Home Can New Media Be Taught in Schools?

Can New Media Be Taught in Schools?

Tests on Twitter, wiki-style study groups, students quizzed on yesterday’s most popular YouTube videos and the biggest hits on Del.icio.us/Popular – is this what the future of education is going to look like?

In some journalism schools around the US, it just might be. Would that really be so bad? Though many may disagree with us, we think there is some merit to teaching new media in journalism and other schools.

Inside Higher Ed has an article today detailing some colleges’ plans to fund “new media” sections in their journalism schools. Many people think that new media departments in schools are a terrible idea. Jobs in traditional media can’t be considered secure, though. (See this example from today.) We believe that there will be some important successes in teaching new media in schools.

The world is changing, media education has probably always needed to change and this point in history offers some exciting opportunities for educators and students.

Making The Changes

Old media is slower, less compelling and more expensive than many emerging media online. It’s also more professional, often of higher quality and generally easier to monetize. The same could be said of old vs internet new in almost any industry where new players are fast taking leadership positions they would not have been able to access so easily without the technologies in question.

We think the video short series Good Morning, Internet (right) captures some parts of this dilemma well.

What will the future of media work look like, for participants old and new? Good places to look for detailed guesses include the Poynter Institute, Kansas Proffesor of Digital Ethnography Dr. Michael Wesch and blogging media critic Jeff Jarvis (see Jarvis’s post on Editor 2.0 in particular).

Can You Teach New Media In School?

The new media world of blogging, RSS, tagging, wikis, podcasting and more is all so new that there are hardly any established standards or best practices well established yet. That said, there are definitely skill sets that make a world of difference in a practitioner’s efficacy.

Can those skill sets be taught in school? Most people we talked to said that schools could do well to facilitate learning experiences regarding new media. We believe, however, that there are large amounts of tangible information that can be transmitted to students in any setting that will enable them to have far more meaningful experiments in learning.

Drop a sucker in SecondLife and they’ll be an avatar for a day, teach them how to learn about and navigate to the most interesting events going on there and they’ll…well, you get the idea.

Update: A number of people have responded in comments, arguing that it’s not the skills that need to be taught, it’s knowledge about the issues. Ethics, history, ethos, etc. While that’s all very important, the skills themselves are not trivial, either. As we responded in comments:

it’s one thing to figure out how to use social media tools, another to learn how to use them powerfully in a professional context. I see that there are a number of people here saying it’s “issues” that educators need to focus on, but I believe that proficiency in the use of the technologies themselves warrants extensive education as well.

For example, journalists should know how to run a feed through a filter and then monitor it by IM/SMS. Just knowing different ways to do this is material enough for one short class session. Strategic considerations in doing it better than a competitor does are material enough for another session.

Journalists should know how to navigate Wikipedia, reading edit history effectively and understanding participants in conversations there in context. I’d love to spend one class session learning about that. Ethics and case studies could surely be one part of it, but the mechanics of advanced use of these tools are complex enough that teaching them is a good idea.

Can that information be transmitted to students in a school setting, though? Students may be better off spending an hour watching all the 5 minute Social Media in Plain English videos from Common Craft.

Academia tends to be woefully behind in almost everything it teaches. Experience in the private sector tends to be a faster and more effective method of learning almost anything. Hard sciences may be the exception.

The internet is changing faster than almost anything in this world, so expecting academics to be capable of offering timely teaching in this field may lead to serious disappointment. That may be shortchanging a lot of hard working teachers fired up about the web, though.

There is Hope

Looking at what Dr. Michael Wesch teaches college students, what the incredible Vicki Davis manages to do with Elementary school students and the internet and what popular education blogger Stephen Downes advises – it is clear that there is some powerful potential for teaching new media.

Nonprofit technologist Amy Sample Ward, who graduated with a Major in New Media from Valparaiso University in Indiana, explains what one new media teacher, Milan Andrejevich, was able to help her learn.

For new media ‘courses’ to be successful, in my opinion, the ‘teaching’ and ‘learning’ need to be synonymous. Experiential learning and project-based assignments are really the only way to provide a space to learn and discuss new media tools. For example, a project that I had in one of my new media classes, was to take the regional newspaper’s website, and re-vamp it be an actual community space using new media tools for story-telling, community building, and up-to-the-minute input. We even had the chance to present our changes to the newspaper staff. It doesn’t get much more ‘real’ than that; and made us all focus on the biggest lesson of new media application: it needs to fit, not just be cool.

There’s certainly no substitute for experience, but there are some basic skills that new practitioners can benefit from being taught by someone else. We’re sure there will be a lot of bad New Media departments popping up in colleges around the world, but we believe there is hope that many others will be worth attending, too.

Photo at top: “School Rules” by Flickr user zzellers

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