Teaching should mirror the reality of our students’ futureStory by Rebecca Kendall, From Mary Dickieson (Ed.), The Portico Magazine. Communications and Public Affairs: University of Guelph, Fall 2010.
The Potential for Great Things; The University of Guelph’s BetterPlanet vision rests on the talent of its people, including 14 young faculty whose teaching and research achievements foretell our future success.
Have you checked Facebook today? Tweeted, updated your location on Foursquare, added photos to Flickr or posted a note to your blog? Maybe, like many people, you’ve done all five. Or maybe, like many others, none of this makes any sense to you.
Whether you understand the tools of social media and how they work in the ever-changing face of global communication or not, they’re here to stay, says media studies professor Mark Lipton.
“As new social media become more prevalent in the lives of young people and in the lives of most people, it’s going to become increasingly important to be more media literate.” The way people communicate and share information is of great interest to Lipton, who joined U of G in 2004 after studying at Concordia University and New York University (NYU) and teaching at NYU, Vassar College and the University of Toronto. Lipton also taught media in high school and middle school in New York City. He says he wanted to come to Ontario because of its international record for teaching media literacy.
Media education was integrated into Ontario’s curriculum in grades 9 through 12 more than 20 years ago, and a 2006 provincial mandate added it to elementary schools. Nevertheless, Lipton has found Ontario teachers aren’t completely prepared to teach this component, “especially since the elements of any media literacy curriculum are changing as a result of emerging social media.” As new media platforms like Facebook and Twitter surface and become everyday practice, media literacy becomes increasingly important, he says.
With this in mind, Lipton launched mediaeducationproject.ca, a digital learning commons filled with open educational resources for educators who teach kindergarten to Grade 12. Launched in 2007, the site aims to help teachers enhance their teaching by using some of these technologies. So far, the site has logged about 15,000 unique visitors and nearly 140,000 page views.
When Lipton was a child, his media diet included large helpings of books and television. “Both inspired me to think in creative ways. Both inspired my vocabulary, and both inspired me to think critically,” he says. In third grade, he wrote a play, cast his classmates in the roles and directed their performance. “It was a series of short skits based on my experience watching Sesame Street and Electric Company. I’ve always been inspired by children’s television and still watch it when I can. I think it’s important to be able to talk to young people about what they care about.”
Today, the media menu has moved beyond books and television — and even beyond other staples like radio, magazines and newspapers — to become a smorgasbord of digital music and games, websites and applications for mobile devices like cell phones and iPods. “This technology isn’t going away. In fact, it’s growing at an unprecedented rate, making it necessary for children and young people to understand how to use these tools, rather than be used by them.”
According to a 2008 Statistics Canada survey, 84.3 per cent of Canadians now have Internet service at home. And a recent study by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that youth ages eight to 18 spend almost 7½ hours per day connected to media.
“That’s time they’re spending on the computer, watching television, listening to music and playing video games. Personal media use has almost become a full-time job,” says Lipton. The study also found that 66 per cent of kids have their own cell phone and spend an average of 33 minutes per day on the phone; students in grades 7 to 12 spend up to 90 minutes a day texting.
“The challenge is for the education system to leverage these media to create relevant learning experiences that mirror students’ daily lives and the reality of their futures.”
His research findings suggest that one of the main barriers to technology implementation in Ontario classrooms is rooted in teaching philosophies that favour traditional methods of instruction; responsibilities that put a single teacher in a classroom of students who each have different needs, abilities and learning styles; and a lack of administrative support from the schools and school boards.
While these factors contribute to a slow-moving change in the delivery of education, Lipton says the main hindrance is rooted elsewhere. “The number one reason why media literacy is so broad and unstructured in Ontario classrooms has to do with technical competence. There’s a huge range of understanding among teachers.”
He says previous research indicated this range of understanding was linked to things like the age of a teacher and whether he or she worked in a rural or urban setting. “I haven’t found this to be true at all,” he says. “It has more to do with a teacher’s access to and competence with today’s educational tools and the teacher’s philosophical approach to teaching media literacy.
“Teachers need to be rewarded for risk-taking and know what’s available in terms of free resources. If we aren’t engaging kids in discussion surrounding technology and social media, then we’re missing a real opportunity.”