Lights, Camera, Action! Making Media in the Classroom, Made Easy

Matthew Johnson

For nearly thirty years, Canadian teachers have been at the forefront of getting students online and preparing them to use networked technologies safely, productively and responsibly. Many young Canadians have their first experiences with the internet in their classrooms and school libraries. Over the past decade, though, while digital tools have come to provide new opportunities for creating and distributing digital content, MediaSmarts’ research shows that most Canadian teachers aren’t making media in the classroom.

Making media is one of the most engaging activities available to us as teachers: I remember being amazed at how my students would stay after class, through lunch, or after school because they were so excited to work on media projects in my Language Arts and Media classes. When I taught other subjects, I always wished I could bring that kind of engagement to them, but the technology just wasn’t there – in those days we had two video cameras and two editing suites for the entire school.

Today, almost every student has a phone that can do more than those cameras and suites, and can publish to a worldwide audience instantly. Our research shows that teachers aren’t taking advantage of the ability to have their students make media. There’s also been a push to integrate technology in the classroom, and while media making doesn’t have to be all about tech skills, it is a great way to teach them. Research has found that when teachers treat tech as a way of learning, instead of teaching it as a separate topic, they’re more likely to integrate it in a lasting and meaningful way. Students, too, are more likely to feel confident with technology if they learn it through making media. Teaching different subject areas through media making can also help to make sure that girls, who are less likely to take traditional tech classes or participate in out-of-school STEM activities, aren’t left behind; for instance, girls are just as engaged as boys when making video games in class.

Making media is a way of giving those students who don’t often have a chance to excel a chance to show what they’re capable of. Students who struggle with traditional assessments, or just aren’t engaged by them, can thrive when they get a chance to work in a medium they care about, and can communicate in a language that makes sense to them. Media-making provides a bridge between the classroom and the world students live in when they’re not in school, and it prepares them to be not just consumers, but producers of media as well. Despite being so-called “digital natives,” students don’t necessarily know how to use the tools at their disposal clearly or effectively. This is a key part of media literacy: giving students the perspective to see media texts as made objects and appreciate the choices that went into them.

MediaSmarts has been helping teachers bring media literacy into the classroom for more than twenty years. Our new fully online course, Making Media Across the Curriculum provides the training and resources teachers need to have their students make media in the classroom. In this free four-week, self-directed online course, teachers will learn how media-making can be supported from kindergarten to Grade 12, and used to assess student learning across the curriculum.

While teachers don’t need to be experts in a medium to use it in the classroom, they do need to know the basics. To address this, the course includes four guest lecturers:

  • Brian Aspinall, recipient of the Prime Minister’s Award for Teaching Excellence and author of Code Breaker and Scratching the Surface, on coding;
  • Jessie Curell, founder of Hands on Media Education, on animation;
  • Kathleen Mercury, a pioneer of using game design in classrooms and a member of the Education Advisory Committee for the Game Manufacturers’ Association, on tabletop games; and
  • Jason Wiser, a former Disney animator and an instructor at Pixar and Harvard, on comics.

The lecturers will explain what equipment and material teachers need, provide some examples of how that medium can be used in the classroom, and most importantly explain the medium’s grammar – how it’s used to communicate. Media grammar is essential to helping teachers see how digital media production can connect to their curriculum area. With an understanding of a medium’s grammar, teachers can focus their assessment on how well a student has used the medium to communicate their learning or understanding of course content, and create assignments that don’t give an unfair advantage to students who are already familiar with the medium. The course also addresses the issue of limited access to technology by providing guidance about how to choose a tool or platform that suits your students’ needs – along with recommendations of many cheap or free tools – as well as a guide to the safe and equitable use of student technology.

By the end of this course, students will have a toolbox with everything they need to get their students started making media in the classroom, and on successful completion of the course, they will be certified by MediaSmarts as Media Maker Experts. Beyond preparing teachers to be experts in media production, the course also prepares them to be leaders and advocates for getting media-making into every classroom, from kindergarten to grade twelve, across the curriculum.

The course will be offered 5 times over the 2020-2021 school year. It will be available online 24/7 over a four-week period and is expected to take a total of 12 hours to complete. To register, or for more information, visit our course information page.