A Satiric Lesson in Media Literacy

This Is a Generic Brand Video

First the backstory. Start with a clever essay satirizing the clichéd corporate message ad - This is a Generic Brand Video by Kendra Eash published in McSweeneys. It begins:

We think first
Of vague words that are synonyms for progress
And pair them with footage of a high-speed train.

Is doing lots of stuff
That may or may not have anything to do with us.

See how this guy in a lab coat holds up a beaker?
That means we do research.
Here’s a picture of DNA. More

Next, a stock video footage company – Dissolve uses some of its clips to turn Eash’s piece into a meaningless montage of grandiloquent pablum.

Here’s the lesson:

  1. Ask students to read the full text version of Eash’s original, focusing on word choice, imagery and intent. What is Eash’s “video” selling? You might ask them sketch a rough storyboard to illustrate the text.
  2. Show the video with the sound off and let students list its visual details. Have someone read Eash’s piece while watching the video without sound. (Does the timing matter?)
  3. Discuss the artistic choices made by the video’s creators to illustrate the piece? How does the music and narrator’s voice impact the message?
  4. Compare the impact and effectiveness of text, audio and visual.

Care to extend the lesson?

Use YouTube to find political ads from current or past elections. How to they exemplify the themes raised by Eash?

Dissolve has a gallery of all the video clips used in the video. (Hover over them to activate.) Ask student to select the clips that they feel have the greatest visual impact. Ask them to explain how they might use these clips to tell a story. 

Show students this actual corporate video and ask them decide if it uses themes noted by Eash. How does the Suncor video compare to the Dissolve satire? Hat tip to Jeff Beer. More of his recommend corporate videos here. Students could re-edit corporate videos to “sell” their own message.

BTW – you’ve been exploring Common Core:

Reading Standards for Literature, Integration of Knowledge and Ideas, Standard 7, Grade 7. Compare and contrast a written story, drama, or poem to its audio, filmed, staged, or multimedia version, analyzing the effects of techniques unique to each medium (for example, lighting, sound, color, or camera focus and angles in a film).

Reading Standards for Informational Text, Integration of Knowledge and Ideas, Standard 7, Grades 11–12. Evaluate the advantages and disadvantages of using different mediums (for example, print or digital text, video, multimedia) to present a particular topic or idea.

Media Manipulation: Vietnam War DBQ

peace rally 1970

I assigned my preservice teachers at University of Portland the task of using Learnist to design a document based question that would eventually become part of a class-produced DBQ iBook collection. DBQ assignment here. More samples of student-designed DBQs here.

I’ve asked them to reflect on the assignment and invited them to guest post on my blog. Here is Media and War: An Analysis of Vietnam War Propaganda designed by Damian Wierzbicki. It provides a selection of media from opposing perspectives and asks students to answer the following question: How does media impact our perception of war?

See Damian’s chapter in our class-designed iBook – free at iTunes.

You can find Damian’s posts on our class blog.

It provides a selection of media from opposing perspectives and asks students to answer the following question: How does media impact our perception of war?

Damian Wierzbicki reflects on what he learned from the experience:

The goal of my DBQ project was for students to gain an appreciation for how one’s perceptions of an event can be manipulated through media. The idea was for students to examine a variety of items, identify the techniques employed in conveying the message, and evaluate whether or not the techniques were effective. After investigating the media content within the lesson, students would apply what they learned by curating a series of media items that depict a certain perspective in a contemporary conflict.

Reading my original proposal for the project, I feel the final product achieves the goals I initially set forth. The lesson contains a variety of media types (print, posters, photos) and each example is accompanied by a set of questions that challenge students to do more than just identify what they see. I’m pleased with what I created because it approaches the study of history from a different perspective and medium. I can see this being more enjoyable than reading a history text or listening to lecture on a more traditional topic.

Though I am pleased with what I created, reservations do exist. This product has yet to be used. I don’t know how students or educators will react. Will they learn or appreciate the material I put forth? Will they find it engaging? It’s hard to say, especially since this was the first DBQ project I created. Teachers must always reflect and adapt. The project I created feels like a solid first step, but I want it to be used so I know how to make it better.

Once I decided upon a topic, the project was straightforward. However, I did run into one hurdle: curating the media. Selecting relevant pieces was challenging and time consuming. There is so much iconic media from the Vietnam era, but not all was applicable to my objective. Using the wrong piece could have lead to confusion and undermined what students were supposed to take away from the lesson.

Image Credit: LSU Public Relations, “Peace Rally,” 1970. LSU student Luana Henderson participated in a peaceful protest against the Vietnam War held in 1970 on the LSU campus. The poster behind her refers to the killing of four students by National Guardsmen during a protest that turned violent at Kent State University in Ohio. University Archives, Louisiana State University.

How to Search and Share 350,000 TV News Broadcasts

Internet Archive just launched TV News Search & Borrow a searchable collection now contains 350,000 news programs collected over 3 years from national U.S. networks and stations in San Francisco and Washington D.C. User’s can specify search term, network and TV show. In the screenshot (above) I searched the term “47” on Comedy Central’s “Daily Show” and “Colbert Report.”

Internet Archives states “”This service is designed to help engaged citizens better understand the issues and candidates in the 2012 U.S. elections by allowing them to search closed captioning transcripts to borrow relevant television news programs.  The archive is updated with new broadcasts 24 hours after they are aired. Older materials are also being added.”  Currently 21 networks are searchable (left). 

I searched for “Obama” on FOX 10 PM News (below), and found coverage of his convention speech. I could dig deeper into the broadcast to generate minute-by-minute clickable word clouds. (Click on a word and it lights up in each section of the broadcast summary). The user can create a URL to share the clip, but embedding is not available.

Teaching Visual Literacy: Media Studies Before the Internet

media studies demo

I thought I’d share this recently rediscovered relic from my early days as a teacher.

Back in the late 1970’s / early 1980’s I started teaching a high school “Media Studies” class. (Pittsford-Sutherland HS, Rochester NY). It was one semester, social studies elective that examined the impact of media on society (mainly TV – and all very McLuhan).   Duane Sherwood, our building edtech specialist, was inspired by early TV pioneer, Ernie Kovacs to shoot this 1 minute video. I used it after my first few introductory lessons. That day, instead of their teacher, my students found a TV / recorder in front of the class. The sign instructed them to “watch this video.”   The shot took “forever” to set up. I attribute my bad acting / missed lines to sitting sideways and trying to keep a straight face. It’s just too bad I wore red flannel and khakis that day….     Hat tip to Stan Merrell for digitizing this one

NCLB Narrows the Curriculum?

nclb logo
nclb logo

Periodically I think about the ironies of NCLB. Today, coincidence put a face on it. It started when I read an article from the Contra Costa Times, a SF Bay-area newspaper. “Schools Pile On English, Math Classes” details how NCLB can impact the curriculum. Middle and high school students pulled out of social studies, science, art, music, and electives to make room for additional classes in remedial reading and math. I understand that literacy and numeracy are necessary foundations, but shouldn’t they be imbedded into content of the very courses that are being cut? (For more on that point visit my website Content Reading Strategies That Work )

As the article noted,

Jason Ebner used to teach history at Antioch Middle School. That was before it became a thing of the past. Six years ago, he said, the campus began requiring two math classes for low-performing students. The following year they doubled up English courses. Social studies and science fell by the wayside. The practice has come back to haunt Ebner, who now teaches sophomore world history at Antioch High School. His students, robbed of history in junior high, increasingly come in without knowledge of the Renaissance period.  more

Today I also received a invitation from a local art-house cinema. One of my former high school students would be visiting Rochester for a special screening of his Sundance-award-winning film. I was one of three teachers he wanted to invite as “special guests who he felt contributed to his film-making career.”  I had lost track of him after graduation, but with some Googling I found that he was now working as a Brooklyn-based writer / director and teaching a class in the Dramatic Writing program at SUNY Purchase. If my memory serves me right, back in the late 70’s he was a student in my Media Studies class – a high school social studies elective that focused on the impact of the media on society – remember Marshall McLuhan?

I put the newspaper article and the invitation together and wondered about the direction some schools may take to reach NCLB’s goal of 100% proficiency by 2014. Will NCLB force a generation of students into the routine world of test prep? Will scores of innovative teachers will drop out of the profession?

While NCLB began with the admirable goal of narrowing demographic performance gaps and putting an end to sorting kids on the “bell curve,”  it may be doing just the opposite. Many low performing students are now banished from courses they might actually look forward to and sent to 90-minute blocks of remediation.  Ironically these low performing student tend to be from the very demographic groups that were falling behind in the performance gap. As if it isn’t enough of challenge to be poor, now you’re also shut out of art and music classes.

The “remediated” students may someday be “proficient” on standardized tests, but must that improvement come from the sacrifice of “soft skills” like teamwork, presentation and problem solving that they could have developed in project-based learning? As more courses are eliminated, will teachers be pushed aside in favor of computerized tutorial programs? Who’s going into education these days? My guess is – fewer creative teachers and more corporate service providers.

I wonder if someday a teacher will be thanked by a former student for helping their school to achieve “adequate yearly progress?”