14 July 2005

Media Smarts

Have you heard grumbles from teachers (perhaps even yourself) about a time when kids were "easier" to teach? A time when they had longer attention spans?

Consider the following:

A national Kaiser Family Foundation survey found children and teens are spending an increasing amount of time using “new media” like computers, the Internet and video games, without cutting back on the time they spend with "old" media like TV, print, and music. Instead, because of the amount of time they spend using more than one medium at a time (for example, going online while watching TV), they're managing to pack increasing amounts of media content into the same amount of time each day.

I am certainly guilty of some of this, too. Why else would I continue to wonder why technology is supposed to make life easier...and yet I don't have any more "time" in my day? Every time I have added something (e-mail, cell phone, PDA...), I haven't taken anything away. How did I expect these things to make my life nicer when I didn't use them to replace "slower" modes of dealing with the world. I just added to what I juggle in my school bag.

Anyway, the implications for kids include

"...students in grades 3-12 spend an average of six hours and twenty-one minutes plugged in to some type of media each day. Accounting for multitasking, the figure jumps to about eight and a half hours including nearly four hours of TV viewing and forty-nine minutes of video game play. Comparatively, homework gets slightly less than fifty minutes of attention. For this digital generation, electronic media is increasingly seductive, influential, and pervasive, yet most schools treat the written word as the only means of communication worthy of study. Therefore, most American students remain poorly equipped to think critically about, and express themselves through, the media that defines them.

"Media literacy means various things to different people, encompassing everything from the basics of graphic design to critical analysis of advertising images and news broadcasts. 'One of the radical ideas behind media education is to make school more student centered,' says Robert Kubey, director of Rutgers University's Center for Media Studies. 'That isn't to say that we pander to whatever students are interested in so that the whole curriculum is about video games and rap music. But we want to understand a little better about the pleasures and interests that students have and use that as an avenue to have intellectual and analytic discourse about these products. Could they be better? What makes this one good? Are there moral values being taught? In other words, reach kids where they live.'" (Edutopia)

This is an interesting take on things. All too often, I hear from teachers that we aren't entertainers. We are all for making learning as engaging as possible, but it is not our job to sing and dance and give lessons in sound bites. (I'm sure I've said these things myself...and on more than one occasion.) But it is interesting to look at it through the lens described above. Can we use media to somehow "reach kids where they live" and then find a way to use that to teach them to think critically about the "media that defines them"?

I wonder about the infrastructure necessary for this kind of change in education. Will schools have the technology (LCD projectors, SmartBoards...) to help carry this out? Will we be able to train teachers to look at media the way their students do---and then find ways to use it in our classes? Can we have the support personnel to supply expertise in the classroom for these projects?

As usual...I don't have any answers to these questions. But I do like thinking about them. It keeps me on the lookout for ideas that might fit. Things for teachers in my district to try. Possible ways to fund the hardware we need. Conferences to attend. I don't expect to find the magic panacea to all that ills the classroom, but maybe I can help piece a few things together in the interim.

Many thanks to my Sweetie for sending the Edutopia link to me this morning.

Update: An article published the next day in eSchool news provided another idea for managing this technology. Have a look!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I don't want you to reach my kids where they live, or might live if I didn't keep them from the TV and Internet 8 hours a day.

My kids live in a passive, pseudo-hypercommuncative world where active thought, imagination, and contemplation are given short shrift.

Since the State demands I hand my children to Professional Educators for 6 hours a day, I prefer you challenge them to actively participate instead of passively accept data.

On to your more practical questions.

Will schools have the technology to help carry this out?

No. It's expensive, and it's risky.

Will we be able to train teachers to look at media the way their students do?

No. The whole point is that my 10-year-old can't imagine life without 100+ cable channels, the Internet, and cell phones. She doesn't "look at media." These media are ubiquitous, fused into her life. Try to explain "Saturday Morning Cartoons" to your average 8-year-old. Or, better yet, have your average 8-year-old explain to you what it's like to have multiple channels of cartoons available whenever she wants them.

Can we have the support personnel to supply expertise in the classroom for these projecs?

No. See the answer above. If you are unable to develop the vision and manage the technology without the support of a person who will have to be paid at least twice what you make, you are not ready to have it.

All this technology is glitzy and fun, but at the end of the day we have to remember a cold, hard fact. Education master's candidates as an aggregate have the lowest GRE scores of _anybody_. They chose education because they love to be with and interact with people, small people, and not technology.

The steep learning curve and the awful amounts of time that have to be spent in front of the demon screen are giant drawbacks to incorporating technology into primary and secondary ed classrooms, as far as I'm concerned.