February 24, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

The Debut: The Teen Technology Project, Jeremie Miller

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Former teacher and virtual event entrepreneur Jeremie Miller created the Teen Technology Project to express his passion for technology, teens, and social issues. After discovering it on Facebook, I got in touch with Miller and asked him to tell me more about his hopes and aspirations for the project, which is designed to put simulcast and virtual event technologies into the hands of teens in order to provide these services to nonprofit organizations.

How did you get the idea for the Teen Technology Project?

Two years ago, I took time off from teaching because I didn’t feel I was having the impact I wanted in the Teen Technology Projectclassroom. I didn’t want to become a cranky teacher, but I didn’t have the energy to “change the system” so I took a break. I started my own business, but I’ve always been trying to think of ways that I can return to working with teenagers.

In my business, Your Event Without Borders, a live video-streaming technology service provider, I often get contacted by nonprofit organizations or causes that would like to use my services to spread their message but can’t afford to pay me. I’m currently working with some of these groups, but cannot afford to work with them all for free.

In June, I attended a 24-hour virtual retreat for businesses, and while meditating on all the pieces of my business and my passions, the idea struck me: What if I combined my business with working with teens outside of the traditional education system?

I realized that the nonprofits that had been contacting me would be great clients for teens to work with. The teens could get valuable experiences, and the nonprofits could get much-needed help.

From there, the vision continues to grow, but a key idea in the project is that the teenagers will control decisions, so I’m holding back on my own vision so that the teens have room to create their own.

How have teens reacted to the project?

The first group I spoke to had specifically come at lunchtime to talk to me about the project. Their own interests included filmmaking, online broadcasting, Web design, gaming, and photography. They quickly “got it” and started asking questions about the idea and the scope. One of them is already doing some YouTube broadcasting and appreciated the idea of having a more professional platform to work with. They were also excited about the idea of having better equipment and software and a place to work from. This group is busy spreading the word now, and I’ll be meeting with them later this month.

The second group I spoke to was a senior art class with about 20 students. Their reactions ranged from not listening to me at all, to not being interested in the idea, to asking me questions and writing down my information so they can contact me when they have some artwork ready for the project. Some of these students also saw the possibility of doing contract work for the nonprofits or other clients and spreading their artwork beyond their parents and classroom.

The costs of starting up the Teen Technology Project are clearly outlined in your Indiegogo document. I noticed that you’ve included costs for studio time. Have you considered partnering with the local Kootenay libraries for space and Internet access to reduce costs?

This is a decision that will be up to the teens once we have a group of interested “business teens” ready to start making these decisions. The plan is to go with these teens and view different options ranging from spaces like the library up to monthly rental space. With the money raised, one of their decisions will be about whether the best investment is in a free low-cost or high-cost studio space. I want them to have ownership over this decision.

One major factor with the library space would be making sure it had a fast enough and stable enough Internet to run some of the live broadcasting software we may be using, as well as the ability of the teens to personalize the space with their own posters and artwork.

I think figuring out these types of pros and cons will be a great first challenge for the teens.

KAST GLOWSThe Kootenay Association of Science and Technology (KAST) provided you with some important connections and guidance. Can you talk a bit about that organization and its Growing Learning Opportunities with Science (GLOWS) program?

I’m currently meeting with KAST to figure out the different ways we can work together to spread the idea of the project and benefit everyone involved. With some of the money already raised, the Teen Technology Project sponsored the L.V. Rogers Secondary School team in the November 10 GLOWS robotics competition.  Normally, I would like the involved teenagers to make decisions like this, but it was too great of an opportunity to start making an immediate impact and spread the word.

I also attended a KAST workshop recently and met some of the speakers at that event who I’m planning on bringing into the project as guest speakers to talk with teens. We’re also discussing getting some of the teens to attend a KAST grant-writing workshop so they can learn how to write grants and start looking for some alternative funding for the project.

According to 2008 data from Statistics Canada, self-employment and service jobs are higher in the Kootenay area than in other provinces of British Columbia. Do you think those factors will encourage young adults in the area to be more entrepreneurial?

This is a great question and to be honest I’m not sure, but I’m hoping to find out. From my time teaching in the area, most of the kids I worked with were planning on following a traditional educational arc: graduate from high school and attend college or university, or get a full-time job. I wasn’t exposed to a large group of entrepreneurial teens. However, I was teaching math and science, which generally put me in contact with kids that are probably more inclined to head down the college/university route.

If there isn’t an entrepreneurial trend in the area already, one of my big hopes is that the Teen Technology Project will start to create that inclination in the area. One of the big questions the project is asking in my head is, What would happen if teens were exposed to the entrepreneurial spirit at a young age? I’m really looking forward to answering that question and seeing what happens.

Thinking of your former work as a high school teacher and your current business, Your Event Without Borders, how do you think simulcasts can be built into the education system to benefit students and teachers?

This technology could have a huge impact on the education system. Schools and students in British Columbia are spread out in a number of small communities, and sometimes it can be hard to provide content specialists in all of these areas. Currently, kids are learning some of these subject areas via recorded online classes and reading materials, but the technology I use in my business would change the way this looks.

You could set up a teacher and classroom in one location, and then stream that video feed live to other locations where students could join those classes and learn in real time. You could set up live discussion groups in different areas so teens in more isolated areas would have a peer group to discuss topics with. You could afford to bring in bigger name speakers for teacher professional development and pay for those speakers by broadcasting that event to multiple schools. Library programs could bring in authors that normally wouldn’t come to a small area, by broadcasting that author’s talk to multiple locations and increase the audience.

My mind goes in a million different directions with the possibilities of this technology for education, and I think with the right implementation, it could make a great difference in B.C—though I think we have to be careful with its use, too, so we don’t turn all teaching experiences into students staring into a non-interactive computer screen.

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Dodie Ownes About Dodie Ownes

Dodie Ownes left the glamorous world of retrospective conversion and disco to jump on the library vendor train. Since then, she has been learning at the feet of the masters about all things library. Dodie lives in Golden, Colorado, where even the sign which arches the main street says "Howdy."

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