Tag Archives: internet

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.

Flipping Heck!

Recently I have been so busy in the classroom that I have missed out a bit on the latest discussions on online education, which apparently is flipping. When I say the latest, in fact, Salman Khan (Khan Academy) gave a lecture in March 2011 at TED

That seemed to kick something off, but hey I was busy marking coursework by hand, but TED wasn’t and they have set up TED-Ed which will facilitate and share your lesson, so that you can flip out! They will take your plan and probably your voice, add a bit of nifty animation so that you can run a video and a task, put your feet up, pull your hat down over your eyes and go to sleep like Cameron Diaz in Bad Teacher. Well no, no of course not: for a start you will have worked hard on producing a lesson that works and then you will be supervising and marking the work that students do individually as they do it – go differentiation!

Online education has arrived and if teachers think they can ignore it any longer, they do so at their peril! I have only been a teacher for ten years, before that I was a media a hack and I was then and still am, a writer. My first book was written by hand, typed out submitted, copy edited, typed out again, cut up and literally pasted up and typed out again. That bought me my first computer in 1984 (or thereabouts) an Apricot that worked on MSDos and floppies, but by 1990 I was submitting work, copy ready on much shorter deadlines on disk – more work for less money. By the mid 1990s the music industry were burying their heads in the sand and by 2001 Apple was running ads in the Super Bowl reproaching the industry for prosecuting grannies and launching iTunes but in teaching…..I joined teaching in 2001 and it was literally like going back to school. This electronic invention which had revolutionised my work practice and my husband’s career in  magazines and newspapers appeared to have passed the teaching profession by.

There was much talk of the personal touch, of PowerPoint being nothing more than chalk and talk. There was no substitute, they said, for sitting in front of a classroom with a good book and fantastic subject knowledge – and on that note – they were right, you can’t teach if you don’t know, and there never will be a substitute for individual attention. But does it have to be delivered in a cold room, full of disengaged students by a teacher handing out bad quality photocopies? Even now, when there is the possibility of sharing resources, people will say, “Oh just print it out, it’s easier.”  Well it might be easier for you but it’s not f**kin’ easier for me! It requires a trip to the printer, more than likely a rush downstairs to get ink or paper and, more to the point: paper gets lost; paper gets handed out; paper needs filing in a physical space and paper is trees. A simple email, filed in a virtual folder and maybe one hard copy in a dusty, never-opened folder for safe-keeping and we’re done – easy to use, easy to revise and easy to share! Flipping heck! How hard is that?

Which brings me round to flipping.

“Flipping” it seems, is a process by which you share and adapt resources. In good old Media Studies we might call this “pseudo individualisation”, the process by which the same media text is reinvented with slight differences, so the Beatles become Oasis, Marilyn Monroe turns into Lady GaGa and Charles Bronson becomes Liam Neeson and Robert Vaughn …. well he’s just Robert Vaughn. That seems,to some extent, to be what “flipping” is about: someone creates a great lesson, submits it to TED Ed who marry it up with an animator and Hey Presto! An interesting lesson, that can be downloaded, shared and adapted for the specific lessons or needs anywhere in the world. No worries about copyright, the images are created for the purpose and shared accordingly. But that’s just part of the philosophy, a philosophy, which after all builds on the sharing community that is teaching – the other side of flipping is more radical.

Salman Khan of the said academy talks of flipping the classroom, the idea being that the use of technology in the classroom frees up the teacher to provide individual attention all the time. Combine that with Khan Academy’s ability to provide facilities to track every student and their progress, means that every student can learn at their own pace and every teacher can offer differentiation – result!


Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m going to have a go, embrace it, use the videos and offer a lesson, I’ll let you know if I get accepted. If you want to have a go the link is here, go for it and good luck – but I do spy one or two problems for the current educator.

One problem is infrastructure. Public sector education, in this country has limited resources, becoming even more limited by the day. My institution is not unusual in that it has not prioritised appropriate technological infrastructure over the past decades. There is a lack of up to date software, Wifi and decent broadband, a lack of computers for every child, not to mention the fact that we are not a 4G country. In addition, my institution restricts access to the net, most specifically YouTube, teachers can use it in the classroom, but it is not available elsewhere on campus. YouTube videos cannot be set for homework, because although most students have access to computers and broadband at home, not all do and we immediately disenfranchise them if we set tasks that involve computers that cannot be supported on site. However, this literally should no longer be a problem, gone are the days when teachers could justify standing by the photocopier or chalking up exercises to be written by hand, as the only method of teaching available. Every other industry has had to climb on board the digital revolution, David Hockney paints on the iPad, there may be implications for our move to the cloud, but as a day to day tool, it seems to be here to stay.

There are other implications of course, and that is that whilst it might well be an exciting possibility for a teacher to flip a lesson (infrastructure permitting) increasingly the classroom can be decentralised or/and enlarged. Quite what our currently Secretary of State for Education thinks of all this I really don’t know, and I mean I really don’t know! There is much less talk of technology in the UK coalition’s education policy although there is talk of traditional values, 1950s education. Salman Khan seemed to demonstrate quite effectively the success rates of flipping the classroom, and that will attract our Mr Gove, but the idea of teachers not standing up in front of the classroom, commanding respect as opposed to offering targeted comments,  will hot appeal unless it’s cheaper! And well it might be, once the infrastructure is in place, if lessons go online line, how many teachers will we actually need in the classroom? Which is one good reason to get stuck in and participate.

Flipping is the future!

Here’s on of their lessons to view if you’re interested.