Students help teachers develop virtual learning projects

What better way to design new and improved interactive learning programs than to invite the very students and teachers who use them to put their heads together?

That’s exactly what happened Monday and Tuesday at the fifth annual summer institute organized by York’s Advanced Broadband Enabled Learning (ABEL) program.

Right: High-school students collaborate at ABEL Summer Institute

In keeping with the conference theme, “Making Connections: Digital Literacy”, 60 high school students from Toronto and York Region district school boards collaborated with 150 teachers, administrators and York professors to develop district-wide projects that use broadband networks and ABEL technologies. The projects will be implemented in classrooms during the upcoming school year.

This year, the institute focused on digital literacy and what expectations, ideas and skills students bring into the classroom.

Keynote speaker was Marc Prensky, author of Digital Game-Based Learning (McGraw-Hill, 2001) and founder of Games2train, whose clients include IBM, Nokia, the USA Department of Defense, and the Florida Virtual School.

Left: Marc Prensky

Prensky spoke about how technology can be embedded into classroom projects as part of the learning experience. He said students can play an important role as “digital natives” in designing engaging learning experiences. He praised ABEL’s summer institute: “ABEL has done something truly innovative. It is one of the first in the world to plan a conference involving students in the planning of their future education.”

Prensky also helped students showcase their technology skills in a presentation called Meeting the Digital Native. He said, “I think the ABEL team is doing something different and extraordinary. It is really looking for change in the world and producing it by asking the right questions and bringing in the students.”

The summer institute is only the first step in ABEL’s continuing effort to provide students with an enhanced sense of efficacy as members of a school community. It also encourages them to continue using the technology as they progress to postsecondary education. While at York, they took campus tours for a glimpse into university life.

ABEL is an award-winning program. In June, it won two ORION awards for innovative work with broadband technologies for teaching and learning (see YFile story June 5, 2006). ORION (Ontario Research and Innovation Optical Network) is a regional and global high-speed, optical network linking Ontario’s research and educational institutions. ABEL is part of the ORION network.