Teaching/Learning Digital Media in an Oklahoma Heat Wave

Teaching/Learning Digital Media in an Oklahoma Heat Wave

Tom Fields is a photographer and digital media instructor.

Date Posted: 
2012-09-15 00:00

Blog Series:


I recently taught digital media to a group of Southern Ponca students at White Eagle Oklahoma for the Standing Bear’s Footsteps project. The class began with nine students who were selected the Ponca Tribal Education Department. The students varied in age from 10 to 14, that’s fifth to eighth grade, 4 girls and 5 boys. This was a six-week project, with classes held 2 ½ days per week.

A mission statement was written for our class –“Each student will have a positive and fun learning experience, exploring and creating digital media, as it relates to the project theme.”  This was a summer project for the kids and I didn’t want it to seem like a regular school class. And as an instructor I wanted to keep it interesting and fun, a definite prerequisite for this age group.

For the first week the focus was learning the tools, a MacBook Air, a small handheld Toshiba HD camcorder that could also takes stills, and a Tascam digital audio recorder. A great mix of hardware and software that had to be learned and understand as each student headed down the digital path.

The Meaning of Home Row

As a first assignment, and to flesh out project ideas, I asked the group to use the computer to write about themselves, what activities do you like to do, places you like to go, things you like to do with your friends, a simple task-I thought.

I soon realized the students had little or no experience typing on a keyboarding. (Not taught anymore in school) You can ask adult students to write a story idea and they will look for the home keys, however this generation doesn’t have the same keyboarding skills to type quick paragraphs. At least not the way I was taught.

The hunt-and-peck method was something I realized this generation of students use for typing. No different than texting or gaming. And have you ever tried using the home row method with both hands on your I-Pad?

“It’s Indian Fair Hot outside”

In the first series of lessons I discussed the term “collaboration” and explained how I wanted to work in this way. I wanted the work to be theirs, with me assisting in any way that was needed, but in the end it was to be their work.

While I took on the task of teaching, I wanted the cultural aspect and project ideas in the hands of the tribal representatives. Each week we had a cultural resource person talk to the class. I wanted the students ideas to become the driving factor for their projects. I wanted it to be their own work, from their interest, and then they would own and be proud of their project.

I had hoped to get more projects from each student, however I do feel the experience was important for them. And the experience of working with the laptops, software, and equipment has given them a new sense of confidence and accomplishment.

I believe this project has outstanding aspects. The fact that the latest computer and digital hardware was brought into the tribe, their kids taught “how” to use it, then given to the tribe for use in the future is unprecedented. It is an investment that needs to be nurtured for the future.

Hindsight is 20/20

As I review the project and how lessons were delivered, I now think that setting aside the first two days for just teaching tribal history and culture may be a better strategy. In the past I would present the hands on task the first day, just to keep them engaged. However, at their young age, there are still questions that need to be asked and answered by their tribal elders. It is imperative that all participants, students, staff, tribal planning group, are part of the “why” of digital media. Then we proceed to the “how.”

I do realize different groups have different needs and solutions, but any thoughts from other instructors would be appreciated. 


I want to thank Kay Shaw, from the Public Media Corp for having the vision and dollars to invest in the equipment, and for coming all the way to White Eagle to visit the students. And also being the keynote speaker for our graduation ceremony.

A thank you to Shirley Sneve and Brendan McCauley for offering the opportunity and continuing the vision to make projects like this possible.

And a major thanks to the Ponca Students who showed up every day for class, the parents who allowed them to attend, and the staff who gave of their time and energy during the project.

The project mission of the “Meaning of Home” is an on going quest for many of the young students. I hope the Public Media Corp’s (PMC) Digital Media Arts Club, and Vision Maker Media can continue to offer support for the next few years. Then I feel we will start seeing important productions and stories coming from the Southern Ponca kids at White Eagle, Oklahoma.

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