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Saturday, July 24, 2010

Confronting the Challenges of Participatory Culture: Media Education for the 21st Century by Henry Jenkins

Henry Jenkins has written several books dealing with technology, media, bloggers, gamers and the like. Now with Confronting the Challenges of Participatory Culture: Media Education for the 21st Century he has added education to the mix.

Jenkins notes several important things about the future of education (which interested me as a teacher). Formal education must address technology. It cannot be just paper and pencil. Technology is part of the modern world's media - it is not just newspapers, books, magazines, TV and movies. There are blogs, social media and a new one I hadn't really considered: video games.

Jenkins encourages the use of video games to teach. There are already several games such as Sims and the various history-based empire building games that teach rules and strategies for life. Jenkins cites the example of a young man who learned a lot about Rome (and through Rome, the structures of all societies) by playing an online game, Caesar 3. The lessons learned were interesting, but the costs was too prohibitive for any school to use. It was not monetary costs (more on that down below) but the time costs. This young man invested hundreds of hours into this game. That cannot be done in a classroom, clearly, nor can I, as a teacher, guarantee that I can find anything like this that all, or even most, of my students can find a similar interest in.

But, the point is made and it is true - modern American students must be familiar with technology of all sorts.

Jenkins makes three other important points:

1) Students must be able to interpret and verify the value of all sorts of media. It is hard for students to distinguish advertising from more objective media. Students also fall for the age old problem of judging a book by its cover. They tend to think that the more polished the website, the more accurate its information. Let's admit it, it is easy to make that mistake and requires judgment based on knowledge and experience to overcome that bias.

2) There is a technological divide. Poorer students have less access. Students who have other interests chose to access less (a topic Jenkins only brushes). How do schools attempt to bridge this divide? I don't know that they truly can. Schools have computers and programs but, as any experienced computer user knows, it is quite expensive to keep up with technology.

If a school buys a desk, it is usable for a decade, maybe longer. It is current and does not need upgrading and minimal maintenance. Any computer a school buys is nearly out of date by the time it is installed. The programs are not current and buying the newest and latest cna cost hundreds of dollars for each copy for each computer in which it is installed, or thousands upon thousands for site licenses. Throw in to that the personnel to maintain the computers, the infrastructure to make them more usable and you're talking millions of dollars for a modern American high school. Millions of dollars that has to be re-invested every few years for upgrades and replacements.

To go back to the desks, it is very possible that the first school I taught in (1990-1993) is using the same student desks that were there when I taught. That school had 3 Apple Macintosh computers in the whole building. That's it. No classroom computers. Schedules were done by hand. Attendance was taken on paper. Since then, they've made a massive investment in servers, labs, printers, wires, projectors and it all has to be upgraded all of the time.

In a time of massive budget cuts, some of this becomes mere theory rather than practical discussion.

3) To his credit, Jenkins does not recommend that the computer/media literacy he espouses become a separate class. Rather, he encourages its integration into all classes. While this sounds like a way to get around the time issue (how can you fit a computer/media literacy class into a schedule that is so full as to prohibit many students from making any true choices in their schedule as it is?) this still takes time out of every class and practically guarantees the education he seeks will stay at the very basic level throughout the student's time in school.

So, to sum up, Jenkins makes plenty of observations on the value of technology to education - all of which I have no doubt are quite true. But, in our present educational climate I am not seeing many of these proposals moving from theory into genuine action.

Parents, it always has been and always will be up to you to fill in the blanks that a general education leaves and encourage your child. Technology is no different. Reading this book will give a parent an idea of where to go and how to proceed.

I rate this book 4 stars out of 5.

This book can be found on Amazon.com here: Confronting the Challenges of Participatory Culture: Media Education for the 21st Century by Henry Jenkins.

Reviewed on July 24, 2010

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