Media Literacy Summit, Channel 4
The Media Literacy Summit, organised by The UK Film Council at Channel 4, brings together Cabinet Ministers, other MPs, civil servants, members of the Byron Review committee, teachers, members of the public and media leaders to bring to a head some issues that have been unclear, brewing throughout society thanks to or because of the new relationships digital media have created between (young) people and traditional hierarchies.
I put 'young' in brackets, because one of the digital eyewitness accounts we'll have this afternoon is Joan Barker, Silver Surfer of the Year 2007, a septuagenarian surfer who has acted as an ambassador of new technologies for fellow silver surfers in her part of the East End of London. It's going to be a great event, an eyeopener for the naysayers, I hope, and a snapshot of where we are and where we have to take things right here, right now.
The Media Literacy Charter
I'm going to attempt to put across the voice of education in this digital society, pointing out the positive impact social media has had on the learning environment, and hopefully making clear why those things often perceived as 'evil' in social media, simply aren't.
Earlier this year I set the wheels in motion for Learning and Teaching Scotland to become signatories of the Media Literacy Charter, promoting sensible and open use of digital social media for lifelong learning and full participation in contemporary society. We are now signed up (and just waiting for our name to appear on the signatories list), and this kind of positive outlook from a national education agency should help encourage teachers in the classroom to try out new technologies, new teaching practices, and not be afraid to push past the fear factor their superiors will often put in their way.
The Illiterates of the 21st Century
The fact is, that many of those working in education, in politics, in the civil service are the equivalent of modern day illiterates. Without understanding how to read and write on the web, there is no other way, really, to describe this state of being. This is why media literacy teaching and learning need to be the top of every school's literacy strategy. Reading and writing is about more than pen and paper these days.
The dangers and fears employed by many Local Authorities and senior school managers to continue to block and filter social media sites are nearly always unfounded, that is, when media literacy is also taking centre stage in the priorities of the school's curriculum. Saying that a photo-sharing site is unsuitable because naked ladies appear when you type 'naked' is simply not a reason to block a site. It's like banning young people from any newsagents because they might glance up and spot the latest edition of FHM or Loaded: disproportionate, reactionary.
This model does exist, but maybe not on your doorstep. Is British education, throughout the four nations, festooned with "Kings o' Middens"? Just take a look at the relatively open internet culture, and brilliant understanding amongst a growing majority of teachers of how one needs to conduct oneself on the social web, in East Lothian. Most of this culture change has been achieved within just two school sessions, and the authority is now the envy of teachers worldwide for the ability to blog, Flickr, Google Video and Twit within the school building.
Or how about the school I visited in New Zealand, Christ's College, one of the best independent schools in the Southern hemisphere. In a Harry Potteresque library I saw students using their visitor map on Bebo to initiate a geography project on the countries from where people visited, I saw a student researching films using YouTube, another working out how to play the massively multi-player online game World of Warcraft better, so that he could analyse how battles were won for history. Try doing any of that from a textbook or local DVD store!
Accountability is so often reflected in the most negative way possible, meaning more 'blame' and responsibility for 'protecting from the potential', than responsibility for opening horizons and pushing the potential. This culture needs to change, and it might just need some good old fashioned top-down from Government as well as bottom-up from those educators and parents who have experienced the freedom and opportunity of social media.
These are the points I'm hoping to highlight. Hopefully those present will be just as keen to carry the discussion forward through social media as through face-to-face summits like this one. If you could say anything to the decision-makers, what would it be?
Note 1: Until today, most of my posts on media literacy or digital literacy have been classified under I'll work to put this right over the next few weeks.
Note 2: Pic: Citizen as Player