The shape of the Arts curriculum

For those who have yet to check it out, the draft shape paper for the Australian Curriculum for the Arts is now available on the ACARA website.

Given that up here in Queensland the school subject ‘Media Arts’ is separate to the subject ‘English’, I thought it would be an interesting exercise to intervene in the text and see if I couldn’t just find the crossover between the two subjects.

It wasn’t hard.

2.3.3 Defining Media Arts

Media ArtsEnglish is the creative use of communications technologies to tell stories and explore concepts for diverse purposes and audiences. MediaLanguage artists represent personal, social and cultural realities using platforms such as prose fiction, poetry, dramatic performances, television, film, video, newspapers, magazines, radio,video games, the worldwide web and mobile media. Produced and received in diverse contexts, these communication forms are important sources of information, entertainment, persuasion and education and are significant cultural industries in Australian society. Digital technologies have expanded the role that mediatexts play in every Australian’s family, leisure, social, educational and working lives. Media ArtsEnglish explores the diverse artistic, creative, social and institutional factors that shape communication and contribute to the formation of identities. Through Media ArtsEnglish, individuals and groups participate in, experiment with and interpret the rich culture and communications practices that surround them.

As I spend more time in Queensland I find myself having to wrestle with my identity as an English teacher because of this overlap with Media Arts.  It’s not that media texts don’t still feature in the English curriculum – they do.  But the culture here is that, while student might study visual language and analyse some/increasingly visual/multimodal texts in English, it’s Media Arts you have to go to if you want to make anything serious.

On one hand, it’s like Media Arts teachers get to do a lot of the fun stuff, which kind of sucks if you’re an English teacher from New South Wales!

But on the other hand, I have to admit, compared the rigour in the Media Arts curriculum up here…well, I have to admit that as an English teacher I always seemed to run out of time to ‘do the fun stuff’ anyway (do you know how LONG it takes for students to rehearse and record their own 10 minute version of Act I of Romeo and Juliet? Fricken ages!)  And it would be nice, for just a short while, not to have to feel like I am dragging my English colleagues kicking and screaming toward increased multimodal study…now if I need to find a like minded media teacher, I can just go and, well, find one.

Leaving aside the ‘are knowledge silos good or bad’ debate, what thoughts do people have about the picture I’m painting here?  NSW people, if you came up to the sunshine state would you want to specialise in English, or Media Arts?

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  1. #1 by Bill Boyd on October 14, 2010 - 11:15 pm

    A very interesting post Kelli, and a genuinely difficult issue. As a long-time English teacher who always had a particular interest in film, TV and the media generally, I didn’t get the unnecessary distinction. However, in my current role as an independent adviser, I find resistance from many English teachers to the notion that, for example, film should feature prominently in their classrooms in accordance with the broader definition of ‘text’ in the new curriculum guidelines. ‘That’s media Studies’ they exclaim, having been conditioned to that artificial division over the years. I have come to the conclusion that it’s having a ‘subject’ called English which is the problem, rather than the more specific English Language or English Literature.

  2. #2 by kmcg2375 on October 14, 2010 - 11:51 pm

    That is interesting – in New South Wales we have been using the term ‘text’ for over 10 years in English curriculum, and the idea of hierarchies of medium of production has slowly but surely come to sound a bit absurd.

    The focus on written language in timed, external, high stakes exams, however, has meant that a prioritising of linguistic analysis, canonic texts and timed writing has been maintained in the hidden curriculum of English. Until students are allowed to author multimodal texts for examination in English then visual (and spoken) literacy will be sidelined imo.

  3. #3 by Michael on October 15, 2010 - 1:55 pm

    Hi Kelli, it is an illuminating exercise to replace the term Media with text, English etc – and it DOES show that in the end artificial distinctions between subject areas are ultimately unhelpful. In his book “Beyond Technology” (2007), highly respected UK media education researcher David Buckingham suggests that we should do away with these distinctions and have a learning field called “cultural studies” that would include Media, English and ICTs (and perhaps some other areas as well. Not a bad suggestion, if we get all utopian and believe for a minute that teachers (particularly English teachers) would wear this.

    This discussion needs to take account of the fact that the English and Media curriculum fields have developed distinct cultures and discourses and in most Australian states (NSW is the exception) the two areas have co-existed for decades – particularly in secondary schools. In the same way that there is a lot of cross over between English and Drama, there is a lot of cross over between English and Media. But the two areas emphasise quite different classroom practices.

    To complete the task you have started above, you really should include the next paragraph from the Shape paper, which outlines the 5 key concepts of Media Arts – 3 of which, I would argue, the vast majority of English teachers never approach – Media institutions, Media technologies and Media Audiences. That is, learning ABOUT these concepts. Find me more than a handful of English teachers who have their students ask critical questions about which technologies will best allow distribution of a particular media product; or who will focus on media ownership, questions of regulation, and the Hollywood studio system; or English teachers who focus on demographics in more than a cursory way.

    Of course, I would also suggest that the overwhelming majority of English teachers do not get their students to make a range of media products. – As a former English teacher – I taught English and Media in Qld for 13 years – I know that English students write newspaper articles, create posters, and sometimes make advertising campaigns. These days, a handful of English teachers are getting their students to make short vidoes using moviemaker, and podcasts using Garageband etc – which is brilliant. But that’s a lot like English teachers getting students to act out scenes from Shakespeare. They would seldom argue that this plays the same educational function as performing Shakespeare in a Drama class.

    English has its own culture, it necessarily privileges certain types of skills and knowledge. It does not do the job that Media Arts will in the Australian Curriculum.

    Kelli, it may be time to come over to the ‘dark side’ and consider yourself to be both an English and Media Arts educator!

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