The semester at Northwest Vista College is new and minds are open to the material to be learned in Introduction to Mass Communications. I re-vamped the course this semester, but the goal for the first few weeks is the same: sharpen the students' awareness of the role mass media play in our lives and in our world.
I used to use a textbook, but I now prefer a project-based approach to teaching, and the change has allowed me to increase student engagement and skills in accessing, analyzing, evaluating, and creating media.
For many semesters, students participated in a media deprivation experience that started at 100 hours without entertainment media, fell to 48 and, after weighing the pro's and con's, I jettisoned the assignment for a new and much better one that has the same goal of sharpening awareness of the role of media in today's world.
I used the more accessible essays (brief 2-3 page excerpts) from three media theorists, George Gerbner, Neil Postman and Marshall McLuhan, who each describe the role of communication and the birth of mass communication over time. We study three eras [tribal or oral (pre 3500 BC) , literate (alphabet,printing press) and electronic (telegraph era to today)].
At the end of three days of reading in class, extracting main messages and class discussions at a pair, group and whole-class levels, we create charts that helped to clarify the changes in communication over the three eras. For example storytelling's function in tribal times was to convey information (scarce) that was tied to usefulness, while today it is "untied" from that function and because it has become a commodity, is now in overflow mode, or "glut" as well as commercial in nature. The storyteller today is selling us an idea or a product.
I resurrected an exercise I had used successfully several semesters ago: placing students in three teams and having them select at random a theorist and an era to re-enact the fairy tale Little Red Riding Hood with the characteristics of the era and theorist they had selected.
The students take a few minutes to introduce themselves to each other and then spend about 20 minutes planning their approach to the exercise. I do my best to keep the three groups separated, but check in on their progress. Not necessary. They are way ahead of me, and usually demonstrate with ease not only their knowledge of the eras and theorists ideas and concepts, but creative and often athletic or theatrical approaches to the task.
The three groups stage their re-enactments and we laugh, clap and are joyful in the learning experience to a degree I wish were possible all semester.
A brief 2-3 paragraph reflection paper is hand written about the experience at the end of the presentations on the topics what might have become clearer for the student through the experience, as well as what additional questions the experience brought up. The writing is shared with a partner then turned in. Here are some excerpts from the next generation of media scholars getting their start at NVC:
"I had an epiphany while reading Gerbner's essay the first day of class. I realized how the amount of information we receive could be a bad thing. I wonder how communication will change in the future."
" I also think that I was left with personal questions such as how much television I'm actually watching and how much it's affecting me. I also think that I got some new insight with regards to how much I want to, can, and will be able to learn and curate in my mind."
"People in the modern world are focused more on the idea of a perfect family on television than trying to make their own better."
"Before technology, information was available in select quantities. But now, we have access to infinite information and ideas. I do have one question: What will be the next era".