For more than twenty-five years, Canadian teachers have been at the forefront of getting students online and preparing them to use the Internet in safe, wise and responsible ways. Thanks to the SchoolNet program in the 1990s, many young Canadians had their first experiences with networked technologies in their classrooms and school libraries. However, MediaSmarts’ recent Young Canadians in a Wired World, Phase III study shows that even now, our so-called “digital natives” still need guidance from their teachers.

It’s been almost fifteen years since Mark Prensky coined the term “digital native” to describe young people who have grown up with the Internet and digital media. In fact, the children who were born the year Prensky’s book was published are now in high school. While for many, the public perception of young people taking to digital platforms like ducks to water persists – accompanied by the image of adults, particularly parents, who are seen (often by themselves) as hopelessly out of their depth – the question remains how close that image is to reality. Are Canadian youth truly digitally literate? And if they are not “digital natives” who effortlessly acquire their skills on their own or from peers, are students learning what they need from their parents or teachers?

I was recently asked by Jane Tallim to write a guest blog and seriously wondered what suggestions I could offer that would appeal to high school English and Media Studies teachers. We all know that teaching media is like trying to hit a moving target, and education lags behind revolutionary changes in new media forms. However, over the past decade of teaching both Media Studies and high school English, I have spent much time considering the intersection of new media forms with traditional English forms and have tried to build a bridge of understanding across time for my students regardless of the target. By focusing on the skills of deconstruction and construction, I believe the form of the text, or the new medium, becomes less relevant to comprehension.

Why is a movie about a young boy learning kung fu called The Karate Kid? For most of the film’s young audience, Jaden Smith’s break-out movie doesn’t explain the confusion. Their parents and older siblings, however, may recall the earlier installments in this series which started with a young Ralph Macchio learning karate from Noriyuki “Pat” Morita, a movie which started as the hero’s quest to learn karate to overcome his tormentors and evolved by film’s end into a coming-of-age story about the bond between mentor and student. The first Karate Kid struck a chord with audiences, becoming the fifth-highest grossing film of 1984.

People who make their living producing images, such as photographers, stylists, publicists, directors and pop idols, learn how to use those signs to convey the impression they want to make. Although teen girls who are trying to send a signal to their circle of friends and pop music producers who are trying to send a signal to an audience of millions are working on different scales, the principle is very much the same. Depending on your audience, you need to tailor the signals you send out very carefully. Even your age can have a certain amount of wiggle room when dressed in the right signs.

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