Saturday, January 25, 2003

In Which I Have A Curricular Epiphany

When I first designed the ideal Media Literacy course for my Masters of Arts in Teaching with Internet Technologies graduate thesis five years ago, I decided to build into the course a final project which tested student learning in the course overall through the old standard, the Time Capsule. Objects chosen had to clearly address a single thesis about some aspect of culture today; the final assignment called for a metatext showing how the objects spoke semiotically to that thesis, in the context of how future capsule-finding cultures might have changed (and thus might have changed their own contexts for the way they interpret the objects), and for a five minute live oral presentation laying bare their assumptions, stating thesis and argument and conclusion for the message of their objects and the medium of the Time Capsule itself.

The time capsule is fun and pedagogically sound. It is a deceptively quick-to-accomplish project, but developing a strong response to the project requires serious mental energy and comprehensive understanding of the course material and the fundamental theorems of the study of media. No one ever suggested that people were their "objects" best able to speak to the past about what our modern world knows is really important, which I had hoped for as a kind of ideal response when first envisioning the project; no one ever made or showed a video tape of their friends just talking about their hopes and dreams, for example. But many students got close. The best presentations have been thoughtful, and the absolute best showed students having fun with the topic, too: collections of sex toys chosen to best represent the love/hate relationship our society endures about sex, a clay model of a boy's room, whose clay objects lifted to reveal paragraphs about the subjective importance of clay beds, clay computers, clay chairs and stiff clay roommates, and a slightly-illicit collection of mind-altering prescription drugs such as Ritalin and Wellbutrin, presented by a girl who used such drugs, but collected door-to-door from peers eager to give away their drugs despite school rules about such things.

But I just had a brainstorm:

1. If the stated ideal goal of the cumulative learning of the course -- all the historical, rhetorical, sociological, anthropological, ecological, epistemological; all the semiotic analysis and attitude adjustment, all the developing confidence and skill -- is for students to be able to create and share knowledge confidently, intuitively, creatively and well in any medium, then success should be marked by testing the student's ability to approach any medium with a studied and clear awareness of the complex potential for best practice in that medium.

2. Moreover, if the media literate student is able to be articulate and clear in any medium, they should be able to be articulate and clear about anything they know in a specific medium.

3. Therefore, the most successful Media Literacy students should be able to be especially articulate in any medium about the potential for literacy of that medium.

As mentioned in an earlier rant, this spring will be the last time this course is taught, at least for a few years and probably forever, here at Northfield Mount Hermon. The final assignment for the final week of the final run of the course every school everywhere should require of every student will be a triumph of metateaching, of student empowerment, of grandiose dreams. I'll probably keep the time capsule somewhere, maybe as a post-final done overnight for the last day of the class, but make it much smaller in scale and in importance, no metatext, only informal oral presentation.

The new final project, I imagine, will look something like this:

Describe the literacy of one medium IN that medium. In other words, make a PowerPoint presentation about how to make the best PowerPoint presentation, write a paper about the usually subconscious habits and rhetoric ideals of writing a paper, write a web for the web about the web, make a board game about board games, have and record a series of exquisite phone conversations about the best way to have an exquisite phone conversation, hand in a cassette about how to best respond to this kind of assignment using an oral recorded medium, etc. Media must be currently in use, but can have specialized application (for example, whiteboards or other classroom or learning tools, conference rooms and other business or environmental media). Length, style, tonality, formality, and other parameters should demonstrate understanding of an ideal, thorough, and course-appropriate application of your chosen medium.

There's an added bonus to this new idea, if I can make it fly: if it works, I'll have 12 student primers on twelve different media, each of which practices what it preaches. I'll be able to use the best of them as demonstrations and instruction booklets as I continue my work with teachers to integrate media literacy into the schoolwide curriculum, too. And in this way, even more so than the four years of Media Literacy time capsules now scattered across the school in ravines and musty attics and buried in the flower garden, the final work, the best work of the best students, my borrowed opus -- delivered as all teaching is delivered through the mouths and hands and minds of my students -- will truly live on, if not forever, than for a good long time.

posted by boyhowdy | 10:30 PM |

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