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The following observations are designed to serve as probes and provocations to uncover the essence of some important ideas about media education and media studies. I hope these ideas will stimulate discussion and debate.
1. Find a variety of ways of exploiting the "teachable moments" in media.
When excitement comes our way, go for it! Here is the most direct and relevant way to contextualize the key concepts of media education: how the media construct reality, the role played by media codes and conventions, the nature of audience and industry, and values and ideology.
Encourage in-depth study through comparing the extensive media coverage of a major media event - for example, the death of Princess Diana, the coverage of "Clintongate," the shootings at Littleton, or the hyping of Star Wars: The Phantom Menace. Use plenty of surveys to find out what students already know about the media (and duly note the wise guys in your class who are already pop culture experts).
2. Make media production an integral part of your course.
As U.K. educator Eddie Dick pointed out, we want to have both "critical practice as well as practical criticism." Link your analytical examples with practical work using camcorders, multimedia digitizing, Polaroid or digital cameras, or the creation of satirical collages. Good equipment is desirable but not essential. Constructing storyboards and sequencing pictures can be done at little cost.
3. Use all the key concepts of media to deconstruct media texts.
While codes, conventions and aesthetics are generally well done, others are often neglected. These include:
Help students investigate monopolies, environmental controls, the extent of corporate resources for advertising, and the incredibly powerful role of public relations. Critical marketing has become the most important aspect of modern media.
Finally, no media course is worth its salt if it fails to do an in-depth investigation of the commercialization of our schools - from Channel One and Pepsi franchises to corporate-sponsored classroom curriculum.
4. Place media literacy in the broader perspective provided by cultural studies.
Now established as a kind of international consensus on theory, cultural studies provides important context for our media texts - grounding them in gender, race, class and subject positioning. Teachers of English should be doing more cultural studies approaches to literature, and engaging in fewer literary approaches to popular culture.
5. Be up-front about the value of media pleasures - even guilty pleasures.
Academics can sure take the pleasure out of this pursuit! But the personal satisfaction in media consumption and the joys of fandom, from admiring the Spice girls to delving into quirky film noir movies, must be acknowledged - or else the protectionist position in media literacy will dominate. Teachers should begin by acknowledging their own problematic and contradictory pop passions and own up to them. Why not encourage students to write thoughtful pleasure papers or encourage them to use their media logs for open-ended responses?
6. Learn from media professionals to see media and pop culture in action, and be prepared to expand the perimeters of the subject.
Scan your community for potential speakers and field trips. Seek out film, television and sound producers, photographers, journalists, advertisers, public relations agencies, and media academics. Visit production houses for film, television and multimedia. Look for opportunities to watch the taping of regularly produced shows. Organize a trip to a shopping mall and/or a theme park, or some upscale urban site that will reveal interesting trends. Check out book and poster stores or comic book venues. Broaden the concepts of media literacy to include artifacts such as Barbie dolls, action figures and Furbies. By taking a bigger perspective in our investigations, the view from the classroom and our community will be richer and more complex.
7. Where feasible, teach through concepts and themes.
Tackle broad areas such as representation, narrative and media industries - rather than being confined to genre-specific approaches such as television in grade 10 and the newspaper in grade 11. This approach is fine for a beginning teacher, but is rarely productive in a field that is always crossing genres. (See Branston, 1996 and school text by Barry Duncan et. al. Mass Media and Popular Culture.)
8. Avoid the tendency to depoliticize media texts and to teach only "through" rather than "about" the media.
There are too many bland media literacy products in circulation. Without going on a crusade of media bashing fuelled by moral panic, the media classroom deserves openness, intellectual rigor, loads of enthusiasm and a willingness to take risks. Model media texts with interesting ideological constructions, and have students investigate examples they may take for granted (Coke, Nike and McDonald's commercials).
9. Encourage oppositional readings of mainstream media.
Use the bounty of material on topics such as the Gulf War and the Balkan war to show how the dominant media are able to manufacture consent. Encourage mainstream readings of popular television texts (Friends and Dawson's Creek) and then model some oppositional readings that "read them against the grain." Try to encourage students to transfer their insights from the media classroom to other areas: the politics of schooling, the role of authority in the family, the world of work. Otherwise, much of our endeavour will have limited impact. (Guard against playing the "spot the stereotype" exercise as an end in itself. Use the insights of media critics such as Noam Chomsky and Herbert Schiller, but avoid being seduced into monolithic interpretations with a tinge of paranoia.)
10. Face the challenges and controversies associated with teaching about media representations.
Because representation is considered the central principle in all media study, we must be prepared to mediate its complexity. For example, in studying race and the media there is a danger of "essentializing" groups, of limiting the nature of difference through resorting to stereotyping. Today, we recognize that identity is an evolving, hybrid and unstable concept - an in-between state that merits appropriate discourse to match. Education critic Henry Giroux reminds us that today, by necessity, we are all border-crossers. Welcome to the global village!
11. Insist that students conduct original research when doing media projects.
Using ethnographic models, students can learn to effectively interview, observe and record individuals and groups while researching favourite TV programs, bands and celebrities. Making students become researchers of primary data will ultimately help to change the dynamics of the classroom.
12. Use appropriate instruments/rubrics for authentic media assessment.
To give media studies credibility, and to overcome the dangers of arbitrary and subjective responses to student work, we need systematic approaches and easy-to follow models. When standards, classroom tasks and student assessment are aligned, teachers can better recognize when learning takes place.
13. Explore alternatives to mainstream media.
Access independent film and video (such as Paper Tiger Television) experimental art containing media connections. Look for media books and periodicals offering meaningful alternatives to mainstream media coverage. Subscribe to Entertainment Weekly and Rolling Stone by all means, but include in your media perspectives periodicals such as The Media Studies Journal, Brill's Content, The Nation, Z, Cineaste and Adbusters. As well, you might want to consider novels with media themes such as Burgess's: Clockwork Orange; Kosinski's: Being There; De Lillo's: White Noise; and Copeland's: Generation X.
14. To stay relevant, media education must comprehensively address the new and converging communication technologies, from multimedia to Nintendo to the Internet.
The new media are reconfiguring media language, fostering hybrid identities and multiple literacies, and - as McLuhan noted - obsolescing some aspects of communications discourse while retrieving others. Techno-topic discourse seems to prevail, and Microsoft Inc. continues to dominate the world - all of which should be grist for the media teacher's mill. Simply apply the key concepts of media to this huge domain, and see what insights emerge. Regrettably, there is a dearth of demanding analysis supported by solid empirical data from the classroom.
15. Media teachers need to connect with each other.
Given that our numbers are small and our educational clout often limited, it is of paramount importance to connect with one another and our "interpretative community." It is, therefore, essential that media teachers take out a membership in one or more North American media literacy organizations. We need to keep up with this constantly changing field and share ideas with our media education colleagues. Wish us all good luck!
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