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UMNews: The name says DigME — and they do

The University of Minnesota is helping give Roosevelt High School students experience with digital technologies in a new learning community called DigME.FROM UMN NEWS


Imagine being a high school student, being handed an iPod touch, and told to go do your homework. Such was the assignment for students in Roosevelt High School’s Digital Media Studies program, who used Google Maps and a built-in GPS to map their Minneapolis neighborhood.

Known as DigME, the new learning community gives students a chance to work with the kind of audio, video and computer technologies that are shaping society.

The program, which was the brainchild of Roosevelt English teacher Delainia Haug and dean of students Damien Poling, has tapped the expertise of faculty and students from the University’s College of Education and Human Development.

The DigME curriculum emphasizes critical thinking and hands-on technical skills in numerous subjects. For example, while students mapped their neighborhood for teacher John Wood’s 9th-grade geography class, they also worked with artist Wing Young Huie to document the area via digital photography. In social studies, they evaluated data about neighborhood crime and used digital tools to evaluate neighborhood water quality for science class.

DigME students also create audio, video, blogs, and wikis — essentially online collaborative communities. In the process, students learn essential group work skills, along with organizational, management and communication abilities, Haug explains. Teaching students to use the Internet responsibly and critically also develops creative and independent thought, she adds.

Research shows that people will need critical media literacy to succeed in 21st-century society, says Haug, who has discovered a significant gap in digital literacy among the students in DigME. At the start of the school year, the skill level ranged from those who knew how to write html to some who didn’t know how to send an attachment with e-mail.

“Our kids come from backgrounds where they don’t have access [to digital technology] outside of school,” Haug explains. “It’s our obligation to provide them with access.”

Roosevelt’s student body comprises many lower income students and English language learners. About one-third of DigME’s 150-plus students have no computer in the home. The program recently acquired 30 laptops, along with the iPod touches.

“There is a social justice aspect to the program,” says curriculum and instruction professor Cynthia Lewis, who helped Haug shape DigME’s goals and leads the partnership with the university.

Students faced a steep learning curve during the fall term but are starting to make the media their own, says DigME program coordinator Poling, a graduate student at the college. “They’re engaged when they’re working with the technology. It’s been huge leaps for them as far as what they’re used to.” Roosevelt Principal Bruce Gilman and Executive Director of Technology Coleen Kosloski have likewise been critical to getting DigME off the ground, says Lewis.

DigME also helps students realize that college is a possibility for them. In October students visited campus and took part in seminars related to digital media in the classroom, the arts and the workplace. The visit helped fulfill the university’s commitment to connecting with diverse potential students, as well as Minneapolis Public Schools’ goal to prepare every student for college.

Lewis and her colleagues intend to research how the digital media curriculum helps drive achievement, persistence, and postsecondary learning.

In addition to Lewis’ ongoing work, Rick Beach, Aaron Doering, and Cassie Scharber from the Department of Curriculum and Instruction and Shayla Thiel-Stern from the School of Journalism and Mass Communication, along with doctoral students Jessica Dockter and Candance Doerr, have offered ongoing professional development.

“[University of Minnesota faculty and students] have been absolutely a huge part from the ground level,” says Haug. “If we need something, we can call them and they’ll help us find it, or they’ll come in and help us hash things out.”