The New Media Literacy Handbook: An Educator's Guide to Bringing New Media into the Classroom

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9780385496148: The New Media Literacy Handbook: An Educator's Guide to Bringing New Media into the Classroom

A concise and comprehensive guide to the ever-growing world of new media and new technology, as well as a sourcebook for teachers seeking to harness these resources and bring them into the classroom.

From CD-ROMs to the Internet to graphic design programs, the vast array of new media products and information available to the average person can be overwhelming and confusing. As media increasingly enter the classroom, teachers are expected to help their students develop a set of critical skills that enable them to use and analyze media products for a variety of purposes: to understand, inform, persuade, and tell stories. But what to use, and where to begin? Even if teachers have access to these materials, they are often at a loss as to how to make them a valuable part of their students' learning experiences.

The New Media Literacy Handbook is an invaluable resource for educators seeking information on, and guidance in, navigating through the vast new media landscape. The book has been designed to help teachers develop their own visual literacy skills, become more sophisticated and reflective users of media in the classroom and in general, and develop evaluation criteria for media products. In addition to their overview and evaluation guide, the authors provide information on how new media can be used in several academic disciplines—language arts, history, science, and art—and specific products and Web sites to explore. Clearly written, with helpful exercises for teachers included in each chapter, The New Media Literacy Handbook is an essential tool for today's educators.

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About the Author:

Cornelia Brunner, Ph.D., and William Tally are both staff members at the Center for Children and Technology in New York City. Founded in 1981, the center investigates the roles technology does and can play in children's lives, in general and in the classroom in particular, and researches the design and development of prototypical software that supports engaged, active learning.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Why This Book?

This book grows out of the work of the Media Workshop New York (MWNY), a professional development program for teachers in New York City. The mission of MWNY is to "help teachers support their classroom practice through the critical use of media and technology." The work that teachers do at MWNY is grounded in the belief that media and technology are tools; that the successful integration of these tools into any classroom requires, as the essential minimum, professional support for teachers; and that adequate professional support for teachers must include preparing them to take a critical view of the design, content, and use of these new learning tools in relation to the curriculum and its specific learning goals and in relation to teaching practice.

The purpose of this book is to show the many ways new media and technologies work well as tools for good teaching and learning and to provide a framework for the critical analysis of these tools. The particular vision of what constitutes "good teaching and learning" in the minds of the authors is discussed fully in the next chapter. First, however, we will describe some of the practical uses for new technologies and media in classrooms, and then we will delve into media literacy as an essential part of the equation.

Roles for Technologies in Schools

The chapters that follow discuss many specific roles for new media as they relate to disciplinary goals in language arts, science, social studies, and art. In this section we will characterize three general ways that technologies can support democratic learning in information-age schools: as tools for student research, as tools for student production, and as tools for public conversations.

As research tools, new media can support the values and habits of inquiry-learning. As production tools, new media can support students in shaping meaning out of their experiences, expressing meaning in different forms and languages, reflecting on and assessing the value of their work, and sharing it with different audiences. As conversational tools, new media can link students in dialogue with peers and adults in and beyond the school, and promote the democratic value of communication and mutual understanding in a diverse society. Taken together, this way of viewing educational work--as cycles of student-directed research, production, and conversation--creates a school culture in which continuous inquiry and reflection are the norm. The following discussion of each category of new media tools offers examples of technology genres in that category.

A New, Compelling Need for Media Literacy

As teachers increasingly integrate the new media into their curricula, they need to invent a set of working criteria to evaluate commercial media products for use by their students and to assess the media productions of their own students in a developmentally appropriate fashion. Yet few teachers have been provided with much opportunity to develop a language, a set of useful concepts, with which to think critically about the form as well as the content of these new multimedia texts. They can judge the quality of the content of a video or a CD-ROM or a Web site, but not the quality of its structure. All of us learned in school how to analyze a range of written texts, from poems to research reports. Most teachers can explain why they consider a particular piece of writing polemical rather than neutral, for instance. They can point to the fact, for example, that an assertion in an opening sentence is not followed by some kind of substantiation in the rest of the paragraph as an instance of its polemical nature. Yet few have this kind of structural understanding of images and sounds, and of multimedia texts. They may recognize the difference between a polemical and a neutral image as easily as a media expert, but they do not necessarily have the words, the tool kit of media concepts, with which to explain their understanding.

Being media literate, however, means not only knowing when and how to use these new media, but also being able to understand both their content and their structure. It means having some basic understanding of how media are constructed, how they are distributed, who owns them, and how they express the values and the perspective of their authors in the way they are made as well in what they cover. It is our hope that it might aid teachers in integrating some important media literacy concepts into the curriculum along with the media themselves. By adding a short but powerful, critical look at the medium being used in a lesson, teachers can develop evaluative criteria for and with their students anywhere in the curriculum without having to make the media a separate subject of study.

Aspects of Media Literacy

Using media appropriately requires understanding their strengths as well as their limitations. As teachers approach this new world of digital media, they find themselves in a position--usually without adequate preparation--to cope with a number of complex issues:

Understanding even the customary criteria for evaluating the value and relevance of traditional media productions is becoming more critical as raw, unedited, unsolicited information enters the classroom via the Internet. Teachers who have been able to rely on publishers, editors, curriculum directors, and master teachers to select appropriate materials for them can still do so, but the degree of control they have over what information their "wired" students are exposed to is seriously curtailed. Now they need new criteria and useful strategies to help these students make positive and constructive use of that information.

As more multimedia products appear, both in CD-ROM format and on the Web, visual literacy, a deeper understanding of visual representation, becomes increasingly important as more of the material is visual in nature. In addition to the need for understanding how images convey meaning, teachers and students have to be prepared to understand how the mix of media--text, image, effect, and sound--interrelate.

The nonlinear organization of these new media presents teachers with a demand to teach students how to interpret and construct meanings in a medium that is not only brand new (and thus in an experimental stage with no clear guidelines or customs to rely on) but also represents, at least potentially, a genuine shift in the way we think about representing knowledge and thus requires a new set of interpretive and authoring skills to be learned by students and teachers at the same time.
Five Critical Questions

One of the organizing principles or conceptual tools teachers can offer students is a set of critical questions they can learn to ask themselves about any medium they use. These kinds of questions can also be described as habits of mind--ways to approach any media experience, whether the media are traditional or new. Media educators have defined a range of such critical questions. The particular five critical questions we use at the Media Workshop New York can be summarized as follows:

How was this constructed?

However realistic, natural, or factual a media product may seem, it is never simply a "slice of life." It is always a construction. Rather than mirroring reality, it represents a specific aspect of reality from a particular perspective.

What values underlie this?

The media convey values both through the content they present and through the form these presentations take. Sometimes the values are explicit, sometimes they are hidden behind an apparently neutral stance, but they are always present, even if they are so much part of the shared assumptions of the mainstream culture that they do not need to be explicitly included.

What are the conventions used in this?

Media productions, new and old, are shaped by the acceptance of certain conventions users are expected to know. Media-literate consumers and producers must know these conventions and recognize their importance in shaping the way the media text is interpreted, whether they are adhered to or disregarded.

Who is the intended audience for this?

Each media text is intended for a particular audience. Recognizing not only what assumptions about the target audience are built into the text, but also how different audiences might interpret the same text, bringing their own assumptions, values, and conventions to it, is an important part of being able to evaluate a media production.

Who owns this? Who benefits from it?

Most media products are made for profit. Students may not have to understand the economics of media production and dissemination in great depth, but they should be aware that at least one purpose of many of the editorial and creative decisions made by producers has to do with selling something. It is thus important to consider who might be trying to sell what to whom when evaluating a media text.

What This Book Offers

The following chapters are intended to offer a way of looking at the integration of media and technologies into classroom as an opportunity to improve teaching and learning and to address the critical media literacy issues that go hand in hand with them.

Chapter 2 places media and technologies within a pedagogical context--a particular view of teaching and learning--and leads ultimately to the place these new tools have in the school reform movement.

Chapters 3 through 6 are discipline-specific, examining media and technologies in the context of the real demands and opportunities of the history, art, English/language arts, and science curriculum. Included in each these chapters is a discussion of content standards, examples of ways new media and technology applications can serve student learning and teaching practice, and related media literacy issues.

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