The beginning of another school year is approaching quickly, and as it does many parents are beginning to wonder how they can help their kids ease out of summertime media habits. In addition to having to establish new rules for media use, parents may also face a barrage of requests and questions from their kids regarding digital technology, such as: Am I old enough to have a cell phone? Can I bring it to school? How about my iPod? What about Facebook – all my friends are on it, I need it to talk to them about my homework!
The classic 1985 science fiction novel Ender’s Game is one of several books of that period that foresaw both the advent of the Internet and its eventual importance in society. While certain aspects of its portrayal seem dated – in particular, it more resembles the text-based bulletin board systems of the time than today’s graphic Web – one element stands out as being particularly prescient: the use of the Internet to allow youth to participate fully in society. While today’s young people aren’t using the Internet to take over the world, as the characters in the novel do, they are increasingly using it to change the world, and more and more teachers are using the Internet to bring civic engagement into the classroom.
Ever since Cronus the Titan tried to swallow his son Zeus, parents have feared being supplanted by their children. (It didn’t take.) But it’s only in the last few generations, as the rate of technological progress has accelerated, that children have grown up in a world significantly different from the one their parents knew, and it’s only very recently that parents have seen their surpass them while they were still in the single digits. Thanks to digital media, the world is changing so rapidly today – consider that five years ago there was no Twitter, ten years ago no Facebook and fifteen years ago no Google – that even those of us who spent our childhoods programming our parents’ VCRs can feel left behind.
When Marlene Kane’s sixteen-year-old son Andrew asked her to drive him to the nearby town of Midland last December, she was surprised to hear that he wanted to meet with someone he had met while playing the online game World of Warcraft – and even more surprised to learn that the person he was meeting was a 42-year-old mother of four from Texas. Experts on sexual solicitation of youth online were less shocked however. In fact, for them the only surprising thing was Lauri Price’s sex. Everything else about the scenario – how they made contact, Price’s openness about her age, Andrew’s willingness to meet her, and the lack of deception about her intentions – all fit the evolving picture of how youth are sexually exploited online.
Just a short while ago, concern with online predators was so dominant that anyone trying to draw attention to the problem of cyberbullying felt like a voice in the wilderness. In the last few years, though, new research has not only provided a more realistic picture of the risks of online sexual solicitation; but has also raised awareness on the severity of cyberbullying. Unfortunately, all of the media attention that is now focused on cyberbullying runs the risk of making public perceptions on this issue as narrow and inaccurate as they were towards online predation.
Someone encountering the Internet for the first time might be forgiven for assuming it was created specifically for teenagers. Indeed, the Internet could reasonably be said to have been aging backwards since its birth – the domain first of scientists and the military, then of university students in the 1990s and now children and teenagers.
In the early months of 2011, the eyes of the world were on the Middle East, watching as the governments of Egypt, Tunisia and other autocratic regimes buckled under the pressure of democratic protest. Among those watching were a group of elementary students in northern Canada, who were able to watch a live Twitter feed of the protestors and other citizens of the region reporting what was happening. Despite their geographical isolation, these students were connected to events happening halfway around the world, thanks to the efforts of their teacher to bring digital media into the classroom.
Teachers who include media literacy in their classrooms often face issues that don’t arise in other subjects. Nothing illustrates this better than the issue of diversity in media. It’s not unreasonable for teachers to see the topic as a can of worms and be concerned about offending students and their parents – not to mention worrying about what the students themselves might say. At the same time, it’s a topic that is simply too important to be ignored: what we see in media hugely influences how we see others, ourselves and the world. As a result, an ability to analyze media depictions of diversity is not only a key element of being media literate, it’s essential to understanding many of the social issues and concerns that we face as citizens. That’s why Media Awareness Network has developed That’s Not Me – a new online tutorial for professional development to help educators and community leaders approach this issue through key concepts of media literacy.
Two new media education resources crossed our desk recently: Totally Wired by Anastasia Goodstein and Children’s Learning in a Digital World, edited by Teena Willoughby and Eileen Wood. While they are extremely different, both are useful additions to any media education library.
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.