The Evolution of K-12 Media Literacy Education

By Michael Haran


(This article is an assignment abstract from EDCT 552, Dr. Maryanne Berry, SSU, MA-CTL)

The article (Learning, Media and Technology, 2007, Media education goes digital: an introduction, David Buckingham, University of London, UK) is a continuation of the analysis of the evolution of the pedagogy of media literacy. Considering that this book was written in 2007 parts of it should be considered an historic view of not only the concepts of teaching medial literacy but also the practical application of the phenomenon.

The introductory statement, “This editorial introduction provides an overview of the challenges and opportunities presented to media educators by the advent of digital technologies,” is, in itself antiquated as the seven years since this article was written leaves the term “advent” far from being an advent.

Innovative educators have not only incorporated many of the concepts put forth in this article but have also moved these observations to the next generation of media literacy implementation. The so called “digital divide” does not longer refer to student activities in and out of the classroom but now means access to the internet and the advanced technological tools used in that access.

Although some teachers still remain resistant to the technological evolution of the classroom online education is being driven by the “customers” of this product – the students. A “top-down” study of the medial education is useless as the only way to incorporate technological advances in education is from the student’s point of view – that is, from the bottom-up.

Although technological access is still evolving as with the federal E-Rate program of providing broadband inclusion in all classrooms, many tech-savvy teachers are moving forward by self-educating themselves (as in self-professional development) about the available free online curriculum and applications that captivate their students in exciting and provocative education ways.

I take exception to Buckingham’s assertation “Now that the initial euphoria surrounding computers in schools has begun to wear thin, we need to look more closely at what children need to learn about these digital media.” I agree that we do need to look more closely at what children need to learn about “these” digital media (that is an on-going effort) but the euphoria surrounding computer technology in K-12 is greater than ever.

I do agree that media education, as well as technology education should be an educational prerequisite as today’s youth will be navigating their adult world through technological filters. Soon people will not be able to use a public bathroom without having a basic understanding of technological applications. Accordingly, no matter what interest the student has, computer and interactive media literacy should be an educational prerequisite like reading and writing.

It’s interesting to read about Buckingham’s advice about “equipping students to understand and to critique these media” and “not simply regard them as neutral means of delivering information.” The High Tech High and Quest to Learn schools must have read his book as they have both implemented this advice. Both school’s philosophy incorporates student critical media literacy that goes well beyond a training in how to operate hardware or software.

What Quest to Learn is doing is taking kids “use of computers in the home are massively dominated by video games” and developing a curriculum that channels the addictive nature of these video games into academic study. The narrow training of technical skills is history as those applications are becoming just a sub-set of the total pedagogy of technical education. Contrary to Buckingham’s claim digital “edutainment” materials are not proving to be “self-defeating and superficial.” In class education games like are proving to be incredibly motivational for young learners. Maybe in the infancy of classroom technology students found it boring, irrelevant and frustrating but in the hands of proactive teachers student participation comes alive.

I agree with Buckingham’s assertation that the “Best practice in media education involves a combination of ‘hands-on’ creative production and critical reflection, which seeks to build on students’ existing pleasures and media experiences.” (Buckingham, 2003) At High Tech High they let students play educational video games only if they build them and at Quest to Learn part of the education process is the deconstruction of existing games. This pedagogical technique is both engaging and empowering for the students.

I agree that developers of educational games, which includes students, need to analyze the “process of play” and how it impacts time, space and the economies of scale (and of course the rules) but I think the comparison to older media such as TV only relates to content. Kids will play games for hours on end and also watch TV for hours and hours because of what is being offered. If we ever hope to get kids interested in education the same way they are spell bound by computer games it will have to start with content.

I really can’t understand why Buckingham would compare the education media curriculum of television and film to computer games. Other than the proactive manipulation of the production process they are not very similar. Film and TV use a top-down lecturing format while the learning experience from computer games is user generated. It’s insulting to ones intelligence to ask if they “require a different conceptual or theoretical approach.”

I agree with Buckingham that most kids are not the wonderlinks of the cyber world.  They are often frustrated by the failure of the technology to achieve what they want which is a developmental aspect of their youth. Patience isn’t a strong suit of kids. Young learners do need support and advice to help them navigate their way through the mass of confusing, contradictory and often unreliable information found on the Web.

There is currently a lot of experimentation going on in school as they try and develop ‘digital literacies’ through trial and error. Children do need the basic skills of word processing, information retrieval and search engine manipulation but they also need to be able to evaluate and use information critically if they are to transform it into knowledge. Rather than seeing the Web as a neutral source of ‘information’, students need to be taught to ask questions about the sources of information, the interests of its producers and how it represents the world.

The use of creative production in the use of digital technology does hold great promise in education. Prior to the digital classroom any student project-based learning was limited, and still is, by space and time constraints. The physicality of hands on-learning is still vital in the classroom, especially in the early grades, but as students develop more sophisticated knowledge and awareness, opportunities for virtual application through technology become limitless.

Student produced multimedia allows not only subject integration but also serves as a vehicle for self-respect which comes from fulfilling the creative process and the peer accolades that follow. I think Buckingham underestimates children when he says that they have to be taught the difference between being taught about digital media and the production use of digital media. Kids get it and the sooner we treat them as adults the sooner they will respond accordingly.

I do agree that student constantly need to be reminded to reflect on their activities. Because of the hectic pace of most world societies, most adult don’t often allow time for reflection. Students have to be taught the value of constant reflection and what can come of it. Reflection is critical to the creative process not to mention knowledge retention and the development of critical literacy. That said the systematic understanding of how media operate is important to know but so are the technical skills to be able to apply it. As stated, reflection is critical but so are the means to put what comes from reflection into action.

Without application skills taking advantage of digital production over analogue production would never happen. The ability to manipulate images is so much greater with digital technology such as the process of retakes which is similar to teaching kids how to write. For example, editing digital video enables students to address complex issues about the selection, manipulation and combination of images and sounds in a much more accessible way than was possible using analogue technology (Burn et al., 2001). This ability to manipulation develops self-conscious reflection that is important to not only to media education but also the concepts of critical literacy.

For digital online-learning to be effective in K-12 education curriculum and pedagogy have to mesh. It is one thing to develop a dynamite digital program that the student could embrace but quite another for instruction to impart its full effect. In this respect, it is important to not individualize the process, and to use the powerful effects of collaboration in digital production. No matter how tech-savvy students are they still need patient instruction on the use and techniques of production media.

It is important that the education environment recognized the “digital divide” between students due to socio-economic constraints and provide equal access time for both the intellectual and practical applications of media production. As Buckingham states, “These differences have challenging implications in terms of how we teach, particularly in settings that are culturally and socially diverse.”

In the program development and teaching of digital applications it is important to understand how teaching and learning are evolving in the online environment. The term “Participatory Culture” (Jenkins, 2006) is now binging used to describe how kids operate on the internet. The tradition methods of lecture teaching have been supplanted by a more proactive student involvement that relies more on the trial and error of exploration, experimentation and play. Both face-to-face and virtual forms of peer collaboration are essential elements of this learning process.

Compared with the exciting multimedia experiences kids have outside school non-digital classroom work seems boring. Schools don’t offer student the strong sense of their own autonomy and authority as learners that they get when participating in extracurricular online experiences. We are seeing a widening gap between the styles of learning that are cultivated by formal schooling and those that characterize children’s out-of-school experiences as the consumer culture positions them to be active and autonomous. The boring and passive education systems are having a particular negative impact on boys who may be highly self-confident users of technology but who are increasingly perceived as failures in the context of school learning.

This situation has pushed students to increasingly develop ‘customized’ media environments outside the classroom in which they take it as their right to select and use media to suit their individual needs. These activities include the so called ‘sampling’ and ‘remixing’ of existing media forcing discussion about the issues of plagiarism, copyright and intellectual property. The boundaries between mass communications and interpersonal communication are changing as kids embrace individualized media.

This evolution of teaching and learning has created issues for the producer and purveyors of online education.  The value of computer games in education is still being tested and evaluated; the impact on various learning styles (aka multiple intelligences) has to be manipulated to accommodate students at all levels of instruction; and the implementation of fundamental education principles of what we teach and how we teach have to be accessible to all learners.

An extended form of media literacy education should be a core curriculum entitlement for all students because as the digital media evolve, the separation of verbal and visual media, or electronic technologies and non-electronic technologies, will continue to dissolve. Digital technology has precipitated the evolution of culture and communication which has to be addressed in any development of contemporary K-12 curriculum and assessment.

Source Materials

Buckingham, D. (2003) Media education: literacy, learning and contemporary culture (Cambridge, Polity).

Buckingham, D. (2007) Beyond technology: children’s learning in the age of digital culture (Cambridge, Polity).

Burbules, N. C. & Callister, T. A. (2000) Watch IT: the risks and promises of information technologies for education (Boulder, CO, Westview).

Burn, A., Brindley, S., Durran, J., Kelsall, C., Sweetlove, J. & Tuohy, C. (2001) The rush of images: a research report into digital editing and the moving image, English in Education, 35, 34–47 Carr, D., Buckingham, D., Burn, A. &

Gee, J. P. (2003) What video games have to teach us about learning and literacy (Basingstoke, Hants, Palgrave Macmillan).

Jenkins, H. (2006) Convergence culture (New York, New York University Press).

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