Time For Media Education To Come Out Of The Closet

Emma Walters, Mid-Cheshire College

Cultural Heritage

Growing up in nineteen eighties and nineties Liverpool, I consumed a lot of television. Today, it would probably be deemed as dangerously addictive levels, although at the time my mum considered it to be a safer, more contained alternative to hanging around the council estate where we lived. The physical object of the TV box represented a visual world of escapism, a space where fantasy forfeited reality. In many ways, the TV schedule, dictated my behaviour outside school. I can still associate certain emotional triggers associated with key stages of my youth when I think of specific programmes or download relevant theme tunes!

The Young Doctors signified initial downtime from school, sharing biscuits or toast with my brother Stephen. LA Law was aspirational, the idea of a high salaried, high-powered profession seemed seductive in my early teens and Sons and Daughters was the original Home and Away but with poorly lit sets and without the beach and juice bar. Such relics of my former life are not the focus for my contribution here although they do set the scene regarding my own unique cultural heritage.

The act of ‘watching the telly’ and religiously following such multifarious texts ranging from Moonlighting, The Equaliser, Dempsey and Makepeace, Boys from the Blackstuff and of course, Prisoner Cell Block H, ignited my interest in the formation and deconstruction of the ‘stories’ we have to tell, of performance, language, representation and ultimately the impact on ones’ sense of self and perception(s) of others.

Reality Bites

Having provided a backdrop to my cultural heritage, it is important to establish that when I think about media education, there is a persistent and huge tension, even a void, between possibility and reality. My own experience of Further Education, over the past decade, is one of increasing and incessant struggle because my vision of what media education, indeed what success should look like (reference to Natalie Fenton symposium podcast) is remote, even distant from day-to-day reality.

The drive and pressure to recruit increasing numbers of learners; the marketisation of media education (see David Buckingham symposium podcast), usually consisting of a staged set up; including two PD170 cameras, tripods, green screen and not forgetting the obligatory boom, is partly to blame for societal misconceptions and learner unpreparedness for the actual content (75% critical theory) as prescribed in the specification.

Students only require 4 GCSE’s (grade C in English as a preference, not a requirement) to register onto any Level 3 course. However, actual (based on diagnostic data calculated on entry) literacy levels paint a very different picture for many of us in the FE sector. To reiterate, the canyon between level of learner and his/ her ability to handle the knowledge required (for learners to develop the critical skills on a Level 3 Extended Diploma in Media Production, when their identified literacy levels remain at either Level 1 or 2), has simply become wider. Lower literacy levels adversely affect learner ability to critique and do texts. Studying media at Level 3 should not be expected to fill the canyons left behind by a seemingly disastrous literacy strategy legacy.

In addition, Edexcel have opted for in-house verification of assessment grades as a cheaper alternative to external site visits. This decision can only impact negatively in the long-term regarding quality, standards and sharing good practice across institution and only serve to relegate the pedagogic possibilities of our subject.

I Have A Dream…

The Manifesto for Media Education (MME) presents a platform that potentially signals a transformative moment for our subject. The ‘stories’ contributed so far signify the beginning of a long awaited and necessary dialogue across institutional and geographical boundaries, as Ruth Zanker rightly reiterates, that will hopefully continue to locate and engage a broader community of practice.

In order for the MME to have an impact, generate a deeper, more cohesive understanding of our subject and its possibilities (for the benefit of all stakeholders including learners, parents, critics and curriculum planners), it needs to extend its online presence and develop an accessible, user-friendly space where our pedagogic practices, regardless of sector or examination board, can be disseminated and reflected upon. In the same way we ask our learners to begin the process of creating a product, by identifying its users/ market, we as a community, need to think about the actual impact of the pedagogic choices we foster.

As Buckingham states in his contribution, ‘we need to cast a more dispassionate eye on what really happens in the classroom, however awkward (my italics) or even painful that might be. We need to come up with evidence that media education actually works.’

Zygmunt Bauman (2005: 1097) provides a practical cure to Buckingham’s seemingly ruthless yet honest diagnosis, however it comes with a warning, as he asserts:

Disclosure is the beginning – not the end – of the war against human misery.


In 2009, whilst undertaking the MA in Creative and Media Education (MACME) at Bournemouth University, I attempted to disseminate and make transparent my own learning for the benefit of others. As a product, it is flawed, however its message remains relevant. It evidences or discloses my attempts to disseminate the learning that occurred that day. The additional creation of an accessible, audiovisual resource enables our pedagogic experiences to live outside of Moodle or Blackboard.

The idea of a shared dialogue is not new. Historically, the contextualization of culture has always been part of media education but the dissemination of what we do across institution has not.

The research methods employed, adapt and make explicit techniques used in Creative Explorations, by David Gauntlett in his chapter (2007: 128-157) entitled, ‘Building Identities In Metaphors’. Due to cost of Lego bricks, I developed ‘Serious Play-Doh’ instead, as a cheaper alternative – pedagogic research doesn’t have to be expensive. I simply created a space for colleagues to reflect on their own pedagogic behaviour(s). In the spirit of making transparent the awkward and as an example of autoethnography in action, you can access ‘The Death of the Teacher’ exhibition video here: http://creativechameleon.weebly.com/exhibition.html

In a time of fierce competition, student-as-consumer and pedagogic accountability, our subject is in the midst of a somewhat vulnerable yet highly reflexive period of educational history.

As I see it, a MME should not seek to standardize or unify media education in a set of coherent and agreed principles but make visible, critique and account for what we do. We need to document the development of our understanding on a localized level for future generations of media educators, to enable them to locate and make reference to a database containing our subject heritage. Refraining from dissemination whatever the rationale (institutional USP, fear of disclosure, protecting intellectual copyright) only presents us with an array of missed learning opportunities. Our knowledge base will continue to splinter off, as the walls separating our silos of understanding thicken.

Ironically then, media education finds itself in a unique position. In a time of severe cuts to staff development budgets, we need to apply our learning here, we need to merge theory and practice and make our rhetoric live.

What It Means To Be Human

Unlike our fixed, biological fingerprint, our unique cultural heritage is determined by our ability to identify, distinguish, unpack, reconstruct and ultimately re-present the self. In an individualized world, our cultural heritage is intrinsically mobile and inherently at odds between ones’ online (reconstructed) and offline (inner) self. For instance, Facebook, You Tube and Twitter are platforms associated with the reconstructed self; places where we consciously redefine, present and publish self-selected elements of ‘the self’.

In part, I am in agreement with McDougall (reference to his manifesto contribution) who observes that our learners are ‘apprentices in theorising their culture’ and that learning about ‘the media’ is ultimately a defunct entity. However, we need to be cautious about referring to pedagogic learning spaces as belonging to ‘the inexpert’.

As a community, we need to move beyond the defensive and avoid terminology that might confuse and hinder the possibilities of this crucial moment. On the contrary, I would argue that media education needs new forms of research on what it means to be human; it is about making connections between the online and offline self as we attempt to become ‘experts’ of the (holistic) self and perception(s) of others. For instance, questioning the ways in which texts re-construct and re-present themselves, validity, reliability, provocation, dealing with uncertainty, managing conflict, and ultimately, it is about learner preparedness to function with confidence in our society.

Denzin and Lincoln (2005: 1086) aptly refer to the current state of play as, ‘para-ethnography’ where the classroom is our field of inquiry, and our learners, ‘treated as experts, as collaborators and partners in research’.

Finally, if our subject has the courage to come out of the closet, we might just be able to access, what Bauman (2005: 1089) describes as, ‘human possibilities previously hidden’.

In Summary

Point 1: Actual disclosure of our pedagogic practices will be essential if we are to develop a community built on academic rigor and accountability.

Point 2: Engage and exhibit exploratory research projects on what it means to be human, based on:
a) Offline (inner) and online (reconstructed) sense of self.
b) Individual and community (tangible and virtual).


Bauman, Z., 2005. ‘Afterthought: On Writing; on Writing Sociology’. In: Denzin. K. Norman and Lincoln. S. Yvonna, eds, The Sage Handbook of Qualitative Research. London: Sage.

Denzin, K., Norman & Lincoln, S., Yvonna, 2005. The Sage Handbook of Qualitative Research. London: Sage.

Gauntlett, D., 2007. Creative Explorations – New Approaches to Identities and Audiences, pp. 128-157. London & New York: Routledge.


A Manifesto for Media Education: http://www.manifestoformediaeducation.co.uk (accessed 17 January to 06 July 2011)

Chameleon: http://creativechameleon.weebly.com/exhibition.html (accessed 01 July 2011)

Manifesto for Media Education Symposium Podcasts: http://www.manifestoformediaeducation.co.uk/symposium-podcasts/ (accessed 27 June 2011)

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’.

What are we meant to be doing?

Zoe Currie, University of East Anglia

What the Manifesto for Media Education Symposium seemed to be asking is how and what and why we should teach the media. These questions have been asked repeatedly but it is important.

How We Teach Media

At the Symposium, Jenny Grahame raised the difference between teaching about the media and teaching through the media. I think, like her and others at the symposium, that both Media Studies and Media Education are of a profound importance to what happens in the classrooms in our schools and colleges.

How we teach the media then requires a commitment by teachers of both Media Studies and teachers who use media to teach their subjects. Both involve different approaches and sometimes different skills obviously, but both are fundamentally using the media to teach about society, about the world we live and about the technology we use to participate in this world. In order to teach media, I don’t agree with Alison Pemberton’s point on this blog about media teachers needing to come from a media background. I don’t think that it belies the importance and credibility of the subject to have teachers from other backgrounds – if anything it informs the subject further. On top of that, I can’t imagine anyone is ‘forced’ into teaching the media. But then maybe I would say that because I didn’t come from a purely media background.

I became interested in using media texts such as film, television, storyboards and ultimately moving image as a means to get boys critically engaged in the de/construction of texts during my PGCE in English and Drama at the Institute of Education in London. I became a teacher of Media Studies as a result of my profound interest in the radical pedagogical aims of the subject in the late 90’s, influenced by through the work of Paolo Freire and Augosto Boal, the work being done in the English and Media Centre by Jenny Grahame as well as by my lecturers Anton Franks, Gunther Kress, David Buckingham and Jane Miller.

What We Teach

With the digital boom, I have gone from helping students crash edit in my Media Studies lessons to teaching Flash for sophisticated animations, Adobe premier for editing and Photoshop for desk top publishing. My students blog all their work, use tumblr to collate and share images and some tweet. All use Facebook to communicate, at times illicitly, in the classroom. However, while the technology changes the content of my lessons has to remain engaged in a critical analysis of media texts supported by a range of theoretical frameworks. The theory, the critical creativity, the study of society is essential otherwise the subject becomes empty: the reproduction of media texts with no critical questioning behind them. I might be teaching my students how to make a music video using a basic hand held cam corder and adobe premier editing but they could probably do that on their own. Indeed they might already be doing that. My role is to get them to question why music videos are made in a certain way using the frameworks of critical questioning: feminism, postmodernism, artistic and cultural movements, social and visual semiotics etc. All of this will move the video from a dodgy, sweded piece of work with no awareness of its own postmodernist intertextuality to a critically creative piece of work irrespective of quality of the technology.

Why We Teach Media

Media Studies has run the risk of festishising technology instead of reclaiming the content (Jenny Grahame). In my experience, I have worked in centres which have shifted from the critical to the purely techie ‘how to’ check list of skills; where I am the ‘theory girl’ and not involved in the practical work. I think the students work has suffered as a result of the theory becoming detached from the practical. We need to encourage students to become active ‘makers’ of media texts within the classroom, so that students became involved more readily in the actual process of critical analysis. This is supported by the claim from Jenkins (2009) that ‘educators have always known that students learn more through direct observation and experimentation than from reading about something in a textbook or listening to a lecture’. P42

However, this raises serious questions about what exactly happens in the classroom and therefore opens up the debate to a broader more exciting one concerning pedagogy.

“…emerging youth media programs have been motivated by the belief that engaging in media production should be the cornerstone of media education and lead to youth empowerment through the development of self expression.” p247 Lange and Ito

As the teacher’s role becomes that of facilitator then does school/college become just a formal time frame for students to hang out in? (Lange and Ito 2009). Does this lead to students becoming active learners following in the radical pedagogy of Freire and Boal? For the purposes of my doctoral research, by examining the pedagogical aims and learner outcomes of Media Studies, I hope to explore this enquiry.

The question here then is how educational institutions are going to adjust to that shift and whether students and teachers will still recognise/value it as ‘learning’.

Education designed by adults for children also has an unavoidably coercive dimension that is situated in a systematic power differential between adults and children. P.23 Lange, P. and Ito, M.

This comes back to Pemberton’s concern about untrained or non-specialist media teachers. Media Studies is situated between self taught/peer based learning which values youth expression and creativity, and the project briefs and aims of the teachers institutions and exam boards delivering it as an academic subject. This is the site then of intergenerational tension according to Lange and Ito; between adult autonomy and youth autonomy and educational and entertainment content (Ito 2007 cited in Lange and Ito 2009).The results of my research will hopefully lead me to an enquiry of whether the encouragement of self expression through digital practices on a media studies course will ever be viewed as a meaningful task by young people or simply a attempt by teachers to ‘get down with the kids’?


Buckingham, D. (2003) Media Education: Literacy, Learning and Contemporary Culture. Polity
Illich, I. (1971) Deschooling Society
Jenkins, H. (2009) Confronting the Challenges of Participatory Culture MIT
Kress, G. (2003) Literacy in the New Media Age Routledge
Lange, P.D. and Ito, M. (2009) ed Hanging Out, Messing Around, Geeking Out: Kids Living and Learning with New Media. MacArthur Foundation.
Moayeri, M. (2010) Classroom Uses of Social Network Sites: Traditional Practices of New Literacies? Digital Culture & Education, 2:1, 25-43

Cultural Disneyland? The history of an inferiority complex

Dr Richard Berger, Reader in Media & Education, The Centre for Excellence in Media Practice, Bournemouth University

In the 1990s, the then Education Secretary in the UK, John Patten, called media courses and programmes, ‘pseudo religion’ and a ‘cultural Disneyland’. This from a government which established the Department for Media, Culture and Sport in 1992 – then called the Department of National Heritage. Nonetheless, it seems that media education has suffered from an inferiority complex ever since. However, far from damaging our subject, these criticisms are actually the result of a significant success story. There were once heated debates about the introduction of English Literature at Oxford University, and even Jane Austen had to defend the novel in her own Northanger Abbey.

In the years after that novel was posthumously published (1818), others would have to defend the right to study their particular media of choice, but the examination – and surrounding scholarship – of what we would now call the ‘modern mass media’ has in reality been an aspect of the teaching curricula in the UK since the 1950s. This was partly the result of the first British Film Institute (BFI) conference in 1946, whereby a select group of largely London-based school teachers began using film in their classes (see Bolas 2009). There was definitely a sense of paternalist inoculation here as it was felt that children and young people needed to be ‘protected’ from this potentially dangerous media; the perverse logic went that if children could be taught how to discriminate between good and bad films, then they would become better citizens – and the cinema industry would be forced to clean up its act as a consequence. A ‘film appreciation’ movement later emerged in schools in the 1960s and 1970, where film clubs were very popular – although this was generally extra-curricula, and very middle-class. Those early teachers, who used film in their teaching in some way, came from subjects such as of Physics, Geography and Economics. Decades later, Len Masterman (1985) would argue for a film education to be an integral part of Geography, Science, English and History subjects:

“[I have] used a great deal of film in my English teaching in the 1960s and early 1970s, particularly with low-stream kids to whom print was synonymous with failure” (1985, xiv).

This was reflected in the emerging media studies programmes in the latter-half of the 20th century, and their ultimate purpose: to foster a sense of media literacy in students. In the wake of the 1963 Newsom Report, UK schools where divided along the lines of those teachers who saw a media education as an essential part of ‘good’ citizenship and a means to promote ‘critical thinking’; those, like Masterman and David Buckingham, who argued for a type of media education in all schools; and those who taught media in polytechnics and some universities to students who wanted to make their own films and who wanted to work in, what was then, thriving British film and television industries. As the UK film industry declined in global prominence and influence in the 1980s and 1990s, conversely media, as a taught subject in schools, colleges and the new ‘post 1992’ universities, was booming: dozens of media studies and production programmes were being set up to sate the appetite of a generation eager to participate in some way; if you were a young person in the 1960s, 1970s, 1980s, and to an extent, the 1990s, who wanted to make your own media texts, you had to take a media programme of some type at your school or college. Today, new technology mean that this is no longer the case; pretty much anyone can get access to production, acquisition and production equipment, and this poses particular challenges for those of us in media education, or who use media in some way, in our teaching.

Media literacy, was seen by many, as a crucial aspect of a wider literacy education. But the problem was that media education began to move away from the media and creative industries (and practice) towards ‘high theory’, just at a time when students were becoming more involved in creating their own media texts, and this has caused a dangerous schism. As Buckingham notes:

“Media teaching has been historically been dominated by ‘critical analysis’ – and indeed, by a relatively narrow form of textual analysis [original italics]” (2003, 49).

This then, has been the core problem for media education, as it became further divorced from practice. In addition, the ‘high-theory’ of media studies was now being integrated into the wider arts, humanities and social science subjects: many History programmes started to look very much like media studies. Indeed, many teachers of film and media studies began their careers as English or History teachers, for as Deborah Cartmell, notes:

“Surely, there’s not an English teacher anywhere who doesn’t use film to illuminate Shakespeare, or who doesn’t ask students to translate a literary text to a context that is relevant to their own situations. However, this process, utilized by so many educators, is rarely interrogated or explained” (2010, vii).

Some large claims have been recently made about media’s pedagogic reach, but as with Masterman in the 1980s, such use of media texts in the classroom is usually in the context of using it as some form of prophylactic, or to help young people who are struggling; so paradoxically the teaching of media has both been seen as a cure for something, and the cause of it:

“It may seem unlikely, but E.T. and Wall-E are being credited as playing an important role in aiding the educational development of today’s schoolchildren…[M]ovies help disengaged pupils to connect with their lessons” (Doward 2010).

So, clearly we haven’t moved far in 30 years, while the rest of the arts, humanities and social sciences subjects coalesce around us, and take the best bits for their own. This problem has been made worse, with the emergence of medium specific silos and their attendant canons from the 1980s. Nothing has done more damage to media education than by the imagined distinctions between film studies, television studies, radio studies and now new media and games studies – and this has not been helped by the medium specific nature of school and college curricular.

Some, such as Jonathan Gray, perhaps point a way out of this mess:

“[W]hile ‘screen studies’ exists as a discipline encompassing both film and television studies, we need an ‘off-screen’ studies to make sense of the wealth of other entities that saturate the media and that construct film and television” (2010, 7).

Perhaps a focus on these paratexts is a better way of understanding the relationship that different media have with other media? Since the late 1980s onwards – the very beginnings of the schism I describe – many of our students have been actively involved in what is loosely deemed ‘Web 2.0’ phenomena, such as online fanfic writing and fan filmmaking. Many young people – and therefore out students – now live in an era of re-purposing; they are their own authors (or auteurs) of content. They are also ‘digital natives’ in that new social practices are often non-medium specific – failing to recognise the, often imagined, distinctions between different media. The creative and media industries are no longer ‘out there’ in any traditional industrial context. Significant aspects of today’s creative and media industries are constituted in bedrooms and classrooms. This is in part due to new technology, but educators often fail to aggregate these types of activities. Today’s student has probably spent a decade making media before they apply to film school and this now poses particular challenges for the media teacher:
This medium specificity has also resulted in a fetishism of technology, as our schools and colleges engage in an arms race to acquire the latest production kit. For many, media studies is just about technology and tools. The view is that students will therefore chase the technology, but often they have better kit at home:

“The technology young people use these days in their out-of-school/college contexts will often be more sophisticated than what we are offering, and they may find our interventions into their everyday digital culture clumsy and awkward, rather than inspiring and empowering” (McDougall 2006, x).

This obsession with technology has been to the detriment of media education. So, we now need to turn away from the ‘high theory’ and return to our modern, completely mediated, lives and the core principles of professional conduct, for as Marc Prensky would have it:

“[U]sing technology is the student’s job. The teacher’s job is to coach and guide the use of technology for effective learning” (2010, 3).

Media education is at its best when it is studying and critiquing practice and policy. A media education should not just be for those who want a career in the creative and media industries, in the same way not all literature graduates will write novels or plays. However, there is probably no subject that shadows its industry so closely. A media education then, and one which is closely aligned to the modern media industries, its professionals and its practices, should benefit anyone who lives in our very mediated world. Media education today, and therefore any manifesto for media education, must be attuned to the relationships perceived distinct media have with each other, and the abundance of texts and practices which are the direct result of such exchanges. Media education should seek to explore these commonalities between media, what they share, what and how they exchange professional personnel, technologies and techniques, and the texts which are the result. No one would ever the question the value in reading and studying a novel, a play or a poem. No one should question then the value in reading and studying a film, television programme or videogame, if only for what these ‘new’ medias owe to older ones.


Bolas, Terry. 2009. Screen Education: from film appreciation to media studies. Bristol: Intellect.
Buckingham, David. 2003. Media Education: literacy, learning and contemporary culture. Cambridge: Polity.
Cartmell, Deborah. 2010. Foreword. Pp. vii-viii in Redefining Adaptation Studies, ed. D. Cutchins, L. Raw, and J. M. Welsh. Lanham: The Scarecrow Press.
Doward, Jamie. 2010. How classic films give pupils a taste for learning, The Observer, (31 October 2010).
Gray, Jonathan. 2010. Show Sold Separately: promos, spoilers and other media paratexts. New York: New York University Press.
Masterman, Len. 1985. Teaching the Media. London: Routledge.
McDougall, Julian. 2006. The Media Teacher’s Book. London: Hodder.
Prensky, Marc. 2010. Teaching Digital Natives: partnering for real learning. California: Corwin.

Critical Citizenship and Media Literacy Futures

Stuart R. Poyntz, Assistant Professor, School of Communication, Simon Fraser University

Over the past fifteen years, I have worked with young people in various forms of creative media production, largely through Pacific Cinémathèque, Western Canada’s leading film institute, but also through other community-based media programs and courses offered at post-secondary schools. An ongoing challenge in this work has been to conceptualize notions of critical citizenship in relation to the goals and ambitions of media education. Equipping young people to be participants in public spheres has long been a key objective of media literacy. It is consonant with the moral agenda that circumscribes the field and is crucial in societies where to be a citizen means to participate critically online and in everyday life through images, sounds and written texts. Nonetheless, I think critical citizenship has less to do with the way young people learn to become certain kinds of activists or to take part in the formal mechanisms of politics (i.e., voting, membership in political parties, etc.), and more to do with the way media education fosters students’ modes of thinking and judging, including their sense of hospitality towards strangers.

I argue thus because young people are increasingly engaging in multiple forms of civic participation, including consumer activism, social movements, issue-based politics, and new forms of volunteerism that circumvent or ignore more traditional liberal democratic institutions. Moreover, it is not the job of media educators to determine the political project young people will inherit, and public life itself is not sustained by mere acts of voting once every three or four years. Rather, public life is sustained through a culture of speech and action that counteracts thoughtlessness. Democracy is fostered through a rich social, cultural and political field, an everyday lifeworld in which conformity is contested and thoughtful and vigilant resistance to the power of ideology, bureaucracy, and artificiality are enabled. Such a field is not a singular space however; it is “a space of conflicting and competing discourses, of stories, and images, and performances” that do not reveal truth as much as “the worldliness of the world” (Silverstone, 2007, p. 49). A vital social, cultural and political lifeworld is thus sustained as much by the complexity and richness of the stories and perspectives we find there, as by the way truth itself is articulated in public life.

This is really to say it is the plurality of people, stories, images, and performances that sustain ‘the worldliness of the world.’ Plurality acts as a bulwark against thoughtlessness because the presence of other people, new ideas and images, what the political theorist Hannah Arendt (1958) calls the “web of human relationships,” that ensure our mediated lives are open to change. Plurality thereby counters a kind of oblivion that can blind us to the possibility that things might be different than they are. It nurtures thoughtfulness and constitutes the ground on which democratic dreams might be born. As such, it is essential for developing a common world, a public culture in which we are all involved.

The question this raises is: how does media education foster plurality (and thereby, thoughtfulness) among children and youth? I argue it does by “preserving newness” (Arendt, 1968), by working with young people in such a way that our students gain a felt sense that new beginnings, new directions in their own and other people’s lives are possible. This happens, first, when media education enables thinking itself, the habit of examining “whatever happens to come to pass or attract attention” in our lives (Arendt, 1978, p. 5). It is through our faculty of thought, our ability to reflect on the world that we move beyond routine circumstances and routine behaviours, and begin to consider these circumstances and behaviours in relation to other problems, other people, other possible answers. A more complex (or plural) field of social, cultural and political life is thereby opened up.

Where media education enables thinking and contributes to the critical citizenry vital to public life, it does so by helping young people to de-naturalize the images and mediated experiences that are so much a part of our lives. By helping young people to become historians of the present, to read into the fabric of everyday consumer life, media education demystifies the given world. Distance is thereby introduced into the way young people experience their identities, their relationships with others and their sense of the world itself. The constructedness of our social and cultural lives is thus brought into view. Certainly, the fact that our lives are constructed in and of itself is not the problem; but unless we learn to think about how this constructedness operates, change is not possible. Media education also fosters thinking by helping young people to question bias in media, to see how figures of authority are constituted as such, to examine the production of media texts and practices in relation to an ecology of structures and forces, and by helping children and youth to use media texts as looking-glasses into the cultural patterns and pressures shaping their lives. The use of various forms of new media can foster thinking by helping students learn how to leverage the networking form and capabilities of the Internet. This includes learning to think via forms of collective intelligence, but more broadly, network thinking refers to thinking enabled through the production of meaningful connections in a world rich with information and digital media. This is a central ambition of what is sometimes called Media Literacy 2.0, as are efforts to foster thinking by developing young people’s abilities to sift through the information and narratives produced across media platforms.

Where thinking works to open up routine behaviours and practices, nevertheless, on its own it is not sufficient to foster young people’s democratic habits of mind, because thinking is typically something we do on our own. To preserve newness and nurture democratic cultures, however, requires that we engage with that culture, and to do so, requires that we learn to judge (Arendt, 1978). Judging brings us into the world because judging is something we can only do by forming opinions with and through our encounters with others. Judging is not something we do on our own, because to judge is to form points of view or positions regarding others, and to do this requires that we involve ourselves in “a talking through, a bringing forth, a constant engagement with one’s own thought and that of others” (Silverstone, 2007, p. 44). This requires that we act in the world, that we go out and engage with others in order to understand others. Through this, judging involves risk taking and oftentimes a challenge to the status quo because to judge is to see things from many sides and thus to understand perspectives not yet taken. Judging nurtures what Kant called an “enlarged mentality,” because to judge is to engage with the points of view of others and to mix these perspectives with our own. Through this comingling, we develop richer and more complex views of the world and our place in it. Thereby, thoughtfulness is preserved because our imaginations are increasingly habituated “to go visiting” (Arendt, quoted in Smith, 2001, p. 83).

Media education fosters young people’s ability to judge by affording opportunities for children and youth to talk back to various publics, to leverage the production possibilities made available by new (social networking spaces, blogs, podcasts, and increasingly accessible video production tools) and older media (including written text) to contest, engage, visit, and act with others. These resources make it possible – as perhaps never before – for students to be active agents in their lives and the lives of others. That said, young people don’t take on such roles automatically or easily. Rather, a willingness to judge with others, develops at least in part as students are provoked and challenged (by teachers and those working in other learning environments) to examine how media cultures operate in and through their lives, including how these cultures might be changed to make way for more equitable futures. To do this work, a production-oriented media education curriculum is not only an interesting add-on to the critical analytic work media education has long been committed to. It is essential for ensuring that media literacy programs nurture a kind of engagement that challenges and invites students to share their views with others, to learn to judge in such way that an enlarged mentality, a form of thoughtfulness, is the result. Where media production opens these possibilities, so too do a range of websites – i.e., TakingITGlobal, YouthNoise, Tolerance.org, etc – that create interactive spaces where young people appear with each other and address issues of culture, race, sexuality, and youth action on global issues. Such spaces enable dialogue and the sharing of media resources among youth and educators, and by doing so, critical citizenship is fostered in relation to the media young people increasingly see as their own.

Of course, not everyone is willing to engage with ideas and people that are unfamiliar or unknown, and the same opportunities for media literacy and media production are not available to all young people. For these reasons, I argue that a third crucial way media education nurtures plurality and a democratic world is by fostering young people’s sense of hospitality towards strangers.

By this, I don’t mean that young people should be encouraged to go out and contact any stranger that happens to come their way. This idea would be naïve and irresponsible. The point is rather that the presence of strangers is crucial to democracies, because any democratic public worthy of its name must include more people than simply those one knows or those who are like me. As a consequence, strangers are a normal part of our social worlds. If so, it is also true that where young people are concerned, strangerhood is typically (and often unjustifiably) understood as a social condition thread through with fear. Strangers pose threats to children and youth (stranger-danger), particularly where kids’ online lives are concerned. Strangers can also signify the fluidity, volatility and precariousness of increasingly globalized lives, where meeting people we don’t know can often feel like what Zygmunt Bauman (2001) calls, “mis-meeting.” Conversely, adolescents themselves can become emblematic strangers when they are portrayed as being so different and unlike the adults around them, that they are seen to pose a threat to the very fabric of social life.

In each of these castings, strangerhood comes to represent uncertainty, precarity, and danger, the upshot of which is that the very idea of a relationship between strangers and young people comes to operate as a way of controlling, disciplining and managing adolescents’ sense of agency and belonging. Young people themselves often fight back against these restrictions and “engage in … ‘boundary performance’ – risk-taking [that] is often publicly performed as part of the process of identity construction in a peer group context … [The result is that] whatever we as adults worry about, whatever social norms we seek to defend, children will be motivated to transgress precisely those norms that society has constructed as vital to the preservation of childhood innocence” (Livingstone, 2009, p. 155). If young people are likely to be curious about that which they don’t know, nurturing a form of stranger hospitality is also about fostering a duty of care, a sense of responsiveness, or ‘responsibility’ to the world (Levinas, 1985). Hospitality in this sense is a central element of freedom, because in the final instance, “the only indispensable material factor in the generation of [public life] is the living together of people” (Arendt, 1995, p. 203). But this requires that we learn to live with others, many others, including those we don’t know.

If this is so, media education can nurture a hospitality towards strangers and thereby help sustain a democratic world by ensuring that “the digital and analogue spectrum” is available for all those who are marginalized in contemporary culture (Silverstone, 2007, p. 143); by drawing attention to those voices and bodies (including people who are homeless, refugees, migrant labour, sex trade workers, and others) that are regularly disappeared from view in the mainstream press; by helping young people to experiment with new forms of association, including ‘crowd sourcing’ and online community forums that are changing the political spaces of our cities and neighbourhoods; and so on. Most importantly, media education helps to nurture a hospitality towards strangers when those in the field enable young people to confront “fundamental and structuring wrong[s], a miscount, a radical and unjust exclusion” of people, of ideas, of media practices “that cannot be tolerated” (Barney, 2010). When we do this, media education not only helps to foster a regard for strangers, we also help to nurture a form of thinking and doing, a critical citizenry conscious of the ways all meaning (including that revealed through media texts and experiences) has a social and historical context, a form of contingency that is susceptible to change.


Arendt, H. (1958). The Human Condition (2nd ed.). Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.
Arendt, H. (1968). Between Past and Future: Eight Exercises in Political Thought (enl. ed.). New York: Viking Press.
Arendt, H. (1978). The life of the mind. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich.
Arendt, H. (1995). Men in dark times. New York, NY: Harcourt Brace and Company.
Barney, D. (2010). ‘Excuse us if we don’t give a fuck’: The (anti-)political career of participation. Jeunesse, 2(2), 138-146.
Bauman, Z. (2001). Making and unmaking of strangers. In P. Beilharz (Ed.), The Baumann Reader. Oxford, UK: Blackwell Publishing.
Levinas, E. (1985). Ethics and infinity (A. Lingis, Trans.). Pittsburgh, PA: Duquesne University Press.
Livingstone, S. (2009). Children and the Internet: Great Expectations, Challenging Realities. Cambridge, UK: Polity Press.
Silverstone, R. (2007). Media and morality: On the rise of the mediapolis. Cambridge, UK: Polity Press.
Smith, S. (2001). Education for judgment: An Arendtian oxymoron? In M. Gordon (Ed.), Hannah Arendt and education: Renewing our common world (pp. 67-91). Boulder, CO: Westview.

And Pedagogy Too…

Associate Professor Jenny Moon, The Centre for Excellence in Media Practice

At the Manifesto symposium held in London on June 10th, we did some rethinking of aspects of media education. As I came away, I thought that pedagogy needed a stronger presence in the discussions so I have put together some thoughts.

In the discussion, I thought that there was some danger of taking for granted the language of pedagogy. Nothing unusual about that – taking pedagogical words for granted is the norm. Our language for teaching and learning dates from the time when, in formal education it was considered that what was taught was learnt so we only needed to talk about teaching (not learning) and the emphasis was on instruction and training methods, on aims for teaching, on describing the curriculum and on the skills and intentions of the teacher and so on. More recently we have changed our focus to learning – and since the learning of the learner is what is central to education, that seems appropriate. With that change of emphasis, we can, to some extent recognise that in a taught lesson there are students who will learn most of what is intended by the teacher, some will pick up some bits, some will misunderstand and get wrong ideas and some will be thinking about what they are planning to wear for the weekend party. However much of the language of pedagogy has lagged behind the change of focus. In particular I think we muddle ‘teaching’ and ‘learning’ as words. They refer to different processes and we trust that they have some meeting in the middle. The teacher teaches and we hope that the learner learns, though she may not, or she may learn the same thing from a source other than the lesson. We cannot make a learner learn through teaching – we can only hope and pray….and do our best to be clear, engaging and interesting and so on. Learning happens everywhere and enriches that done formally, as well, one assumes, as vice versa. What is important is that we recognise that when something has been taught, learning of that thing is not automatic. It is common for teachers to say ‘I covered this or that’ and in some way imply that learning has therefore taken place.

Another problem arises in our incorrect use of words. Since the fashion changed and we now talk of learning instead of teaching (excuse my scepticism) educational activities have now become described as learning this and learning that. An example is ‘learning technology’. When students learn something via the medium of a computer screen, their brains are probably undergoing just the same processes as when they sit in a classroom with a teacher teaching. The role of the computer is as an element of presentation – of teaching. If we talk of teaching technologies there are many other ideas that start to apply and a rethink is really in order.

I also want to look at the word ‘theory’ which we tend to use glibly. It means so many things. I spent a lot of my undergraduate days wondering what this thing called theory was (in a zoology degree). As a student I never did find out and it was only with a more sophisticated manner of thinking, that I could much later understand my difficulties. One meaning of theory is ‘what is taught in the classroom’. Most of the time, that is the meaning to which we refer but because of the other meanings, it has mystique and grandeur about it. Another more precise meaning is that ‘a theory’ is an attempt to explain an observed phenomenon. There might be several theories that attempt to account for a particular phenomenon and we may know that no one of them is ‘right’ – whatever ‘right’ might mean, but they all add something to our understanding or they represent a particular approach (which might be a discipline). For example, psychologists and sociologists may have different interpretations of audience behaviour. ‘Theory’ might also be what you need to know before you perform some practical operation. You would want to know elementary ideas about the functioning of a camera and the physics of light before, for example, making a film. When we talk of theory we need to know what sort of theory we talk of. Or, on the other hand, maybe we should not use the grand and convenient generalisation of ‘theory’, but instead try to be more explicit. I wonder how many of us as teachers would know what to say if a student asked us to define what ‘theory’ is! We use it too easily as shorthand for vagueness.

However there is another issue relevant to the idea of ‘theory’ and also to thinking and learning processes. I consider this to be important and though I only know the ideas in their application to higher education levels. When we talk of knowledge and of learning, there is a tendency to think of the existence of a body of ideas that are to be absorbed by the brains of learners and described in a curriculum. In the process of education, it is assumed that students learn more and more of this body of knowledge and in effect, they fill their heads with ideas – their heads ‘swell’ with knowledge that is accumulated. However, research on learning shows that education is not about learning more and more, but about changing ideas. As a learner’s ideas change so what she knows is known in a more sophisticated manner. Learners develop at different rates – so – as William Perry entitled an article, there are ‘Different Worlds in the Same Classroom’. In other words, students at different levels of development understand the same material in different ways – and these variations between learners are likely to be manifested in the same class group. In general terms, it seems that learners arriving for undergraduate programmes tend to see knowledge in the way I have described above, to be accumulated. Their teachers are the experts with the knowledge to ‘give’ them (as clearly and concisely as possible please!). In the course of education, students come to see that knowledge is often not like that – some is uncertain. There is not a right or wrong answer – and no one theory is ‘right’. They realise that to make a decision they need to look at evidence and evaluate the quality of the evidence. They can understand how knowledge may be constructed and they are beginning to see that teachers are not the founts of knowledge that they once thought, but are also in a process of learning, developing knowledge and managing uncertainty. It is only at this stage that they can begin also to appreciate what theory is….and that is why I, on my undergraduate zoology programme, could not understand this word ‘theory’. The ideas to which I refer here are called epistemological development or the development of epistemological beliefs.

If anyone is interested in any of these ideas, I am happy to point the way to references and I will be doing a session on epistemological development at the Media Summit in September. Jenny@cemp.ac.uk

Vocational Media

Alison Pemberton, The BRIT School

I teach at The BRIT School in South London, perhaps better known for producing musicians and performers, but we also teach young people who aspire to a career within the media industries as content creators, filmmakers, writers and broadcasters. Vocational education is at the heart of the school and as such my manifesto is a vocational media education manifesto.

Manifestos are ultimately about idealism and revolution. With this in mind my vocational media education manifesto is primarily concerned with the following four areas.

1. Student engagement
2. Specialist teaching
3. Development of skills
4. Routes for progression

1. Student engagement

I’m sure many teachers who haven’t experienced a vocational media course would be surprised to find out just how much ‘writing’, theoretical understanding and research that vocational media students complete alongside practical projects and development of technical skills. Vocational education doesn’t just mean ‘making’, look at any of the vocational qualifications on offer from the BTEC diplomas in Creative Media Production or the OCR Nationals and you will see specifications committed to theoretical knowledge and understanding alongside skills development and practice. I believe this variety of teaching and learning is key to student engagement on any media course.

Vocational media education should be concerned with the encouragement of ideas, providing a safe space for students to experiment, to fail and to succeed and to develop their authorial voices in a variety of mediums. Work that students produce should be promoted, valued and recognised. Students should be encouraged to distribute their work whether this is through YouTube, Vimeo, Soundcloud, broadcast on student radio, Flickr or entered for competitions. The ability to share work with real audiences is vital. Work that is only ever watched or looked at by teachers in the comfort of a media office somehow seems redundant.

In order to maintain student engagement, media teachers have a responsibility to ensure that we are up-to-date and relevant with our resources, teaching methods and ideas in order to engage students and to share in best practice Relying on that old newspaper article that has been photocopied a hundred times or setting the same essay question year after year is not the way to get students actively involved in what Julian McDougall would call ‘subject Media’. If media teachers don’t make their lessons up-to-date, relevant and interactive to the students in front of them, how do they expect their students to be interested in their lesson content? I believe that media teachers shouldn’t be divided amongst those that ‘just teach the theory’ against those who ‘do the video and editing bit’. A good media teacher will be a well rounded theorist and a strong practitioner being able to teach film studies in the morning and demonstrating Final Cut Pro editing techniques in the afternoon. For me theory and practice are and will always be interlinked. This is why I find teaching media so enjoyable and challenging; always trying to use and find new examples, learning new technologies and subject areas; I can’t think of any other subject at 14-19 where this is a prerequisite.

Specialist teaching

I strongly believe that media teachers should have a background in media, whether this is as an ex-industry professional or through the study of media specific subjects at degree or post-graduate level. I do not believe that English teachers who have been forced into teaching the subject or those who teach both subjects are the best models. It belies the importance and credibility of the subject. I believe those who have studied media at degree level have the capacity to truly understand the subject and all of its related fields. However it still makes me somewhat annoyed and frustrated that there are still too few media specific PGCEs that train media teachers without them having to simultaneously train as an English teacher.

My route to becoming a media teacher at The BRIT School has meant a lot of hard work, repetition of qualifications and having no option but to teach some English. In 2001 after finishing my degree there were only one or two institutions offering a specific media PGCE and I think even these had an emphasis on English and the English curriculum in some form. I therefore had to study for a PGCE in post-compulsory education and training (PCET), which meant I could focus solely on teaching media and film alongside some vocational qualifications for 16 years olds and above. I was qualified for FE level only and hence went onto teach at a college. A few years later after the disillusionment of FE, having to produce weekly retention rates, working out achievement rates, constantly knowing value added scores and dealing with redundancies, I traded FE for a secondary school. I was lucky to be employed, as my PGCE (PCET) didn’t have Qualified Teacher Status (QTS) meaning legally I wasn’t able to teach anyone under the age of 16. I had to complete a Government Training Programme (GTP) to order to achieve QTS (anyone getting bored of the acronyms?); effectively completing a PGCE twice, only this time also having a full time teaching job at the same time. But what did I have to do in order to gain QTS, that would legally allow me able to teach pre-16 students GCSE Media Studies and BTEC First Diplomas, even though I had taught these qualifications in FE? I had to teach key stage 3 English, specifically my placement asked me to teach year 8s Pride and Prejudice. So in order to be able to effectively deliver media education from 14-19 and to prove my abilities and to get the piece of paper that made me legal, I had to teach Jane Austen. It’s not just me, but this is madness, is it not?

This conundrum has faced nearly every person thinking of becoming a media teacher. Do I focus solely on FE, which often has different pay scales, holiday allowances and structures and become a ‘lecturer’? Or do I focus on secondary schools, which uses the main teachers pay scale, means you might have to teach English or not have great technical resources and become a ‘teacher’? I believe this system and the lack of choice in specific PGCEs or conversion programmes is potentially blocking a lot of excellent prospective media teachers or in the very least quickly generates disaffected media teachers.

Development of skills

Vocational media education should encompass the development of technical, theoretical and creative skills. Students should be ‘getting their hands dirty’ with equipment at every opportunity, making videos, podcasts, taking part in photography shoots etc. in order to develop both their technical and aesthetic skills. Vocational media education shouldn’t and doesn’t ignore ‘writing’ which is often a common misunderstanding of the subject. Written skills through essay writing, producing presentations, research, pre-production paperwork, producing scripts and textual analysis is integral to the ability to communicate.

All subjects have their own specific skills and as I’m sure all media teachers can attest, media courses perhaps encourage the broadest skills of all. Whether this is learning a set of specific and professional software from the Adobe Creative Suite to Final Cut Pro or learning to use a HDV or DSLR camera to using the skills of composition to capture visually interesting work. Or it might be learning how to work in a team, to collaboratively create a television show and learn how to communicate with people, when no-one is talking to each other or being entirely responsible for the organisation of a shoot or perhaps knowing what to do when you realise you’ve gone out to film, your actors haven’t turned up and you’ve forgotten your tape. The skills of organisation, thinking on your feet, communication and group work are just as important as learning depth of field, parallel editing and how to operate a boom.

Routes for progression

I am writing this manifesto knowing that my current year 12 tutor group will potentially be paying in excess of £8000 a year in tuition fees if they chose to attend university.
As someone who only last month paid the last instalment of my student loan, the introduction of higher fees will have a direct and immediate impact on the amount of young people who can afford to attend university. For me, this changes the landscape of post-16 education. What we deliver is now more important than ever. We need to question whether we are providing the correct courses, ensure that we are keeping ourselves up-to-date and relevant and that the content of our courses is appropriate. We need to be able to deliver a curriculum that simultaneously allows students to progress into employment in a media related industry whilst also providing them with a rich curriculum that enables them to continue at higher education if they choose.

On a vocational media course, links with industry is vital. The encouragement of outside speakers, organisations, use of ex-students and organising trips is only going to generate a richer experience for students and help establish discussion and the promotion of ideas. Work experience opportunities are incredibly important, this certainly doesn’t mean that students should automatically be provided with a work placement on every media course, but students should be encouraged to seek out and create opportunities for themselves. If organised correctly, work experience can be more than photocopying and stuffing envelopes. Work based learning allows young people to experience the world of work, for all its positives and negatives, and provides them with some real word experience. Actually being a part of a busy, hectic production company allows people to learn in a way that perhaps is not achievable sitting in a classroom. Ultimately I think work experience can used as a tool for aspiration and progression.

In conclusion, I think vocational media education has over the years had a bad reputation; the Creative Media Diploma certainly hasn’t helped matters. But there is space for A Levels, GCSEs, BTECs and Diplomas to exist alongside one another and they share more commonalities than people give them credit for.

So is there one media manifesto to suit all? Well I feel glad, relieved even, that I am not teaching the same issues, subjects and examples that I was when I first started teaching, how boring would that be! And I continue to be intrigued as to what I will be teaching in ten years time. I don’t think we will ever have one clear and precise media education manifesto; instead we are a rich and diverse community of teachers that are so committed to our subject that we contribute to discussions such as these and get involved in debate about the future of our subject.

Media education as a basic entitlement for all children and young people

Michael Dezuanni. Film and Media Curriculum Lecturer. Queensland University of Technology, Brisbane, Australia

Media education is a basic entitlement for all children and young people. At least that’s what the Australian government recently decided by choosing to include Media as one of the five Arts forms for inclusion in the new Australian (National) Curriculum. I’m not sure the federal government meant to make that decision, but in effect that is what happened. Media education in the Australia Curriculum is to be called Media Arts (more on that later) and will be mandatory for all Australian children from preschool to year 8. A curriculum will also be written for years 9 to 12 for those schools that choose to implement it. The Media Arts curriculum will be familiar to most media educators; underpinned by key areas of knowledge around media languages, representations, institutions, audiences and technologies. It will be completely unfamiliar to most primary school teachers and many lower secondary teachers who will be required to implement it; and that poses some significant challenges for implementation.

As an advisor to the Australian Curriculum Assessment and Reporting Authority, I am in the privileged position of having direct input into what the Media Arts curriculum will include. This has required me to go back to answering some of the basic questions about what I believe are the reasons for including media education as a mandatory requirement for all children and young people, and what a media education should ‘look like’ from pre-school to senior secondary school. The thoughts outlined below sit behind a number of decisions that are currently being made about the shape of the Media Arts curriculum. They will not appear as curriculum policy, but they are my thoughts as an advocate for media education for over twenty years. Several of my claims are based on assumptions that probably need to be worked through via solid classroom based research. But as this is a manifesto, for now I’m putting aside my researcher’s anxiety of taking a solid position.

Why should media education be mandatory for all children and young people?

Australian society should aim for media education that leads to high levels of participation in digital cultures because it is good for democracy. By high level participation, I mean the ability to produce short videos, create podcasts and other digital content that provides alternatives to alphabetic literacy for communicating ideas. In societies in which video can be shot on mobile devices and edited on personal computers, why shouldn’t we expect people to communicate ideas through recording, editing and sharing video and audio and other digital forms? I am enough of a Foucauldian to believe that the greater the number of people who have to ability to produce media, the better our societies and communities are likely to be. Pluralism is superior to homogeneity and genuine participation in digital culture by more people will lead to greater cultural pluralism.

Some young people successfully participate in digital culture without formal education. Of course, many do not. A quick (unscientific) scan of the skills and knowledge of young people coming into the teacher education courses at my University suggests that while most students can use computer hardware and software to undertake everyday activities like communicate with email, use social networks and access online videos, few produce media content in the form of videos or podcasts. I believe that’s because they do not know how to produce videos efficiently and effectively – it is not because they are uninterested or unwilling. The creation of meaningful media products relies on a range of complex skills and knowledge that should be developed over several years and that is most likely to occur through the formal education system. This is also true of children and young people’s ability to think about the reasons for media production and the consequences of its consumption. There continues to be a role for media analysis of both media texts and contexts and this should be taught and practiced over several years of schooling.

What is the distinction between media education as a form of Arts education and as an aspect of English curriculum or literacy learning?

Media education more ‘naturally’ belongs in the Arts than in English curriculum or as an aspect of literacy education. Actually, I don’t really believe that to be entirely true. Of course it depends on the type of media education to be implemented and the purpose for its implementation. However, media education needs to have a ‘home’ in the curriculum if it is to be treated seriously by teachers, parents and students. Cross curricular approaches to media education only seem to work where dedicated enthusiasts ensure that their schools build media education objectives into other curriculum areas – and this occurs too infrequently. A home curriculum, with a detailed set of learning objectives provided for various stages of schooling, is required to ensure that teachers feel supported in their implementation of any curriculum. This is particularly the case if it is a curriculum that is likely to be unfamiliar to them if they are working in primary school contexts. The Arts provides a more logical fit for media education than English because media education is most successful when it involves creative media production.

Of course, there is a convincing argument that English curriculum should include media production, but the reality is that media production is not a priority for most English teachers (in Australia, creative writing is not a priority for many English teachers). Media is being called Media Arts in the Australia Curriculum because the curriculum authority does not want to confuse teachers, parents and students with the existence of Media in both English and the Arts. In some jurisdictions, like New South Wales, media education mostly occurs through the English curriculum. In other States like Queensland and Victoria, Media has been offered through both English and the Arts since at least the early 1990s. Until Buckingham’s suggestion in Beyond Technology (2007) that we reconceptualise media, English, technology and literacy education into a broad curriculum focus called something like ‘cultural studies’ becomes a reality, I believe the Arts is the best place to locate media education.

What is achievable in schools suffering from ‘crowded curriculum’ syndrome and where there are few media specialists?

The reality in most Australian primary schools is that media education is poorly understood and that it exists in small pockets of activity where enthusiasts implement it. Making media education an entitlement for all children in this context is challenging and a long way off being achieved. It is a good thing that the Australian Curriculum is being touted as ‘aspirational’. The current situation in Australian primary schools, where high stakes testing, accountability measures, and multiple competing priorities are a reality, makes media education a low priority. The Australian Curriculum will make it mandatory for all students from pre-school to year eight to have achievement reported against Media Arts standards – most likely in two year intervals.

The curriculum will need to be written in such a way that is able to be understood and implemented by non specialist teachers. This means that it will be outlined quite differently to a specialist secondary school Media Studies curriculum. There will be more emphasis on the Arts practice aspects of media education and less on “theory” although key conceptual questions will still underpin all aspects of the curriculum. This has already caused some concern amongst specialist media educators as they have provided feedback on the draft shaping papers. Some have suggested it is not enough like ‘Media’ as we know it. Some have objected to the name ‘Media Arts’ and others have argued that it is too focused on the ‘cultural studies’ aspects at the expense of ‘aesthetic’ knowledge – meaning there is too much focus on concepts like representations and institutions.

Some final thoughts

In my opinion, a manifesto for media education must call for media education to be an entitlement for all. But I believe media education should continue to evolve to meet the needs of today’s children and young people who have different relationships with media than the kinds of relationships children and young people had with media in the 1970s and 1980s– when media education was initially established as a field. It must also evolve to be relevant and practical to all educators, not just specialist media educators. There are some basic principles that continue to be important to me as a media educator – such as the belief that universal media education should be our goal, because high levels of participation in media cultures by many is more desirable than participation by few. It is also desirable that young people graduating from upper secondary school should be able to think critically about media texts and the contexts in which they are produced and used. Beyond that, I think media educators should be careful to avoid being weighed down by past practices and beliefs. In other words, a manifesto for media education should ne non normative, open to interpretation and adaptable to multiple contexts.

Media education: or why I learnt to stop teaching and start smuggling instead

Alan Taylor, Tshwane University of Technology, South Africa

“Pedagogical experience demonstrates that instruction in concepts is impossible. It is pedagogically fruitless…” (Vygotsky,in Daniels, 2001)

As a newly appointed English teacher in 1991 I was eager to find openings in the curricular that would explore and expand upon current student awareness of and experience in critical media techniques.


The first real smuggling opportunity came from a most unexpected quarter: the Conservative government’s return to ‘basics’ was grounded on the newly developed SATs testing regime. The National Curriculum for English pivoted on the pre-disclosed exam document that rolled out the usual list of canonical suspects. Shakespeare appeared in the form of Jacques’ speech from As You Like It. While my teaching colleagues both in the school and across the nation (Jenny Grahame will recall) bewailed the loss of volition in what to teach, I was happy to share my misgivings with the Year 9 students. What was interesting, I mused, was that the document didn’t say how we were to teach said texts (there was a Browning poem as well, I believe!).

My smuggling opportunity appeared as we were diligently reading through the dismembered text (Year 9 students didn’t have to read or know the actual play itself). What kept the students productively and critically busy for the next 3 weeks was the idea that they – first as individuals then in teams – were to write and present their own 20th century version of the ‘speech’. Open preliminary discussion set the stage of subsequent practical work: “Does it have to be a man?” asked one female student.  “No”, I answered, “and she doesn’t’ have to be white either” Once the communal AHA! moment was grasped the class walls were soon covered with written and visual examples (drawings, cartoons) of career arcs that often ironically subverted the socially assumed media representations of ‘success’ that the 13 years olds had already been used to. The project explored therein issues of gender, age, sex and class as these impinged upon assumed character arcs from birth to death. Registers that ranged from mockery to knowing social commentary exposed levels of informed self reflexive critique that neither I nor the then Secretary of State Chris Patten could have anticipated. Furthermore, I am convinced that the task even enhanced the student’s success at that year’s exam AND may have set the scene for further interest in both Shakespeare and drama in general.

Despite its questionable instrumental intent, then, the Back to Basics initiative of the-then Conservative government provided that rare leakage opportunity that Media Educationalists are born to grasp, critically explore, intellectually develop, and, dare I say, ruthlessly exploit with their students.

That early teaching experience confirmed for me that one shouldn’t look for the ideal teaching programme that will in of itself allow for ideal learning outcomes of the kind that the best in Media Education is expected to deliver.

Berlin, Germany.

Other examples of the kind elaborated upon here emerged later in, for example, the Free University of Berlin where I taught U.S film at the John F. Kennedy Institute of North American Studies. One aspect of being a foreigner is, of course, that we see the obvious almost too clearly. It dawned on me, for example, that aspects of actual educational theory seemed only to be explicitly covered in those courses that were specifically aimed at grooming educationalists. It seemed odd that the educational process itself wasn’t an intrinsic part of all courses. Students can spend twenty years ‘in’ education and not actually enquire about it (other than in terms of how to beat an examination or draft an essay). Education – in all its ideological assumptions and ramifications seemed, despite Borduieu, the usual given, not something to do with this course. It was from those ruminations (I dare not call them insights) that I drew up a semester course on how mainstream film represents – either explicitly (Dead Poets Society) or implicitly (American History) – the intrapersonal process of teaching and learning. The BA course provided American Studies students from geography, history, psychology, for example, inroads into the development of educational practice and theory as it emerged from the beginning of the 20th century in the United States (ie, from Dewey, Thorndike to Bandura). Cognitive and social theories of pedagogy informed the subject of the films chosen (The Blackboard Jungle was a good one here). It also provided those new to the actual analysis of film with a critical handle with which to further their interests in narrative and character development – on how films/screenwriters/directors themselves make similar pedagogic assumptions and assertions concerning their own notional audiences. (Once the point is made of course, one could appreciate how virtually all mainstream film and TV narratives feature characters that in one way or another must perforce learn new modes of thinking and doing in order to chart their way through Act 2. The one who does best – or who is mentored best! – survives as the winning hero).

South Africa

I am mindful of these early and recent experiences in my present role as Lecturer in Theory in what used to be the Pretoria Film School here in South Africa – and where theory (as such) is not even referred to in those elaborate Study Guides that have been in place for several years. Year 3 students, for example, are expected to explore the ‘Cinema of the Mavericks’ while post-graduates are heavily involved (for a whole year) on the ‘Cinema of the Independents’. There is no mention of ‘Auteur Theory’ in courses that are grounded in the obvious. One virtue, as you might gather, is the enormous wiggle room for maneuver that this absence allows for. Hence the B-tech/BA students – not so comfortable with essays – will be expected in a future assignment from me to undertake a 5 minute video production covering what they will consider to be a significant plot-point in the life of a key theorist (Levi-Strauss in the jungle? Walter Benjamin in Port Bou? Lacan meets Sylvia Bataille?). The production crew will thereby become an effective Research Group that will (it is hoped) engage them by gentle osmosis in the actual theories of their chosen Subjects – not the easiest of tasks for students ‘naturally’ focused almost exclusively on the assumed coming glories that the Red Carpet will have to offer.

Reference to current teaching practice in Africa provides now a short opportunity for insights that may be of interest to colleagues. As mentioned, I am currently at what is in effect South Africa’s most well-established film institution of its kind in Higher Education. From its inception in 1971 to 2004 it was, for both students and teaching staff, an all White institution. After 17 years of democratic rule we have now appointed our first black AND female full time lecturer.

I have of late (February 2011) taken the liberty to undertake an adhoc questionnaire intended to enquire about the (assumed) pre-university media education experience of our current 1st Year students. We should note that, however crude, the figures represents those students who have achieved sufficient matric exam successes to qualify for university entrance to what is, in effect, South Africa’s national film school (up to 300 interviews take place for 40 places each year and they are sharp and very eager cohort). The results – hopefully self explanatory – are as follows.

A demographic breakdown of the 24 students in terms of originating schools is as follows.

What might assist in reading the results is the fact that

-       the ONLY formal test in media literacy in South Africa is buried deep in the English metric examination paper.

-       When students mentioned ‘facilities’ these were in the form of technologies made available primarily for drama productions (lights)

-       There is a notable increase of film analysis in non-state schools where TV and video feedback facilities are more often available

-       That the high proportion of students who feel unprepared for the Film curriculum (22 out of 36) might explain the regular and significant drop out rate – that impacts mostly on the Black students – as the course unfurls.

If this snapshot insight is anything to go by, there is clearly much to forward here in South Africa when it comes to the future of Media Education. Three factors call for immediate attention: 1. the perceived role and lowly status of the educationalist in South Africa’s severely corporatized and consumer-led society; 2. the impoverished training of said educationalists in aspects of critical methodology. 3. the need for a richer, knowing curriculum that will more fully embrace and encourage such methodologies if and when they are to emerge.

In the light of inevitable changes soon to impact South Africa (and if the lingering legacies of Apartheid are to be fully replaced) the society and its variegated communities will urgently require a newly configured generation of teachers and students who can champion the kind of critical methodologies that the best of Media Education – from Canada, Australia and the UK – has always promoted and, with some satisfaction, often smuggled through.

What troubles me is from where – if not in the case of current film students – these teachers are to come from? Hence, future questionnaires will elaborate on the pivotal question, “…are you expecting to be a teacher in this highly specialized field? If not do you know a smuggler who is?”

Prof. Dr. Alan Taylor, Tshwane University of Technology, South Africa
Member, Oxford Education Society, a.taylor@balliol.oxon.org
See http://kinowords.wordpress.com

Daniels, H. 2001. Vygotsky and Pedagogy. New York: Routledge Falmer.

Radical Alternatives to Education?

Steve Wheeler, Associate Professor of Learning Technology, Faculty of Education, University of Plymouth

There has been a lot of rhetoric in recent years about the failure of schools. Successive political parties several countries have based their manifestos largely around educational reform. All political parties consider that this is probably what the public wants to hear. The‘No child left behind’ and ‘Every child matters’ agendas epitomise the view that education has been something of a political punch bag, yet not a lot seems to have changed, and if there are changes, most are far from radical. Other initiatives have been proposed to reach distributed and impoverished populations of young people. The ‘One Laptop per Child’ project was a classic example of this kind of technologically driven effort. If any substantial change is proposed however, it is often resisted by teachers, school leadership, parents. Sometimes the resistance is overt, more often than not, it is tacit. Whatever form the resistance takes, there is often inertia in the state funded education systems of the world. If we are to turn around our failing schools and make a long lasting impact however, perhaps we need to apply some radical, or even outrageous solutions.

So let’s think about it. What is the most outrageous alternative education scenario you could possibly imagine? How about children not attending a school at all, but instead learning from home? Well, this is not so outrageous, nor is it particularly new, because it’s happening somewhere in the world right now. Distance education in the remote outback regions of Australia and in the hard to reach rural areas of other large area countries has been alive and thriving for years. So too has the home schooling movement in all its shades and colours. Both are successful methods, but both also suffer from a number of drawbacks.

OK. So what about no school at all then – let children learn through ‘life experience’, with no formal schooling at all? This would result in children going straight to work as soon as they could talk. Well, the sweat shops in the Far East can easily lay claim to that one. And of course, in Europe in the last century but one, this was a common experience for every child except those privileged to be born into affluent families. It may be a radical approach, but anyone who advocates no school whatsoever, deserves a size 12 boot up their backside.

OK, what about children taking control of the curriculum, controlling discipline, and deciding what the teachers should teach them? No, sorry – that is completely passe. That was done by schools such as Summerhill School and a number of other progressive, humanist schools in the 1960s in England and elsewhere.

How about something a little less radical then? The teacher stepping back out of the way, so that the child can take the centre stage and learning is focused on their personal development rather than simply on facts and knowledge? No again – the Montessori schools have been taking the approach for years.

How about a more balanced curriculum then, where academic topics are weighted equally alongside artistic, aesthetic and social skills? Close, but no cigar – the Rudolf Steiner school movement has cornered ‘head, hearts and hands’ education for some time. Are we running out of alternatives? Is there any radical approach that has not been tried and tested? Are we doomed to continue with a rusty, creaking, increasingly outmoded and bloated national curriculum which every day becomes more and more irrelevant to the needs of the modern, fast changing, digitally-rich world of the information society? Are we?

Well, there is ‘deschooling’ of course. Deschooling in the sense that the anarchist philosopher Ivan Illich proposed in the early 70s. There’s no need to panic. It’s not doing away with schools, as most people think when they hear the phrase ‘deschooling’. Deschooling is not to be confused with the ‘unschooling’ we discussed earlier in this article. No, it’s more a philosophy premised on the assumption that universal education is simply not possible, nor is it desirable. We don’t all need to know the same stuff, therefore why should we all sit together in the same room, at great public expense, for so many thousand hours of our young lives, to be forced to learn it all? Why should we, in the sage words of Sir Ken Robinson, be ‘batch processed’ by age groups, in an industrialised instruction machine. Children all develop at different rates, so age categorisation is a false measure based on economic and management expediencies rather than because of any consideration for the learning experiences of individual children. Illich rejected these processes as unsound and unsustainable. He was also concerned that we should do away with what he called the ‘funnels’ of the schooling systems. His alternative were ‘learning webs’ that enabled every child (and indeed every adult in the context of lifelong learning) to learn what they personally needed to survive, thrive, care and share in their communities and societies. His idea of ‘peer matching’ was indeed very radical for his time:

The operation of a peer-matching network would be simple. The user would identify himself by name and address and describe the activity for which he sought a peer. A computer would send him back the names and addresses of all those who had inserted the same description. It is amazing that such a simple utility has never been used on a broad scale for publicly valued activity. (Illich, 1971)

Impossible then? Yes probably. Impossible now? Under the current funding regimes of mass state funded education, and in the present ethos of rigid curricula and control freakery of Western governments, trying to formalise something like this would be extremely difficult. But when we consider that 80 per cent of what we learn is achieved primarily outside the school gates, I am sure we might be able to agree that there are some potential loopholes just begging to be exploited. Add into the mix some positive deviancy from a few disruptive activists within the teaching ranks, and we may be able to make some progress toward transformation of the state funded school system.

So let’s see – how radical can we get with education? What if every child had their own device to connect to the world of knowledge and what if it was actually engaging and fun. What if children could search for any topic they wanted to know about and find complete high quality resources on it in seconds, on a screen right in front of them? What if kids could match their interests and knowledge needs with other kids whom they could link with around the globe? What if children could learn from each other within an online global community, using social networks and massively online role playing games? What if each child could create his own personal learning environment from a huge choice of tools that were free, scalable and open for all to use without any concerns about personal safety? What if this kind of learning was formally accredited in such a way that employers would recognise it? What if the learning webs that Illich dreamed of were actually a reality and a way to democratise knowledge? What if all of this could be brought to us through easy to use personal devices, connected anytime, any place, and totally free to use?

So why aren’t we doing it?