(A version of this post is also on the Children’s Media Foundation Research Blog, here)
In November 2014 members of the DARE collaborative attended the CEMP – organised International Media Education Summit in Prague, where Prof Andrew Burn delivered a keynote. Andrew, John Potter and Michelle Cannon later ran an event in the conversation strand discussing the following question:
What theories and practices around digital making are important and distinctive and how can they be connected to media education?
In the conversation strand at the recent International Media Education Summit in Prague, members of the DARE collaborative asked this and other questions, drawing on recent case studies by team members. We were working in an international context in which the definitions of “media education” and its controversial cousin “media literacy” range from “media studies” through to “information and digital literacy” and all points in between; where learning through media threatens to subvert learning about media, and where in particular, learning with the moving image, is seen as supporting other studies and not as a subject tradition in its own right; where studying “film” is an engagement with a culturally approved canonical arts practice and where “media” is positioned as the politically awkward “other” embracing such difficult but undeniably popular hybrid texts and experiences as computer games, remixes, and short form parody video and more…
In DARE we have an interest in the broadest definition of literacy and its relationship to both pedagogy and popular culture. We aimed at MES 2014 to start a conversation with delegates which stimulated questions around the value of the digital arts and digital making, its connection to many texts and forms of cultural production, historic and contemporary, and to explore the ways in which the third space (not school, not home) is a key feature of the landscape. In other words, we wanted our conversation at the conference to examine questions around the productive engagement with media and technology in formal and informal settings. In doing this, of course, we ran up against some of the usual worries and concerns around the subject, namely: the definitions of “Media Literacy” which abound in international settings, whether it amounts to learning with/about/though the media; whether film (as positioned as an arts subject) was the best way to open up these areas in the UK where to use the word “media” is risky and difficult; whether the best location for this activity was inside a distinctive media studies offer or as an alternative to technology dominated locations in such spheres as “ICT” or “Digital Literacy”. These are all questions which it seems to us are worth asking in our research in a subject area which is still often constructed in popular commentary around the risk-benefit debate.
To start the conversation, we presented work from DARE associates in the past couple of years. Michelle Cannon presented work she’d done with the BFI for teachers on their Lumiere Minutes programme and Andrew on making Shakespeare games in Missionmaker with 13 year olds. On the previous day I had presented on filmmaking with tablet devices in informal settings in work I’d done with Theo Bryer and the filmmakers, XUBE. In all projects it was clear that there was an appetite for learning how to make, by doing. Sometimes this took place to precise formulations, roles and instructions, with explicit connections to a “curriculum” offer. But in all cases there was the idea of expanding not only the definitions of literacy but also those of digital making and coding, moving them from the computer science domain and placing them in a wider arts and literacy context. Some of this was contentious and challenged by the speakers and guests from a variety of contexts and backgrounds but it seems that children’s media can move the curriculum debate by engaging with the business of writing and producing media of all kinds. Once the idea of authorship emerges, in any of the forms, from games to animation, from film to remixing you move into an area which makes visible all of the debates and positions
In Michelle’s case, the teachers were constrained (creatively as it turned out) by using fixed camera positions and the long take to explore making of a different kind from the usual filmmaking activity…In Andrew’s case, young people’s negotiation of high cultural forms and transduction into computer game form of a key scene from Macbeth provided a context for asking how media and culture work in the context of pedagogy and the literacy canon…In the case of the tablet filmmaking we were interested in seeing how the traditional craft skills of filmmaking (planning/shooting/editing/exhibiting) were conflated into activity around one device, what were the gains and losses? What was the response of learners to learning film language through production on a device which was familiar to them from other kinds of contexts and uses? What did traditional filmmakers make of the gains and losses? Did it represent a way of connecting the curriculum to digital making?
The resulting conversations with delegates from many countries were revealing with the meaning of media education / media literacy not unexpectedly positioned as a site for struggle and debate. In some systems with very tight central control of education where the prejudices of a politician, powerful business interests and political expediency determine the curriculum this is highly problematic. In other systems, the debate is inclusive and pragmatic but risks dissipating the distinctiveness of media and moving image education into a more generalized educational technology education. In all cases there was concern to move from simplistic versions of “othering” which positioned children and young people as somehow super-advantaged digital makers, as opposed to teachers and parents, who are sometimes portrayed as clueless and disinterested to a fault in engaging with media of any kind.
Finally, one of the new features at this year’s conference was a day long parallel event for young people on day 2, called the Youth Media Education summit. This was interesting because of the way it integrated young Czech people, their concerns and experiences into the conference. It was the idea of Marketa Zukilkova who, supported by Julian and DARE, put together a programme in which young people made media in the form of computer games, short films and a broadcast standard piece with technical support from the Metropolitan University of Prague. It linked for me with two other parts of the conference, but also brought a dimension of reality to what could become arcane reports. In particular, almost all the debates from the previous day were enacted in some way (with Andrew at one point rushing between a debate and making a computer game!). The young people concerned had very little experience of any of the activities but all managed to produce at some level and to evaluate what they had done. Certainly, the activities challenged the idea that it is easy and unproblematic to engage in digital making though it is unquestionably of value. But regardless of the actual attribution of value, they all underlined the importance of conversations and debates about the place of “making” in whatever curriculum offer emerges in years to come, in whatever setting, with whatever label applies in your country: media education, media literacy, digital literacy or just, perhaps…”literacy” in 2014 and beyond.