Collaborative media education – remixing genres, domains and media



Øystein Gilje, Post Doc, Faculty of Education, University of Oslo

(In line with John Potter, I didn’t feel the need to provide the exact references.)

With regard to access to technology and the use of digital tools, Norway and the Nordic countries are ahead of most other regions in the world. However, there seems to be a growing and common interest, both on a European level and in other parts of the world, in how issues of empowerment, citizenship, skills and competencies should be worked out and realized as an educational subject in the school curriculum. In the Nordic countries, the preconditions for media education and media literacy are strongly related to the overall access (nearly 100%) to Internet, smart phones, digital devices and the standard of living more generally. In this case, the Nordic countries are of interest as a context for studies about the penetration and access to new digital technologies in societies as a whole and more specifically as a test-bed for new production practices in media education.

Two emerging trends in schools are well worthy to notify as an introduction. First, digital literacy (digital kompetanse) was introduced across the whole curriculum a few years ago (like in Australia and New Zealand) as one of five core competencies (the other four are writing/reading (literacy), oral presentation and numeracy). In this sense kids and youngsters in every school are supposed to work with computers and media production in all subjects during their 13 years of compulsory schooling (from the age 6 to 19). Putting digital literacy on the agenda is primarily policy driven, and the implementation of ICT as well as the use of computers to do advanced media production varies to a large degree. However, things are changing, although a bit slowly.

However, developments in upper secondary schools are more remarkable in relation to the manifesto upfront here. My argument, a bit of a provocative one, is that this quite new vocationally oriented subject sets the scene for what media education can be in the future. Since the turn of the century, Media and Communication as a vocational programme has become very popular at upper secondary schools in Scandinavia. In particular, this subject has become increasingly trendy in Norway, attracting more than five percent of the youngsters in the age group 16-19 years old. In terms of pupils applying for this subject, only those with good marks, in the central areas, qualify for the programme. Across Scandinavia, these programmes vary to some degree, and in Sweden, for instance, this programme has been removed as a vocational programme from the school year 2010/11. The course structure today in Norway is based on a joint first-year foundational course, after which students are to choose between a crafts-oriented specialization and a course qualifying for higher education. The argument for Vocational media education is based upon what is seen as a need for apprentices in some part of the media business. However, as noted above,only a few (less than 5% of the students) decide to do two years in school followed by two years practice in a company, due to lack of interest as well as the lack of places for apprentices. Over 95% of the students choose the latter, which gives an opportunity to qualify for university and University Colleges afterwards. Consequently, the students combine a vocationally oriented media programme, but acquire access to academic studies in universities as well as university colleges. So, what happens in these classrooms, and why is it important in a manifesto for media education?

Vocational media education – only good for the GDP?

In the introduction to this manifesto, it is proposed that there is a stark contrast between a vocational view of media education (backed up by the government in the UK as well as in the EU) and media education as a teaching method to teach kids what role media should have in a civic society. After doing fieldwork, as a researcher, for a number of years in these classrooms, I have identified two groups of students among those who are doing the vocational programme with an academic programme as a bonus.

The first, and major group comprises students with good marks, mainly middle-class students, who want to ‘have fun’ for three years before they continue to study in colleges and universities. These youngsters do all apply for the academic subjects besides doing the vocational media programme throughout the three year long programme. The schools, offering the vocational media programmes, provide the kids with brand new technology, studios and expertise. In this sense the classroom practice of re-mixing subjects, knowledge and genres in media production both mirrors an existing tendency in media culture and provides the opportunity to engage in this mode of production in a ‘transactional learning space’. Consequently, in many schools, teachers are now increasingly doing collaborative projects across disciplines and subjects, mixing media production and domains of knowledge to be found in subjects such as social science, Norwegian (mother tongue), English language and literature as well as math. In this sense, the students are gaining media literacy, as a technical skill, on a sophisticated level, connecting core issues to be found across the curriculum through their media production. This approach is of course not so different from good media education projects to be found in many places around the world. However the subject in Norway offers the students 20-25 hours a week to prioritize such projects. In addition many of the students spend the rest of the afternoon in schools to finish their work, besides doing the shooting in the weekends. The same group of youngsters does also, to a large degree, engage in young entrepreneurship as a subject in these schools. This is a very recent development. In their engagement with this ‘subject’ they are working with media and media production in a number of different ways. Young entrepreneurship has become extremely popular in the Nordic countries over the last five years, engaging youngsters from the age of 14 to 25 years old in one year long project, where the aim is to establish a small company. Production practices such as web design, commercials (radio as well as video) and flyers/brochures must be produced, and those students who engage in such practices draw upon their interest in media as part of the media programme.

But there are also others engaging in the creative and cultural sector, but not as young entrepreneurs. These ‘geeks’ are aspiring young artists and filmmakers to be found among the media students in upper secondary school. However, they find resources for their learning trajectories in a number of different places, in particular in online communities. By carrying out an interest driven genre of participation across different contexts and sites, they work their way into the industry. In this process, the subject Media and Communication does play a vital role as one of many contexts for learning. There seems to be an increasing number of students with expert knowledge about specific topics in digital media production. In terms of exploring semiotic work with sophisticated technology, it is also necessary to ascertain how these kinds of knowledge and experiences among young people are negotiated, valued and judged in the educational context. Thus, a need exists to pose crucial questions, such as; Are the geeks’ knowledge of different production practices at all relevant for media educators? And if they are, what kind of media literacy do learners gain through time by participating in these (online) communities of practice? Moreover, there seems to be an urgent need to recognise if and how these young people, engaging at a semi-professional level with a set of digital means, deploy this knowledge into educational settings. On the other hand, will young people find (vocational) media education valuable for their goals and purposes as they try to work their way into the media industry?

Of course, I can already hear some voices here whispering in the background; is this media education? Is this about media literacy? My answer is yes. Throughout these production practices every student has to engage in how to communicate and brand their product as young entrepreneurs. This is of course top-down, policy driven student engagement in the first place, but the ways in which students spend days and night to finalize their products, tell us something about their engagement in school through these processes. And in particular their engagement is very much connected to their production of a wide range of media genres.

A manifesto must be short and easy to remember. Based upon my introduction I pose three points for the future of media education:

Remix vocational production practices with subjects to be found across the curriculum. Production before analysis. Production with content. The ease and availability of cheap and easy technology will make possible in all age groups and schools within the next decade.

Remix students’ engagement in entrepreneurship, commercial activities, freelance work as well as their literacy practices in fan-cultures, online communities and blogs.

Remix media and genres in order to teach students how different kind of knowledge, narratives and overviews can be transducted from one media (or mode) to another.

A final comment on researching new production practices.

On the level of the learner there seems to be a need to further explore the interrelationship between the out-of-school practices and the media production practices carried out in educational settings. As pointed out above, there seem to be vast differences with regard to previous experience with digital media among different kinds of learners in schools, and, more specifically, in media and communication studies in (upper) secondary schools.
One of the aims in the future must be to formulate a distinctive, but holistic approach to the practices that involve sophisticated editing tools. (Yes, I do agree here with Lev Manovich. Media literacy is also – but not only – ‘software literacy’). The point I wish to underscore here is how different fields of research, must merge into a broader discourse on young people, new media and learning that can inform new research on young people and digital media production. The task is an important one if media literacy as a term is to be driven by empirical research and not the primarily policy-driven discourse which, at least until now, has been lacking substantial empirical evidence and is constantly fuelled by normative perspectives on young people and digital means. With this in mind, it seems as if the field of media education may be renewed in the next few years, and there appears to be adequate justification to rename the field ‘New Media Education Studies’.

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