Designing Students' Futures on the Web

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Virginia teacher empowers students to explore the technological realm

With a classroom of eager-but-apprehensive students sitting in front of her, Debby Martin threw out some ideas that the advanced Web page design students could tackle as a team. Soon the class discussion turned to the fact that teenagers often get a bad rap from their communities, which don't always "get" what they're doing or why they're doing it. "Some of them even mess up and negatively affect the entire community," said Martin, a business teacher at Hampton City Schools in Hampton, VA, which encompasses four high schools.

An educator for the last seven years, Martin was able to pair up the need to dispel those perceptions with a talented group of high school-aged Web designers who sought out nonprofits, schools, and small businesses in the area that were in need of an online boost. The group handled the Web site design (or redesign) from concept to completion for 10 different entities. "Once they put the word out," said Martin, "my students were shocked at the response that they got from organizations in the area."

By creating the sites the students not only proved that teenagers are capable of doing a lot more than just surfing social networking sites online, but it also gave the youngsters valuable "real world" work experience. "Not all of our students are going on to college," said Martin, "and they need to have the technology skills in place in order to compete for entry-level jobs."

Among the lucky recipients were an elementary school, a homeless shelter, a local surf and skate apparel shop, and a Kiwanis business group. A new crop of advanced Web page design students are maintaining the sites, as well as a few others that Martin's class has developed since the initial 10 online presences were created.

"Not everyone has the technology or coding skills needed to create Web sites," said Martin, who funds the initiative via a grant that covers the hosting fees for one year.

Martin's efforts to pair up education with technology go beyond Web site development. She's also been instrumental in working with her local community college to increase the number of technology classes for which dual enrollment is available. For that to happen the courses must first be approved through the state's community college system. Then the instructors must be certified to teach the course. Students who select Martin get dual credit at the high school and college level.

"Last year over 100 students received college credit for classes they were taking at the high school level," said Martin, who plans to offer video game technology courses in 2008, based on the high demand for such skills in the gaming marketplace. She's also training five students to show the school district's Web masters how to use technology tools like Flash, cascading style sheets and fireworks.

"The kids will be teaching the Web masters at a monthly meeting," said Martin. Finally, this educator is developing a technology curriculum that will be offered to parents within the community. All students in her advanced Web page design class this year will take an industry certification that, if achieved, will allow them to offer the technology curriculum to adults.

Looking ahead to her next seven years as a technology educator, Martin expects to train more teachers on the fine point of the information age with hopes that they will pass that knowledge along to their students. At the same time, she sees students themselves playing an important role in the education of teachers, who don't always possess the most up-to-date technological skills and expertise.

By working together, said Martin, the two entities will usher themselves into the information age in a way that is beneficial for both student and teacher. If that doesn't happen, the digital divide could be become even greater than it is right now. "The role-reversal that comes from having a 14- or 15-year-old teaching you about technology can be comfortable," said Martin. "My philosophy is that if I'm too comfortable, I'm not learning."

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About the author: Bridget McCrea is a business and technology writer in Clearwater, FL. She can be reached at bridgetmc@earthlink.net.

Proposals for articles and tips for news stories, as well as questions and comments about this publication, should be submitted to David Nagel, executive editor, at dnagel@1105media.com.

About the Author

Bridget McCrea is a business and technology writer in Clearwater, FL. She can be reached at bridgetmc@earthlink.net.

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