Richard Jenkins of MIT wrote recently of today's young people:
there is an expectation to participate that runs through much of this generation. It's a desire to be part of the world and to be taken seriously on their own terms, to be not just a consumer of culture, but also a producer of culture. (Research has shown) that 57 percent of teens online have produced media and about a third of them have produced media that they shared with people beyond their immediate friends and families. (Emphasis added.) (See The Internet's new Dr. Spock?)
Jenkins researches the effects of new media on young people. His work has found the current generation -- our students in school today -- to be quite different from those of just five years ago. The earlier generation consumed the media: they spent inordinate hours watching television, listening to the radio, and playing popular music. Notice the verbs. Today's generation consumes media as well, but they also produce it. They have tools at their disposal that can compose, capture, edit, author, publish, and distribute their own works of sound, image, voice, and video. That can, through the Internet, reach friends, family, and beyond.
Take a look at YouTube. It's a collection of videos online, produced mostly by young people on their own, and available worldwide. The content of much of YouTube submissions is trivial or foolish, but the quantity and creativity of some of it proves that our students are capable of producing their own video stories. Working as a producer requires more thinking and intellect and brainpower than simply consuming. Producing original media is active, creative, and thoughtful. Consuming commercial media is passive, desultory, and oftentimes mindless.
As teachers, we need to understand how our students produce their own media, and then figure out how to exploit this production process into our curriculum.
The tools they use
Young people produce music, podcasts, and videos with their computers, in addition to the more common documents, slide shows, and emails that the rest of us produce. They build these productions with new software tools that most teachers are not familiar with:
- They compose music with Finale, Sibelius, GarageBand, and CuBase. They enter the notes from a keyboard attached to the computer, or by clicking on the lines and spaces of the musical staff right on the screen. They create and select and arrange sequences of notes, called loops, into pleasing (sometimes) compositions. The also record their voices and their instrumental virtuosity through a microphone connected directly to the computer.
- They record and assemble podcasts with GarageBand or Audacity. These may include voice, music, and pictures. Because they are easy to produce, quick to distribute, and playable on the ubiquitous and tiny iPod as well as on the computer, podcasts are the fastest-growing form of student production. They use podcasts to tell stories, publish their opinions, and entertain each other.
- They produce videos with iMovie and MovieMaker. Images come from a video camera connected to the computer, or from the tiny camera that's built into many new laptops. They combine video sequences with still images. They add titles, narrations, and transitions. They lay in background music. The results can be as professional as what they see on television.
These tools are for the most part inexpensive, easy to get, and easy to use. Many come built-in and free with the purchase of a new computer. But they are not the tools teachers know. Few of these software programs were taught in your required Ed Tech class or in the inservice technology workshops. Few of your school's technical staff are familiar with these applications -- they are not part of the computer science curriculum any more than the teacher education curriculum. Yet for the organization and assembly and effective publishing of ideas in the modern world, they are essential tools. Our students know this, and they have taught themselves to use them.
The channels of distribution
In the old days, we typed our papers in Word, printed them out, and handed them in. Our channel of distribution was the human hand and the packet of stapled paper. But very few of our students' productions are distributed in this way. Instead they disseminate their ideas through web sites, memory sticks, email, instant messenger, CDs and DVDs. And they watch and listen to them on computers, iPods, cell phones and televisions. These methods of distribution are faster, easier, less expensive, use less paper, and are more appropriate to the form and content of their messages.
- Web sites. Many of our students publish their own web sites or blogs, and post their productions there for their friends and relatives to see and download. They use commercial web-hosting services such as MySpace or Facebook or Blogspot; they also create their own web sites on the server of their family's Internet service provider. In addition, they may send their videos to sites like YouTube, where they can be seen by the general public. The web is the most popular way to distribute the podcasts and videos and music that they produce.
- Email. Student productions can be sent over email, if they are small enough to be attached. (All of these multimedia creations end up as standard computer files that can be attached to an email just as you would attach a Word document.)
- Instant Messenger. As with eMail, the video and podcast and music files can be sent directly to your correspondent through I.M., as the students call it. While you're text-chatting, you can simply drop a document into the I.M. window whence the other person will download it to their computer.
- Cell and Smart phones. Many of the phones students carry are capable of playing these productions or taking some of the footage or still pictures that become part of them.
- CDs and DVDs. Any of these new forms of publication created by our students can be saved to a CD or DVD, and placed in a computer, CD player, or DVD player for listening or viewing. Just like the commercial products. And most of the new computers, including the laptops preferred by students, come with CD and DVD burners built in.
- Memory sticks. Also called flash drives, thumb drives, or USB disks, these chewing-gum size devices fit into the side of the computer and can be used to save and share those podcasts, videos, and songs produced by students. These now cost less than $10 and work across computer platforms.
So you see, our students have available to them several channels of distribution, many of which did not exist five years ago. And they use them all. When the files arrive to the viewer's computer, they are 90% of the time played by iTunes, a free software program that works on both Mac and Windows. Most of our students use iTunes to organize and play their music, videos, podcasts, and other productions on their computer, and also to transfer the files to their iPods. iTunes has become the universal media player for young people.
What you can do
You may choose to ignore the phenomenon of students as content producers. But your teaching might profit from an incorporation of student production as a curriculum requirement.
- Hamlet's soliloquy as a podcast
- A video with maps and photos showing the troop movements at Antietam
- A narrated animation of a caterpillar's metamorphosis into a butterfly
- Original music and lyrics composed for a character in a storybook
These examples channel the students' interest and skills with new media into an academic product.
In order to take advantage of the educational opportunity offered by student production, you might consider taking these actions:
- Get iTunes and use it. Download a free copy. Copy some of your favorite tracks from your CDs to your computer. Download a free podcast from the iTunes store. Preview some of the movies.
- Look at YouTube. See what other people have produced and posted.
- Sample student work. Ask your students to show you some of the videos, podcasts, or music that they have produced.
- Produce. Use iMovie to make a video, or GarageBand to produce a podcast, in a curriculum area. To do this, you'll need to acquire these tools and learn to use them.
- Present. Use what you have created in your teaching with students.
- Assign. Pick out a unit of study into which you might incorporate a multimedia assignment for your students to produce.