A Digital Time Capsule Will Archive the Websites 21st Century Students Find Relevant

Posted by Liz Dwyer

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How will future generations know what websites 21st century students accessed and considered critical to their lives and learning experiences? It turns out the archeologist of tomorrow won't be digging up a time capsule from someone's backyard. Thanks to the K12 Web Archiving Program, a three-year-old partnership between the Internet Archive and the Library of Congress, students at 14 schools in 13 states are creating digital time capsules of the sites they believe are representative of the modern student experience. In the process, these student curators are also learning valuable critical thinking, collaboration and problem solving skills.

While the Internet Archive and Library of Congress have created time capsules of the digital content accessed by adults over the past 10 years, in 2008 they realized they weren't capturing the growing online experiences of K-12 students. The youth perspective is an important one to add to the historical record—25 percent of the sites being archived by these student curators are new, meaning that adults either weren't accessing them or didn't see them as important to record.

Indeed, while classroom teachers manage the relationship with the program and play a role in curating the site, the archive collections are completely student driven. The students autonomously decide on collection themes and identify which websites will be primary sources. They're also in charge of writing brief descriptions for each site and explaining why they chose to include them in the collection.

So what kinds of sites are the students including? Eighth graders at Ames Middle School in Ames, Iowa, for example, have archived a whopping 19,240,220 web pages. Their collection includes everything from sites for pop culture news and the local pizza parlor, to college and career planning resources. Kristine Hanna, the director of archiving services at Internet Archive told eSchool News that she felt one of the most memorable collections came in 2008 when fifth graders at P.S. 56, a mostly low-income, minority school in Queens, New York curated "Flower Power"—a compilation of 153,456 URLs with "web content consisting of floral drawings and pictures." The students were inspired to create the collection by the lack of flower gardens in their neighborhood.

This year the school's students curated "Yearn to Learn" a collection which they say is designed to encourage, "children all around the globe to conquer their fear... to learn!" Principal Nene Alperstein says she's glad her students have had the opportunity to participate in the project, saying, "I think this offers learning in so many areas and that this is truly a 21st century activity relevant to our digital learners."

photo via med.miami.edu