Monday, 18 January 2016 16:45

The Medium 'is' the Message Featured

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I have been revisiting the notion, coined by Marshall McLuhan (1964), that the 'medium is the message' in the light of what we might call 21st century media - that which is freely and readily available to most people, and certainly to teachers and students. In my own research around another notion of making our thinking visible to our peers, students and stakeholders, I am thinking about how to research and then promote our ability to display our thinking more thoroughly, or perhaps in a more readable manner. 

I love to listen to a good speaker. I also love to read a good book. These are two media employed to convey thinking, notions and ideas. They are great and they are useful. However, they are also linear and perhaps not always the best way to convey an idea. 

content audience media

Medium is the Message

This concept map expresses the notion that the audience is central to our choice of media in supporting and shaping the message that we want to convey. We need to consider who comprises the audience, what tools they may have, even how much time do they have to devote to receiving the message.

During my research into displays of competency, the participating teachers spent a great deal of time to consider the media that they would use to design their displays. Although we had discussed the notion of the medium is the message, they seemed to instinctively focus on what media they should use.

goal media

Competency to Goal 

As they progressed with their work, the teachers began to become increasingly selective about their media tools.

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Media tools

The teachers reported that they spent considerable time to determine just the exact media to use to demonstrate their various competencies. In these examples, the media in itself is a demonstration of competency as far as it shows their ability to use media to display various messages. They were also very clear in their descriptions of how they wanted their work to be perceived. The teachers were highly cognizant of the non-reflexive potential of the portfolio. They were aware that others would view their work without them present to explain the various features of processes involved in the work and so went to great efforts to ensure that the work represented their intentions as clearly as possible. 

The teachers developed a very clear set of rules for demonstrating the various goals. Firstly, they determined that the evidence for any particular goal must not be dispersed through the portfolio. Stakeholders must be able to see the competency, goal, and evidence all at once. This highlights the need for the correct or best media for this purpose. They seemed very conscious of the fact that they were not just demonstrating a competency for the sake of demonstration but that there was a very ‘real-world’ consequence of this demonstration. Given the high-stakes nature of demonstrating these competencies, it is very interesting to note the attention to these details.

It is also important to note that this process was socially constructed over a period of time through the development of associated skills. They were determined to make the process easy in order to focus on the demonstrations of competency and not on the media. They were clear that the competency determined how the media would be chosen and used, and that the media would not determine how they demonstrated the competency. In a positive feedback cycle, the more adept they became at manipulating the media to their goals, the more motivated they became to learn about the media tools in order to give themselves better options for displaying their competencies.

medium message

The Medium is the Message


Read 877 times Last modified on Saturday, 30 January 2016 12:19
Dr. Paul Leslie

Associate of Taos Institute:

Education is a Community Affair. 

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