Day Four at New Tech

We were at New Tech for a fourth consecutive day filming in the classroom. Today was mainly spent again in the American Culture (social studies/English/) course as we followed up on the slam poetry assignment from yesterday as the group we filmed yesterday was scheduled to present them today. Rather than run around with a camera, my two compatriots did that (and a great job of it) while I sat and took field notes. I am increasingly concerned about my (and other researchers’) impact in the classroom as we observe. These are kids who are very comfortable with technology, but they still appear to get nervous anytime they feel the camera on them. My size (6′ 5″, 200+ pounds) and their knowledge that I’m a professor at a local university seems to change the power dynamic in the classroom substantially, which was obliquely confirmed for me today by one of their teachers.

We had three cameras set up on tripods and the Canon 7D and 2Ti roaming to capture what students did in the first half, which was mainly focused on reviewing the videos they worked on related to the Advanced Placement tests they were preparing for as this group were juniors. They spent about 45 minutes on this review which covered most of the 1920s and the main figures and events from that time period. At 11:48 AM, they began the slam poetry readings.

The poems were well done, but the kids were clearly nervous. One teacher filmed the presentations with his Flip HD camera, so there were as many as 6 cameras on the kids the whole time. It felt like overkill and we need to think more about how to minimize our impact in the future. There is a dichotomy in which we have a need to collect data and get footage for the research and film, but, on the other hand, we need to reduce our impact on the kids in the classroom. Hopefully, in April and May, when we have the student participants filming and interviewing, we should be able to get more natural responses from the kids because it will be their peers doing the filming.

One thing I found especially interesting was that one of the poems was about how oppressive school and the teachers were as well as how non-empowered the kids in that group felt. Short of complete anarchy, I’m not sure how much more freedom or what kind they want. They can walk in the halls and go to the bathroom at will with their Trust Card, eat and drink in the classroom, and are heavily responsible for their own learning. We will need to follow-up with this group with interviews in order to get a better understanding about what they meant and why they perceive things in the way they do. One of the kids told me a couple of days ago that some students are upset because they don’t think the heavy workload and project-based experience is preparing them for college, only for the workforce. I’m not sure how to convey how mistaken they are about their expectations for college. I wonder how much television and movies play into their perception that classes in college are huge 300+ lecture halls with a couple of tests in the semester. That may be the case in some places, but not really at the community colleges in the DFW area or in a lot of our UNT classes. Maybe I’m just not privy to those.

Overall, this has been a great first week of filming. We have about 1/2 a terabyte of digital footage captured and everyone at the school has been amazing. Some of the kids and teachers will be at South by Southwest next week showing their films and will capture that experience for us on film. We are looking forward to it very much!

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