With the advent of cell phones, the Internet, MP3 players, DVDs, and more, what should be used in the classroom and what should be left at the schoolhouse door? That is a question many school administrators, teachers, and parents are pondering these days. Like many other complex conundrums, there is no easy answer. There are clear advantages and clear disadvantages to using new media in the classroom.
If you are a parent, it is up to you to voice your opinion as to how much new media should be used in your child’s classroom. The prevalence of both benefits and disadvantages warrant finding the right balance of media in the context of learning.
Learning Advantages of New Media
Less than 20 years ago, fewer than half the households in the United States owned a personal computer, and the Internet was still primarily used as a way for scientists to share information with one another.
Today, the “new media” of learning has leapt off the pages of books and onto the web pages online. For example, volumes of encyclopedias are becoming more obsolete, as this knowledge is easily accessible through the internet and CD-ROMs. Elementary school children are learning how to use new media more fluently than their parents, with applications ranging from Power Point to Excel. Subsequently, with the potential for learning enclosed in new media, these technologies have found a place in the classroom.
While some may deride this trend, there are a number of advantages to using the “new media” at school.
Most kids learn to read relatively easily. Granted, some students find it more challenging than others, but, for the most part, children have mastered the basic principles of reading by the time they are five-years-old, six at the latest. But that is just books.
In this new age, there are many other “texts” to read. And although the texts may be different, the idea behind reading them is basically the same: decoding. In either case – books or new media – if you can teach a child to break down the information into manageable pieces and then process it, you can teach a child to read.
With that in mind, it is possible to teach children how to read not only books, but movies, television shows, commercials, and all sorts of other “new media” texts. You can show them how to break down, or decode, all the information that is being thrown at them. In today’s highly commercialized world, showing kids how to process all the advertisements aimed at them is a huge advantage to them. Theoretically, they will now be armed against these constant ads and be better prepared to ward off their influences – all because they were taught how to read “new media” in the classroom.
Similarly, some of the earliest books we learn to read, either with our parents or by ourselves, involve stories with morals to them. Some are Aesop’s fables, some are classic fairy tales, and still others may come from the Bible or a similar holy book. By the end of those books, though, we realize what we are supposed to have learned. Imagine if a child can do that with a movie he has seen. Or a television show. Or a commercial. The potential for growth is astronomical. Now everything has the possibility to be a learning tool. It is clear to see how that can be an advantage to anyone, not just a child. But children may have an easier time grasping the concept, only because they are learning how to read “new media” programs while at school.
Using the “new media” in the classroom can be a very positive experience for all involved. However, there are some disadvantages with it as well.
Disadvantages of New Media in the Classroom
The biggest setback to using the “new media” in the classroom really comes down to how it is used, not if it is used.
Simply, if television or movies are used in place of textbooks or novels or poems, students will not learn how to read as effectively. Study after study has shown that using new media is not a horrible tool to assist in teaching, but that using these medium as a primary resource takes away from students the ability to develop their imagination and creative thinking. That, of course, goes against the very goals of teaching. If this becomes commonplace – perhaps the teacher is using “new media” as the primary tool in the classroom because it is easier to set up or because it requires less planning – the long-term effects on the students can be troublesome.
For example, many students have decreased scores in language arts because of overexposure to visual media. These lower scores are the result of students not knowing how to use or to read a text properly, and if they do not, they will be unable to write properly, spell correctly, or know how to extract information from the text successfully. That, too, goes against the most basic principles of teaching, and it clearly signals a disturbing disadvantage to using “new media” in the classroom.
Our world is constantly changing. The adage, “the only constant force in the universe is change” still holds true.
Often times, it seems like the majority of that change happens in our schools first. Students today have resources available to them than many of us never dreamed possible. Most of those resources can be used for good and can help students learn and grow. However, some can have a detrimental effect on students, and it is important to strike a balance between innovation and conventionality. When used appropriately, the advantages can be taken advantage of, while the disadvantages are mitigated.
Media Channel, “Why Media Literary Matters,” available at www.mediachannel.org/classroom
RichBriggsACE, “Effects of Media on Reading Comprehension and Language Arts,” available at www.richbriggs.org