media literacy: a quick introduction

Our school had a professional development half day in which teachers organized mini-workshops on any given topic. As I had been sent to the Media Literacy Conference last November, I was asked to present.

I had a dozen staff members, everyone from kindergarten teachers and lower school instructional assistants to upper school math and science teachers, and I had no idea what the collective media experience would be, so I took a very general approach. Here's what I went through:

As it turned out, the group was reasonably media-savvy -- everyone could claim some sort of productive participation, from blogging to posting YouTube videos to being active in chat rooms. One of the maths teachers is an active contributor to Wikipedia, and one of the assistants has been active at Thorn Tree for a decade. They both had a chance to talk about what they did and why they did it, which was fun.

During and after my presentation, we had an interesting conversation. Here are some highlights:

  • They found the the Harry Potter/fanfic/HP Alliance example impressive (as did I when Henry Jenkins presented about it), and they came up with several other examples of online communities making a difference, including Facebook users in Egypt and (hilariously ) Regretsy.

  • The New Media Literacies are fascinating, and we talked about lining them up with our MYP Approaches to Learning.

  • The perception that online relationships and communities were unhealthy replacements for face-to-face relationships came up. Most of us agreed that online relationships were usually additional to face-to-face relationships rather than a replacement, and the image of a lonely nerd in a basement was somewhat mythical. (My own sense is that people who successfully maneuver online communities usually have the skills to do so in their local communities as well.)

  • After looking at Shelly Blake-Plock's paperless Geography exam, which everybody loved, we had an interesting chat about the changing role of 'facts' in education; we decided that while knowing the facts wasn't important in the way it was twenty years ago, it's worth saying that knowing a few facts makes the synthesis and analysis of ideas faster and easier than looking everything up all the time. Being able to place events within a historical context is easier if one knows a few dates, for instance.

  • There was some talk about the marketing and commercialism that lies behind many social networking sites, and it is an aspect that sometimes gets overlooked.

  • There was interest in having teachers give each other training in media literacy. One staff member volunteered to demonstrate the intricacies of Facebook privacy settings next week.

  • Q: 'What about attention spans?' A: 'Maybe long attention spans are not as valuable as they once were, except to get through school.' (See this.)

  • We discussed at length the problems faced by educators in a culture of collaboration. I'm not sure we came to any conclusions, but it seems that the manner in which we examine students per the expectations of universities contradicts the realities of many aspects of a participatory culture.