“We shape our tools and thereafter our tools shape us” Marshall McLuhan
The goal of media education is to make our students thoughtful consumers and users of media. We know that in many ways our world is shaped by mass media and the fact that new technology is coming at us with ever-increasing speed suggests that young people need the tools to assess the effects or at least to be aware of the effects. There are four overall expectations in the Media strand: Understanding Media texts, Understanding Media forms, conventions and techniques, Creating Media texts and Reflecting on skills and strategies. In the past ten years, access to simple-to-use technology has become available and it is no longer difficult for students to create media texts. As a result, English teachers have latched onto this and have incorporated some media-based project into their classes. A good example of this is the web-based software called Fakebook which allows students to create Facebook like pages for characters in a story and to have them interact. The positive aspects of something like this are that it is a contemporary connection and the students probably enjoy doing it. However, without an examination of the conventions and effects of Facebook itself, this is only addressing one expectation and not even that effectively if you are not asking the students to address the question of why this would be an appropriate form. My point is that teachers are not examining the first two expectations in the strand very often, probably because they are not sure how to work them into their present courses of study.
I have a few suggestions as to how this can be changed to make it more manageable for teachers: One thing that has to change is that teachers need to stop seeing Media education as a way to extend their literature studies. By that I mean that making a video or podcast on a topic connected to a novel is not Media studies ( I use this example because I have done exactly that). However, if you had looked at the conventions of film making, how films create meaning, who controls the industry, how the business aspect affects film etc. then this would be an appropriate assignment. So, one way to approach it would be to prepare a unit on the medium before you ask students to use it ( back to my Facebook example).
Another approach could be to take a topic like narrative and make that a focus. We have many print examples obviously, but how do films construct narrative, what is the narrative structure of Facebook, how is YouTube changing our view of narrative, how is gaming using conventional narrative and creating new forms ? Bias is another topic that could be used this way. Using a thematic topic allows teachers to work within their comfort zone but still learn about Media.
Finally, I think there has to be intervention at the school board level. The vagueness of the Ministry document is not about to be changed in the near future but the role of curriculum services is to ensure that Ministry guidelines are put into practice. I suggest that this is a very worthwhile use of some of their budget.
1. The curriculum service department should focus on identifying a set of ideas and skills that should be taught at the secondary level. The majority of teachers have not taken the time to figure out what it is they are supposed to be teaching in Media. They need to have this done for them. It should focus on key media concepts, what they mean and how they can be illustrated.
2. Every text we teach in school has teacher’s guides, lesson plans and literary criticism available for it. Quite frankly, it is through these materials, that most people learn how to structure their lessons, at least initially. But this is not true for Media studies. There are lessons available on various web sites such as MediaSmarts but most lessons have to be created by the teacher using a variety of materials. I’d like to see curriculum services create a bank of essential lessons that a teacher can use or at least start with. This would be useful PD if it were included with the key concepts.
Ideally, Media education would be part of other curricula since it is hardly exclusive to teaching English. Cross-curricular discussion points could be set up between English and Social Studies, for example. In a few years, technology will be a bigger part of the average classroom. The goal of Media education is to not blindly accept technology without an awareness of its impact.