Today, for the first time ever in one of my lessons I had a whole class active on their phones, headphones on and experiencing a piece of serious thematic lesson material. We were using an app that connected strongly with our current lessons based around how artists and other creative people tackle subjects such as immigration and refugees in their work.
For more than half an hour there was silence in the room and eyes were fixed on the small screens as the pupils were challenged to make decisions for an imaginary refugee fleeing persecution in Malaysia.
The app that we were using was ‘Finding Home’ made by the UNHCR a couple of years ago to give users insights into how the life of such a refugee is and their dependence on the communication opportunities offered by a smartphone.
It is an interesting approach and engaged the pupil’s attention fantastically well. The app, in effect, takes over the phone of the user and makes it work like the phone of the refugee in the story. The app presents a story in which there are choices to be made by the user that will alter what happens and the course of events. In a sense it is not unlike some forms of literature that offer the reader the chance to make decisions and choices as the story progresses.
The app goes a step further though in that it also offers access to the photos, video and phone calls of the user, thus making it a much more immersive experience, one that continually engages you with choices, new developments and lurking in the background a constant feeling of danger.
The reaction of the pupils at the end of the lesson was positive. The narrative that drives the storyline that the app develops was engaging and held their attention. There was even a suggestion I feel that they would actually have liked the app to have had even greater complexity and length, a positive, I think. It will be a while yet before I ask the class to make a comparison between the various cultural media used to deal with these sensitive political issues. It will be then that truly find out what the whole class thought of the way we spent the lesson and how the experience weighs in against immigration narratives developed by filmmakers, writers and visual artists in the other examples that we will be looking at.