The medium is the message

The medium is the message” is a phrase coined by Marshall McLuhan meaning that the form of a medium embeds itself in the message, creating a symbiotic relationship by which the medium influences how the message is perceived. (from Wikipedia)

The more I think about this issue of medium, the more unsatisfied I am with the way that medium of production is dealt with in the English curriculum.

While English teachers continue to be led by debate over the definition and role of Literature in English, and over the best way to teach language, questions of medium have been significantly sidelined.

      iTeach Inanimate Alice

It also seems clearer to me now why subjects like Drama and Media (content areas that technically sit under the umbrella of English, if you accept that English is a study of how meaning is made through language and texts) go off and take up their own space in many curriculum.  It’s not just because those fields have their own traditions and pedagogies that need space, or because they have industries that create an economic drive for the subjects to continue.  It’s also because those field require keen attention to production elements, including issues of medium.

Little wonder that Drama, which often deals with live performance of language, dies a slow death in English classrooms where the curriculum is still dominated by print literacy.

Little wonder that we still can reconcile the gulf between ‘literary’ and ‘digital/electronic’ texts in the Australian curriculum (medium is not a genre!)

To move anywhere with this line of thinking will require some careful thought about the overlap between the words:

  • media as-in-the-artisitic-means-of-production and
  • Media as-in-the-field-of-media-studies.

Thanks to carolyn for stimulating my thinking on this.  Connecting the concept of medium back to the concept of narrative helped the penny drop today!

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  1. #1 by Christine on June 30, 2011 - 1:14 pm

    Hi Kelli,
    Great post! Any chance you can re-post it in Educators Lounge?
    It would be great to get our members cross-posting and talking.
    Looking forward to meeting you in person at the ALEA Conference next Friday too!

    • #2 by kmcg2375 on June 30, 2011 - 2:59 pm

      Sure thing, thanks for the prompt 🙂
      I was planning to talk at ALEA about the difference between teaching ‘English’ and ‘Literacy’, but now I think I really have to throw ‘Media’ into the mix to show where the current gaps are. In 30 minutes!

  2. #3 by carolynnightingale on July 2, 2011 - 4:00 pm

    Very thought-provoking, Kelli. I hope we get to see notes from your talk:) I absolutely agree that we focus on print literacy. Even when we teach writing, in my experience it’s often for school-constructed genres whose relevance in the real world is questionable. I want my kids to be writers for life, not just writers for school. To quote Roland Legiardi-Laura: “Words are weapons; they’re stones and rocks. That’s why we’re learning vocabulary—not because we’re going to take some stupid test sometime.” You can tell what is valued by what’s in a state or country’s (blech) standardised testing. I’d love to see some more media (both kinds) there:)

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