Guest blog by Justin Dearing, Assistant Director of Communications for Carrol ISD.

I can remember my first project in my Media Technology class my junior year of high school. It was a big deal, because we were finally able to check out a camera and take it home to film ‘on location’. I stood in my kitchen with a camera the size of a large moving box on my shoulder, filming multiple angles of my best friend explaining how to make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Let me tell you, It was GROUNDBREAKING cinema!

Fast forward fifteen years, and I am assigning the exact same project to my freshman Media I students. However, their production process looks a little different. They bounce out the door with their cellphones and the latest editing app, and a project that took me almost three class periods to complete takes today’s students about fifteen minutes.

Technology has transformed in all areas over the past decade, but I don’t know of a content area that has seen as drastic a transformation as classes that revolve around the visual arts. From 3D modeling on the newest laptop mega-computer, to filming a short film with a device smaller than a cellphone, students have more ability to creatively tell their story and share their unique voice now more than ever. Unfortunately, there are teachers who are scared of change or intimidated by new technology and the vast array of avenues it could potentially open for students.

How teachers choose to respond to this technology is where real and profound change can occur, in not only the classroom, but beyond, providing students an opportunity to engage in the global societal conversation through something as simple as an iPhone X.

Take, for instance, the tragic shooting that occurred in Parkland, Florida on February 14, 2018. What happened afterwards is a great example of what can happen when teachers not only lay a foundation of knowledge, but have the wisdom to “get out of the way” to allow student voices to be heard.

Two documentary-style student produced films came from this event.

First, survivors of the shooting in Parkland used their phones to record the stories of their grief, as well as the ripple effect from this trauma on their family and community. Survivors shared tears, anger, depression and the flood of emotions that come with coping. The emotions were raw, but the story needed to be told.

Another film was released on March 20, documenting the #NeverAgain Movement, and while many of the stories were the same, the film’s impact was felt in a different way. Produced and edited by students studying AV at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, they used footage shot in their school and community, and also various messages sent in from around the country in support of the #NeverAgain movement. This film, which again was student-driven, became a rallying cry for students to stand up and use their voices.

The aforementioned example is just one instance, a historic one albeit, of what can happen when students are allowed to take the knowledge provided by a teacher, take the new technology that is available to them and simply create.

My “How-To” about a sandwich was a necessary project to learn the theory behind video production. Theory has its place in all creative classes, but once that theory is understood it’s time to create. Video production, graphic art, audio engineering, or any creative art class should be an avenue for students to be passionate about something and use their voice to tell the world.

The generation of students sitting in art classes today are watching people in their eventual industry make a career out of pointing a camera at their face and talking to it. Peter McKinnon, photographer turned Vlogger, has gained close to two million followers on YouTube by telling his epic travel stories, drinking more coffee than most people should, and teaching his craft through production tutorials. McKinnon does this as a full time job, and he is one of hundreds of thousands people that earn a living this way. This style of career has made its way to our classrooms. Our students, whether it is vlogging on YouTube, streaming video games on Twitch, or becoming a freelance graphic designer, are more focused on making a difference than they are on making money.

Students are going to be passionate about something. When they enter our visual art classes, it’s our job to provide them with the tools needed to express these passions. Not every interest will be presented on a global level like the students in Parkland, but it is their passion. As teachers, it is our job to prepare them for THEIR future, and their future consists of abundant availability to massive amounts of developing technology. So as teachers, we must fill them with the knowledge to ‘do’ something with their passion, and then get out of their way and let them do it.

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