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New Media Education

The incorporation of new media in the classroom has been an ongoing process.  In the mid-1960s, bulky vacuum tube computers were establishing a presence on well-to-do universities, and smaller miniframes and minicomputers were starting to be used.   According to Catherine Schifter’s 2008 article, “A Brief History of Computers, Computing in Education, and Computing in Philadelphia Schools,” computers were often used in the 1960s for computer-assisted instruction.  Many teachers were hesitant to use this new technology and preferred educating with tools they knowledgeable with rather that this “alien” technology.

It wouldn’t be until the rise of Apple and their donations of computers to schools and universities would a class rely on computers as an educational tool.  In the 1980s, computer classes, or “labs”, became part of the curriculum.  However, the use of computers was still very constricted to the teaching of computer literacy.  This was so because computer skills weren’t needed in other classes, or if they were at all, they were used on a very basic level (simple math problems, science quizzes, etc).  Their use for higher level teaching was not popular outside of programming courses at universities.  Apple’s development of a decent word processing program, the Apple Works suite, became a common in 1984, but high school typing classes wouldn’t be until 1990.

Then textbooks began supplementing their material with 3.5in floppy disks and CD-ROMS.  The multimedia program, Hyperstudio, introduced high school students to multimodality in text.  Computer rooms in school were becoming more and more common as this “Internet” thing was slowly being realized as more than just a fad.

Now, computers and education have become integrated down to the elementary level.  The importance of computer literacy and teachers who are knowledgeable with computers have facilitated that integration.  A first grade teacher at Prairie South School in Central Saskatchewan, Canada, uses technology daily with her six to seven year old students.  They routinely use the Internet and even have their own blog, Blogmeister.  The following video was made by the class and is an example of just how fundamental new media has become in our schools.  (Pardon the music)

However, even though schools across the nation have created a multitude of computer classes and classes have worked computer use into their respective studies, there is still a need for a more systemic educational standards.  The participatory nature of new media presents many obstacles and questions that children, if left on their own, may or may not successfully navigate to became active and intelligent members of this new culture.  This is the argument Henry Jenkins et al. have constructed in Confronting the Challenges of Participatory Culture: Media Education for the 21st Century.  They stressed that young people need to develop a certain set of skills to achieve such a participatory status.  Those skills are play, performance, simulation, appropriation, multitasking, distributed cognition, collective intelligence, judgment, transmedia navigation, networking, and negotiation.

They ask and address three questions on page 56 to which the aforementioned skill set need be applied to:

  • How do we ensure that every child has access to the skills and experiences needed to become a full participant in the social, cultural, economic, and political future of our society?
  • How do we ensure that every child has the ability to articulate his or her understanding
    of the way that media shapes perceptions of the world?
  • How do we ensure that every child has been socialized into the emerging ethical standards that will shape their practices as media makers and as participants within online communities?

These questions raised by Jenkins and his colleagues are one that educators and scholars have been asking since computer technologies were seen as an important and ignored learning tool.  It would seem that teachers all over the world have been grappling with this problem and have been adjusting their courses accordingly, however new media have advanced incredibly fast in the last decade.  Administrations have be hard pressed to adjust so quickly and teachers may be more capable for impromptu adaptations, but the educational system is a slow giant.  We need to look at how schools are helping students become active participants in our “Web 2.0 culture” and determine what we can do to improve that transformation.

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