The End of Educational Media

Perhaps this post should have preceded my post about "Bringing Back Video to the Classroom," but it came to me as I was writing that earlier one.

I started teaching in the 1970's in a junior high school. I taught English and a course called "Film & Video."  The latter was a course that was half film appreciation and half film/video production.

I had a great time teaching it and students seemed to enjoy it. It grew so popular at one point that I was teaching eight half year sections of that and only one English class, so the principal put a cap on enrollments.

When I started the course we had three Super 8 film cameras, cut & splice film editors and a half-inch reel-to-reel Sony TCV-2010 video tape recorder. (A VTR before there were VCRs.) The blank tapes were about $35. You looked at the monitor to see what your were recording (no viewfinder on the camera). Incredibly crude compared with today's technology, but incredibly magical back then.

My second year we got a Sony Portapak where you could sling the VTR part on a strap over your shoulder and go mobile. Everyone wanted to leave the classroom to record.

We used the Super 8 film cameras to make two minute (one roll of film) animated films.

We did an abbreviated history of film from the first silent films, through classics of the 40s-60s. The county had a huge lending library of 16mm films that I could borrow - Chaplin, Keaton, Harold Lloyd, Nosferatu, Citizen Kane... 

Yes, students would groan early in the course at "another black & white movie" but I also recall classes drained at the end of On the Waterfront who would compare the film favorably in their journals to the current Rocky films. M*A*S*H was a very popular TV series, but even the fans in my class were wowed by the original film.

We studied editing, lighting, camera angles. We knew what people in the credits like a gaffer, a grip and a Foley artist actually did for a living.

There were teachers all over the building using films and later videos (when VHS took hold) in their lessons. (I admit I was a little smug about what was then my own Media 2.0 course - not just students as consumers of media, but as creators.)

If you were a teacher in that period from the 60s through most of the 1980s, you just had to know how to thread a 16mm projector and fix a loop to get past torn sprockets.  Kids who would have been computer nerds if there were computers were on the AVA squad (audio visual aids) delivering and fixing projectors, record players, overhead and filmstrip projectors and cassette recorders.

But something happened when the computers hit the classrooms. Media seemed to disappear. And it wasn't as simple as saying that teachers were doing the same things digitally.

Yes, we traded our VHS copy of Romeo & Juliet or The Outsiders for a DVD eventually, but classes were not making animated films, mini-documentaries, audio recordings - and recording podcasts was 20 years away.

Right now at my college, I'm trying to get faculty that I work with on writing courses to use video, and there is very little interest. They have access to streaming media (with resources like FMG and Intelecom) and media supplied by their textbook publishers that they can slice, dice, bookmark and annotate. They can have students view the video on their own from home (something I would have loved to have done in 1975). They have media creation tools available on the computers in their rooms. But no one wants to use it. Too much material to cover to have time to show things. Not enough time to learn how to use it to produce media.

I'm not involved in K-12 classrooms as I was in the past, but the teachers I do talk to say that they too are using less media in class.

Is it the end of educational media?

Norbert Elliot and I claimed it was the "End of the Essay" in a podcast series back in 2007, but we are still teaching the five-paragraph essay in our classes.

Frogs and other amphibians are disappearing.  The honeybees are disappearing.  I think educational media is dying out too, and I can't figure out why.


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