Strength of Characters: Getting to Know the Zed Omegas

EZO site

At first glance, it's tempting to just surf the eye-catching site for Ed Zed Omega (EZO), Localore's "collaborative thought experiment" produced by Ken Eklund with his team at TPT. Updates have been coming fast and furious from the seven fictional high schoolers who are "zed omega"—i.e., "so over"—with their education, and actively seeking advice on how best to "rise out" rather than drop out.

But simply browsing the posts, tweets, videos, emails, phone calls and more produced by the Zed Omegas and participants is only dipping a toe in the water. The real payoff comes from diving deeper, getting to know why each character has been contemplating leaving school, and how their semester of crowdsourced open study has shaped their next steps.

Just as a fictional drama can draw viewers into the lives of the protagonists, EZO offers participants opportunities to empathize, disagree, or grapple with the students' choices. Here, though, you can move beyond the role of fan, into co-creating the narrative. Jump in this week to join the online dialogue before the students' semester draws to a close.

Up Close and Personal

Connecting with the characters face-to-face has proven quite powerful too, prompting impassioned discussions of how and why education should change. As Andi McDaniel, TPT's interactive producer who has been working closely with Eklund told Current, “explaining what an alternate-reality thought experiment is, can get bogged down in concept...But if you’re interacting with someone playing a role, there’s no explanation required.”

An event at the Walker Art Center in late October demonstrated the concept in action. The Zed Omegas laid out a map of the "World of School Issues," featuring "islands" labeled with topics related to education and life choices. Participants were invited to call a cell phone number and record their reactions to the islands they stood on. Here's a video of the Zed Omegas walking visitors through the process:

Listen to one participant's reflection on how school was "one of the best times of my life that I'd never want to do over again."

This Thursday, EZO will return to the Walker Arts Center to participate in the Student Open House event. The broader theme of the night is "identity crisis," and the Zed Omegas will be on hand to engage attendees around the labels that high-schoolers adopt or reject—from familiar stereotypes like "geek" or "jock" to the more personal or aspirational.

In a wide, glass-walled corridor facing a busy thoroughfare, Eklund explains, the Zed Omegas will post a set of generic paper silhouettes of people. They'll customize their own with labels based on their characters, and then encourage participants to respond by writing notes on the silhouettes, personalizing their own, or calling into the project's hotline to reflect further. The goal, says Eklund, is to unpack how "identity is created, expressed and evolved when you're in school."

Character Catch-Up

Not in Minnesota? You can still follow each Zed Omega's trajectory—and the ways in which participants have influenced them—by clicking on one of the color-coded graphics on the site, and then scrolling to the bottom of the post to select the tag for the character's name.

Edwina's decision

For example, scroll through the site to find the graphic at left, and then click on the post's "edwinacurrie" tag to discover that Edwina is emerging from a bumpy few months with a new sense of purpose. 

She'd already dropped out at 17, and returning to school at 21 for her GED, she found herself uninspired once again. Her early posts express her yearning to find a meaningful life path, but in September she was thrown off kilter when her parents insisted that if she wouldn't finish school, she'd have to move out. A death in the family further reinforced her sense of isolation. But along the way, a series of exchanges with EZO participants helped her to think through her next steps. 

In response to an email from Valéria M. Souza, Edwina wrote "Basically, I do not feel that school is something students should have to suffer through. ...I don’t want to stick it out. I want school to be a good thing." In an exchange with the author of a guide for teens looking to "opt out" of school, she resolved, "My plan, as of now, is to make a plan." A blog conversation with Ray Kimball helped her think through her parents' perspective on her life choices. And last week, bolstered by an encouraging chat at the Walker event, Edwina came to a decision: to return to school to become a social worker, like the EZO's guidance counselor Mary Johnson

"After everything that Mary Johnson and this experience has done for me, I would love to be able to pursue helping future students that I know will have the same issues with education and just need someone to tell them that they’re not drains on society, and they’re not ruining their lives," she writes. "They simply wish to pursue a different path in life."

Intrigued? Learn more about the other characters here, and stay tuned for details from Thursday's event.


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