When my grandfather was a teenager in the Ukraine, he played his accordion for the ‘moving pictures’. He was a member of the band that would play scripted music as damsels in distress were first tied to train tracks by villains, then rescued by heroes.
The music the band played added life to the moving pictures and helped to set the mood or build suspense. Essentially another channel of meaningful information was added to these silent moving pictures… the new channel improved this form of media and created something greater than what was there before.
For his services, my grandfather received two paid entries to these same movies, 20 cents worth of tickets. He would watch movies again and again, and he would charge friends 5 cents (half price) for his second ticket, to earn some pocket change. But never would he sell both tickets, he loved the movies too much. Eventually he would own a cinema, and his fascination and appreciation for movies stuck with him his entire life.
The idea of moving pictures marveled people in these early days! Today we can be momentarily entertained by movies such as this, but not unexpectedly, we expect more from a movie today.
Just as we expect more from our movies and our entertainment, I think our students expect (or at least should expect) more from their classroom experiences today. On a very simple level, how is a poster board different than Glogster or Museum Box? How is an encyclopedia different than wikipedia?
But so often when we make such comparisons, there is the notion of ‘out with the old and in with the new’… this very notion seems to set people off about how we can’t replace the classics or ‘I can do that without technology’. Both of these views miss the point.
We may not be captivated by the ‘damsel in distress’ movies of the past, but we can marvel at the comedic social commentary of Charlie Chaplin; We can study and learn from the the visual story telling of Orson Wells.
We can find value in old black and white films and likewise we can find value in using some important lessons learned in education. We can appreciate quality and learn from what works… BUT… we can’t pretend that times haven’t changed. We can’t hold on to a black and white world.
In one of the most compelling podcasts I’ve heard in a while, Michael Wesch says:
In these rooms… that we are teaching there is literally something in the air that is changing the game completely, and that something in the air is nothing less than 1.5 billion people connecting all around the world… we need to learn how to educate in this media-scape.
If you look at all futurists, all predictions, they all agree on one trend, and that is that we are moving towards… Ubiquitous networks, ubiquitous computing, ubiquitous information, at unlimited speed, about everything, everywhere, from anywhere, on all kinds of devices.
…and meanwhile… scantrons are still happening in our schools where we are testing people for whether or not they are knowledgeable. What I am going to argue is that we have to move from being knowledgeable to actually creating students that are knowledge-able, that is able to critique and analyze and find and share and evaluate information.
It is less about leaving old ways in the dust and more about using the resources available to us. We have always wanted students to think for themselves, to be able to critique and analyze and evaluate what they’ve learned… we just have to do so using a current model. Wesch continues with a question, and his 3-part answer:
How can we create students who can create meaningful connections?
- Engage in real problems that actually matter to students,
- Do it with students, and
- Do this recognizing and harnessing the existing media environment… (including libraries!)
It goes back to this simple realization:
How many channels of information do our students experience outside of our classes? How many in our classes?
We can still watch an old black and white movie, but we don’t go out and buy a black & white tv that limits our ability to see what is available to us in colour. Yet we place unnecessary limits on what can happen in our schools and classrooms, “we need to learn how to educate in this media-scape”.