Today’s students are not abandoning TV for new media – they watch more TV than ever. They love the Internet but spend far less time browsing than adults. They watch less online video than most adults but find the ads engaging. They read newspapers, listen to the radio, and even like advertising more than most. They play video games, but only two of their five favorites are rated Mature by the Entertainment Software Rating Board. Their favorite TV shows, websites, and genre preferences across media are mostly the same as their parents: American Idol was the top TV show, Google the top website, and dramas their preferred TV genre (The Nielsen Company, 2009). In fact, today’s students are not uniquely wired but are an “artifact of larger, demographically broader shifts in media behavior. Teens are wildly different –not from other consumers today, but from teens of generations past” (p. 16).
One important characteristic of today’s students’ interaction with media is their increased concurrent media use and their rate of media multitasking (Roberts & Foehr, 2008). Increasingly, “the millennial generation, immersed in popular and online cultures, thinks of messages and meanings multimodally—not just in terms of printed words, but also in terms of images and music” (Miller, 2007, p. 62). Roberts and Foehr (2008) argued that the headline covering the findings from research on media exposure over the past ten years is that concurrent use of multiple media has become the order of the day among young people. Young people listen while they watch, while they click, and sometimes at least, write.
In light of the unique media savvy, multimodal, and multitasking attributes of today’s student, researchers are responding with a renewed interest in media literacy. Although no single definition predominates in the literature, media literacy has generally been defined as the ability to access, analyze, evaluate, and communicate messages in a wide variety of forms (Aufderheide, 1993). It is used to refer to the process of critically analyzing and learning to create one’s own messages in print, audio, video, and multimedia. Media literacy often incorporates the goal of “discriminating responsiveness” or the fostering of critical analysis in its participants (Brown, 1998) and involves “asking questions about what you watch, see and read” (Hobbs, 2001, p. 5). By encouraging ongoing critical inquiry, those interested in media literacy seek the development of critical viewers—those who have or are learning to analyze and question what is on the screen, how it is constructed, and what may have been left out (Thoman, 1999).
Education and Media Production
Students cannot become truly media literate—deeply critical consumers of mass media—until they can experience making photographs, planning and organizing ideas through storyboards, writing scripts and performing in front of a camera, designing a web page, and reporting a news story. Goodman (1996) stated, “The power of technology is unleashed when students can use it in their own hands as authors of their own work and use it for critical inquiry, self-reflection, and creative expression” (as quoted in Hobbs, 1998, p. 20). Media literacy necessarily entails “writing” as well as “reading” the media (Buckingham, 2005).
By comparison with the wealth of research on children’s understanding of media, the research related to media production is limited (Buckingham, 2005). Nevertheless, some research has been reported related to the effect of specific approaches to media production. Burn and Reed (1999) reported the value of modeling editing processes informally on whiteboards. Sweetlove (2001) found peer tutoring valuable in teaching the use of iMovie to 11-year-olds. Burn and Parker (2003) found that collaboration between teachers of art, English, media, and music was productive when helping 10-year-old students create an animation.
Although many educators embrace the importance of media production, others wonder what students actually learn when they make videos (Grahame, 1991). The most important concern about this “practical work” centers on fears that media production can easily be taught as a decontextualized set of tasks that emphasize a type of vocational education. As Stafford (1992) explained, “The great risk with practical work . . . is that students will simply learn to ape the professionals, and that a critical, analytical perspective will be lost” (p. 171).
Video Production as an Instructional Strategy
One way to combat concerns about video production as decontextualized or without a focused content is to link it with the ongoing curricular requirements of particular learning contexts. Video production then becomes an instructional strategy for teaching content, not a set of tools and processes to be mastered as isolated skills.
Instructional strategies are what instructors do to facilitate student learning (Dabbagh & Bannan-Ritland, 2005). As Jonassen, Grabinger, and Harris (1991) stated, instructional strategies are “the plans and techniques that the instructor/instructional designer uses to engage the learner and facilitate learning” (p. 34) and represent “a plan, method or series of activities, aimed at obtaining a specific goal” (p. 31). Thus, for example, video production as an instructional strategy might link video essays with Civil War concepts or documentaries with the study of historical and current immigration issues or marketing videos with promoting a book, an invention, or an environmental cleanup. In this application of video production, the media are not studied formally, but the analysis of media text and the creation of media messages are emphasized as components of course work in the traditional disciplines.
This approach, in the hands of a well-qualified educator, carries with it the potential for students to gain exposure to media analysis and production activities while simultaneously mastering the complexities of disciplinary knowledge (Hobbs, 1998). As Hofer and Swan (2005) wrote, “The engaging and flexible nature of digital moviemaking projects offers great potential to ground the use of technology in discipline-specific content and processes”.