A student’s view of informal learning’s value

By Anne Collier

“My passion lies where I can be creative and have fun and be around people that can support me,” says Dallas high school student Blake Copeland in a video interview at eSchoolNews.com. And Blake has definitely found people’s support – or the supporters found him. In his spare time, he learned the programming language for iPhones, Objective-C, and developed an iPhone app called DateFinder that fellow students have since used in a history class to look up significant dates in history. That caught the attention of well-known education technology speaker and consultant Alan November, organizer of the BLC (for Building Learning Communities) conference held this summer in Boston.

“The reason I created the iPhone app,” Blake said, “is because I was passionate about computers, I was passionate about creating. So over time just using them wasn’t enough for me. I wanted to create something on my own and I didn’t get support from the school, so I turned to friends and other communities online to help me out with that,” illustrating what many tech educators call the disconnect between learning and school. After participating in the BLC conference in Boston, Blake was asked by the organizers to head up the student staff for the first Southwest BLC. “Being the guy in charge, coordinating everything, getting to hang with all those guys was just a blast,” Blake said. I’m telling you all this to spotlight not only how digital-media-related “informal learning” can launch careers early but also to zoom in on what Blake said about how, as many young digital-media users feel, “just using technology wasn’t enough. I wanted to create something on my own.” He learned the basics of programming logic, wrote an app in the Objective-C programming language, and registered with Apple as a developer. “You’ve got those three things, and you can pretty much go anywhere,” Blake said. That’s the agency and creativity digital technology and media allow young people – broadening horizons and spheres of influence well before they’ve finished high school. It’s wonderful that stories like Blake’s are becoming less extraordinary and more possible – globally – all the time. [All this is explained in the rich detail of multiple such stories in Hanging Out, Messing Around, and Geeking Out: Kids Living and Learning in News Media from the researchers of the Digital Youth Project and MIT Press.]

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