Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Media Education: A Book Review

Media Education: Literacy, Learning and Contemporary Culture is an excellent book by scholar David Buckingham of the University of London. Though published in 2003, the ideas presented in the work are very current and important to both the education and digital media literacy world of today.

The author discusses the changes in what childhood is like now compared to what it was, and how media literacy is more important as things change because children are growing up earlier due to the fact they have access to content much earlier in their lives than past generations (e.g. TV doesn't take time or much education to consume like reading a print Encyclopedia). Because of the decline in childhood, the need to help children identify how they consume and evaluate what they create in the media increasingly becomes more essential.

Buckingham offers a clear definition of media education: "Media education aims to develop both critical understanding and active participation. It enables young people to interpret and make informed judgements as consumers of media; but it also enables them to become producers of media in their own right. Media education is about developing young people's critical and creative abilities."

In relation to education, Buckingham seems to be focused primarily on what he calls the "widening gap" between what goes on in a student's life inside and outside the classroom. He pointedly notes that in many ways our current school culture is not only stagnant, but moving backwards as the world around it is continues to change rapidly.

Toward the middle of the book, the author gives many examples of effective ways media education can work in the classroom. He mentions topics such as production, language, audience, and representation as important concepts made up of many smaller sub-topics that should be a part of a media educator's curriculum. In addition to these topics, Buckingham also gives a brilliant overview of how media studies have often been misplaced and bounced around different fields. Some educators have felt that each department or subject should invest time and energy towards media education, while others have pushed the subject to certain fields like English and history. I think this is an important point, and one in which everyone should be thinking about. If media is such a large role in the average student's life, shouldn't each department be aware of the impact of that influencer on their student?

Central to his argument about media education in actual classrooms, Buckingham argues that production should be a pithy component of media education. His view of production however, is not merely expressing ideas or "displaying creativity", but the importance of the collaborative nature of production. Much of what the author writes when it comes to involving students in learning reminds me of Daniel Pink's book Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us. This quote from Buckingham shares the concept of autonomy, an idea Pink wrote about extensively.
"Much of the value of practical work lies in the fact that it allows students to explore their affective and subjective investments in the media, in a way which is much more difficult to achieve through critical analysis. If it si to be effective in this respect, we have to allow - and consciously construct - a space for play and experimentation, in which there are genuinely no 'right answers.'" 
Later in the book, Buckingham makes some great points of how students must learn to effectively perform self-evaluations.  I feel like Buckingham's answers to the many questions posed throughout the book come back to helping children learn how to evaluate media and themselves. He points out that that a fundamental element is what motivates one to evaluate their consumption, production, and social connectedness with media. I think this is incredibly important. Buckingham predicts that "media education can potentially cross the bounderaies between formal education, everyday life, and public culture." It is my impression that such shifting of learning has been going on quite strongly since the book was written.

A final point I thought was fascinating is the seemingly subversive consumer culture role the media has played in the past, should be considered and handled in a way where teachers willingly recognize the influence it has on their students. Buckingham makes the point that it can be hard for students to take their teachers seriously if they are unwilling to recognize the problems of our current formal school culture. There is a difficult balance for educators to keep, and Buckingham talks about how teachers can open their classrooms by allowing students to express things, but must do so in a way that is still appropriate and clean.

I appreciate this book a great deal when it comes to my own thoughts and feelings of pop culture and education. Like Buckingham, I feel that more and more students are immersed in media and often don't know how to evaluate and critically understand what they are consuming and being influenced by. By properly taking a step back and discussing elements of media (and popular culture things like films) students can become more engaged in learning and will see the relevance of school in their lives. Also, I feel this kind of learning encourages informal education and life long learning in that students will develop passions and interests of which they will begin to seek out when not sitting in a desk at school

I feel like this book discusses important issues, and effectively illustrates the need to look at deeper aspects of education than what has been done in the past. Broad concepts like autonomy, trust, and being realistic can be applied in a variety of ways. Media education and literacy seems to be a field where these attributes are needed now more than ever to help developing students develop the skills necessary to engage in the world around them in meaningful ways.

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