Category Archive: technology

Web-based Assessment

In a recent Canadian Studies course, I had the opportunity to build a microsite as an alternative to the typical essay format. I observed that there were several major benefits to the web-based format, primarily that it is composed in a non-linear format that allows the viewer to explore the content in their own sequence. As important as traditional composition can be, I can imagine huge benefits of organizing information in a manner well-suited to a non-sequential assembly of written content. I also believe that this generation is much more accustomed to interpreting information from the web than they are with long-form prose or other types of persuasive writing.

Fortunately, I had a background in web design, but it certainly requires technical skills that would typically lie outside of the students technological abilities. I could see myself utilizing this alternative format in a class focused on media or graphics, where the format could build upon an existing knowledge base of the medium. It could be used to summatively assess student competence with web-design as well as to formatively assess their exploration of a contemporary concept within design.

Modern Media Consumption

I personally do not object to being targeted by certain media based on my reported interests. If I am going to be exposed to advertising, my preference is that it be for products and services of some personal relevance, and not simply those which target a broad demographic that I can be placed within. As an adult who has learned to competently read media, I would much rather hear about the new album from a musician I enjoy than a generic advertisement for a tooth-whitening system or Paris Hilton’s latest perfume. It isn’t such a revolutionary concept that advertisers are marketing to a target audience: thirty-second advertisements for the latest toys are going to make more impressions when screened during Saturday morning cartoons than during daytime talk shows, and movie trailers for an upcoming romantic comedy would be better placed before a similar feature than a ultra-violent slasher film.

The primary fear in this multifaceted age is that as these previously competing media bodies merge over time, the concentration of their previously competitive nature is diluted. In a capitalist democracy, the more media is monopolized by media corporations, the less it is expected to meet the needs of its consumers and the more control it has to determine their beliefs and needs. In The political economy of media: An overview, the authors cite the News Corporation’s (internationally infamous) Fox News, which aggressively promotes its right-wing agenda across all of its media influences. Historically, Fox News consumers had been inundated with a single, conservative subtext across all media which was available to them. I believe that the internet poses a major challenge to that narrative and provides a platform to access a broader range of media influences, affording interested consumers with options which may not have been otherwise available. Beyond that, the recent convergence of digital media channels cannot be easily stated to be better or worse, but simply different from its predecessors.

Through a lifetime of exposure, adults have hopefully learned how to (somewhat competently) read media and to understand it on an intertextual level. From there, they can ideally make conscious decisions to consume media which is in alignment with their particular economic comfort zone, disposition, or political ideology. However, that is not the case for children and adolescents. Their brains are not fully developed and they have not learned to critically consume media, and yet they have access to revenue far beyond their own means. For this reason, they represent an incredibly lucrative market in a capitalist society. The recognition of the tween demographic as a target market clearly distinguished from the marketing towards kids or teens more aggressively targets what has become an industry in North America which is said to generate over forty billion dollars annually. I believe that it is the responsibility of schools to provide students with respite from this kind of aggressive advertising. Further, I propose that they should actually scaffold a process of critical media literacy that equips students with the facilities to maintain healthy skepticism of the media they consume. This is of particular relevance in my field of Secondary art education, where the lines between art and media studies have been irrevocably blurred, but I assert that all educators equally bear the responsibility of creating independent citizens that are critical of their environment.

Technology in the Classroom

We recently received an inspiring lecture from Chris Kennedy, the superintendent of the West Vancouver school district. He curates an awesome blog called Culture of Yes which is widely regarded as one of the best Education blog in Canada. Like myself, Chris is trying to bring 21st century technologies into the classroom.

It is a common misconception to believe that technology simply refers to shiny new gear. Indeed, a major part of what technology does is that it enables us to do old things better. Replacing a chalkboard with a whiteboard, or a whiteboard with an overhead projector. They are all time-saving improvements, but they haven’t introduced any fundamental changes. However, the most important and exciting thing that technology does is that it can allow us to do things we previously couldn’t do at all, much less imagine. A perfect example of this was provided during the Q&A at the end of the lecture. Rather than opening up the forum to the first student loud and confident enough to chime in, they allowed students to anonymously submit questions over Twitter. This way, they were able to review and specifically address the most common or interesting questions, rather than defer to sequential questioning. It made the Q&A portion of the lecture much more useful, and even encouraged ongoing discussion long after the lecture had finished.

To those who would argue that there’s no need to rush into adopting new technologies, know that it is urgent. Modern schools look way too much like the schools we all grew up in; the kids have fundamentally changed, and yet the tools of the classroom are virtually identical. Schools have been slow to acknowledge, much less embrace, the opportunities presented by the digital era. A secondary effect is that this institutional ignorance is forcing students to learn to navigate the digital realm with little guidance. Chris suggests that schools should be teaching responsible and native use of digital media and networking in the classroom.

Critics may debate between contemporary preferences between printed media over an eReader, and there are completely valid arguments for each, but few among us would lament the loss of the pager being replaced by the mobile phone. Society typically will not fully embrace a piece of technology until it can thoroughly reproduce the ease of use and functionality of its predecessors. Whether we like it or not, as a culture we are training young people to learn and interact through new technologies, so why shouldn’t we try to build upon the strengths of these students when trying to engage them in the classroom?

The Man Who Saw the Future

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I’ve recently had the pleasure of attending a local Pecha Kucha event where I was exposed to the work of Syd Mead. The influence of his vision can be seen played out in films like Blade Runner, Elysium, Aliens, Tron, and Star Trek, and his concepts have inextricably influenced the trajectory of design.