Thursday, July 10, 2008

Media literacy, audio, video... what about low-tech learning?

In this post I'm going to take a devil's advocate stance, and suggest that while new media literacy and using multimedia as a teaching tool are valuable, that we shouldn't forget the value of low-tech learning. Simple writing utensils and imagination have gotten the human race through thousands of years so far.

What prompted me to think along these lines was the fact that despite being a smart computer geek, a lot of the multimedia creation tools available don't do me a whole lot of good, simply because I lack artistic ability. I can learn how to do very basic things with the various software packages, but without any underlying artistic ability I won't be able to produce anything I'd ever feel was worthy of presenting to an audience.

Yet, if I were a student today, I'd be expected to create multimedia presentations, modify video and photos, and so forth, just to convey basic information. To go back to when I actually was a student, it would be somewhat akin to asking me to illustrate my essays with oil paints. I could do it, but it wouldn't be pretty.

So, that raises a couple of questions. Should being an artist be a prerequisite for being considered capable of communicating effectively? Should some of what we're trying to push on all students be acknowledged as art and taught in appropriate classes? Does the art component of new media put undue expectations on students who are still beginners in the realm of written language in the first place?

Really, at what point did we forget that the richest tapestry is in the mind's eye?

There are so many distractions for students these days that I wonder if a lot of the song and dance we do for our students doesn't just serve as further distraction and limit the students' learning. We seem to seldom get past scratching the surface of what we're teaching. Are we simply enabling and supporting the society-wide attention deficit that's been caused by telephones, televisions, radio, Internet, and so forth?

Perhaps we simply need to try to ensure that the technology we're using doesn't become the focus of a lesson, but is merely a means to learning about the subject at hand. Too many lessons end up with students enamoured by the technology, but learning nothing about the subject matter. I seldom see this happen when working with pencils and paper.

Not to be a Luddite, but I think there's a case to be made for good old-fashioned pencils, paper, and imagination.

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