In the 1990s, multi-media came into the classroom for the first time, in my career anyway. I guess as a child, I grew up with the educational movies that would be used from time to time to teach us. It was a treat when that reel to reel projector came through the doorway and rolled into our classroom. It was time for a movie, and it was usually Friday! The excitement built as the teacher threaded the movie through the projector, and we all held our collective breathes that it had threaded properly. Then, there were filmstrips that we would watch every so often. Those weren’t as fun as the movies, but they did break up the typical routine of the school day which had little variety to it in the 1960s. I mean, we didn’t even collaborate back then; that was known as cheating! I suppose that the movies and filmstrips were multi-media, but they were nothing compared to when a laser disc came into my fourth grade classroom when I was the teacher. The old time movies, with seemingly the same narrator every single time, were nothing compared to the excitement of the technology of a laser disc!
The laser disc-54,000 images on a single disc and video on that same disc! It was amazing, and that so many images could fit on a disc the size of a 33 rpm record was unbelievable! The topic was science, and I had access to eleven discs that I could use over and over again. And, they came with a remote and a bar coder to play them! That’s so much better than having to rely on an old projector that may or may not eat the film.
They were great to use to show science to students; stills to illustrate the topic were great, and even better were the video clips that showed processes that we could only read about and describe, previously. Everything shifted when we were given software to use in putting full presentations together. I didn’t want to create the presentations; I wanted my students to create the presentations. Yet, the amount of hardware we had was limited, and it was pricey.
To begin, I had small groups of kids who were extremely interested in using the technology learn how to create media during their lunch times. They were more than happy to work at lunch. We had one television to use and one computer. It was a Mac, and it was new for the time; it even had a hard drive of 500 mb. We were state of the art. However, the hardware was not “mine” and we had to roll it into the classroom every day at lunch time to use, and then roll it back out.
The kids made their presentation by writing the script to tell the story of the science they were interested in explaining. They interspersed stills and videos, and their story came to life for the audience. Eventually, the students “performed” for the PTA which then cut a huge check of $10,000 to outfit my classroom with computers, printers, and television monitors. Our multi-media education was on its way!
Why should students create media? For all my time as a student, we always had to write reports to learn research skills. We practiced writing and reading in order to prepare those reports. We shared one set of World Book encyclopedias for everyone in the class. Heaven forbid that someone had the book that I needed. That meant another day of not getting anything done. I got into trouble from Mom for that! How can I be wasting my time in class? Well, Mom, there is only one set of books and someone else got . . . suffice it to say, I was told that I needed to get that book the next day. The problem was that I sat across the room from those books and by the time I got to them, the book I needed was long gone. So, I got nothing done. Yet, I was expected, by the teacher, to do the research, read and write the ideas, and have a report ready to turn in. It was better when we didn’t need to use the World Books for our research as we had more resources to use. It seems that I was creating media at the time, all by myself, and it was limited to print media. The work was not used to teach anyone, in fact, it was used to demonstrate how much I had been taught, largely self-taught, as the work was shared with my teacher only and my parents, if they actually read the work. Mom usually did! It was a very static process.
Constructing media is the perfect mode of demonstrating knowledge as it allows kids to apply the skills of critically reading and writing. Yet, media without technology is very limiting. Even in the 90s when my small groups of students were writing their own scripts, we didn’t have the Internet in the classroom to use as a research vehicle. By the 90s, we at least had been working with something called “collaborative groups” for a short time. It was new, and it allowed students to work together to build products. Imagine that-the cheating of the 60s had evolved into something desired in the 90s.
As education moves through the 21st century, teachers have the task of educating students to be prepared for a job market where the jobs change incredibly fast. When I was a kid, there was no such thing as a webmaster, yet I have been one for the past 20 years or so. The jobs my fourth graders will have likely don’t even exist right now. If they do, how will those jobs look when my youngsters hit the job market? I never thought that my career would end with me teaching my class from a computer in my home office while my students were scattered all over town, parked in front of their devices, and interacting with each other over the Internet. They turned in work remotely, I scored it and returned it with feedback and never put a hand on a single paper. When I began my career in the 1980s, we had no computers in the classroom. It’s a good thing that media came into the classroom for me to teach or the end of my career would have been an absolute disaster; I had to adjust on the fly, but by necessity, I was able to pull it off. I hadn’t adequately been trained to do the job, but through an enormous number of hours over the years, I prepared myself. Jobs change, and they change quickly, so we had better prepare our students to be ready for any and all circumstances. How is that even possible?
Today’s students will need to manage media in their adult lives and likely rely on it in their careers. They have grown up with media all around them, so they are aware of how to create it, socially. Yet, can they create the type of work products that they will need for education and career? It is easy to put together social media, but that doesn’t fulfill what most employers will want from them. True, many companies do have a social media component to them, but there is more to media than the social strand. Tomorrow’s market will require its workers to be able to communicate effectively, they will need to collaborate across the world with people of different cultures, they will need the ability to think critically and creatively, and if they can innovate, that will allow them to lead. Creating workplace type media allows young students to practice and refine those soft skills as well as learn how to work with various media platforms. To have students work together to show what they know through the manufacturing of media is to prepare them for their futures. If kids leave schools with a vast array of skills in media production, then they can tackle the work force in a competitive manner.
Teaching media involves the integral skill of being able to critically evaluate a piece of material. Knowing the target audience prior to creating media is important. When I have my students create media, we discuss the target audience, and we produce content that is aimed at that audience so it is well received. Media also has to be critically evaluated. Knowing who authored the information that students received, what the background of the author is and knowing the author’s goal in producing the media is crucial to deciding whether the media piece has value. Young students want to believe what they hear and read when it comes from technology. Yet, they need to be taught to look for what isn’t being said as much as what is being said. They need to be prepared to spend time further researching to see if the information that they have found is validated by other sources. By working on these pieces of media instruction, students will be aware of how to properly create their own media.
Creating media has been central to my career. Early on, when 9-year olds producing multi-media shows was new, the Sacramento Bee came to my school and covered the show that my fourth graders created about moving West in the 1800s. We had an article and color photos of our show in the newspaper. What a paradox-we used laser discs, computers and television monitors to tell our audience what is was like traveling to California in the 1800s all the while dressed as pioneers! Yet, my students wrote their scripts, practiced their parts, collaborated with each other as they selected the images and told their group’s story and then performed in front of an audience of close to 400 people. That is what media can do for children. It is the ultimate in education as the students practice and apply so many skills that careers are requiring of our graduates.
Eventually, we moved to creating websites. I never wanted to use a template that was in place for my students; I wanted a blank page that they can build their own work, 100%. Over the years, my students have built literature websites, social studies websites, science websites, and sites of their own writings. As a standard 5th grade assignment, my students were required to research and write a state report. Ho hum-what does that teach? I I tried in vain to change that topic, however, I was told, “But we have always written a state report,” which is the exact reason that it needed to be changed. I wrote that same report in 1970 as a 5th grader, and now I had to have my 5th graders, in 1999 write that ridiculous report. While my colleague was having her students write the age-old, paper/pencil/crayon state report, my students got to build websites for the state that they were assigned to research. At least, if we had to do that stale report, my students were able to put a modern thread to it and learn the skill of being a webmaster. One of my students actually was asked to build the website for her mother’s company! Again, we were covered in the Sacramento Bee for putting a new twist on an old assignment.
Creating media provides a great many skills for students of all grade levels. Students create more complex work products, and with media, the engagement of the student is much higher than a traditional type of assignment. Media projects allow students to develop the skills they will need in order to successfully compete in the job market. On top of that, the product teaches and entertains an audience. What can be better than that?