by Jeff Goldthorpe
It is September 7 today, almost a month into City College of San Francisco’s surreal semester. I have hopeful students to teach, reports to write, and papers to grade. I have no more time to fiddle around with an account of my attendance of the NAMLE conference (National Association of Media Literacy Educators). I have tried different tones—witty and ironic, cute and humorous, sober and analytical. None of it felt right.
Let’s just say that the slow growth of media conscious teaching was in evidence, but it provides little immediate sustenance for a teacher whose school is on the academic equivalent of death row: slated for execution in July 2014, living with routines, but surrounded now by feverish petitions and arguments by lawyers and politicians appealing the conviction.
The hundreds of people who came to the NAMLE meeting, from K-12 teachers and librarians, to internet-era film makers and producers, to recent graduates and founders of new PhD programs in media studies, to directors of after school youth video programs, to the media literate nuns, seemed to find common ground with the term “critical thinking.” I am sure they define this term differently, but it does set us apart from those who see the internet only as a marvelous tool: the transmitter of correct educational content, rather than as a multi-media platform exuding an infinite variety of entertainment, educational content and propaganda that shapes rather than just transmitting communication, which must be skeptically questioned and understood.
Consider these unlikely allies: film director Tiffany Schlain, inventive in blending meta-media films and lovely animation, but blind to limits of her Marin hippy/ Internet glamour girl / Daddy’s girl persona in her new movie Connected. She spoke at the first plenary session, and is certain to remain a presence because of her web site that customizes short films for educators. On the other hand, a traditional academic like Chris Sperry of Project Look Sharp, showed me decades of lesson plans and visual materials that are in large part available for free on line. They are mostly packaged for social science teachers, but are rich and clear enough to be useful in any number of teaching situations. Past NAMLE President Renee Hobbs was a strong presence in the conference, chatting in hallways, popping into workshops, and leading an Oprah-style plenary session about the future of NAMLE, most of which I missed. She and her grad students were publicizing the first or one of the first, large media literacy programs in the U.S., the Harrington School of Communication and Media at University of Rhode Island. However I did not ever meet the nuns—you can’t be everywhere at once.
A workshop I attended on Pop Culture is probably representative of how many sessions went. Cathy Leogrande from Syracuse did a quick intro to Memes, which looked to me to be pictorial in-jokes circulated by young people in web conversations, and how they can be integrated into teaching and learning. I still don’t get it, but Cathy’s wise and witty talk assured me that I would get it eventually. Pamela Morris, from University of Wisconsin, gave a crisp, coherent account of teaching about reality TV that I found very useful. On the other end was a normal boring grad student presentation: on-line role playing game leading to more engagement with science curriculum. The stats were not interesting in this context. Bureaucrats may be need numbers but practitioners need more “how to,” and “how did it go?” My favorite part: Rutgers undergraduates politely listening, making impertinent comments about using cell phones during boring lectures, asking good questions about cell phone policies in class. Wish I’d taken notes…Idea: create assignments for appropriate use of smart phones.
Though I was disappointed to not meet even one community college teacher at the conference, there were CCSF students working at the “Remix-A-Thon,” where LA high school students produced a PSA about teen pregnancy that will go up on the NAMLE web site. We talked a bit—the CCSF students were more tied into the Bay Area Video Coalition than City College—more part of City College’s “Voc Ed” component than the basic education that preoccupies me most of the time. But it felt good to talk—there is some way this will lead back to my neighborhood.
I could go on but have begin my weekend paper grading routine. Let’s say this: I met a lot of good people, and while I did not “cement alliances” I did make contacts, and we can use the web to talk and exchange resources especially locally. When the right moment comes, I will weave these little bits and pieces into my work, and try to thank these colleagues for their useful work.My take is positive and open—let’s see where it goes.