Five reasons why Media Studies is a great subject

21 December 2010
Local Schools Network
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I used to be a bit sceptical about the whole idea of Media Studies until I started teaching it at A Level. The process of choosing a suitable syllabus (we opted for OCR), devising schemes of work and delivering the lessons over the last few years has now convinced me that it should be an essential part of the school curriculum. Here are my top 5 reasons why:

1. It is a truly contemporary subject which is relevant to all our pupils’ lives. The media saturates everything we do in the developed world in the 21st Century. Giving pupils the tools to analyse and critique the media affords them the chance to see the ways in which the media pervades their lives.

2. It improves literacy skills and pupils’ abilities in other subjects. I’ve noticed that pupils’ English skills really improve when they are studying the media. Because they’re motivated, they are happy to write detailed critiques of the media in a way many are not when analysing Victorian literature or writing essays for other subjects. They also learn a great deal of new terminology much of which can be used in other subjects, including English, the Humanities, D&T and Science.

3. It is a genuinely vocational subject. Media Studies involves pupils making their own films, writing their own newspapers, setting up their own websites, creating their own music videos. It’s extremely hands-on; pupils interact with modern technology in lots of ways, using all the customary IT programmes such as wordprocessing and presentation software as well as video and sound editing software.

3. It is intellectually challenging. Many people who have not studied the subject don’t realise that it has a thorough grounding in theory. Pupils learn about linguistic theory, exploring the complexities of structuralist and post-structuralist thought.

4. It affords pupils to explore crucial issues connected with ”identity”. Recently, I’ve been teaching of the most fascinating lessons I’ve ever taken in A2 Media. Under the topic of “Collective Identity”, we’ve been looking at the ways in which people’s interaction with the media helps creates their sense of themselves. For example, we’ve looked at the whole issue of “Gay Collective Identity”, tracing the ways in which notions of “gay identity” have evolved over the last few centuries. This has involved examining the circumstances surrounding Oscar Wilde’s trial; the decriminalisation of homosexuality in Europe during the 20th Century; the ways in which seminal films like ‘The Victim’ starring Dirk Bogarde helped forge a new identity for gay people; the impact of AIDS upon society as a whole; the emergence of diverse gay identities in the Noughties. It’s been an inspiring topic to teach, covering a myriad of differing subjects; our approach has been both historical and theoretical, as well as practical — pupils have devised presentations on the topic. It made realise that studying such a topic would have been illegal when I first started teaching in the late 1980s; the Conservative’s had a law, “Clause 28″, which banned the “promotion” of homosexuality. This makes me realise how important “progressive” thinking in education is; prejudice needs to be challenged, explored, discussed, debated and analysed.

5. Media Studies GCSE and A Level is rigorously assessed. Contrary to the myths that surround the subject, it’s actually very difficult to get an A grade in the subject, with fewer than 15% of pupils attaining an A grade on average each year at A Level. The marking criteria for the coursework is very precise as it is for the exams. The final grade consists of 40% coursework and 60% exam.

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