MULTIMEDIA DIGITAL LITERACY
By Michael Jacobson-Hardy
USING DIGITAL MULTIMEDIA LITERACY TO EMPOWER STUDENTS TO BECOME PROFICIENT LEARNERS
Teaching digital media in the classroom can be a powerful way to engage and educate young people, particularly those who have experienced only traditional teaching methods.
Digital media is today’s primary media. Teachers need to understand how to reach students and having an understanding of this powerful tool can help. This book will offer teachers a way to engage and build positive relationships with young people through the teaching of digital media including photography, video production, website design, and more.
But more than learning digital media, this book is about you, and the joy you will find following the interests of young people. You will never know where this relationship that you build with your students will take them, and this fascinating use of digital media will carry you and your students to places unknown. We simply cannot predict the future of this technological advancement. I will share with you what I have learned about this creative art form and it’s use and application in the classroom.
Today’s workplaces require that people work together in groups in order to come up with creative solutions to a variety of problems. They need minds fully alive and engaged. Your enjoyment of your students will lead them to believe that they are worthwhile, that they are significant. I want to know who my students are and what they think. I am not trying to teach them something that they do not already know. I am simply offering them the tools to express themselves, something about who they are, and what they want to say to the world. I am trying to nurture something that is not readily accessible. Many students do not think of themselves as worthy of being listened to. They struggle to be seen and heard. Some don’t think they matter at all. These tools that I offer can be used to reach young people and this is where you, the teacher, can play a vital role.
Eric Santiago was a student of mine who struggled in school. He was often found roaming the halls. Teachers did not like him very much because he refused to learn. Eric was in my photo/video classroom for the semester. I like Eric. I like all struggling learners and he was one of them. I gave him the assignment to make a CD cover of his own choosing. He went online and found pictures of basketball players. Basketball was his true love. He was often found playing on the small court outside our school. So it was basketball and my relationship with him that helped him learn.
He methodically copied and pasted images into a slideshow and seemed pleased with his work. Ours is a visual world, and he liked digital images. He sat for a longtime and worked on making a collage of players with text that he wrote about each one. One day I was out sick and the substitute teacher commented that he was surprised that Eric got all of his work done so fast. He was the first to share his project with me online. I wondered how it happened that such a disengaged young man could create such interesting work, and even be the first in his class to email his assignment to me. The substitute teacher commented that mine was a very good class, that most did their work. “Even Eric did his work,” he said.
Eric often got frustrated with his work, but he kept trying anyway. Photo editing programs can be challenging to many, but he wanted to learn. One day I sat with him in class while he tried and tried to make a good photomontage. But we both got frustrated with the process. The computer program simply was not working properly. Rather than erasing the borders of his image the way we wanted, it painted white all over his work. I couldn’t solve the problem, but I tried hard to figure it out with him. But this proved to be a good experience for both of us. He said to me “It’s ok if you take a break mister” as I worked feverishly to solve the problem. “It’s alright,” he said. He watched me struggling on his behalf and wanted me to know I didn’t have to solve the problem. I could stop. It was enough that I tried hard to make things work for him. A student needs to know how much you care. I was trying hard to help him but failed to solve the problem with the software. But we became good friends in the process. He learned also that he was not the only one who makes mistakes and fails.
I wanted to keep him engaged in school so one day I asked him to pick a movie about basketball for the class to watch. He chose Hoop Dreams. I put him in charge of the computer and projector. I was struggling to full screen the movie on the projector but couldn’t figure it out. He jumped up and showed me how to do it. It turned out he could manipulate the software and solve the problem. We all enjoyed the movie. My students talked with each other about poverty and racism. It was one of the best classes I ever had. He became central and continued to suggest other films for us to watch. I altered my curriculum around his needs. I showed another film he liked called “Love and Basketball.” He warned me about scenes that might not be appropriate for school, and he even fast-forwarded them. He delighted me with his caring and thoughtful approach to being helpful in the classroom. He went from a struggling learner to a helpful student.
I sometimes think about my own struggles around learning and even identify with some of my students. I think this is good. It keeps me focused on alternative ways to teach and learn. Not all students are motivated to learn in traditional ways in school, but digital multimedia can become a very challenging and thoughtful way to learn. Much is done by intuition and hard work but these are the very skills that we all need in order to succeed in life.
The Vital Role of the Arts and Technology in Schools
According to research by neuroscientist Marian Diamond at UC Berkeley, the human brain can change structurally and functionally as a result of learning and experiencing in the arts. “The creative power of the brain is released when human beings are in environments that are positive, nurturing, and stimulating and that encourage action and interaction.” According to Franlkin, Fernandez, Mosby, and Fernando, “participation in the arts positively influences brain performance. For example, music, painting, dance, and drama have been cited as essential to academic and emotional development. They help reduce stress, improve learning outcomes, enhance intrinsic motivation, regulate brain chemistry, augment body memory, and literally rewire neural pathways.”
Brooke wrote “Research on the visual arts indicates that the human brain has a visual cortex that is five times larger than the auditory cortex. Students respond positively when they have the opportunity to learn through the visual arts. Teachers noticed that the motivation to read expanded when the children drew characters and subjects from their books. Drawing upon the content of science, geography, and social studies lessons resulted in noticeable differences in speed of learning and retention. Districts have reported as much as 20% increases in reading, writing, and math scores as a result of these visual arts experiences.”
In the New York Times Bestseller The Brain That Changes Itself: Stories of Personal Triumph from the Frontiers of Brain Science, Norman Doidge, M.D. argues that the brain can actually rewire itself, finding new neural pathways to improve learning as well as other brain functions.
A study done by Trinetia Respress and Ghazwan Lutfi of two groups of mostly African American students in an arts-integrated program concluded that: “African American students increased by one grade level in math and spelling as measured by the WRAT III. 73% of the participants increased their spelling grade level by one grade. African American students in the participant group improved their self-esteem over the comparison group as measured by Rosenberg Self-Esteem (RSE). 37% of the participants improved their total self-esteem scores. However only 7% of the comparison group showed improvement. African American students of the participant group improved their attitudes towards school by 10%.”4
Rebecca Hotvedt who wrote an article in “Educational Leadership” about using art to engage poor students said, “These were not just ‘tough’ kids; their behavior stemmed from the cycle of poverty. They had created defense mechanisms to survive in what were often chaotic home situations. To make any improvements in their lives, they needed knowledge and a sense of direction. Above all, they needed someone who believed in them. I saw my role as a teacher change. I couldn’t just teach them; I first needed to inspire them to learn. Integrating the arts into their learning provided the inspiration that they needed.”5
UCLA Professor of Education James S. Catterall in his book Doing Well and Doing Good by Doing Art: A 12-Year Longitudinal Study found significant advantages for arts-engaged low socioeconomic status students and ELL students says, “If learning through doing art spills over to valued human capacities, this probably takes place in part through social interactions and metacognitive processes sparked by the arts experience. Transfer also occurs through redirecting neural pathways through intense experience. That such events are more likely for highly arts engaged students than for arts-poor students seems reasonable.” (page 145)
Mr. Catterall concludes with the following:
“Our work leads us to believe that individual artistic engagement can spark long-term positive developments for students, and that cohesive arts-rich cultures in schools also produce outcomes we have called doing well, and doing good by doing art.”
“Meta-narrative understanding is a tool that orders facts or events into general ideas and allows us to form emotional associations with them. That is, we don’t just organize facts into theories, we shape even our theories into more general meta-narratives that further shape our emotional commitments. … If we think of our task as not just teaching knowledge and skills, but as also engaging our students with the general ideas that underlie the knowledge and skills they are learning, we will be able to make our teaching more engaging to their imaginations, more meaningful to them, and more interesting for ourselves as well.” (Pg. 12, An Imaginative Approach to Teaching, Kieran Egan)
“Too frequently teachers in the higher grades and at college level focus on the curriculum exclusively and do not see the students’ developing cognitive tools in the curriculum material. Consequently, they do not recognize how their subject can generate intellectual excitement to students.” (Pg. 167, An Imaginative Approach to Teaching, Kieran Egan)
Between 1950 and 1980 art education was considered to be what some might refer to as fluff. During this period art was considered to be just “art for art’s sake.” Art was not thought of to be used to enhance self-esteem or improve reading skills. In fact, little or no research was done to determine the impact of the arts on education.
But in recent years more and more studies have concluded that the arts reach students that are not being reached. They provide a reason for being engaged in school. Students who have not had success in other areas often excel in the arts, and success in the arts leads to success in other areas of learning.
Rabkin and Redmond in 2004 reported that “Arts-integrated programs are associated with academic gains across the curriculum as reflected in standardized text scores, and they appear to have more powerful effects on the achievement of struggling students than more conventional arts education programs do.” 2
Catterall & Waldorf in 1999 reported that “Standardized test scores of students in 23 arts-integrated schools in Chicago, Illinois, most serving low-income students, rose as much as two times faster than the scores of youth in more traditional schools.”
And, according to their study, many of these students went from being withdrawn or disruptive to becoming active and productive class members.
Examples of Reaching Non-traditional Students with Technology
THE RECORDING STUDIO
Students in an active video classroom will want to experiment with sound recording. Sound art or “Sonic Art” can best be described as the recording, sampling, or otherwise importing of recorded sound into a program like GarageBand and then manipulating the sound to satisfy the needs of the sound artist. Rap artists do this all the time with their “beats” or background sound tracks.
It is fun to experiment with designing your own music. With the invention of synthesized sounds and music, students can create their own music and soundtracks for their films. You may want to have students learn to create their own music and sound files.
Students Make a Music Video at Northampton High School
CJ came into my room one day and stared at the above picture. “Who are those people,” he asked. I explained that they were two students of mine who were in danger of dropping out of high school. Rap music helped them to stay in school and complete their high school education. Both graduated and even were asked by the principal to sing at the graduation ceremony. One even became a recording engineer. CJ asked if he might try and record a rap and I assembled the equipment necessary to do so. He went online and found several background instrumentals that he could rap to, and wrote lyrics in his notebook. The next day two more students joined him, intrigued by the possibility of recording their own music. The following day another student joined CJ. I got to watch the group dynamic, especially intrigued with the process of forming a working partnership. These boys were not very good students. In fact two of them had been suspended from school for several months. Our principal arranged for them to be tutored at home and asked me to even build two computers for them to do their work from home, but now they were invited back to school and struggled to stay there. Recording music was a reason to stay.
CJ was a talented dancer and musician. He and his brother used to rap and dance, at the same time developing their skills in this very creative medium. Rapping requires precise timing and writing lyrics that stay on the beat is also important. But there was one problem: their music was full of language that was not appropriate for school. I told them that our principal needed to approve of their music and that that they needed to make a clean rap, one that could be heard both in and outside of school. This would take some time but not much. In just a matter of a few days they came in with notebooks filled with clean lyrics, some in English and some in Spanish. I was amazed to see what they could do. I watched closely as they worked things out. “What do you want to call our group?” one asked. “How about Four Man Squad?” asked another and it was done. They each identified with their newfound group. It was a process of working together to create a working relationship and the result was a good product, much like what happens in creative working environments, like the ones that actually lead to successful organizing and high production outcomes in the real world.
The collaboration between four young boys amazed me. I marveled at how close them became. They would sometimes put their hands on each other’s shoulders as they sang. One thing caught my eye one day. They were trying to decide who should be the lead singer of the group. The most talented rapper’s name came up immediately but Paulo, one of the boys who had missed several months of school exclaimed, “We all have talent. Each one of us has something to offer.” I sat back in my seat and watched them support and nurture each other.
I was delighted to hear Paulo’s suggestion that they all have something good to contribute. Paulo worked on his lyrics but found too many swear words in them. He counted five swears in his song and tore up his lyrics and started over again to compose a clean rap. I had never seen this boy so motivated and intent on getting it right, with full respect for my demands that the music be playable to a large audience.
The boys came in every day at lunchtime to work together and I began to videotape them. I even made a documentary video of them for their friends and families to see. There was power in what they were doing and they wanted others to know about it.
Soon several students piled into my tiny office during lunchtime where I set up the recording equipment to record, laugh, and have fun. Big speakers were added to enhance the sound. It became a lunchtime favorite thing to do and more and more students have begun to create together.
Several students have gotten permission to work with me during their study halls. One very talented student said he wanted to work with me during study hall. I began by giving him footage to edit in order to learn more about filmmaking. He did a good job editing a film that I made several months before. Once he finished learning hot to edit in iMovie, I suggested that he learn how to record music using GarageBand. He studied the various sound effects and instrumentation until he was ready to try and record. A lovely young girl arrived and began singing accapella into the microphone. She had a beautiful soprano voice with a tight vibrato. The young man made an instrumental soundtrack with drums, rhythm guitar and bass for her to sing over.
BJ was completely disconnected from his studies. He was often found in the hall wandering when he should have been in class. He had one interest: he liked to rap and make beats. I showed him the picture I took of the young rappers at NHS and he was hooked. He formed a band of four boys from our school and came in to my office during lunchtime. Notebooks were filled with lyrics. Technology was learned to record, edit, and produce music. We talked about doing a music video for his French class. He left my office floating on air, was even polite to his other teachers, and for the first time, he was really excited to learn.
Examples of a Student Success
Jason was a student who was in danger of failing school. He drifted through the halls when he should have been in class. One day I asked him to complete an assignment that my other students were working on. It was to study the work of several pioneering social documentary photographers in our textbook, choose one, and make a PowerPoint presentation of their work. I noticed that no photographers of color were represented in the unit on documentary photography and so I changed the plan for him. I probably should have changed it for my white students as well. I told him to go online and search for the work of Gordon Parks, one of the first black photographers to break the color barrier in photography. Mr. Parks was the first black man to work for Life Magazine and the first black man to direct a feature length film, and I thought this might inspire Jason. He gathered much information and added captions and other text to his presentation. It worked. He got an “A” for his presentation. He was genuinely pleased with himself. It took my thinking about him as a young black man and engaging him in subject matter he could relate to.
Jason continued to drift in and out of the room, doing little or no work at all. One day, during final projects, I asked him to make a slideshow about his life growing up in the gangs in Oakland, California. He was sent to our community by his mother to live with a father that he had never met. He came up with an interesting idea: he downloaded images from the Internet that best reflected his experience in “Cali” as he called it. It was a powerful visual presentation. Unfortunately it was one that we could not show in school because many of the images were graphic depictions of police, thugs, and gangs. He also titled these with words we were not allowed to use in school. I thought about the idea of showing his presentation to some of our faculty to help begin a conversation about social class and race, and reaching for students of color, but hesitated because I thought some would be offended by the display. But it was real to him and the more I allowed myself to look at it, the more I was challenged to learn about his experience.
Jason asked if he could compose and put music on his slide show, and I said that we could next year. The semester was over. My offer was an invitation to have an extended relationship with him, plus a way to keep him engaged in school—a way to let him know that I cared about him.
He signed up for and entered my audio/video classroom the next fall. He had been sent to the then Florence Learning Center, an alternative learning program for learning challenged students. The program was closed and replaced by the Alternative Learning Program now at our high school. FLC was a small school for about twenty students who were in danger of dropping out of high school. He was transported by van every day to take my fourth period audio/video class. At first he seemed lost, often showing up half an hour late for class.
I received the following email disturbing email from my vice principal one day that read:
I just met with Jason. He expained that he found out yesterday (during lunch) that someone, who was like a younger brother to him, died. A 14 year old kid who, from what I gather, was shot. As Jason said, “It wasn’t meant for him. He was in the wrong place at the wrong time.” He said it was okay to share this with his teachers but he doesn’t want to talk about it. Pretty heavy stuff. He also said it was okay for a teacher to acknowledge what happened but again, he doesn’t want to talk about it.
He has the video camera today with one tape in it but he left the other tape home. He said he would bring it in tomorrow.
Jason was detached and barely participated in class during the semester, but after hearing news that his fourteen-year-old friend was shot and killed, he came to me and said in a very direct and determined manner, “Mr. J, I want to record a rap today?” He continued, “I want to make some beats today, Mr. J.”
I didn’t at first know how we were going to do this in a classroom filled with students working on various projects. It was nearly impossible to isolate and record audio tracks, so I opened my empty photography classroom next door and set up a small recording studio where he could work alone.
Before I knew it his friend Raymond, another young black man from Florence Learning Center, showed up to join him.
Motivated by the death of a friend, Jason was determined to succeed. It went well. Both students worked non-stop for ninety minutes at a time, writing and recording several takes. They surprised me the next day when they even showed up early to my class.
They were hooked. They had two notebooks filled with lyrics. These were not the kinds of students who even brought notebooks to school, but there were pages and pages of what they called rhymes. We used a program called GarageBand to record several tracks. It went well and they kept coming back for more. I added a multi-track recording studio to my classroom with microphones and headphones to further isolate background noise. They danced like children when they saw what I had done for them, all to promote their desire to make their own music. Thomas, a third young black man came up to me in the hall and asked if he could come by third period and record. The word was out and I intended to use this as an opportunity to engage these young potential drop outs in school.
A school ought to be equipped with a recording area for students to record their own music. This can be as easy as sectioning off a part of your classroom and having a sound mixer and microphone hooked up to a computer. There are many audio editing and recording programs available. I mentioned GarageBand. Another is Soundtrack Pro. There are also several programs available online like Fission and even open source free software or “freeware” like Audacity.
Having a music recording area in your school can help students that feel out of place become of the learning environment. These types of programs can enhance students’ lives and helps them engage in school. Making music, especially recording rap music, requires complex skills and creative lyric writing and more. Skills learned in this way can transfer to other areas including math, science, and technology education.
According to a study by Catterall, Chapleau, & Iwanga in 1999, “students in the lowest socioeconomic status quartile, those most at risk of academic failure, achieved the highest gains when immersed in arts programs in public school.”
One teacher in a Chicago school of struggling learners had his students experiment with sound editing programs on their computers. Although challenged in his other academic classes, one of his students spent hours in front of the computer composing musical sounds into compositions. The teacher reported “students with social or emotional problems show amazing focus and intensity, taking on tasks they find most frustrating in regular classrooms.” He went on to say that, “Students with writing difficulties spend hours writing lyrics. Problem students often show exceptional creative depth and come up with more sophisticated musical and artistic ideas than their peers do.”
I worked with my rappers on lyrics and helped them make a “clean rap”, one that we could play in school and beyond. Jason and Raymond continued to record each day and worked towards making a music video.
“They did it! They actually did it!” I exclaimed as I approached a fellow technology education teacher. She smiled with delight. We both knew how important it was to engage young black men in our programs. Jason and Raymond recorded a rap about growing up in gangs that told the story of their lives on the streets and struggles they faced along the way. Both young men smiled warmly as they entered the door of our new cable television studio to lip-sync their rap music for their music video. Two producers carefully lit the duo as I took still photographs. This became a way to engage young men in the process of making art and music. As they left the recording studio that day, they emerged with bright smiles. Jason even asked to take home a copy of the video to show his dad.
Some say wonders may never cease: Jason and “Q” and Raymond became known for their rap music throughout the school and enjoyed seeing their movie on the big screen in the school’s auditorium during our annual video festival (another way to feature and reward student work). My backing them visibly even helped bring our principal’s attention to their music.
Graduation was fast approaching and Jason and Raymond were about to walk with their class. I was sitting in the principal’s office, discussing school business, when the two young men walked in. Principal Singer had asked to meet with them earlier in the day. They seemed surprised to be invited to her office. “You have something to tell us?” they asked.
She said that she wanted them to audition for her at two o’clock that afternoon. She was thinking about having them perform at the graduation ceremony. At around one-thirty the pair arrived in my classroom. Jason came up from behind me and put his hand on my shoulder. He thanked me for everything I had done for him and asked if they could practice in my room. They were frightened by the prospect of performing in public and were equally afraid to audition in front of our school’s principal. But off they went to their two o’clock audition. I asked how it went and they told me the principal asked if they would perform their song at our graduation ceremony. This would be the first time in the history of Northampton High School that young men of color would be asked to perform a rap song in front of the entire school community.
On graduation day Jason and Raymond sang about their struggles growing up in poverty. Jason sang in English and Raymond repeated the same lines in Spanish. He apologized to the mostly white audience for singing in Spanish. I watched as his fellow students of color in the audience beam with delight. Some even wiped away tears of joy as they sang about their love for their mothers and lifelong struggles in both English and Spanish:
“Mama I loved you, though you weren’t always there for me when I was growin’ up; hard times laying in the bed sick, throwing up. You were locked up, so was my pop, but no matter what anyone said you were still in my heart. I loved you to death though my life was filled with distress. I wrote this so this moment could last forever. I could never turn my back on the woman that gave birth to me. Because if it was not for that woman, I would not be on this earth, see…
You lied, you cried, at least you tried. I sleep at night with smiles ‘cuz I know that you’re good. You were moved to the VA and you were out of the hood. So I hope that it’s understood, even with all of the drama… don’t worry, I love you Mama.”
Students broke into applause for the young men who had wrestled with their demons and graduated high school, and went on to college.
A year after the graduation ceremony I felt a warm hand on my shoulder and turned to see a well-dressed young black man standing beside me. It was Raymond returning to visit me in school. “Hello Mr. J. I came back to see you. I want to thank you for all you did for me.” He was older and more mature, and handsome. He wanted me to know that he went on to college, was majoring in musical recording, and was doing fine.
One never knows what influence one has. These young men went from being disengaged and disinterested high school students to center-stage performers. The day I met with these young men in Principal Singer’s office, she reminded me that they both had suffered miserable life experiences. In this case, music and art was used to help build their self-esteem and help steer them on a path to success.
- Exploring the role of digital photography to enhance student inquiry in a local ecosystem, Ann Rivet and Rebecca Schneider. Journal of Computers in Mathematics and Science Teaching 23.1 (Spring 2004): p47(19).
- The Arts Make a Difference,
Nick Rabkin and Robin Redmond, Educational Leadership/February 2006
Journal Citation: v63 n5 p60-64 Feb. 2006
- The Effects of an Enriched Elementary Arts Education Program on Teacher Development, Artist Practices, and Student Achievement: Baseline Student Achievement and Teacher Data from Six Canadian Sites, Dr. Rena Upitis, Dr. Katharine Smithrim, Ann Patteson, Margaret Meban, Queen’s University, Kingston, Ontario, Canada, The International Journal of Education and the Arts, Volume 2 Number 8 November 12, 2001
- Whole Brain Learning: The Fine Arts with Students at Risk,
Respress, Trinetia; Lutfi, Ghazwan
Journal: Reclaiming Children and Youth: The Journal of Strength-based Interventions
Journal Citation:v15 n1 p24-31 Spring 2006
- Rebecca Hotvedt, In the Arts Spotlight, Educational Leadership, October 2001
All rights reserved. © 2016 by Michael Jacobson-Hardy