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Oral histories take ‘Digital East St. Louis’ students back in time


siueestldigitalSerenity McKenney interviews a woman at the Clyde C. Jordan Senior Center in East St. Louis.

East St. Louis middle school students are spending their summer studying the history of their community, including such topics as desegregation, pollution, industry and family traditions, and who better to learn from than the elders among them.

Through their involvement in Southern Illinois University Edwardsville’s “Digital East St. Louis” project, the students visited the Clyde C. Jordan Senior Center in East St. Louis and recorded oral histories.

The students are using the audio they captured to create podcasts that will be shared with the community. The project aims to strengthen students’ interpersonal skills and offer an opportunity to learn about analysis, audio editing and website creation.

The “Digital East St. Louis” program, now in its second of three years, uses digital humanities to study questions related to history and culture and generates interest in computing and information technologies among minority middle school-aged students. It is supported by an $846,000 Innovative Technology Experiences for Students and Teachers grant awarded to SIUE from the National Science Foundation.

“This is a STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) program where students get interested by the content, and then get drawn to technology through that content,” said Matt Johnson, instructional design and curriculum specialist with the SIUE STEM Center. “Podcasting gives them an opportunity to create something and put their own voice into it with introductions and explanations mixed with the interview audio. This gives the students a voice to show the world their city the way they want to, and learn a lot of valuable skills along the way.”

For students like 12-year-old Nathanial Brewster and 13-year-old Janiyha Cherry, podcasting is a brand new experience.

“This is a good opportunity to learn how to do different things like talking to people, meeting new people and learning new things about East St. Louis,” said Cherry. “We want to teach people that there’s actually some pretty cool things in East St. Louis, not just negative stuff.”

“I had never even heard of podcasting before now,” Brewster added. “I had never conducted an interview, so this is new to me. I wouldn’t have been able to learn anything new if it wasn’t for this program.”

“It’s a neat project, because they’re learning about things that frankly aren’t written down in many books or are hard to access, and they’re also gaining technical skills,” said Jeffrey Manuel, PhD and associate professor of historical studies at SIUE.

“Ideally, this project will spur them to think about positive changes that could happen in the future. That’s truly the end goal.”

The students’ podcasts will be featured on the website they are creating through the program, They will also be showcasing their work at the senior center in August.

The program runs all week for four weeks through the summer, as well as 15 Saturdays during the school year. Through the NSF grant, up to 50 students can participate. Students receive breakfast, a snack and lunch, along with free transportation to a local middle school.

Interested sixth through ninth graders can apply for the “Digital East St. Louis” project by contacting Matt Johnson at

— From the Illinois Business Journal  via SIUE news services

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