Cory Doctorow as Exemplar

Throughout the fall term, I am going to be sharing with readers more of the work we have been doing for the MacArthur Foundation on new media literacies, building up to the release of a significant new white paper in late October which makes the case for a new set of social skills and cultural competencies which we need to be incorporating into American education. We are already hard at work putting these ideas into practice, developing curricular activities and supporting materials that will help teachers and after school programs respond in more meaningful ways to the challenges and opportunities of the new participatory culture.

One of our core projects is the development of an exemplar library. When we spoke with teachers and after school programs, it was clear that they recognized that their students were interested in new forms of cultural production that are enabled by new media technologies and new forms of cultural distribution supported by the web. They knew that their students were fans, bloggers, and gamers. But they faced a number of issues: they had no standards by which to evaluate work produced in these new and emerging media; they didn’t know enough themselves to give good advice to student media makers; the students lacked role models to help them understand future opportunities in this space; and the students were facing ethical issues that their teachers and parents didn’t really understand.

We decided to respond to these challenges by producing a library of short digital films focused around media-makers and the craft and ethical choices they face in producing and distributing their work. For each media maker, we may produce 5-10 short (4-5 minute) video segments addressing different points in their creative process. A teacher or after school program might show one or more of those segments to kick off a discussion about media production processes. They may decide to work horizontally — fleshing out one form of media making — or vertically — looking at storyboarding or interviewing techniques across a range of artists and media. These videos will be accompanied by supporting materials — vocabulary sheets, charts showing the various tools the artists use, and potential production activities that can be brought into the classroom. We also imagine that as students get engaged with the videos they will seek out more content on their own via our website and thus dig deeper into the whole world of media production than can be accomplished within the constraints of the school day.

Long term, we expect to make this an open library where anyone can insert their own content and thus provide an incentive for teachers and students to engage with media production projects around artists in their own local community. In the short run, we are producing these videos in-house — working with Comparative Media Studies graduate students and with our new production coordinator Anna Van Someren, who was until recently part of the Youth Voice Collaborative here in Boston.

We are just now putting the first crop of exemplars out on the web and I figured I would showcase them here as they go up. One of the first will have special interest to readers of this blog, many of whom found this site because of some early shout outs by Cory Doctorow over at Boing Boing. When Doctorow was speaking at MIT last year, CMS graduate student Neal Grigsby grabbed some time with him to talk about blogging, science fiction writing, and online communications. The documentary was produced for middle and high school students but we think it will engage many adult viewers as well.

Here are some highlights: