Media Literacy: 5 key concepts to teach this year

Down this post a bit, you’ll find five ‘media literacy’ elements I think are essential and to be taught directly. In my case, I do this in ‘technology’ time – as no school has a ‘media’ subject: just maths, english, drama, PDHPE etc. Every wondered why we don’t teach ‘media’ given its BIGGER than anything else in the lives of kids?

Recently, I wrestled with a couple of posts about the so called ‘release’ of Minecraft: Education Edition. I wasn’t very positive about this product which perhaps flows on from my skepticism about why teachers needed MinecraftEdu in the first place. I have a huge distrust of the increasing use of ‘brands’ in education which leads to increasing competition between the ‘haves’ and further disadvantage among the ‘have nots’.

I am painfully aware that some people have made and enjoy a lifestyle choice around games in education. It’s fun to talk about, but actually hard to learn.

Minecraft has become the poster-game for game-based-learning crowd. It’s being leveraged into sales of other Microsoft products as perfect-complimentary learning tools through sales promotion education conferences, which hype show this game (and other products associated with the brand) are good for learning. They have received significant social-media ‘vocal’ support from numerous researchers people who are studying interested the game. That’s the tragedy of edtech – unchecked media invasion and product sales – while research and training is eroded to prevent teachers making critical choices about media. So yeah, you can use Minecraft … no ones going to ‘prove’ it’s either good or bad – because being ‘fun’ has always been a great educational-sale message.

I have never promoted MinecraftEdu and in fact, my own small efforts towards Minecraft and kids were deliberately ‘out of school’ in 2011. At the time 99.9% of schools filter-banned all games and virtual worlds. In essence, my interest was partly driven by counter-edutech-culture, railing against the dogma of technological determinism in education – which swirled around Web2.0 and Digital Natives – we struggled to see MUVEs and GAMES get any serious consideration – despite 30 years of research vs brand-hype and sales messages. Despite it’s success at the time, our project-community was always doomed – as we refused to ‘brand it’ Edu and therefore had no ready-market. We were never Minecraft Teachers, but that’s what it takes to be the face-of-anything these days — you gotta have a hat. Media Education has always been a difficult thing … if you want to encompass the whole thing – not just things that are easy/safe etc.,

Schools – particularly NSW Education bought Microsoft and Adobe products almost exclusively. Edublogs, wikis and other ‘tools’ were banned and since then, no one at the Department has explained why they we’re wrong to ban TEACHERS and students for years – and now, since the cash ran out – it’s all BYOD and anything goes.

Systems didn’t have an effective understanding of media then, and they still don’t in all but a few cases. There is no ‘media education’ in schools – just shifting ideas and competition about brands and funding. Brands see schools as a market – and now they sell us games because they have an established sale-track.

I see value in Minecraft as an expressive, collaborative virtual world for children to explore the medium of games far more than I do making lego houses to meet Math’s outcome 2.7 etc.,, I think games of all typed have a massive place in non-existent media education. I don’t think that games developers will help do this – so far the avoid education and research, they produce almost no data and notoriously vague about their methods and user demographics. I think they are MORE likely to build ‘good’ educational products if they are encouraged to invest in ‘real research’ before their games are pushed into schools. Right now, Microsoft has an easy-in – based on press release and buying a product which itself promoted the worst aspects of educational virtual worlds (if you read up on such things).

I am yet to see Microsoft or MinecraftEdu act in a way other than marketing and brand-building (ie scholarly). Of course their fans will say “they are working towards it” or “someone has to start it”. This isn’t true, and in the history of educating children, no other media has enjoyed an un-evaluated ‘walk in’.

Whether Minecraft EE is amazing or just more brandware is less important than what the effect kind of public media representation has on what kids get to do in the classroom. It’s not just games — it’s every ‘product’ that is now pushed onto kids as a new and essential ‘digital literacy’ which isn’t the same as Media Literacy or Fluency. Media Literacy underpins our modern culture — just look around at how people behave and what new traditions are being created around our media use.

Media Literacy Essentials

There are FIVE things that kids need to know about and apply.

  1. All media messages are constructed.
  2. Media messages are constructed using a creative language with its own rules.
  3. Different people experience the same media message differently.
  4. Media have embedded values, opinions, and points of view.
  5. Most media messages are organized to gain profit and/or power.

To learn this, kids need to be removed from the kind of dubious activity that ‘brands’ are doing to children with the willing co-operation of teachers. Point 5 – The message that goes with the device you place in the child’s hand was not created, designed or sold to make them more literate – and yet, we call it ‘digital literacy’ to mask the obvious effect of forcing one brand over another into kids education.

How is Minecraft going to help kids develop thier ‘media literacy’ perhaps isn’t the point-of-use for many teachers. However, whether you want to build resiliance, critical thinking skills, make a fort or whatever — Minecraft is owned by a massive corporation which essentially trades in media messages in order to fuel cultural reproduction – in teachers and students. If a class uses these 5 points to look at Microsoft’s press releases about Minecraft EE, it’s pretty easy to see the thin veneer of educational evidence they are presenting.

I don’t go to conferences and ‘fan-meets’ anymore. I am painfully aware of the harm they cause in pursuit of ‘potential good’. While I still believe Minecraft can be used perfectly well in schools to do a range of things – I see EE as a deliberate attempt to plunge teachers and students into the ‘brand’ trap. You can use Minecraft in lots of ways – and on lots of platforms. This idea that Minecraft EE is amazing, firstly assumes that MinecraftEdu had any educational benefit – by which I mean – appeasing cultural bias and negativity, increasing teacher power over kids – was a fundamentally BAD idea which was “sold” to teachers using the same media illusory methods that can be overcome with media literacy.

Kids who question teachers about ‘why’ they are bringing these products into the classroom, and why being compliant with certain brand media messages is good for them — with be the ones who survive. The Twitterverse is full of teacher’s sharing and promoting products – when they should (as teachers) be the very TANKs that demand these brands produce evidence and directly fund classrooms — because they if they want to be in a classroom – they need to demonstrate they are not targeting kids as consumers and grooming them for a life of consumerism.

So if I don’t like the idea of Minecraft EE – it’s not because I don’t like games at all – but I have a professional and ethical responsibility to consider the potential harm this kind of ‘media strategy’ has, when people ‘sell out’ kids media literacy …

The fall out from this – and I think teachers are unconsciously implicated for the most part – is that families and organisations that support families are drowning in media issues – which are amplified by ‘teacher enthusiasm’ regardless of the teacher’s own ‘critical thinking’ about the effects of ‘going Google’ etc., Just because Tapscott and friends invented the media message “growing up digital” does not mean it’s true, without gaps and errors – or the responsibility of teachers to wade into on a ‘like or don’t like’ basis.

Ask anyone in family services and psychology what is happening OUTSIDE your wonderful digital classroom – how are teacher not directly implicated? My arguement is simple: teach media education and be aware of the issues that pushing brands continues to create. Most of all – whenever a brand attempts to port-popular culture devices and software into classrooms – they are not doing it for the love of education – but to further saturate the lives of kids with their products.