Moving Beyond Access in K-12 Education
Saturday, May 1, 1999

Panel: New Media in the Classroom

[These are edited summaries, not complete transcripts.]

Henry Jenkins: In the current moment of change, it is vital that we integrate the study of media into all areas of the traditional K-12 curriculum. I am often asked "how do we help our children to assess the value of information that they receive on the Internet." I begin by saying that it is a question that we are asking about a thousand years too late. The question is phrased as if before the Internet, we could believe that everything in print were true, rather than framing it as a question that became relevant when we moved to a print culture with books that required argumentation, assessment and verification without knowledge of the reputation of the author. As soon as books were introduced into society, we should have systematically thought about how to teach students to access, process and evaluate information. The Internet just intensifies the need for it because there is so much more information. This is only part of a larger picture. The new media environment includes everything from Video Games and portable technologies (cell phones, CD-ROM players, walkman, cam-corders and laptops) to action figures and other spin-off products. On the one hand, this changing media environment gives our children new ways to play, socialize, learn and create, but we need to catch up as educators.

Let me outline some ways to integrate media education into the classroom:

  1. STOP demonizing media as a social problem. We should rephrase the question from "what is media doing to our children" to "what are our children doing with media." How are they using it and engaging with it, and how can we lead them to have a constructive relationship with it.
  2. LOOK at media change. The changing media environment effects every institution in our society, and we can use the idea of "media change" to look at institutions and how they change because of media.
  3. LISTEN to children talk about their media use. I did a workshop with some middle school kids where I used some clips from Dawson's Creek in which Dawson uses a camcorder as a journal to explore aspects of his life. Every kid in the room watched the show and responded passionately. Seriously asking what the show meant to them was an important part of that exchange.
  4. LINK media topics to traditional curriculum. Revitalize the study of the past and traditional materials with the use of media.
  5. CREATE opportunity for media play. There is a wonderful project at the University of California at San Diego called the Super Heroes Project. They go into kindergarten classes and get kids to define their own super heroes, construct stories and put on plays based on them, and debate with the teachers about how much violence they can include in the project. The kids question media by creatively rewriting it.
  6. EMPOWER children to debate issues. Rather than repress access and expression, allow students constructive opportunities to be creative, express themselves, and become part of a community.
  7. JOIN a global conversation about media. For example, you want to get a perspective about American popular culture and how it is impacted by the Internet, talk to other students in places like Australia and Japan.

[Some of the above ideas can be found in the article "Empowering Children in the Digital Age: Towards a Radical Media Pedagogy." Radical Teacher, Number 50. P. 30-35.]


Mitchel Resnick: Consider the title of this conference "Wiring the Classroom." Ironically, this conference isn't really about "wiring," and it isn't really just about "classrooms" either. While it is important to consider access to the Internet in schools and what we have done with it, we need to think about new technologies and computation in a broader way than that, because there are lots of new technologies that are going to change the lives of children beyond having access to the Internet at school. That is a world where kids encounter a very wide range of technologies throughout the world around them, so if we want children to learn and play in today's world, we need to think about the ways that what we do inside the classroom can affect what happens outside of it.

The core question that we should ask about the role of new technologies is "how do they give us new ways of learning?" It is most important to explore the new ways that they empower kids to become designers, creators and inventors. The parts of school that we want to be most inspired by is the kindergarten model, because that is where kids are doing playful design activities. A lot of that type of activity goes away in elementary school and even more in secondary school. The core challenge for us is to determine how to use the new media to help kids of all ages to have the kindergarten approach to a much wider range of things. The technology is not what is important. One critical way to help kids to start understanding the world in new ways is to have them generate driving questions that they follow up on with design projects.

We are working on projects to help us carry out this vision of how new technologies can support learning that goes on outside of the classroom. One of these projects is The Computer Clubhouse, which is a joint project between the Computer Museum and the MIT Media Lab to create a network of after-school learning centers for youth from under-served communities. While the word computer is in the title, the core goal is to engage kids in ways of taking control of the technology to create and design things.

When people talk about delivering instruction and technology, they often don't think in terms of being part of a community. Although we do provide a rich range of advanced technological tools at The Computer Clubhouse, we are quick to say that access is not enough, by which we mean that access to technology is not enough. It is essential for kids to also have access to people who have creative ideas on how to use the technology. We have gathered a community of mentors who come from universities, companies, and community centers in the area that can help kids learn, not just how to manage the technical details of the computers, but more how to reflect about their work. We feel this is as important as the work itself.


Lynn Moore-Bensen: In order for educational technologies to really work in classrooms, a school system needs a clearly defined K-12 technology plan, a technology director who has vision and is aware of the newest developments in technology, and a team of support personnel to help the teachers in addition to people who maintain the hardware. We have had an enormous amount of success throughout the Wellesley Public School System, where we have two Technology Curriculum Specialists at the elementary level, one at the middle school level, and myself working at the senior high school level. We don't put students in a specific class where they learn how to use the computer. Instead, we structure assignments across subjects to require the students to learn to use technology through the process of doing projects.

My role is to work with all of the teachers across subjects to help them redesign parts of their curriculum to incorporate new technologies. Let me explain how I support teachers. Because I am a teacher, I know that teachers are up to their necks in work. If you tell them, "I have the most wonderful piece of software," they smile at you and say, "that's great, but I don't have the time to learn it." Instead, I walk the halls every morning, and when I see a teacher, I ask, "do you think you might have just ten or fifteen minutes to spend with me?"

First, we sit down and brainstorm what types of projects they are going to be doing during the next month. Then, we make another appointment to sit down and look at the software that would be most appropriate for what they are doing, and I ask the teacher to give me a typical project. Next, I redesign that project to incorporate technology and create models of how it will look. Finally, we take the students to the computer lab, and I take the students through the project. The whole purpose of this is to help teachers to have something that they wouldn't have the time to do themselves.

This approach has helped us to incorporate technology in a wide variety of ways across different disciplines.

Social Studies: Students use software to analyze data and test hypotheses, and they also use a map making tool kit.

Math: Students use things like SketchPad and C++.

Science: Students use probes and genetic population software.

Foreign Language: Students work with interactive CD-ROMs in French, Spanish and German. Students also can watch video clips with certain vocabulary, then click on the same phrases used in the clips to record their pronunciation of them and get immediate feedback.

Library: Students learn research skills from the library media specialists who guide the students in conducting research on the Internet.

Foreign Language, English and Social Studies: Students use Avid Cinema to make movies that become part of their portfolios.

Science, Social Studies and Foreign Language: Students who have problems with motivation use Microsoft Power Point with extraordinary success. When the teachers see those students doing honors level work, they get excited, and success breeds success, so the teachers tell other teachers.

Last year was the first time I had this position at the high school, and I can tell a real difference between last year and this year. Last year, only the young teachers were using technology, while the older teachers were often afraid of it. Now I see that the older teachers are also becoming more comfortable because of the support that is there. Right now, we are working with individual teachers, but in the future department members across the school system will be expected to integrate technology into their courses.

Compiled by Mary Hopper

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