Showcasing Student Voices through Stucamp Unhangout
“We hold the fundamental belief that kids can change the world; that the ones most affected by education are the ones least consulted; that the voices of our children hold the key to unlocking the possibilities of tomorrow”
Educators Steve Figurelli, Dane Barner, Meg Roa, and the Media Lab’s Unhangout team recently teamed up to launch a national movement called Stucamp. The mission of Stucamp is to connect students internationally and empower them to share their vision, questions, and expertise with a global audience of peers.
Stucamp, a student-led unconference, is inspired from the Edcamp model which offers professional development to educators outside the school environment. In an unconference format, educators who attend these edcamps around the globe share ideas and resources with each other and discuss strategies to facilitate engagement in the classroom.
Inspired from the success of the Edcamp movement and it’s ability to empower teachers around the world, we started thinking about how to apply this model with students, putting them in the hot seat and getting them thinking about questions that arouse their curiosity, topics that are most suited to their interests, and issues they want to bring to attention. Thus, we planned to connect students across the country and encouage them to lead discussions in an unconference event, called Stucamp.
On December 3rd, we hosted the first national Stucamp, via the MIT Media Lab’s Unhangout platform for running large-scale unconferences online. This event brought together middle and high school students from across four states — Florida, Iowa, Missouri, and New Jersey — to voice their opinions about their education.
On the day of the event, more than 90 students joined us via Unhangout during school hours from their respective media centers reserved by their teachers. At these centers, students had access to individual computers, and teachers were present as a support to ensure a smooth participation process. In addition, prior to this event, the Unhangout platform guide and event agenda were shared with teachers and students to make them familiar with the event format. The event began with a short welcome note from Hadley Ferguson (Executive Director, Edcamp) and Steve Figurelli (Supervisor of Elementary Education at Edison BOE). Both speakers encouraged the students to build the unconference agenda by proposing topics using the platform’s “Participant Proposed Sessions” feature.
This fun and safe space helped students to open up and propose really cool and thought-provoking discussion topics covering a wide range of subjects such as phone usage at school, gender-accepting restrooms, too much homework, digital innovation, how waking up early is the worst, and web filtering in schools.
Following this, student participants joined the breakout session of their choice, where they genuinely seemed interested, engaged and eager to share information.
One of our goals through the running of this Stucamp was to provide students an inclusive learning environment, empower and leverage their voices as a way to look at the education system from the inside out. Connecting students from different states was definitely a big part of this experiment, and it’s execution turned out to be a small, sweet win for us.
Although this event was an overall success, there were some glitches that we encountered. For example, there was heavy chat spamming by students that caused the Unhangout server to crash about two-thirds of the way through the event, right after students joined breakout rooms. This type of user behavior is one that we have never before experienced in an Unhangout event, so we were not well prepared to deal with this problem on the fly, as Unhangout currently does not have any features that support chat window moderation. We were lucky, however, that this server crash didn’t really impact the flow of the overall event, as students had already gotten into their Google Hangout breakout rooms of choice when the server actually went down. After the event, we received lots of feedback from teachers that these breakout conversations were thoughtful, engaging, and fun for their students.
Currently, we are in the process of debriefing, and planning next steps for future iterations of Stucamp online. Because of the spamming the chat window during the event, there are a few design changes we wish to incorporate next time: involving students as leaders in the planning process, recruiting a few student moderators, and teaching them about etiquette. We are anticipating that Stucamp will spur a broader movement, and we are looking forward to joining hands with other communities who have already begun to explore this space.
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