Tag Archives: Further Education

Media Melting Pot

file8181298830552I  have been thinking about Media Studies, I have been thinking about the name, the content and the style. I have been planning lessons, trying to introduce students to the value of understanding their media and trying reassure parents that Media Studies is a valid and rigorous subject to study, now that’s tough. The reputation of Media Studies is that it is, not to put it mildly, a joy ride. It’s the bread and circuses of education, it’s the easy subject, the one to offer as a sop to the students who, from now on, will have to stay on until their eighteenth birthday. ‘Give them something easy to do’, is the message that comes from any number of enrollment interviews and the clever students, the ones who are rigorous, the ones headed for the Russell Group universities with the A stars, it’s not for them, they should not waste their time on such a subject, watching the TV, studying film, what nonsense! No one could possibly take this subject seriously – and yet, and yet we study narrative theory, cultural theory, semiotics and all the associated terminology is applied. In six months my students learn to analyse images, moving and still, using denote and connote, they identify camera angles, chiaroscuro, mise-en-scene and they learn the connotations of the language. They begin to understand how they are being positioned constantly by media to interpret meanings in a way that it is intended by the producer, and they begin to understand that they have the right to challenge that. They discuss narrative construction from binary to Bettelheim, they investigate character colour and culture. They begin to read the insidiousness of stereotyping, they begin to understand the implications of power and propaganda in media, in short they develop a critique for survival in the modern media dominated environment and yet this is counted as easy and irrelevant.

However, this is not a narrow minded polemic in defense of Media Studies, I have given this some thought, if only as a puzzled teacher who cannot quite understand why a subject that seems to be so important to every aspect of our lives should be treated with such contempt, and as a result fail to attract the most able minds to its critique.

Media Studies does differ in its approach to its subject and maybe that’s where we could start. The syllabus I follow and have followed with two exam boards allows a wide range of choice of texts, it is topic driven. Thus when you teach semiotics – choose what you like to teach it; teach an event – choose what you like to teach it, audience effects, stereotyping, industry issues, choose whatever text you like to teach. As a result the choice of texts is driven by the desire of the course and its leaders to attract students and the desire of the individual teachers to teach what they fancy and thus the level of rigour in critique can vary.

file5581281481565Don’t get me wrong, I think you can teach any text to a serious level of academic understanding, witness my early research on Buffy for a festival lecture, only to find reams of academic discussion on the relationship between Sumerian mythology and the teen vampire slayer, in America they are much less limited, Bryan Singer studied film at the University of Southern California, School of Visual Arts, Scorsese studied film at New York University’s School of Film, to do it you study it, you take it seriously and then it rewards you. That may speak to the vocational element, but since not every student of film since 1966 and before (when Scorsese went} has become an award winning director like Scorsese, safe to assume a fair few are working in other careers and doing very nicely thank you. Behind the industrial aspect is the unrecognised (in this country) plethora of subjects that lend themselves to important cultural research. However perhaps allowing teachers to choose their favourite texts is a mistake. Students are subjected either to Tartovsky and Bunuel too soon, to challenge their perceptions of film making, or treated to the vagaries of fandom as teachers head for the favourite star or film and treat the students to an admiration of Harry Potter or George Clooney.

Would it not be better if the exam boards set the texts?

Nothing too restrictive, just like English – pairings or triplings of text – a choice of ten maybe and once you had chosen your triple you stuck to it examining those texts in detail and guiding students to detailed, rigorous answers in an exam – so for instance:

Newsnight Winter’s Bone coverage of US Presidential inauguration
Louis Theroux documentary Tsotsi coverage of 2011 riots
Panorama Blood Diamond Broadsheet and Red Top news
Local documentary strand Eastenders coverage of the Olympics
Wildlife documentary Submarine Jersey Shore
Side by Side Restrepo coverage of the Oscars
Cosmopolitan/Vanity Fair Little Miss Sunshine Coronation Street

You get my drift, none of the above may be at all appropriate but my suggestion is that the topics of semiotics, culture, audience theory, narrative theory, technical evaluation, representation, ideology and industry are applied to specific pre-selected texts, that allows the subject the respectability of rigour and reigns in some of the eccentricities of choice that pander to personal preferences or marketing.

If Media Studies (and personally I think should be renamed Media Criticism) is to survive at all it needs to challenge the assumption that it is easy to do and that means not just challenging the students but challenging the teachers.

Election Engineering: Five Top Tips on Efficiency Savings!

Efficiency Savings eezy peezy – don’t know what the fuss is about. Here are my five (tongue in cheek) suggestions to help, whatever government gets in,  apply some efficiency savings in education – specifically Further Education, but all teachers will recognise the targets.

1. Cut Parents’ Evening

If ever there was an event that was in need of a bit of blue skies thinking, it’s parents’ evening. Some schools and colleges go as far as wasting money on biscuits, and tea for staff and parents! Support staff is needed to serve the parents as they come in, in FE some of those are hourly paid, and for what? The usual scenario is that a teacher talks for 3 to 4 hours solid, the same thing over and over again: work a bit harder; learn the terminology; so and so is fine. The ones who really need to be there, have made a false appointment or haven’t bothered at all. The ones who are there, are probably at their best (wherever that is) and there is little to be added. There is the occasional bout of excitement when families argue, and of course there are always at least two – who declare that it is the teacher’s fault. I particularly like the ones who say the teacher should be “firm” with their child – like they are at home. Yeah – right – that’s worked a treat so far hasn’t it? A scared child, taught to be devious to survive and who regards all adults as the enemy – super! In short parents’ evening is almost useless for all concerned – my solution – electronic of course – hey I’m a blogger – what do you expect? Anyway, an individual link for each student, progress, grades, behaviour recorded and emails sent to parents straight away (letters generated if broadband is a problem – never forget equality and diversity). This should be possible – I get an email every time I forget to fill out a register – what’s sauce for the goose is ….If a parent wants a meeting they have to submit a request justifying it – problem solved – next!

2. Cut Holidays and Teaching Hours

Obviously, everyone knows that teachers/FE lecturers are lazy slobs, who only do the job so they can go on long holidays at peak season – ‘cos hey, who wants to go when it’s cheap – the beaches would be deserted – that would be hell! Teachers also complain that they do too many teaching hours in the week, there is not enough non-contact time for marking, enrichment and planning. Okay let’s cut those big holidays then and make teachers and, of course,  the students, come in 9 to 5 with only 4 weeks -ish holiday (with of course the suitable pro-rata pay rise). There would be appropriate breaks in the day, no more comforting upset children over a sandwich and cup of coffee before the afternoon session. No more evening work unless, of course, it’s done on double time and let’s say 12 hours teaching a week, with the rest for planning, marking and the occasional enrichment. The space and time that teachers would have – non-contact hours would make for delightful lessons, individual students would be given attention, staff would have enough time to eat and, of course, all that would reflect in retention and results. Anyone could go on holiday any time, regardless of the effect on the curriculum and the fact that travel companies could no longer squeeze those tied to the academic year for their holidays – tough!

3. Cut (kinda) Class Sizes

It is an abiding conflict between staff and government that class sizes must be reduced to increase efficiency, but government can’t afford it and claim that if teachers taught better then it would not matter – so here’s a radical solution – no classes. Yup, electronic again, but how about a huge warehouse classroom, managed by invigilators (possibly ex bouncers), each student with a laptop and a connection? Staff could be in a nice comfy, empty classroom (everyone knows how lovely it is to be on site when the students aren’t) web cam, skype and interactive software and teaching. Admittedly, it might be a bit sterile, but everyone could meet up for arranged enrichment and tutorials, in the end all you would need would be a warehouse building and mini classrooms (there are loads of empty office buildings that could house the whiteboards and software). At last teachers and lecturers could have a bit of individual space!

4. Cut Buildings

Actually, come to think of it, if all the students are in one big building – why not the teachers? How about a teachers call centre? Each teacher could have a cubby hole, with computer, whiteboard and connection, classes could connect and when they need individual attention. Obviously this call centre would need an appropriate staff room, a good comfort zone, to cater for all those statutory breaks that the teachers would now have – a sort new employer ethos, flexy working and good food on tap –there you go, no more classrooms just a hub, and a connection.

5. Pay Parity – to cut or not to cut!

And this is the clincher! In the bad old 90s Mrs T decided that FE lecturers were not as valuable as school teachers, so she hived them off to independent budgets, new contracts, longer hours, less holiday, less pay – that sort of thing – because – obviously teaching post-16 and adults was easy! Most of them were only doing crafts anyway, or some of those essential things like plumbing, but the teaching, that wasn’t proper teaching and you didn’t have to have a proper qualification! That was then, now FE lecturers, have to have a PGDE or PGCE, they are Ofsted inspected, they need lesson plans, schemes of work, they have retention and results targets, and internal inspection (painful!) Besides teaching A Levels, doing uni references and inset training, they teach GCSE and, more and more the under 16s are sneaking in – so now they do the same job as school teachers! Efficiency savings – eezy peezy – pay parity – make school teachers’ pay and hours and holiday the same as FE Lecturers – there’s the savings – sorted – comments?