Students Use Digital Tools to Tell a Real Child Soldier’s Story
10.30.09 | Who learns more about history and current affairs, a student reading about Uganda in a text book, or one who talks to a former child soldier by Skype and makes a Second Life movie about his and his fellow soldiers’ lives? No question. Yet not everyone has this kind of learning opportunity in a classroom. That’s where museums come in.
Museums have become important nodes on the network of learning that kids navigate today. Few museums are better equipped to handle this new role—and to do it largely with new media and technology—than the Museum of the Moving Image in Queens.
Technology is, after all, an intrinsic part of the museum-going experience there. A viewing of, say, 12 Angry Men precedes a discussion of the contemporary legal system. Charlie Chaplin’s The Immigrant provides a jumping-off point for talking about immigration issues.
“We think you can use digital tools in a more efficient manner when you are lucky, like we are, to have them as a subject,” says Carl Goodman, the museum’s Senior Deputy Director. “A science museum, for example, might be limited to using software that is related to their subject of science, as they should be.”
Digital tools were very much the subject not long ago when 25 high school students from Global Kids, focused on expanding educational opportunities for urban youths, joined forces with the Moving Image Museum on an intensive machinima project. For Global Kids, this meant using the 3D engines of Second Life, rewriting code to turn characters into cameras, and then using those cameras to make a film. If it sounds complicated, that’s because it is.
“It is very difficult and technologically complex,” Goodman says. “But we’ve found that often kids instinctively get this stuff more than adults do, like, ‘of course you can do this!’”
A project of this scope would not be possible in most of the city’s public schools. For one thing, not many schools could handle the broadband oomph required to power 25 MacBook Pros that were, as Goodman put it, “all sipping through the same straw.”
“Students in schools often deal with outdated technology,” Goodman notes.
The film these Global Kids decided to make was called A Child’s War, a nearly seven-minute look at the horrendous situation of children who are abducted by criminals and made to fight as soldiers in Uganda. I recently watched the video on YouTube (joining almost 12, 000 others) and was struck by how, despite the use of rough, Second Life animation, the production still packs an emotional wallop.
In working on the film, the 25 students conducted extensive research and even met the former child soldier who narrates the story.
“They used new media to connect with topics that they might not have otherwise from just reading a newspaper,” says Goodman.
While Goodman is clearly enthusiastic about the role digital technologies can play in the future of museums, he does not consider them an educational panacea nor does he imagine a time when the digital will replace the physical.
“This is sort of controversial but I don’t think we can use these new technologies to bond a visitor and an object,” Goodman says. “It’s not technology that brings people closer to an object. There’s a story there, a history and people tend to bond with an object for no rhyme or reason. But we can take that moment as a starting point and, with the new technologies, enhance a visitor’s interest in that object.”
Photo by: Holy Meatballs
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