Bringing Digital Media into the Classroom
My students and I discussed throughout this past spring semester how there seems to be this misconception that learning to use (and using) new media should afford a frustration-free and anger-free experience. Somehow the newness of technology and its user-friendly characteristics are supposed to make the learning process easier. Yet, for me, a meaningful aspect of making a VoiceThread or a Prezi presentation, or creating a digital video is that I end up riding an emotional rollercoaster full of fun, frustration, and seemingly overwhelming challenges. I know that an emotional rollercoaster awaits me when I engage in these kinds of media making practices. However, the misconception that engaging with new media technologies will offer a frustration-free and anger-free experience can lead educators to overlook a number of important aspects about media creation:
The learning process is just as important as the final product. I start off every media project with the hope that I can make my creation match the image I have in my head. This does not always happen, although sometimes I end up with a product that surpasses my original idea. I try to give myself room for error, I pat myself on the back when I create something even if it falls short, and I often reach out and ask for help. I can’t be the only person who has run into a problem with video making, so I rely on the collective intelligence of message boards, my peers, iTunes tutorials, anything that I can get my hands on that can help me through the frustrating turns of my project and inspire me to continue. Because I know that the process of media production is an emotional
rollercoaster—it is complicated, annoying, challenging, exciting, and nerve wracking—I have the mindset that the rollercoaster is my most beneficial learning experience (and one that I look forward to over and over again). A veteran English teacher recently referred to a video production workshop as, “The most intense, exciting, and ultimately satisfying learning experiences I’ve ever had.”
The inherent emotional rollercoaster of media production is something I try not to fight but embrace. (And if I feel I need to hit or throw the computer, I force myself to step away having learned that breaking my laptop’s motherboard with my fist is expensive!) A graduate student once admitted about her experience with web design: “I am struggling a lot with not knowing what I am doing. I am not used to this as a teacher and so it is hard.” We must remember what it is like to “struggle a lot with not knowing” so we can take this into consideration with our own students and the subject matter we teach. Additionally, as educators, we must shift our sole focus away from the final product (e.g. test scores, polished essays, completed science labs) and also focus on the learning process itself. This assists us with noticing not only what students have learned but also how they have learned and where we, as teachers, can improve our practice.
Time. Time is always an issue in an educator’s life and working with new media technologies can end up being a real time commitment. I often underestimate how long it will take me to create a VoiceThread or have my own students create a video introduction at the beginning of the semester. The amount of time it takes to engage in the learning process and create a final product is something that we cannot ignore. We might be able to speed up certain aspects of the process but it becomes a juggling act to include media creation in a packed curriculum.
Membership in a community and exigency are essential. I find myself committed to an emotional rollercoaster when I know that my community—whether they are students, colleagues, or family and friends—will engage with and respond to my creation. I tend to view this as exigency: What is the purpose that motivates me to communicate, to create and share my video productions within a specific community? The VoiceThreads I create for students are very different from the digital videos I create for my family. Yet, with these two examples, my motivation to communicate are wrapped up in my membership in the community—I feel that my creations matter, that feedback and critique are important components of my learning process, and that my published creation can express my viewpoint and potentially further discussion within my community. Everyone has different reasons for communicating but it is vital to understand how one’s motivation to communicate is (or is not) supported and nurtured in a digital era and in the classroom.
When I conducted research in a high school that integrated video production into its canonical curriculum, I found that one of the reasons students were committed to their media creations was because of a participatory culture (Jenkins, 2006). They knew their peers would be viewing their work in front of the class, critiquing it, and also applauding it. A contradiction emerged when I asked students to compare their experiences with video production to that of writing a five-paragraph essay on the same topic: students knew that essay writing was important but lacked the exigency to engage in the writing process. Not only were their teachers the sole audience for their essays but students also felt that their ability to communicate something meaningful in an essay was confined. With essay writing, form took precedence over purpose. As one senior explained:
I understand the purpose of essays. It’s important to be able to organize your thoughts in a coherent way, but sometimes I just feel like there isn’t much to be said because of the way you have to write it. The way you’re taught to write essays (in high school) is really, really, really limited. It’s so structured that it’s hard to fee like you’re actually writing something interesting.
A question of integrating media production into the curriculum may in fact be a question of discourse as it pertains to certain genres and why people communicate. Additionally, the teachers I worked with at this school described that, at times, they “hated” grading print-based assignments because they were the only ones that read students’ amazing work.
What have been your experiences with learning new media technologies and engaging in media creation and sharing?
What kinds of communities do you try to create in your classroom or in your school?