31 May, 2007

Media literacy and classroom 2.0

In the previous post I reflected on Danah Boyd's article "Social Network Sites: Public, Private or What?" I want to build on the media literacy connection she made at the end of her essay and share one more "ah-hah."

To review, Boyd acknowledges the challenge the social networking revolution places on educators: how do we embrace these technologies while helping young people to negotiate the shifting line between the public and the private spheres? She recommends educators take the "engage, don't enrage" approach, to avoid imposing rules on student use and to instead prepare students by talking to them openly about the potential stumbling blocks associated with networking. She writes, "There are different ways to approach conversing with students. The most obvious is through curriculum, under the broader umbrella of media literacy."

She doesn't elaborate much beyond this point, except to say that in addition to media literacy curriculum, teachers in other disciplines can stimulate dialogue about the impact of these new technologies on our society. For example, think of the debate topics, writing prompts, or discussion starters a teacher might generate based on this recent report about a high school senior who is contesting a 40-day suspension based on his alleged involvement in the production of a YouTube video that targets a teacher at his school.

Only thing is, I would argue that a classroom teacher who regularly draws on current events and media artifacts to enhance course content in the manner described above is essentially doing media education. In other words, the curriculum doesn't have to be a separate, add-on course. It's a big debate in media education circles: should media literacy be achieved through a cross-disciplinary, integrated approach or through media courses taught in isolation?

Personally, when it comes to media education, I wish it was viable for schools to pursue a "both/and" approach. I imagine a foundational class, taught perhaps at the eighth or ninth grade level. This class introduces the essential principles and habits of mind that are the backbone of media education. (Look at this quick conceptual framework at the Canadian Media Awareness Network web site. For a complete introduction, nothing beats the MediaLit Kit from the Center for Media Literacy.) Ideally, this curriculum would be supported by a faculty and school administration who are well-versed in the media education paradigm and continually apply the principles to new media and technologies as they emerge throughout a child's four-year high school career. Again, I am just imagining the ideal.

Now for the "ah-hah" moment.

Last month when I unveiled my Dreamweaver project site, called Publish Me!, I wrote about my effort to address Internet safety concerns and my fear that, in doing so, I may have degraded whatever shred of the web 2.0 sensibility there was on the site. One question I had pertained to the appropriateness of linking to these "think before you post" PSAs produced by the Ad Council in cooperation with the U.S. Department of Justice. Do the PSAs possess any instructional value whatsoever, or are they nothing more than scare tactics and hype?

After reading Boyd's article, however, it occurred to me that the PSAs indeed have instructional value if they are approached through the media literacy paradigm. The obvious solution is to turn the Internet safety buzz (or "hype," as some would term it) into an opportunity for critical inquiry. Let the PSA target audience, the teens themselves, judge whether the ads are helpful or problematic.

Watch this PSA about posting digital images online and then consider how you might facilitate a classroom discussion about its "constructedness," its embedded values, its purpose, its intended audience, and so on. You might use this lesson plan template for conducting a close analysis of a media text.

It's a perfect example of teaching about and through media with the added bonus of integrating web 2.0 principles into the curriculum!

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