1,000 students with laptops make music, learn

ORONO – What do you get when you put 1,000 students with laptops in the Collins Center for the Arts at the University of Maine in Orono? Music, literally.

At this year’s Maine Learning Technology Initiative Student Conference at the University of Maine on Thursday, students learned about innovative ways they can use their state-issued laptops.

During the afternoon “uber session,” students turned their laptop keyboards into musical keyboards and performed a world premiere musical composition, along with 12 live musicians on stage, and two members of the New World Symphony playing live from Miami. Some of the students had used software available on their MLTI devices to pre-program their machines to create their own recording of a full octave of notes – using anything from the sounds of birds to objects around the house or digital sounds of their own making. All – including those with no musical experience at all – contributed to the performance.

“We’ve done some pretty cool stuff at the uber session in years past,” said Jeff Mao, director of learning technology for the Maine Department of Education, which organized the event with Apple, the University and other partners. “The student energy and engagement this time topped them all.”

The New England School of Communications greatly enhanced the event by providing wall-to-wall video and audio coverage, some of it projected live on a large screen, all of it to be available for posting online and in future promotion.

The annual conference, now in its ninth year, is a way to generate energy and excitement about using technology to enhance learning. It’s also a way to give middle school (and some high school) students a glimpse into college life: students navigate themselves to breakout sessions around campus and eat in one of the school’s dining halls.

Helping students use technology to develop their own learning plans and to enhance their learning experiences is a cornerstone of the Maine DOE’s strategic plan, unveiled by Education Commissioner Stephen Bowen in February.

“We need to put students more in charge of their own learning,” Bowen said. “Technology is one way to do that.”

Students started the day with three student keynote speakers who addressed the entire gathering. Tim Walsh, a freshman at Kennebunk High School, shared how he leveraged his access to his MLTI MacBook to become a design professional along with a team at Middle School of the Kennebunks. Emily & Katie Morse, juniors at Machias High School, talked about their experience studying Japanese through an online course via their MLTI MacBooks to meet their world language graduation requirement.

Students then spread out across campus for more than 20 breakout sessions on everything from video game design with Scratch (software) to tips on using GarageBand music-making software to developing smartphone apps and searching for planets.

And it was all live-tweeted by students from Auburn Middle school using the Twitter hashtag #mlti2012.

David Connerty-Marin | Maine Department of Education | 207-624-6880

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