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Volume VIII Number 1 . . . . September 7, 2001
The NFB is internationally known for the high quality of its media productions, and thus, it is no surprise that Between the Lines, a co-production of NFB and Tyndal Stone Media Inc. is an impressive media literacy teaching resource. Media literacy is, in some form or another, a component of most provincial English/Language Arts curricula. However, teaching media literacy is a challenge for many teachers. Few classroom English teachers have formal training in media studies that is equivalent to their background in teaching literature and writing process. And even if their interest in the media has led them to obtain some background knowledge, they face the challenge of finding practical ways of offering their students both the experience of viewing and the process of creating media. This two CD-ROM set offers an interactive multimedia tool for both the teaching and learning of media literacy through a series of creative projects, and it offers a great deal to both teachers and students.
Between the Lines contains eight media projects for students: Television News (which includes lessons in editing), Public Service Announcement, Ethics, Spinning the News, Music Video, Visual Language, Soundscape, and Multimedia Campaign. Once the CD is launched, each project is introduced by a "host" who describes the topic and provides a context for the various tasks associated with it. In each unit, students create a media product: assembling a news story, creating a public service announcement, newspaper front page, or music video are but a few of the projects undertaken. In the process of crafting the projects, students have to think about and justify the choices of sound, text, and audio that they make, as well as learning of media production skills.
In addition to the eight media projects, the CD provides a "Teacher's Workroom," a collection of resources, all or part of which can be printed from an Adobe "PDF" file. The Teacher's Guide is comprehensive and well-developed, containing unit plans, assignment hand-outs with sample rubrics for evaluation, suggestions for scheduling assignments, and a variety of other materials to assist in project management. "Jargonauts" provides a short overview of media theory, and the "Jargon Watch," "Webography," and "Bibliography" all provide further materials for teacher exploration. Finally there is an Appendix of all screens and visuals on the CD's for easy reference.
However, before you even launch the CD set, you must read the product insert. Unlike most instructional CD's, this one provides clear, easy-to-follow directions for "Getting Started," general as well as specific navigation directions, and then a brief description of each unit, its primary objective, and the media skills which students will undertake in that unit. To test the unit's "user-friendliness," I decided to create two media projects, a Public Service Announcement and a Music Video. I have no media production background, but after carefully following the directions printed in the CD insert, I produced a video and a public service announcement, and previewed them on screen (complete with accompanying sound clips). I'll be keeping my day job, but the ease with which I was able to put both projects together says a great deal about the clarity of the unit's design and of the accompanying directions.
Between the Lines is a highly-professional, ultra-cool, well-designed resource, and I recommend it highly. But, I do want to add a few cautions. First of all, the "read me" file indicates that, although the CD package is designed primarily for single machine use, it will work across networks. I did not test the CD on a network and cannot say how network application will effect product performance, or the degree to which it is necessary to "tweak" the network to make it work. Secondly, this is not a "turn-key" package: any teacher wishing to use this package will have to commit considerable time to reviewing the various materials in the Teacher's Workroom, and to previewing the various units to see how they will work. In order to make optimal use of class time and the materials on the CD, you have to read the directions for each unit and review the materials in the Teacher's Guide, even if you decide to change your implementation of them. Clicking buttons to discover how the CD works will result in incidental learning, but it will also be an incredible waste of time. Tremendous effort has gone into the writing of clear directions and in the crafting of a very useful Teacher's Guide; take full advantage of this work because it really has been designed to help the time-strapped classroom teacher. I believe that Between the Lines is a worthwhile acquisition for Media Literacy programs, but purchasers must be ready to spend time exploring the CD's potential before launching it for classroom use. Senior high school English/Language Arts programs, Media Studies programs, and Art/Visual Education courses might consider it. As with all software, preview before making a final acquisition decision.
Joanne Peters is a teacher-librarian in Kelvin High School, Winnipeg, MB.
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