“Media” is a funny word these days, it refers to both the medium of communication (digital media, print media etc.) as well as the content (news media etc.). For this blog we will be lensing in on the value of using news and entertainment media in the classroom, and how to go about that.
Finding appropriate media and contextualizing it for your students regarding the specific skill or content to be learned can take the “learning” process out of the box, so to speak, and help students associate complex, abstract or new ideas in their lives and the world around them.
Here teachers and lecturers “broadcast” the media to students, with a view to introducing them to a new aspect of the topic. For instance, if a science class is learning about kinetic energy storage (notionally quite a dry topic), a short news item about the few “blade-runners” -- disabled athletes using blades to run at sometimes astounding speeds, will naturally not only bring the topic into an easily identifiable space, but also resonate more readily with the students than perhaps a diagram or animation explaining the theory.
Current news almost always frame a “problem” humanity is trying to solve — from climate change and tricky political negotiations, to space exploration, gender debates, inequality or historical inequalities. It may not seem obvious to some students that when they are learning, perhaps, about the American Revolutionary War, a determination to secede from the British empire, there are a great many current stories (Brexit, or Ukraine, or Palestine), that are being presented by skilled analysts in ways that may bring the fundamental political conflicts in unrelated historical events into greater focus.
By comparing and contrasting modern-day events with historical events, students are perhaps better able to appreciate that history is not really the truth laid out unaffected by political or personal ideologies of the time, and of the historian. By shifting the challenge of “how history is made” to the students, and asking them to predict how current stories, such as WikiLeaks or the Arab Spring, will be told in future — by whom and to what end. These types of exercises, using media and news of the current day, can stimulate many essential skills: from critical thinking, research and debate to communication and an understanding of personal bias.
Comparative media studies
It is essential that not only students who participate in media studies understand the power of the media. Students studying a wide range of curricula should understand how messaging is made powerful - perhaps for their own use when they are promoting themselves in the marketplace, or perhaps simply as a necessary tool with which to navigate the overwhelming media we consume.
Comparing for instance, clickbait-style articles with in-depth articles or understanding the psychology (and dopamine manipulation) inherent in the “endless scroll” of social media, empowers students with a context and insight into how adaptable and pliable our brains are, in particular to graphic images. Not all bad, lessons that deconstruct “addictive” media, online media consumption and compare similar stories with their click-through-rates can teach students the skills they need to package and present their projects and portfolios in more persuasive and memorable ways.
Entertainment media, while obviously less information-based than news media, is nonetheless also a useful tool to use in a wide array or applications. Imagine the excitement and thrill for younger students, should their teacher use the epically popular Frozen movie, as a jumping off point for learning about the ice age, or the physics of water? How can series such as The Handmaid's Tale, which explores - in a highly accessible way - deep political and gender themes, be interpreted by older social studies students?
The truth is that we are living in a time of tremendous media output and reach — fortunately much of it is also of very good quality; content that is sub-par is in fact also worth studying. Media can assist in a wide range of lessons and learning outcomes.
Students are frighteningly familiar with the content, as well as the means of communication, and you will likely find them willing participants. Even if they are learning about photosynthesis or arithmetic, there is most certainly a valuable interesting piece of media out there to reinforce the lesson, and stimulate debate.