Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Computers and Hard Work

This week I'm teaching three special courses for our Winterim session: Virtual Architecture with OpenSim, Mix Your Own Tunes with Audacity, and 3D Storytelling with Storytelling Alice. I'm having a great time. I love putting building tools in kids' hands and watching what they will do with them. The students range in age from 9-18 in three separate age groups and I've noticed a common reaction to the content of all of the classes. On the first day, once I'd finished my intro to each program and the goals of the course, students started working and very soon became whiny and frustrated. Across the board, they were confused by the unfamiliar interface of each program as well as the workflow required to complete different tasks. Once they realized what making a song out of audio clips, scripting a story, or building a house piece by piece was going to involve, they pushed back and wanted it to be easier.

My response was to say that we had four more days (1.25 hr classes each) to work with this and that they would get used to it once they decided what they wanted to do. Basically, each class is just a lot of time to work! Since then they have complained--mostly to their computers--but it's hard to get them to stop when it's time. They have settled into a rhythm and are focused on making their musical, animation, or building ideas work. Almost without exception I haven't had to tell any students to get to work. One student confessed that she is still completely lost in Storytelling Alice and will need more guidance. And another student finished one audio mix and exported her MP3, saying, "There's no way I can start another one right now." I know how she felt. You finish a big project that's required a lot of focus and the last thing you want to do upon finishing it is jump back into a new project.

When students complain about work on the computer being hard it's often a knee-jerk reaction to having to think and focus with something that in most other contexts is used for entertainment. But they will stick with it through all the complaining if they feel that what they are doing is meaningful.

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