Why participatory media need to be in school

Writer, tech consultant, and educator Clay Shirky just gave a talk at the State Dept. explaining the media sea change we’re experiencing globally. Keeping participatory media, the most fluent though not necessarily most literate users of which are youth, out of school only solidifies the firewall between formal and informal learning and holds school back from 21st-century relevance. Isn’t the idea of adults unidirectionally disseminating to students info that the latter have actually never encountered before beginning to sound quaint? Doesn’t helping students make sense of all the info they’re gathering and think about the implications of all the info they’re sharing, multidirectionally, almost 24/7, sound a little more current? Remember that old term “information superhighway”? Well, even back in Web 1.0, when the Internet was more mass-media-on-screens, it was getting to be like a “highway” for all forms of “transport.” It simply can’t be called either “technology” or a new medium that’s being layered on top of life or school. It’s technology + media + communication + producing + consuming + activism and so on. It’s a planet-size screen displaying, pipeline carrying and mirror reflecting virtually all of human life, basically. Shirky says the Net has become “the mode of carriage for all other media … less a source of information and more a site of coordination because people can now consume, produce and also gather ’round and talk about the info simultaneously.

So the Internet or participatory media simply can’t be an add-on to what students are currently learning – “another subject to be shoehorned into the curriculum as job training for knowledge workers,” as author and professor Howard Rheingold put it, quoted by professor Michael Wesch here. That approach would sell students, the learning process, school, and participatory culture short. They need to learn new media literacy and how to function well and civilly in community (be civically engaged, good citizens) in and with multidirectional, many-to-many social media throughout the curricula, the school day, and all grade levels. Visionaries like Rheingold, Wesch, and Shirky – and some amazing tech educators I feel so lucky to have met – show how important it is for students, as both producers and consumers, to approach participatory media in an ethical, mindful, and literate way. That’s what school could do if it stops blocking participatory media – bring the rigor and enrichment of formal learning to the informal learning and the meaningfulness of informal learning to school. I ran across all three of the above links while doing some research for a talk this week. I hope they’ll be as thought-provoking for you as they were for me.

But those are just a couple of reasons. Send yours! (Post here or in the ConnectSafely forum) – you can email me via anne(at)netfamilynews.org.

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