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Education: Making the Classroom Hot

"School" and "cool" rhyme, but, sadly, you probably won't find the two together in any sentence uttered by today's students. With growing adoptions of the latest technology in the classroom, however, educators are trying hard to change that.

For me, "technology" in K-12 largely consisted of overhead projectors, slideshows, and, later, ridiculously slow Compaqs — not so cutting-edge, considering I finished college only months ago. Today's students get Facebook and iPhones. A study by the National School Boards Association this year found that social networking may be beneficial for schoolwork, as 60 percent of students used sites like Facebook to discuss college plans and receive help with homework, among other education-related activities. (Facebook: so much cooler than the Homework Help hotline.) And researchers at UC Davis are hard at work testing educational third-party applications for the iPhone. One district in Arizona has already adopted the phones — minus calling functionality — for use in the classroom.

Efforts to liven up education have also come heavily on the publicity end. As No Child Left Behind, currently up for renewal, faces criticism like clockwork, the ED in 08 campaign is fighting to give education the same cachet as environmentalism — the new sexy media topic — or even health care, which has generated new buzz thanks to Hillary's presidential bid. Last month the organization revealed a video spot with Kanye West. The choice is quite ironic, given Kanye made it big off an album called College Dropout (though I hear he's "graduated" since then). And although the rapper surely has currency with students, his political and educational cred seems lacking, which makes the approach quite puzzling.

Los Angeles' school district has taken an approach that's only marginally better. To help lower dropout rates, the district has created a Website with the slogan "My Future, My Decision." In conjunction with the Website spots will appear on YouTube featuring student testimonials, MySpace networking, local radio campaigns, and motivational text messages. The YouTube and MySpace campaigns don't appear to be up and running just yet. Though both sites attract large numbers of youth, it's not very likely that students at risk of dropping out will go out of their way to find videos commissioned by the Los Angeles United School District, let alone a forum in which to discuss them? They certainly won't be clamoring to sit through speeches on why dropping out is bad.

In order for this viral campaign to take off, the spots have to be catchy and instructive. Perhaps LAUSD should hold a contest for the most entertaining anti-dropout video and partner with some creative aspiring filmmakers. (They're certainly in the right location!) That might get some students sharing. Then they'll have fodder for discussion on MySpace, although the text-messaging part remains iffy.

Here's hoping LAUSD, Ed in 08, educators, and advocates all over can make education hot for current and future generations.

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