Sage on the Screen – Education and Media Technology

sage-screen_webThis interested book written by Bill Ferster organises itself through chronological developments in technology. Ferster captures each development as a history of progress and relates it to the growth of modern pedagogy. The contents pages looks like this:

  1. Traditional Media
  2. Interactive Media
  3. Hypermedia
  4. Cloud Media
  5. Immersive Media
  6. Making Sense of Media for Learning

The temptation here is to see such a structure as a rubric that we are moving through. One could argue that traditional media for instance could be prestructural on the SOLO Taxonomy, and immersive media is the extended abstract. This notion led me to reflect on my own practice, which I would argue fits in the cloud media space – streaming media, MOOC’s, flipping, are all embedded in some way into what I do. From the rubric perspective, this book gave me an insight into what education is moving towards.

The historical approach to this book led to some interesting evaluative comments about the introduction of media technology into education. In the formative years, as cinema, radio and television all emerged, application of these mediums into education settings appears to be ineffective coming from the perspective of transformational pedagogy. The case study put forward here of American Samoa where congressional funding was used in the early 1960s to create instructional televised lessons which were used for up to 30% of the learning time. “The top down, autocratic nature of the American Samoa experiments is typical of how many educational technology projects are implemented” (36). Professional capital was absent from this approach, and therefore the technology – at best – only substituted the teacher’s practice rather than enhanced the learning.

the_samr_model

The book then documented the attempts of technology to create learning experiences that were not passive, or linear in their implementation (42). Learner agency developed with the introduction of more interactive media, but needed to move in alignment with developments in pedagogy. Where traditional media, like films, offered teachers a break, the shift to interactive forms of media required a different set of teaching skills (70). The disconnect between the technology and the implementation had begun – something which is visible now in a BYOD environment where students might still be experiencing no fundamental change in the instruction because pedagogy has not moved alongside the technology. (Represented by the first level of the SAMR model).

When exploring hypermedia, Ferster argued that “using multiple (but appropriate) forms of media together can often be more effective than any single media form alone” (88). This was supported by Richard Mayer’s research into the principles of multiple-channel learning:

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This research presents  a compelling argument for blended learning, but what technology to blend? The media technology that could potentially feature in classrooms has never been more diverse. This is evident in the immersive media chapter, where virtual reality and augmented reality are explored. The challenge in laid down in the final sentence: “if instructors can come up with compelling uses for the new capabilities these tools afford, immersive media may indeed join the pantheon of instructional media forms” (158).

My major takeaway is that the human element is fixed element in any pedagogy. Many media products “assume that all students come to instruction with the same amount of preexisting knowledge and learn at the same pace;” however, a good teacher can optimise this tool and create learning opportunities for the right students, at the right time and the right place (171). The human element is the most important factor in learning, and no modern media or medium can replace it… yet.


Ferster, Bill. Sage on the Screen: Education, Media, and How We Learn. John Hopkins University Press: Baltimore, Maryland. 2016.

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