Akron student creates social media filter to promote engaged learning

Keeping students engaged in remote learning is one of the biggest challenges that educators and parents face during the pandemic. To tackle this problem, the Cleveland Browns Foundation, the Ohio Department of Education and Harvard University’s Proving Ground have created the Stay in the Game! Network. The network aims to promote students’ success by emphasizing the need for their daily school attendance, either in-person or virtual, and their fully engaged participation. In the 2020-2021 school year, the Stay in the Game! Network is partnering with 16 Ohio school districts, benefitting more than 110,000 students. The network provides members with access to attendance-related supports, tools and campaign materials. Among participating Ohio districts is Akron Public Schools, and one of its student has created a unique way to promote Stay in the Game!

High school senior Zachary Brown has come up with an Instagram filter that “advertises” the effort among those sharing photos and videos on the mobile app. We asked Zachary what it took to create this filter and how he has coped with virtual learning.

But first, Ms. Joanne Isaac at Akron Public Schools recruited Zachary to create the filter and she will explain a bit more about how it is used:

Q: Could you introduce yourself?

Joanne Isaac headshotMy name is Ms. Joanne Isaac and I am an instructional specialist in the Department of Teaching and Learning. I have many roles in that position and one of those roles is working on the Stay in the Game initiative in the district. I am a member of the core team that works on the campaigning and communication portions of the initiative.

Q: How exactly would someone use this filter? Especially for Instagram users who might confused about how it’s used and what it’s supposed to do and its effect.

The Instagram platform uses photos and videos for postings. Unlike Facebook that relies on texts and pictures or Twitter which relies on text alone. Though others have options to link to photos and videos, with Instagram photos and videos are the main messaging component within the platform. When using Instagram – one takes photos/videos right from the app. So the filters are a way to spice that up a bit! When a user posts to their Instagram stream, they have the option to select a filter to put over their photo or video. That is what Zaq created – a filter. It is a fun way to do a few things – make your photos and videos fun, capture more attention to your posts and spread the message as others will want to try the filter too.

The idea of having Zaq create this filter was to appeal to the student audience and get the messaging about the importance of staying in school to that group. Much of the Stay in the Game communication was directed to families. Using a platform such as Instagram, where most users are in the middle/high school -24 year old range, helps to expand that messaging reach to another audience.

Now back to Zachary for the complete story of his effort to support Stay in the Game!

Q: Tell us a bit about yourself, your interests and your plans after high school.

A: I am an 18-year-old senior at the National Inventors Hall of Fame STEM High School in Akron. I have a huge passion for aviation and engineering, and I plan to attend the University of Akron for a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering. I also plan to get my master’s eventually.

My goal is to end up in the aerospace industry designing aircraft airframes. Along with aviation, I enjoy researching military history, reading and camping in the fall and winter.

Q: Now tell us about this filter, how it works and those who helped you create it.

A: I was approached by my school principal, Dina Popa, and Joanne Isaac (an instructional specialist) to design an Instagram filter to promote the Stay in the Game! initiative involving Akron Public Schools and the Cleveland Browns Foundation.

A filter on Instagram is something a user can use while posting a photo or video to the platform. A filter can be anything from a simple background to a virtual 3D object that can be projected into the photo or video being posted.

Ms. Isaac and I communicated quite a lot to figure out what we wanted to project and to stay updated on the filter’s development. Ms. Isaac also provided me with resources and media to use in the filter.

Q: How did you work through this project?

A: It was a lot of trial and error. I had trouble understanding the documentation on using Facebook’s tool for making filters. I just had to dig around in it and see how the program worked and go from there.

Once I had the framework for a filter done, I would make about five different versions of it, usually with one core part different between versions, and choose which one I liked best. I would continue this process quite a few times for each filter until I was satisfied with the result.

screenshot of Zaq building the filter

Q: How did you learn from your mistakes?

A: As I did not have much knowledge about the development tool going into this project, most of my mistakes boiled down to me not fully understanding what each parameter did. As I used the tool more and more, I began to learn what each parameter did.

Q: How have the College and Career pathway courses at your high school helped you in this project and the partnership with the Cleveland Browns Foundation?

A: The pathway I took was not too applicable to this project, so I can’t say it helped too much. Although I took the computer science pathway, it was more focused on raw coding, which I found enjoyable, but the development of the filters were done more in a 3D development studio, rather than with raw code.

However, I was able to take a couple of engineering classes at my school before the pathway system was implemented, and the skills I learned working with community partners in that class did help in this partnership.

Q: On a more personal note, what have been your biggest challenges during the pandemic? How have you met those challenges, and what is your advice to other students about staying engaged in their learning?

A: The pandemic really hit me hard at the start. I have struggled with ADHD, which made school difficult already at some times, but the transition to online learning made it much worse. My GPA dropped, and I began underperforming in my high school and College Credit Plus courses, which hit me hard.

Over the summer, I began to recuperate and develop a plan so that I would be better prepared for the start of my senior year. I am doing much better now, however, I am still not performing at my full potential, and I am still struggling in some regards.

I am working on getting my GPA back up to where it previously was, and I am getting close. I plan to return to school when it is deemed safe, as I know I will perform much better in person.

My biggest advice to students out there is to stay safe and take care of yourselves. Your well-being matters. Good mental health is a huge factor in how well you can perform. If you aren’t doing well mentally, then it will be impossible to do well in school or pretty much anything else.

This pandemic has taken a toll on everyone’s mental health. If you aren’t doing well, talk to someone. Talk to your parents, a teacher, your counselor or principal. They will be able to help you through this. You can’t receive any help if no one knows that you need help. The better you are off mentally, the more prepared you will be for challenges that come your way and the easier they will be to conquer.

Q: How will this experience support your future goals?

A: I think this experience will look great on my resume, showing that I have the ability to take on a project like this and its responsibilities. It has also provided a unique and exciting experience that I am proud to have been chosen for.

My experience working on this project will definitely help me when it comes to working with other big foundations and companies in my future endeavors.

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