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Library as Educator

James McNutt is the Chattanooga Public Library's tech education specialist. In this article, James writes about partnerships and the library's role as an access point for tech education in the community. McNutt is the Education Director of Engage 3D and program director of DEV DEV summer of code, a collaboration of Engage 3D, AIGA Chattanooga, and the Chattanooga Public Library. This article is the first in a series where we hear from our most active collaborators, expanding the conversation on how the library and the 4th floor are helping the community reimagine ways to incubate, educate and create in Chattanooga.

 

In recent months, the Chattanooga Public Library has partnered with local organizations to host events that have explored and expanded its role in our community. Through one such partnership with Engage 3D, a non-profit start up, the Library has become a leading voice in local technology education.  Following the success of Maker Day and CommunityPy, the Library and Engage 3D together began to shape and lead a community of Chattanoogans eager to grow their own technology skills while exploring the role of technology in the development of our city.

Building on these early initiatives, our next foray into technology education was DEV DEV: < summer of code/>, a collaborative effort of Engage 3D, AIGA Chattanooga, and the Chattanooga Public Library. For a lot of us developers, learning markup, styling and programming happened on our own, by ourselves. For many less familiar with technology, however, it’s hard to know where to get started. Induction can be intimidating, and despite an ever more connected world, those learning new technologies can often feel quite isolated.

Overcoming this isolation drove the creation of DEV DEV (“developing developers”). We wanted kids to have the opportunity to break down any trepidation about creating with technology, to explore the tools that are available to them, and to have a platform through which to learn together. The program was brief, but what happened in just 12 short days was astounding -  students exceeded our every expectation. For example, we created a Google+ Community for them to discuss with each other, and they took it over, posting dozens of questions and links every day. Our phones buzzed with constant updates and notifications from the DEV DEV page.

Each day, a guest speaker spoke to the students either live or via Google Hangout.  Though initially bribed to ask questions with Jolly Ranchers and Snickers, students soon became more vocal and posed question after thoughtful question to our speakers, who were universally impressed with our DEV DEV kids.

I remember thinking to myself when I met them: a) the middle school kids were the best Q and A I’ve had all year, which is kind of crazy to me, and b) when I was their age, I was drawing robots and making them out of duct tape and toilet paper rolls, and these kids are building them for real, and it’s just amazing.  If we keep driving this and keeping these things together, we can really accomplish so much here.“ said Daniel Ryan, GigTank Technologist-in-Residence and DEV DEV guest speaker, during last week’s GigTank Demo Day.

I required the students to take notes when we had guest speakers, prodding them to explore how each speaker’s talk was relevant to their lives. One response in particular epitomized the purpose of DEV DEV: “Listening to these people talk is inspiring to me because they were all self-taught, and yet, they have really good jobs and have amazing opportunities. It’s really cool the advantages we will have because we have learned code. Talking with these people makes me want to continue to learn.”

As Chattanooga grows as a center for technology, we need  to not only attract talent from around the world but also to invest in the potential that already exists in our own backyard through programs such as  DEV DEV. As the longtime center of curiosity and learning in Chattanooga, the library has a natural role to play in helping this investment in our homegrown talent and in our future as a community pay dividends.  Through partnership with Engage 3D, we expect our role in supporting such technology education initiatives to further expand.  Indeed, if there was one complaint about DEV DEV, it was that students wanted more: “More! We want more! It should be longer both in the number of weeks and the number of hours per day.” Not to worry, DEV DEV students: more is on the horizon.

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