Like many teachers who grew up before the current media-saturated generation, I feel inordinately intimidated by the push to integrate new media technology into my classroom. Henry Jenkins says this fear is not unreasonable, but if I hope to do my students justice in this volatile world, I must see my way past this limitation. His intensive scholarly study makes many suggestions, but at the end, I feel more informed than empowered.
Jenkins asserts that the majority of students with access to new media already create their own content. This opens doors because, as active participants rather than passive recipients, these youth take a proactive role in their own education. Students active in media creation, from video production and cosplay to fan fiction, sampling and remixing, and online book reviewing (!) already have a leg up on the challenges of our participatory media landscape. Though Jenkins elides my concerns about how to channel those hundreds of hours of "The Sims Online" to academically productive ends, he makes a convincing case.
I can't help but note that some of Jenkins' new-media suggestions seem remarkably familiar. For instance, he speaks glowingly of one teacher's experiment in "beta-reading," in which students use online tools to read and comment on other students' drafts, helping peers (and, hopefully, themselves) improve core writing skills. When I was an undergraduate, we did that in the classroom, with hard-copy manuscripts, and we called it "workshopping." Similarly, Jenkins extols teachers who use web tools to simulate real-world politics and social movements. But when I was fourteen, back in those pre-Web days, my Social Studies teacher had us conduct opinion polls and mock debates to grasp the issues in play during the 1988 Presidential election. No tech required.
I could go on, but my point is, Jenkins' suggestions will be most influential to teachers (and I supect Jenkins would agree) when they serve education's established, traditional goals. New media technology can make education more intense, more ambitious, and paradoxically, more decentralized. Tech doesn't supplant conventional classroom teaching; rather, the new supplements the old.
But we run aground on a simple yet penetrating concern. Toward the end, Jenkins laments, "There are few, if any, books that offer parents advice on how to make these choices or provide information about the media landscape." Parents, yes, though I could say the same about teachers, too. Even Jenkins himself, for all his good suggestions, is more wide-ranging than in-depth. Tech advances so fast that, were I to invest in keeping up with the newest advances, I couldn't stay abreast of developments in my own field. In the choice between the two, who can blame me for preferring the area where I have a higher degree over the area where even paid experts strain to keep up?
Jenkins and his research team leave me and other teachers with a lot to think about. I hope to apply new tech concepts in my own classroom in coming semesters. And I thank Jenkins for his clarity, writing with a minimum of jargon and keeping a diverse audience in mind. But this study is more of a spur to thinking than a guide to action. I will need to do more research if I hope to apply Jenkins' principles in my classroom.