During the summer of 2009, I had an opportunity to run an elective for the Keene State College Upward Bound program. The summer residential program is a highly structured series of daily components designed to mimic some of the aspects of college life. My role in offering an elective was to provide an extra-curricular activity that engaged students in a creative, analytic, and immersive activity for a single forty-five minute time block once a week for five weeks. Programmatically speaking, electives are designed to provide students with an opportunity to explore creative and or scholarly topics that are not offered in the morning academic program.
In past summers I had offered electives on topics ranging from comparative philosophy to reading Shakespeare dramatically; I was ready for a different kind of challenge, and so my proposed elective was called UBer News (Upward Bound is often referred to as “U B” among program participants). Each week I would supervise a small group of students who would brainstorm, storyboard, script, and shoot a faux News Cast. As the staff member running the elective, I agreed to handle editing the video and distributing it through YouTube.
It was especially important to me that the concepts and content be student generated. Upward Bound serves economically disadvantaged students and operates as a educational outreach program that is designed to provide this underserved population gain access to higher education. As a residential administrator for the program, I was eager to find accessible and interesting entry points into a larger conversation about media generation and distribution. Further, I wanted my students to see themselves as contributors to the content on the web, and not just passive consumers of media.
While the videos that we produced were not sensational or ground breaking, they did dramatically change how students conceptualized their relationship to online media. The students changed from simply wanting to use UBer News as a means of parodying the program, to looking for opportunities to include other community members and community activities in the broadcasts The students treated the elective as an extension of the program itself, as a tool for engaging more deeply with the whole community, and as a digital time capsule for future students.