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Dr. Jason Ohler at SAS: Preparing Kids for the Digital World

November, 2010
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jason-ohler-4s1“New Kids, New Media and New Literacies” – renowned educator and speaker Dr. Jason Ohler offered an entertaining and educational evening to Shanghai American School (SAS) parents and teachers at the St. Regis Hotel in Pudong, Shanghai on October 20.

Dr. Ohler’s keynote presentation argued that in today’s digital era, we all should live two lives –as a consumer and as a producer. This is especially true for digital kids today who are supposed to be able to not only make use of new technologies, but create something with them.

During his one-week stay at SAS, Jason Ohler had a fully packed schedule with different workshops for SAS students, teachers and parents on SAS campuses. A lot of his workshops were with the English classes from Grades 4 to 10, and also with the IB film classes that focused on story planning and development: how does a writer get ideas for stories; how does a writer plan, develop and write compelling stories? Delivering a story that is deep in context and involves the audience… captures the readers’ attention.

Dr. Ohler thinks the Digital Age has unleashed the Storytelling Age for all of us. People’s interest in story writing and storytelling comes from the fact that we live in an era of information overload. Stories are highly efficient information containers.

“What is interesting to me is that I have done some workshops on storytelling and I hear a number of people say ‘I don’t know a story, I cannot tell a story’; the reality is I believe everyone has thousands of stories, but the question for them is ‘which one do you want to talk about?’” he said. Each time, Dr. Ohler’s solution is to ask people who cannot find a story to tell him a story about “not having a story”. “In the process of doing this most people will bump into a story along the way. A story is a series of events that has happened and it flows from a natural beginning to a resolution that is important to them.”

jason-ohler-2s1But how do you find a story? Dr. Ohler suggests people search for those events in your life that “changed you”. “Because the story is all about character transformation, have character development in the case of your development as a person in your personal story. Try looking for situations when you started as one person, then because you realized something, you became different somehow. Then you will get a good story.”

In a session with the AP Design students, Jason talked with students about how e-portfolios will help the students and how useful they can be when applying to universities. Three SAS students volunteered to showcase their e-portfolios on the big screen, and Dr. Ohler offered his comments and suggestions, such as adding write-ups below their artworks or photographs, choosing better backgrounds when they make the videos and looking professional to the audience.

“I was just looking at portfolios in the AP Design class, and they all have great stories about their development as a young artist,” he said.

Ohler also shared how he did his own portfolio as a teacher, which was pre-digital. He made a cardboard box, and any time he was involved in something or another teacher sent him a letter or he spoke on a panel that was mentioned in a newspaper, he put it in the box.

jason-ohler-3s“This is the same if you have a digital cardboard box to collect such stuff. The first step is that you collect all your stuff that is important to you. You need to collect stuff that speaks about who you are, how you contribute and what you have accomplished as well as your involvement with the community and all of those things. You need all these raw materials. Later you are going to organize it in the theme of your own progress. For example, you can pick a theme as a community member or as a student or as an artist.”

Another great way to do this, he advised, is to have kids reflect on their own progress by keeping a blog or some kind of diary on their academic studies. This could be immensely powerful to the audience.

Dr. Ohler also emphasized that students need to be professional in their portfolios. “In the portfolio, you need to care for the audience. Any time you are going to show something professionally, either to a college or a business, you need think what the audience will say after watching it.”

Meeting with a lot of SAS teachers on campus reminded him of two of his favorite teachers in his elementary years, who “opened the door for him.” In Dr. Ohler’s eyes, a good teacher is a good door opener for kids to reach their potentials, and this has never changed. “Teachers have a sense of what’s good for you and at the same time are open and listen to your particular voice, and with their approach help to adapt to your uniqueness. That is sign of a good teacher, I think.”

jason-ohler-1s1He also pointed out there are certainly new requirements on teachers in the digital era. It is better that teachers are quick learners of new technologies themselves. But always there are kids who outpace them in mastering new technologies.

So he suggests that teachers need to feel more comfortable being the guide on the side rather than the on the stage. Teachers must be more comfortable as a coach than a lecturer. “I think teachers in the digital age need to be very comfortable saying ‘look, I don’t know how to use that particular piece of software. But when I look at the digital story you just made, something looks very good to me while other things are not that clear…”

Meanwhile, the appropriateness of using new technologies in the classroom should be noted.

Digital literacy builds upon traditional literacy. He tells students that somebody who walks towards the door rather than drives the car to the door at the corner is a more appropriate user of new technology. “This is because they know when not to use it. For example, in preparing a story, I see a lot of teachers using the computer. I wouldn’t do that. I think to get a piece of paper and a pencil is much more flexible and much easier as it allows you to do what you cannot do on a computer screen. And it is more liberating than a computer if you just draw it.”

Besides, he thinks that parents and teachers need to talk to kids more about the impact on society of technology.

Dr. Ohler believes the ideal school of today is to prepare kids for the digital world. “It’s our job as educators to push for it; the school board has a role and parents have a role in the process too.”

By Xing Yangjian

Find out more about Dr. Jason Ohler at: www.jasonohler.com

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