Building empathy with technology

Paly celebrates opening of new media center with unusual video project

Two stories. 23,000 square feet. State-of-the-art video, editing and recording equipment. It sounds like a commercial production studio. Instead, it's the newest building on the Palo Alto High School campus.

Thanks to funds from the Strong Schools Bond passed by voters in 2008 -- and to the vision and guidance of Paly journalism instructors Esther Wojcicki and Paul Kandell -- the dream of a classroom/newsroom of the future has become a reality.

On Friday, Oct. 17 from 5 to 8 p.m., the school will open the doors of its brand new Media Arts Center to the public. There will be guided tours of the high-tech facility, food trucks serving up dinner and a chance to chat with Paly journalism students, faculty and almuni. Those planning to attend the event are encouraged to register online.

At the center of the celebration is a display that represents the possibilities for communication and community-building that such a facility affords.

The Global Lives Project is an unusual video exhibit which collects film footage from around the world of individuals going about their daily activities. An online database -- funded in large part by the National Endowment for the Arts -- stores footage that can be searched by gender, income and age of the subjects. At events like the opening of the Media Arts Center, continuous 24-hour footage of each individual is shown in sync with the time zone where it's displayed, so those visiting the center at 6 p.m. Friday, Pacific Standard Time might see an Italian, Nicaraguan and Mongolian person at 6 p.m. in each of their respective time zones.

Designed to encourage discussion and enhance cross-cultural empathy, the Global Lives Project will be available for viewing by all Paly students over a number of weeks; some of the school's social studies teachers have also incorporated the project into their curricula.

Among those who are especially excited about the opening of the Media Arts Center are the co-editors of the school's newspaper, the Campanile, which is one of no less than seven publications the student body puts out on a regular basis.

"The best thing is the huge emphasis on mobility, flexibility and innovation," noted Claire Liu.

Fellow senior Coby Parker echoed Liu's sentiment. "With all of the technology in the building, it has become way easier to collaborate and teach other students," he said.

Innovation and collaboration are, after all, the reason for the building of the center, and for the screening of the Global Lives Project to celebrate its opening.

Wojcicki said the films -- and the way they draw viewers into the lives of people around the world -- are just one example of how Paly's Media Arts Center can be used to enhance student learning, creativity and empathy. The way she sees it, all young people should have access to tools that teach them how to interact with technology and with each other.

"Kids everywhere in the world should know how to use the digital media in their hands," she said. "They need to know how to use more than just Facebook, WhatsApp and photo-sharing sites. They need to know they can write for the web, create websites and apps, and participate in what's going on in their countries rather than fighting. I think most conflicts in the world happen because of misunderstandings between groups of people who are actually every close to each other."

What: Public tours of Palo Alto High School's Media Arts Center

Where: Palo Alto High School, 50 Embarcadero Road, Palo Alto

When: Friday, Oct. 17 from 5 to 8 p.m.

Cost: Free

Info: Go to pahs.squarespace.com

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