is the director, instructing the other players to fire tracer rounds as they hop gracefully, crisscrossing each other along the rugged landscape. At another point, they are piloting one-man gun ships through the air, spinning end over end, and bouncing from wall to wall in a space city. When they finish, Martin imports into iMovie a favorite song by the Deftones and then edit the video clips to correspond with the action of the music, creating a violent but elegant ballet set to heavy metal noise.

The importance of this scene is in the way that the two generations use information. The adults consume their information. They read and watch the stories, relaxed and receptive. The youngster, whom we are preparing for adulthood, almost never merely consumes information. He is accustomed to interacting with the information, and interacting with other people through the information. He acts, reacts, plans, collaborates, and builds experiences that are personally meaningful, sharing artifacts of his experiences with others.

My question: Is the education that we are imposing on these students designed for a generation who consumes information, or for a generation who will undoubtedly invent brand new ways to play/shape information into the answers of questions, solutions of problems, and the accomplishment of goals.

Note: What Martin is creating is an emerging art form, invented by young gamers, called Machinema (A blur of Machine and Cinema. In a sense, Machinema is closely related to puppetry, except that the characters are digital and the story or dance are planned and implemented using common editing software.

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