Kathleen Tyner, Arts Education Policy Review Vol. 96, No. 1, September/October 1994
Technology and school reform are two high-profile educational bandwagons that promise to improve education in the United States. They travel divergent paths, and evidence is spotty that either has made significant progress in informing the moribund education system.
Although the state of the artin instructional technology has gone far beyond the provisions of on-screen workbooks, the state of practice in many places has not kept pace. Many uses of technology either support the classroom status quo or occur at the margins of education, rather than the mainstream academic program. 1
It is increasingly apparent that although neither technology nor school reform is enhanced by working in isolation, there are some indications that they are beginning to converge in ways that go beyond school-renewal rhetoric. Of course, learning environments are not stagnant, and all schools want to move toward excellence for their students-if only there was some consensus on the way to achieve it. When technology is used to support goals compatible with systemic school reform, a clear vision of educational success emerges.
One significant bridge between technology and school reform that can demonstrate how the two might work together is the use of hands-on video production to support constructivist classroom practices. Dynamic media educators' grassroots efforts are building evidence that the inclusion of media arts across the curriculum is vital if education is to be germane to the contemporary modes of communication in an information society.
Student video productions easily engage processes that support constructivist-education principles. Because video works with both process and product, however, it can also be used to meet unique overall school restructuring challenges that may be tied to, but are different from, classroom practice. Video end products, produced for audiences outside the school building, can be used to increase parent and community involvement, thus decentralizing school governance by opening up the classroom to the community through the exhibition of student work and the use of student production skills in community projects outside the school.
Although video shows potential, all technologies are merely tools and no tool has inherent value. Tools can be used for promising-or dubious-practices. Table 1 can be used to plot where a school falls on the continuum between traditional and constructivist approaches.
|Function||Traditional Approach||Constructivist Approach|
|Access and analysis of Information|| Prepackaged programing delivers Information to students.|
Video is an expert, a "substitute teacher" that presents one-way knowledge to students.
Video is considered to be a "window on the world."
| Students and teachers produce their own instructional content.|
Students learn codes and conventions of video to express themselves. Their knowledge is valued and they have outlets to express it.
Video is a manufactured construct with inherent values and biases.
|Hands-on production||Video is used to document other real-time classroom or extracurricular projects.|
Video replicates broadcast formats.
Teachers choose the themes and concepts for student productions.
Teachers are experts, students are learners.
Emphasis is on job readiness; i.e., production skill building.
Video themes are based upon rigid disciplines.
Teachers talk, students listen quietly.
|Video productions derived from original concepts are encouraged.|
Students see a range of independent and experimental pieces from which to model and practice a variety of formats.
Students work with teachers to choose themes, content, and concepts for classroom information and hands-on production.
Students are sometimes experts. Teachers are sometimes learners.
Emphasis is on critical-thinking skill building.
Students and teachers work in interdisciplinary teams. Students are encouraged to make connestions between disciplines.
Students talk, move about, and challenge statements based on agreed-upon rules of discourse.
|Assessment||Teachers establish assessment criteria.|
Students compete as individuals.
Teachers assess student work.
Emphasis is put on "right" answers and "correct" ways of working.
|Students and teachers establish assessment criteria together.|
Students are assessed both as individuals and as collaborative team members.
A variety of assessment strategies include self-assessment, peer assessment, and opportunities for community feedback.
Emphasis is put on pertinent questions and responses based on viable evidence.
|Restructuring||The school day is divided into rigid time periods.|
Classroom products are intended only for teachers and student(s).
Media studies is a seperate class or unit.
Media analysis and production are seperate courses of study.
|The school day has flexibility for block time and team teaching.|
Classroom products are produced for a wider audience.
Students are encouraged to question media every time it is in the classroom or environment. Media literacy is an approach, not a discipline.
There may be no area of modern experience that is more neglected in schools than the mass media, but, like many things that are bad for teenagers (controlled substance, sex). certain segments of the public believe that a lack of knowledge is the best means of protection. 2
Constructivist strategies strike to the heart of the debate about what students should learn and be able to do. School has always been the preview of those who want to promote a grander vision of society, one that cultivates fine art and the kind of cultural knowledge generally associated with the upper classes of society. Teachers have historically been the "thin blue chalk line" that separates high culture from low.
As the distinction between popular culture and fine art blurs in contemporary society, teachers and learners must find criteria to sort through the cultural flotsam and jetsam and come up with some consensus of what is worthy of study. Furthermore, an increasing majority of students have access to a variety of information technologies at home-including computers, modems, and video cameras-that are unavailable to them in the schools. Although the use of electronic media in schools is increasing, the continued dominance of paper-and-pencil technologies in contemporary classrooms stands in stark contrast to these students' preferred means of obtaining and communicating information through the telephone, radio, computers and television.
Steven Dobbs, president and CEO of the Marin Community Foundation, sees the use of ubiquitous electronic tools as:
more of a generic, educational life experience that blurs the distinction between school and home. In the old days, parents did not have silkscreen equipment or kilns, but now may of them have computers and video equipment at home. One of the things we stress in arts education that helps kids understand is that the images, music, and dance made by artists are not like those non-artists make because sounds, color, movement, and style coverage for specific purposes and have a deeper meaning. If activities associated with image-making become common, it could be relatively demeaning to the arts experience...At the same time, it is clear that the leading edge of the telecommunication highway will make it possible for the arts curriculum to manipulate sound and images electronically in new and exciting ways. 3These ways are far from clear. Popular culture has historically been used by young people to establish deliberate barriers that keep adults out. Through bizarre vocabularies, codes, conventions, and social rituals, teens carve out a temporal space independent of adult oversight, and thus popular culture is near and dear to their hearts.
Teachers' responses to popular culture range from demeaning to embracing it. Students hate either extreme. I teachers archly criticize popular communication forms, they run the risk of alienating and insulting the very culture their students value. If they embrace it, they risk looking like ridiculous fuddy-duddies who are trying to appear up-to-date. The middle ground is to follow the students' inclination to explore popular-culture themes but to use popular culture to guide students to more sophisticated, investigative, cultural pursuits. In the course of walking this tightrope, it is not necessary for teachers to suppress personal distaste for popular culture artifacts, or to express glowing enthusiasm for every new pop culture riff that comes down the pike.
Student-centered education does not mean that teachers abdicate their responsibility to guide classroom experience with a "do your own thing" curriculum. But, because constructivist approaches operate in ways that allow teachers and students to share power in the classroom in democratic ways, reform-based pedagogy can be on a collision course with traditional classroom methods conducted in institutions that are far from democratic in their governance and modes of operation.
Media study is at least a nod in favor of student interests. Because students have spent so many of their waking hours with television, the study of video also acknowledges that students' existing knowledge can be of value in the classroom. Since the process of hands-on student production lends itself to work that is inter-disciplinary, group-oriented, and inquiry-based, it can support the goals of constructivist classrooms-to lead students into areas of sophisticated, critical thought.
Students already know the codes and conventions of media, especially of television, but they may not have the vocabulary to articulate that knowledge. Together, teachers and students can learn vocabularies: key concepts; and the economic, social, cultural, and historical contexts of media production by exploring a formal and structured course of media studies that marries hands-on video production with building skill in media analysis.
As students construct and deconstruct video in an inquiry-based environment, they can practice asking questions about mass media products with their teachers. Classroom analysis of media is investigatory-the important thing is not to have the right answer, but to know how to ask questions that lead to reasoned hypotheses. It is also imperative to have the research skills to find information that is useful to address the questions. Speculation about possible answers to questions is the first step.
As students practice asking questions abut media with their teachers, they begin to question media internally every time information appears in their environment, even if the teacher is not around. It is the fervent hope of media teachers that this habit of questioning information, developed through classroom practice, will create critically autonomous citizens. The knowledge of media codes and conventions, in turn, improves both students video productions and their analysis of their own and others products in an upward spiral of successful analysis and practice.
The CPB study predictably found that schools are awash with television sets and that prepackaged instructional video resources targeted to students still predominate among video uses in the classroom. Schools have tripled their use of VCRs alone, from 31 percent in 1982 to 99 percent in 1991.5
But the study contained some surprising responses. Over 81 percent of the teachers surveyed indicated that they have access to video cameras, and an astounding 54.8 percent of the California teachers reported the use of hands-on student production as a source of programming used in he classroom. Closer analysis of the California data by Far West Laboratory found that video cameras were most often used like still cameras, for the purpose of documentation. The most popular uses cited for student work were for sports/extracurricular activities and for "production experience" for students. But, and this bodes well for constructivist approaches, responses gave strong indications that students are also creating original work with video tools. Over 51 percent of the California educators reported that they used student-produced video for instructional purposes. The study concluded that "greater availability of equipment will undoubtedly lead to wider and more extensive use of original television productin." 6
The CPB findings come as no surprise to media education organizations and media arts facilities that are reporting increases in requests for technical assistance in the use of video in the classroom for K-12 teachers. Some of these organizations have developed artists-in-residency programs and curricula to help teachers get started with video production. Many others are scrambling to keep pace with the emerging trend of hands-on video and its place in the K-12 curriculum. In a collection of anecdotal accounts from the field by the National Alliance for Media Education (NAME) and the National Telemedia Council, hands-on student production of video in the K-12 classroom appears to be reaching critical mass. 7
The data reported from community-based groups about student production is still enigmatic. Because of the burgeoning need for all manner of support for student video programs, none of these extant providers of technical assistance have had the luxury to reflect thoroughly on the phenomenon of hands-on video use in elementary and secondary schools through formal, replicable studies.
In 1992, Robert Gipe, Appalshop Education Director, teamed with the Eastern Kentucky Teachers' Network, a group of Foxfire teachers, to explore the use of video and radio to support Foxfire's reform-minded principles. The principles of Foxfire are familiar to the constructivist: hands-on experimental inquiry-based, interdisciplinary, student-centered, etc.
The teachers attend a one-week Media Literacy Workshop, with many hours of follow-up, to learn both analysis and video production skills. Because many of the Foxfire teachers practice Foxfire principles within traditional school settings, the skills they needed had to "straddle the fence" between progressive and traditional approaches.
The teachers learned to produce short video projects that fit into traditional school-time formats and tie into inquiry-based skills. One example of this, "The Jeopardy Game," is an exercise used to help develop questioning skills for elementary students. Gipe taped a clip from a Barbara Walters' interview, but the students were shown only the "answer segments," where the interviewee answered Walters' questions. Students were then asked to speculate about what the questions Walters must have asked to elicit the response. This drew on the students' knowledge of the conventions of the game show, Jeopardy.
After students had posed the possible questions, they were asked to construct an interview based on Appalachian themes of their choosing. These included herbal medicine, music, work, family, and other areas of exploration from their communities. The teachers guided the students in formulating questions for their interviews. If a question could be answered with a simple "yes" or "no" response, it was tossed out.
The students then worked in groups to tape their interviews. Students without video equipment used tape recorders. The interview skills thus became useful for future classroom research; mastery of technology; experience in group processes; and experience in discourse, follow-through, and articulation of ideas. The project also countered negative stereotypes about the evalue of Appalachian culture that the students had seen in mass media.
"The key to the success of media production with the students was Foxfire," says Gipe.
Because of their Foxfire training, the teachers already knew the critical pedagogy. When we taught them the production skills to go with the pedagogy, they knew right away how video could work in their classrooms. 8
The strongest support for student use of video in the classroom comes from the community-based arts groups that operate education programs fro students and teachers outside the walls of traditional educational bureaucracies. These include museum-based education programs, media arts organizations, and advocates for cable public access. Some of these operate artists-in-the-schools programs or after-school programs, or they host community workshops that offer courses in media analysis and production, customized for teachers and students.
In fact, the only quantitative data currently tracked by educational bureaucracies about video in the schools is gleaned from sales figures about equipment purchases. Unfortunately, equipment availability is a poor indicator of what students are actually doing with video behind the closed door of the classroom. There is clearly a need for additional study in the optimum sues, potentials, and policies for hands-on student production.
As policy makers churn out goals and strategies for the use of telecommunication, satellite, microwave, and other information delivery technologies, the use of video equipment in the K-12 classroom is a troublesome piece that never seems to fit neatly into policy documents. A cursory review of state frameworks and technology policy plans indicate that although the words media arts, video, or film may appear as examples of the use of technology in he classroom, very little guidance is given to teachers about the optimum use of moving-image technologies.
Some companies do glimpse a vision for change that they hope will pay off in the long run, but they have found that teachers must buy in and work with them. For example, Panasonic Corporation endowed several hunderd schools in the United States with video equipment in their Kid-Witness News project. The project integrated Panasonic's philanthropic, public relations and marketing interests with mixed success. Teachers and students liked the KidWitness project, but because their schools offered no training in the use of the equipment, the ttudents' products relfect a general replicatin of broadcast formats, produced with didactic, teacher-center themes.
KidWitness teachers were unclear about the role of the video camera in classrooms, had little or no training, and generally encouraged the use of the videocamera as if it were a still camera. Because they lacked institutional support to connect the video equipment to larger reform issues, they were unclear of where they were going with video.
The Panasonic effort was a beginning and pointed to a successful entry point for video in the classroom. Unfortunately, long-range visions for video do not pay stock dividends in the short term and few video companies have followed suit. The process and products of student work do not have clear economic potential for vendors in the education market who already have defined the market for prepackaged, renewable video instructional materials. Because of this confusion, most manufactures of consumer video hardware, natural corporate allies for classroom video teachers, have fremed most of their marketing decisions to the home market.
Although it is important to garner grassroots suport, teachers must become extremely resilient if they are to mount a video program that has not been assimilated into a larger, institutuional plan of reform. Schools fortunate enough to employ such teachers have seen successful video programs fall apart as teachers burn out or move on.
These teachers have proved time and again that video can be a tool that supports the goals of authentic tasks and assessment, restructured schools, and critical classroom practices. If they are fortunate enough to have community support, their programs are more viable. Media teachers also need institutional, administrative, and policy support to strenghten existing programs and to start new ones. Until the top-down meeds the grassroots, the use of video will continue to be marginalized in the curriculum as a curiosity.