Oral history project blends technology, tradition

SSSAS’ Oral History Project has replaced traditional midterms, exercising such 21st-century skills as communication, creativity, and digital literacy.

“To help our students succeed in a complex and changing world, we seek to inspire a passion for learning, an enthusiasm for athletic and artistic endeavor, a striving for excellence, a celebration of diversity, and a commitment to service.”

These words, part of the St. Stephen’s & St. Agnes School (“SSSAS”) Mission Statement, play a fundamental role in every decision made by the SSSAS faculty, from curriculum planning to daily classroom management. But it was this particular section of the mission statement that carried the most weight in a recent planning session where the topic was how to design project-based learning opportunities that integrated technology—yet still took advantage of the what the Upper School director, Bud Garikes, calls the “quiet conversations” in which faculty can have a real impact on a student’s intellectual development.

In a world that is changing at an exponential rate, there are many scholars who might argue that the current generation, the so-called “NetGeners,” is perhaps the smartest generation the world has ever known. While that might well be the case, it is equally as reasonable to recognize that this generation is also the most reliant on outside devices for the information that will help them navigate this complex and changing world.

In spite of obvious challenges, the SSSAS History Department faculty was determined to implement project-based learning in a way that would allow students to use the technologies with which they are so comfortable, while at the same time not allowing them to retreat into the safety of their electronic devices to avoid looking into another person’s eyes and having a real, substantive conversation.

Two projects, a video-based art/architecture analysis project for underclassmen and an oral history project for upperclassmen, were created. These projects have proven to be very successful in allowing students the freedom to find their own voice amidst the incessant din of Twitter feeds, Tumblr sites, Facebook groups, and Instagram artistry.

(Next page: How these projects aptly balance traditional and modern skills)

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