Helping Teachers Learn About New Media Practices (Part Two)

Often, the teaching of the new media literacies is understood as either the domain of a specific digital specialist or as the work of language arts or arts instructors. Yet you offer many examples of how and why this approach should impact other disciplinary domains. Why should these skills and knowledge be integrated across the curriculum?

Erin:

If you look at these three words, New + Media + Literacies …there are different ways to interpret them. You could read it as “New Media” Literacies or “New” Media Literacies. Either way, there is no wrong answer.

“New” Media Literacies does build upon the media literacy movement where we move from being empowered by media to critically analyze the media we consume through asking important reflective questions to now being producers of media ourselves. And in this new role as producer, there are new questions to ask and new ways to think and act on how to be an integral part of shaping and contributing my perception of the world.

But also, “New Media” Literacies is a new form of literacy and helps teachers understand that our students are reading and writing in new ways. Reading and writing was once relegated to reading books and writing papers, but now we write into meaning through new media such as video, audio or even construction of physical objects.

A possible hypothesis is that the educational system has not caught up with the shifting landscape of participatory culture where there are new ways to read, write, and compute numbers.

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This shift changes the focus of literacy from individual expression to community involvement where creativity and active participation are the hallmark. And it makes it increasingly important to understand and be competent in the skills of citizenship, art, and expression of social connectivity. These are the skills identified in our white paper as the New Media Literacies and ones we need to foster as we think about education.

We are in a paradigm shift in the classroom where educators need to work in the gap between life and school. You only have to observe your students outside of the classroom for a few hours to see that they are immersed in this digital culture. This is not a “special treat if they’re good” sort of immersion but a complete shift. It’s their way of life. Incorporating participatory practices into the classroom — such as remixing, Wikipedia, SNS, or even mobile — allows for a blurring of boundaries between informal and formal learning and harnesses the power of digital technologies for students to reflect on the participatory culture that they live in.

This provides teachers an opportunity to offer learning objectives in their classrooms in a new way, while at the same time offering students opportunities to read and write their cultural practices that are central to their own everyday experience.

You point to a kind of generation gap around Wikipedia where students love it and teachers are wary. What do you see as meaningful steps forward in addressing these different perceptions of the value of Wikipedia? Are there examples of teachers who are effectively integrating Wikipedia into their teaching?

Jessica:

A first step is for our educational community to view Wikipedia as a collaborative learning environment. At first glance Wikipedia is perceived as simply an online encyclopedia–it’s a product. Our community should look beyond the surface and focus on Wikipedia as a venue for contributing, editing and the sharing of one’s expertise. For me, educators can learn a lot by creating low-risk environments in which making mistakes and struggling to come to an answer are the norm. Although someone can delete my additions to a Wikipedia entry, I can engage in a conversation around why this happened. I am part of a larger discussion around the creation and sharing of knowledge rather than being told I am incorrect and here is the right answer. Engaging a student can depend on whether or not she believes her input matters. Yet an engaged student must also be open to negotiation, revision, and change as these are inherent to the learning process. I learn from my mistakes just as I learn from my accomplishments.

I also think that Wikipedia should not be banned in schools (although there are issues of determining the appropriateness of content). I think it is an excellent starting point for research–as long as both teachers and students understand its strengths and weaknesses. And this means that all teachers need to teach what it means to research something in their disciplines. The act of researching is an act of accessing, analyzing, evaluating, and assessing information as well as its source. These skills are vital to our digital media age and get at the heart of bias, perspective, objectivity/subjectivity.

Erin:

The first meaningful step to recommend is for school administrators and teachers to better understand Wikipedia’s practice and the importance of the new media literacies that are gained in its practice.

Wikipedia was a predominant activity we encouraged in NML’s pilot studies last year. However, this activity had numerous road-blocks. We had one teacher comment, “When I’ve looked at pages in Wikipedia, I’ve found that some are not very accurate or complete. I’ll use it in my classroom, when they go in and fix it.” This shows that we need to help teachers understand that “they” is the community of users and that community could include the teacher and her students. We also found that Wikipedia was often blocked at the schools we piloted our resources in, and had to go to measures to get it unblocked in order to use it for the class period.

One of the most valuable segments of Wikipedia’s use was observing Global Kids’ Media Masters program create the Prospect Heights Campus Wikipedia Project, which spanned five weeks. The Wikipedia page about the Prospect Heights Campus was a place for students to document information about the campus, its schools, history, and whatever else the students decided was important to include in an entry – and a place for them to do so publicly and neutrally. There are many examples of a structured learning environment of wikis or wiki pages being created; however, Global Kids chose to use Wikipedia and not develop a pbwiki or something similar for just their group of students to view.

Trying to replicate Wikipedia through pbwiki, or some other wiki software, certainly has its benefits. It is what might be termed a “walled garden” approach, allowing students to tinker with wiki software and yet not be exposed to the potentially disruptive larger Internet. However, choosing a walled garden approach also has many costs. Students who already use the internet know very well what is actually “out there,” and the walled garden runs the risk of losing their interest – because, after all, a walled garden isn’t the “real world.” Even if students are unfamiliar with the Internet, using a walled garden approach precludes the possibility of emergent learning.

If a teacher develops a project in a walled garden, that is where it stays. It cannot become part of the information ecology of the web, and students cannot thereby learn about community participation. Nor can they be convinced that their work has any greater significance than “something I had to do to get a grade.” They know very well that their work will never receive any attention from people who are not in their class.

In Global Kids’ Media Masters class, however, the students were energized by the knowledge that 1) they were filling a real need on Wikipedia, and 2) their work was going to become part of the great online knowledge base. The students prepared their page, but when it came time to copy and paste it into Wikipedia, they were nervous, excited, and thrilled. The act of pushing the “submit” button – that is, the act of submitting their classwork to their teacher – was suddenly pregnant with significance. They weren’t just turning in homework. They were putting themselves out there and helping shape the way the public would see their high school – would see them.

You make a strong case for the value of remix practices for learning, yet many teachers are stuck back at square one, expressing concerns about plagerism and wondering whether remix really does foster creativity. How can you speak to this long-standing concern of educators? Are they wrong to worry about issues of ownership and authorship in the new digital age or are there important differences between remix and plagerism?

Erin:

Right now, technology, new social norms and economics are all going through radical change and history has shown that at this point of convergence, moral structures break down and need to be re-built (E. P. Thompson).

It’s a known fact that probably every teacher reading this has seen in the classroom a form of plagiarism facilitated by digital media. Existing laws on copyright may not match social norms and this crossroads is predicated even more with the rise of remix culture and the ability to meaningfully sample content and create new pieces of work. Shephard Fairey’s Hope poster of Barack Obama is a perfect example of one of the most powerful images ever created that captured the moment of political change being foreground now with the legal battle of messiness where people are taking sides as to where they stand on Fair Use. Even artists are at a crossroads.

Through all of this though – teens are still remixing. You only have to go to YouTube to see the latest remix posted. Should we leave our students alone to wade through this muckiness themselves or is it our responsibility to mentor them in their process?

Encouraging remix in the classroom provides new venues of learning and interacting with our students. Teachers can guide youth to better reflect on these new forms of creation and know the difference between plagiarism and appropriation — the ability to meaningfully sample and remix media content. We can help students to support their argument for their creative expression and identify other works that inspired them during their process. We can provide opportunities to explore how we author new creations with regards to point of view, character, themes, etc. and give practice to understanding copyright protection and a broader sense of authorial responsibility.

So yes, there is concern for this but the question to ask yourself is, “Are you going to blame new media as the problem or are you going to look to it as a possible solution?” Perhaps this moment in history gives us pause to rethink what are the projects we ask of our students to do? Is an essay the only way your learning objective can be met? Are their other creative practices that provide new forms of reflection and learning?

Your book’s contributors involve both academic researchers and practicing educators. What do you see as the most important points or contact or divergence between the ways these two contributors approached the concerns the book raises?

Jessica:

Classroom teachers are often voicing their concerns about a lack of opportunity to sit down with their colleagues and discuss important issues; time is not allocated for them to be part of a learning community. I have had similar experiences as a professor in academia. In both realms, there is a tendency to work extremely hard in isolation. My hope is that this book can serve as a conduit for academic researchers and practicing educators to talk about their findings, their experiences, and their hopes for new and different teaching and learning environments. We must remember that there is always something to learn about our disciplines by looking outside of them.

What I find wonderful about the contributors to the book is that researchers like danah boyd would welcome an opportunity to sit down with classroom teachers and talk about the ethics of social networks and what it means to be part of a network, just as English teacher Amy Crawford would jump at a chance to talk to researchers about her students as textual borrowers–as remixers and media makers in her classroom. There are many points of interest here and, to be frank, we must be open to these kinds of trans-academic connections and discussions because we need each other as allies to move forward in rethinking learning, literacy, and technology integration.

Much of the book tries to help teachers overcome their anxieties about working with new media technologies and practices. So, let me ask, which concerns do you think are valid? Where should teachers and schools go slowly in embracing these new media?

Maryanne:

With regard to embracing technology, I think that teachers need think through the consequences of implementing any innovation. For example if a teacher hosts a blog where students post satiric pieces about the school, the administration might feel that some of the postings conflict with the image of the school they wish to project to the community. In any social network there are going to be “in-house” jokes that might puzzle or even offend outsiders. Teachers need to take a clear look at new media practices and consider how they will change when they are employed in school settings. With the ability to broadcast thoughts, ideas and products, also comes the responsibility for considering who the audience will be and how they might respond.

Any time a teacher is asking students to perform activities in a virtual environment, be it posting on a website, or interacting in an immersive setting, she must consider her duties to guide, protect and mentor her students. Teacher need to think the way they do when they take students on field trips and make clear guidelines regarding their expectations. It is not foolish to be cautious; it would only be foolish to miss out on incredible opportunities for learning simply because teachers were not willing to plan and prepare for the excursion.

Jessica:

Technology can be a scary proposition for some teachers. For both novice and veteran technology users, integrating this element into their curriculum and feeling the need to be knowledgeable can be intimidating and anxiety inducing. Additionally, teachers rarely have time to pursue their own professional development (e.g. PD that isn’t mandated by the school/district), which would allow them to bring something new to their curriculum. The anxiety comes from feeling like there is too much technology to learn, too little time to learn it, and not enough of the right support from employers to really grapple with it. One option is to utilize the knowledge of the classroom: no one knows everything about technology so who knows how to do what? Is there an opportunity for students, parents, or community members to step up in a technological role? Even though this shift in thinking may challenge our notions of authority and expertise within a classroom, it opens up the possibility to create a community of learners made up of both teachers and students working toward a common goal.

Since we know that time and anxiety are key issues for teachers, then let’s change the culture of professional development: let’s view PD not as a one-day affair with an “expert” but as an ongoing project with a group of educators dedicated to learning, creating, discussing, experimenting, and reflecting on their philosophy of technology and its integration.

You have created this book to spark conversations with teachers. What steps have you taken to continue this dialogue once the book is published?

Jessica:

It seemed illogical to invite classroom teachers to join a discussion without offering an online space to help promote and nurture such a discussion. I created this social network (http://teachingtechsavvykids.com) in the hopes that both researchers and practicing educators could connect and discuss issues important to them as well as the issues the book addresses. I view the site as a way to collaborate, share stories of hope, frustration, and change, and tackle some of the tough questions of this profound moment. Ann Lauriks, a middle school counselor who contributed to the book, has already promised to write another piece to share with the new online community. In addition, some of the researchers who contributed to the book along with other colleagues have expressed interest in sharing their ideas and personal experiences within this space. I am excited to see the enthusiasm and ongoing commitment to continue this discussion and collaboration and I hope all educators will feel inclined to participate.

Maryanne Berry enjoys a high school teaching career that has spanned a

quarter of a century. The longer she teaches, the more fascinated she

becomes with the ways young people learn. She is currently a doctoral

candidate in the Graduate School of Education at U.C. Berkeley

Phil Halpern is the lead teacher of Communication Arts and Sciences, a

small school within Berkeley High School, where he teaches a variety of

English and communications classes. He traces his interest in media

education to the weekly television news program he helped produce while in

high school back in the earliest days of videotape.

Erin B. Reilly is the research director for Project New Media Literacies

first at MIT and now at USC. She is a recognized expert in the design and

development of thought-provoking and engaging educational content powered

by virtual learning and new media applications, known best for her work

with women and girls in Zoey’s Room.

Jessica K. Parker is currently an assistant professor at Sonoma State

University, and she studies how secondary schools integrate multimedia

literacy into academic literacy learning. She has taught middle school,

high school, and college students for over a decade and has also created

and taught professional development courses for teachers.

Comments

  1. nepaliain says:

    I would suggest that the relevance of web-based research is part of a wider discussion relating to Information Literacy and the role of school librarians.

    If literacy encompasses the ‘text’ as whole then surely English is the curriculum bastion, which lends itself most to change and development. Media literacy, information literacy, visual literacy etc could all be encompassed by what we traditionally call English?

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