Scene: 1985 – Two geeky guys sit in front of a personal computer, staring at the screen.

Guy #1: “It’s called e-lectronic mail.”

Guy #2, in wonder: “Ooooooo… (then, in wondrous confusion) What’s that?”

Whenever I see this snippet of a TV ad from Intel, it reminds me of the AVID 9th-graders for whom I recently launched a social learning network platform. (My version of a social learning network platform, anyway. Readers may recall my recounting last month of the various social media tools from Google that I kludged together on the students’ behalf.) In truth, there was less wonder with the 9th graders.

Once I’d shown the class their new Website and given a quick review of how to use Gmail, we migrated to the computer lab so the students could create their own Google and Gmail accounts. (Yes, plural! Why does Google require so many registrations?) The two accounts and two logins (for now – later there would be four!) are not intuitively connected for 9th-graders, as it turns out. In fact, confusion and complaints about Google’s multiple registration/multiple login environment would continue for the whole semester.

Over the next couple of weeks, activity on the site was minimal. Every night, like a hopeful fan waiting at the stage door, I would sit on the site with my chat open. Four students logged in over that period, and quickly disappeared. I received two student e-mails (yay!), each asking for clarification on the technical steps to complete an assigned task. I witnessed one chat between students. Ms. L. had asked each student to send her an e-mail as their homework; about 60% of the students completed their assignment.

It also took awhile for Ms. L. to get in the habit of integrating “the Website” (as they came to call it) into her routine, as well as her planning. Although she is a digital native, weaving technology into her lesson plans was a new idea. The biggest challenge was devising activities that would both support a lesson’s learning objectives and engage students in a meaningful way. If a learning unit’s goal, for example, is for the student to incorporate Sean Covey’s “7 Habits of a Highly Successful Teen” into their volunteer assignment, what Website activities (if any!) are appropriate to support the goal?

After a few disappointing weeks of limited interest or participation by students and rumbling frustration on Ms. L.’s part, I suggested we take part of a class session to get feedback from the students. We got an earful of useful input. In summation:

  • Everybody has a phone. Not everybody has a computer. If a student needs help from another student, they text each other.
  • It never occurred to students (nor, to be fair, was it advertised) that they might find Ms. L. or a tutor, such as myself, online to provide assistance if asked. They seemed surprised, but somehow reassured.
  • The Website didn’t offer anything “to do.” The essence of this complaint was that once students had posted their homework, there weren’t activities or games to keep them engaged with the site. (“You can learn a lot from games,” insisted Manuel. “Yeah,” chimed Ulises, “like strategy.” “Yeah, like Halo. You learn lots of strategy in Halo,” agreed José.)

As luck would have it, Google released “Search Stories: Video Maker” a few days before our feedback session. After we finished our discussion, I showed a few Search Stories to the class. (You remember Search Stories? Think Super Bowl ads. Guy tells story of falling in love with a French girl, all using Google search terms. Very sweet.) Both Ms. L. and the students were captivated.

Since our feedback session, Ms. L. has used Search Stories to bring focus to the students’ online activities. To create a Search Story (, one must create a narrative through a sequence of search terms. After the storyteller enters the terms and selects a soundtrack, Google assembles a 30-45 sec. video based on the results of the searches. Early in the school year, Ms. L. asked the students to write an essay about their life goals. She revisited these goals, and assigned the students to develop a Search Story based on their earlier essay.

The students have gotten very engaged in telling their stories, I’m happy to report. They are also very involved in creating a multimedia story that will give next year’s 9th-graders the low-down on how to be a successful AVID student. In a couple of weeks, they will be presenting their productions and their Web pages to other AVID classes – and to their parents.

And, best of all, they’ve started to refer to the Website as “our Website.” That’s a good sign.

Next time: Parent Night, and Lessons Learned.