Wendy Rivenburgh’s experience with hands-on learning began early on her family’s dairy farm in Upstate New York. “I learned how to milk a cow and drive a tractor,” she says. “And I picked countless raspberries. It seems like I spent most of the growing season outdoors, but I was also a bookworm as a kid.”
Rivenburgh went on to teach high school writing and literature, where she found that, “Learning was more meaningful when students had the opportunity to create an authentic piece of work that related to their lives instead of just doing it for the grade.”
Now Rivenburgh works as an EDC writer/editor, curriculum developer, and trainer for afterschool programs that help teachers and other educators harness the power of multimedia technologies to engage learners in creative, content-rich activities.
“Technology is exploding. It’s the language of our times,” says Rivenburgh. Her goal is to help teachers and learners use software and Web tools as a means to explore, create, learn, and share—not as an end unto themselves. For a generation raised on TV and computer games, it’s “media making rather than media consumption.”
What role do afterschool programs play in students’ learning?
The pressure on afterschool programs to reinforce learning from the school day is growing. Some of the programs are based at schools and staffed by teachers. But many are at Boys & Girls Clubs, YMCAs, museums, and libraries, where the staff are typically not formally trained teachers and there’s a huge variation in content knowledge.
Our challenge is to serve an audience that’s disparate and has limited time for planning and professional development. Activities need to be engaging and meaningful, and constructive—for the afterschool educators and the young people.
Could you give some examples?
The YouthLearn Initiative, my project here at EDC, develops planning guides and activities for programs serving youth. We often collaborate with partners to identify or adapt resources for afterschool educators. For example, we are currently working with the Verizon Foundation and Thinkfinity partners to adapt curricular resources for their afterschool Web portal. And earlier this year, we created a technology curriculum database for the National Partnership for Quality Afterschool Learning at SEDL.
In the past few months, we’ve also worked with the MIT Media Lab on the PicoCricket Kit, writing a workshop curriculum on the theme of “a day in the park.” The “cricket” is a mini-computer that lets you program sensors to make movement or light up in response to sight, sound, or touch. Kids can use craft materials to make their own artistic projects that employ the technology in creative ways.
You worked with international youth who were creating multimedia projects on global warming for the United Nations. Could you tell a bit about that?
The UN Foundation launched a series of debates on global warming, encouraging youth around the world to do something in their own communities. They held a Youth Leadership Summit in New York City, and young people came in from all over the world to hear speakers and present their own public service announcements and websites.
Through EDC’s work with the Adobe Foundation on Adobe Youth Voices, we were invited to guide youth in using audio, video, and websites to articulate their message. It’s always inspiring to see young people use media tools to convey their message and become agents of change.
Describe a turning point in your career.
In 1999, I was teaching a 12th grade nature-writing class where I broadened “nature” to include our own habitat and human nature, as a way of engaging the students. A girl who was usually quiet in class brought in a copy of Seventeen magazine with an article on the Taliban and the constraints on Afghan women. The students were fascinated by the culture, and I asked them if they thought other students should know about this, too. They decided to do a presentation to a school assembly. They took responsibility for different pieces and conducted research online. Having an audience for their work gave them seriousness of purpose, and I was moved to see how powerful it was for them to make real-world connections.
What’s the most satisfying aspect of your work?
I have two boys, ages 4 and 6. It’s been wonderful to be able to use the things I’ve learned at EDC to help my own children learn. I’m a better parent because of my work.