Friday, January 13, 2006


Watch a 15-yr-old in a school computer lab and you'll see something new to a generation: yurting. Like Mongol nomads, the students pack their familiar things, move to a new pasture on an established route, and set up a temporary home. The goods, however, are virtual, and the landscape is digital. A yurt (actually a stretch of grazing land, but often used for the circular Mongol tent or gher) is an encampment built by students where they store and display photos, songs, movies, software, sites, and text -- a changing scene which reflects (and alters) individual and group identities. This is something different than putting family photos up in the office cubicle, or wearing something that reflects personality -- it is an external, dynamic, and portable "unpacking" that changes with the context. Students are erecting yurts which articulate their values, goals, tastes, and trends -- at arms length (literally) from their own words and actions.

Stewing, like yurting, is a new phenomenon in our age of technology-inflenced learning. A stew, for the purpose of this discussion, is the product of research, exploration, synthesis, and identification that learners experience when working on tasks in an online envrironment. Often taking the form of a video or multimedia preentation, the stew is a place to stick all the "stuff" a student finds relevant to a topic under investigation. Initially, the stew is often a computer desktop full of video clips, text files, url links, mp3s, jpegs, and gifs. In the past, the project-junk which was hunted and gathered in magazines, libraries, and textbooks, was then copied or redrawn and pasted onto a poster. Now, it is archived and retrieved in a system designed by the learner. The pathways to the information (and thus, I suppose, the learning process) has the potential to be much more synced to a learner's own style than the pre-planned research in the past. The stew can still taste pretty bad, but there is (maybe) a greater sense of ownership. Mongol nomads called there stews "sulen" if someone would like to play with this idea in the yurting metaphor.