Teachers as Media Creators

When students walked into my class on the first day of school this year, I gave them three books each - books I had published and bound myself. Those who have a computer at home can get lists, calendars, assignments and research help through the Internet via my home page. They can even pass notes to their teacher and get an answer - via email.

The point of this is not that I'm such a technically-advanced teacher. The point is that with the current media, we all can publish books, design an Internet site, or use the new media to reach out and connect to people in ways hitherto unimagined.

It is this aspect of media technology I find particularly exciting and empowering. None of this was possible 20 or 30 years ago, but today it's within our grasp.

With the high cost of school books these days, the prospect of teachers creating their own materials is becoming more and more expedient. Vocabulary workbooks can't be fit into the budget? A teacher can make his own! No money for student writing journals (blue books)? Make 'em! If they have access to a computer printer, photocopier and binding machine, teachers today can quite literally create their own texts, workbooks, and study aids. The material can be produced in small quantities - even one class at a time - giving educators the opportunity to create specific books for individual classes.

The Internet, too, provides students and teachers the chance not just for extra help, and not just extra help in an easy and quick fashion - but help that's specific and individualized for each student or each class. Teachers can (and do) create web pages for certain classes, or for specific assignments.

Years ago, an older teacher pointed out to me that technology would quite literally revolutionize education. He was right, of course.

A photocopier can turn every teacher into a publisher. A video camera can turn every educator into a movie producer. A home computer can turn every classroom professional into a multi-media presence in homes and libraries all around the world.

And all of this is happening right now, today, at the very moment you're reading this - not off in some 21st-century futuristic dream world. Right here in Billerica, Massachusetts, in your son's or daughter's classroom, or even in your living room. And not just with this teacher. It's with a growing number of them.

The same technology that empowers teachers also empowers parents, churches, community organizations and students themselves.

We are all becoming our own publishers, film studios and computer programmers - or at least we can.

Two things are critically necessary to spread and democratize even further these new communication media: One, of course, is increased actual access to the machines themselves.

Photocopiers are expensive, as are computers and video cameras. It's axiomatic to suggest that teachers, students, and the general public need greater access to more of them. Of course, it's one thing to say that, and quite another to do it.

The other burning need is training. We all need to be shown how to print, collate, and bind booklets. We need help in working computers, connecting to the Internet, and designing Web pages. We require assistance to learn how to shoot and edit video, add a soundtrack and make a multimedia presentation effective. The New York Times reported recently that only 39 percent of all teachers (regardless of age or location) reported that they felt well-prepared to use technology for teaching. Training is essential.

We need both the stuff and the knowledge to use it effectively. Having one without the other is simply no good. There are schools (and communities) all over the country with closets full of unused high-tech equipment which is getting dusty and obsolete just because no one knows how to use it - or doesn't see the need for it. In other towns, people have the knowledge and expertise and desire to use the stuff, but just can't get anyone to fund the purchase of the necessary hardware.

Until we can obtain both the technology and the training to use it, we will be like people who can read but can't write - able to understand the new media and be receivers of messages, but unable to make them ourselves.

Just as it takes pencils and paper as well as education to turn a reader into a writer, it takes hardware (actual physical stuff) as well as training to turn a media-consumer into a media-maker.

It is the difference between reading and writing - between watching and participating - between passively accepting media messages made by someone else and creating our own. This is true not only in schools, but in town halls, libraries, and even homes.

I'm fortunate enough to sometimes have access to these media tools, lucky enough to have the time to learn them and work them. No, I am not independently wealthy, nor do I have all of the time in the world (and many of these activities require substantial time and money). But most teachers are as used to donating their own money to classroom projects as they are used to donating their time.

We just need both the tools and the training. Believe me, if I can learn to do it, anyone can.

Once we get those, we can truly revolutionize communications.


Reprinted with permission by the author.

Author Bio: 

Bill Walsh is an English teacher at Billerica High School, Billerica, MA. His column appears in the Billerica Minuteman newspaper weekly.