MIT's Henry Jenkins on why schools are a key to converging culture; Rozas wins award

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Participation, transparency and ethics are three core challenges facing the field of media-literacy education, according to MIT Prof. Henry Jenkins.  Jenkins keynoted an Oct. 27, 2007, day-long "2007 Media Literacy Conference: Creating and Learning in a Media Saturated Culture" at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. 

  • AUDIO: Listen to a 58-minute streaming excerpt of Jenkins' talk by clicking on the Hipcast carat below. Or download an MP3 PODCAST:   

Jenkins says there's a participation gap because only abougt 57% of youth say they have produced media while the other 43% remain passive media consumers.  Education efforts need to be transaparent, he says, not pitting old literacies such as reading, against new literacies such as video production or virtual-reality gaming. And educators must figure out how to address the challenge of teaching media ethics to youth without resorting to what Jenkins terms a "surveillance culture." 

Alanmichel101907_2 Xavierrozasdolaaward101907 About 60 people attended Saturday's event, sponsored by Home Inc., a 30-year-old non-profit which works in the Boston public schools to assist with student video production.  Home Inc.'s Alan Michel awarded the group's first-annual Dola Award to Boston English High School media teacher Xavier Rozas for his work. (Photos: Rozas on left; Michel on right; click to enlarge.)

Jenkins is author of "Convergence Culture: Where Old and New Media Collide," and also heads at least two research efforts co-managed by the MIT comparative-media studies department (which Jenkins directs).  He says the focus of his efforts is not to establish "media literacy" as another subject in the K-12 classroom, but rather to infuse all teaching with media-literacy principles.  "It's a pradigm shift in the way we teach every subject in the classroom," he said. For example, he said, teachers might learn to ask not: "Is Wikipedia accurate?" but rather, "How is Wikipedia information assembled and when can it appropriately be used?"

One is a $5-million Knight Foundation grant to bring together MIT Media Lab technology with the needs of the evolving local citizen-media movement.  Jenkins has also participated in sessions about the future financing of media.  An outgrowth of the Knight Foundation grant is the MIT Center for Future Civic Media, which is seeking to partner with teachers who want to experiment with youth-media projects.

Jenkins is also in charge of the four-year New Media Literacies (NML) project, funded by the MacArthur Foundation, to develop a theoretical framework and curriculum for K-12 learners that integrates new-media tools into broader educational, expressive and ethical contexts. The aim is to define new media education, how to implement it, and how to sustain it, organizers say.

During a 70-minute talk at Saturday's MIT gathering, Jenkins described how he has reached the conclusion that working with schools rather than outside them is an important part of his research.

An excerpt:

"The old disciplines that emerged around the Industrial Revolution may no longer be adequate to think about how knowledge is constructed and spread today. So in my own space, I'm an experimentalist, I'm trying to mix and match the stuff to create a different way in which knowledge emerges. But I'm also a pragmatist. And the pragmatist in me says we are going to be locked out of schools as long as we can't communicate in the language and structures that schools currently operate in. That we can't talk to these people, we can't get there unless we move somewhat in their space and pull them toward ours.

"And so as a tactical reason, I'm doing things like working in [Herman] Mellville and map reading because I think they can connect the old and revitalize and learn new things from it. It may be a fatal flaw, I don't know, but pragmatically it will get us further in the short run. And maybe we have to start challenging as we go . . . .

"So once side of me says screw the schools, let's go outside, lets do informal learning, let's do stuff after school porgrams, loets do stuff in pop culture that changes the way people think. The schools -- get rid of it. But then I meet teachers every day who are fighting the schools to try to change things on their own ground and need the moral support of academics, researchers and elsewhere to say: 'What you are doing is valuable, to fight your fight is worth fighting.' And the only way those people in the trenches are going to be able change things is they need some amunition. And so I am deeply torn on this."

AUDIO: Listen to a 58-minute streaming excerpt of Jenkins' talk by clicking on the carat below. Or download an MP3 PODCAST: