Advertisements morph into learning experiences with powerful-yet-simple video tools.
My seventh- and eighth-grade students are sitting in teams at laptops, focused intently on commercials for brands like Hardee's and Always. Keyboarding fingers are flying only slightly faster than observations about how women are portrayed, why the messages were produced at all, and how the commercials are trying to make us feel.
After about 45 minutes of this, each team has completed a remix video, comparing, contrasting, and deconstructing the commercials' various persuasive tactics and communication techniques. My students are excited and engaged, and they barely even realize they've been learning the whole time -- not bad for an after-school program on a sunny Friday afternoon in the Bronx.
Remixing videos isn't something I imagined would be part of my teaching repertoire. I was dubious when I first started a professional development program with ExpandED Schools and The LAMP called Connect2Tech with MediaBreaker. Like so many educators, I've been inundated with edtech options, and with most of them I wind up playing the role of a glorified DJ or test proctor, screening videos and making sure students stay on task while they complete an online learning module. But this was something else.
With video remix, my students are using popular mainstream media to hone their critical-thinking skills in an active way. They're creating original multimedia essays by communicating visually, evaluating sources of information, and negotiating ideas with their peers. In my class, they've applied these skills to breaking down news clips and TV ads about Donald Trump's campaign, as well as to exploring issues of equity in education in the United States compared to countries like Finland, China, and India. My Connect2Tech colleagues teaching in other schools are using video remix to teach science and as part of after-school clubs focused on technology and media.
We're all doing something a little bit different, but we're all using MediaBreaker/Studios, a free editing tool designed by The LAMP for the purpose of enabling educators to integrate media-literacy principles and video remix in their classrooms and after-school programs. Unlike a lot of other edtech tools, MediaBreaker/Studios isn't "plug and play" –- I have to (get to!) be actively involved as an educator. On its own, MediaBreaker/Studios doesn't teach students how to think critically about media messages; it's merely a platform to help me get them to a point where they're exploring, discovering, questioning, and coming to their own conclusions about the media that fills nearly all of their waking hours.
Video remix seems to be a relatively new concept for middle- and high-school classrooms; MediaBreaker/Studios is currently the only tool designed specifically for remix in an educational setting. It's one that I hope will catch on, but I also want to see more educators exploring video remix in their classrooms, as well as more research around how to make sure we use it effectively. I'm heartened by what I've heard from my fellow Connect2Tech participants, but we're still in the beginning stages of using video remix for education, and more work is needed to develop tools and practice. But the concepts are easy and natural to follow, since "remixing" is part of being a teacher -- taking bits of information and using them to create something new and hopefully meaningful for our students is what we do.
I'm currently developing a curriculum for seventh- and eighth-grade students to explore wage discrimination across gender lines, a topic that sounds as dry as can be but becomes exciting when my students get to read and watch videos about their favorite Hollywood stars and athletes. Since current cultural conversations center around topics like diversity in films, the U.S. Women's National Soccer Team federal complaint alleging gender-based wage discrimination, and gender bias at the Summer Olympics, my students have plenty of relevant material that happens to line up with what they’re talking about outside of school anyway. They're interested, they're engaged in deep learning, and I'm using the technology to teach what I want, rather than the technology using me to teach what it wants. Tools that enable outcomes like this seem well worth funding and refining.
One of the greatest gifts a student can bestow on any teacher is gift of self-direction. I can show students how to annotate an article and identify main ideas, but it takes more to light the spark of curiosity and authentic learning.
A Greek philosopher once said, "Education is the kindling of a flame, not the filling of a vessel." My experiences with MediaBreaker/Studios and remix have helped me spark a conflagration across my classroom.