Teaching Media Literacy with Googledocs

Today, I tried something new with googledocs. It’s probably not really new, but it was new to me, and I felt like I had discovered it.

Well, I had not, but it was exciting, and it all started with this video.

This spreadsheet was posted in February of 2011. It shows us real-time crowd sourcing. The collaborators are thousands of volunteers. Their task: to translate  hundreds of voice messages coming out of Egypt during the uprisings that pushed out Hosni Mubarak from Arabic into English. These messages were then re-posted as tweets. You can read more about this project, and the Speak2Tweet technology that made it possible here.

What does any of this have to do with my intro to media class?

No, we did not contribute to the spreadsheet. What actually happened is that we used Googledocs to collaborate in the classroom. The topic was advertising, and my students went on a youtube scavenger hunt.

I have been teaching a session on advertising techniques for a few years now, and I use a hand-out developed by the Media Awareness Network, which describes 15 such techniques. I like it because it is clear, and it gets the job done, at least as far as an introductory course is concerned. Until now, my modus operandi had been to look for suitable examples on my own, but I realize that this sidelines my students. I wanted to put them at the forefront. So, I gave them the handout, asked them to get in groups, and instructed them to find examples. I created a googledoc, and shared it to the entire class. They copied and pasted the urls, and now we have a document that they created, as opposed to something I came up with. Here is the result. Unfortunately, I was unable to create a screencast as the students were compiling their lists (it was sooooooo cool, just to see the document coming together in real time). I will try again later on.

We did have a lively discussion, which went beyond the advertising strategies listed on the handout. This Volkswagen commercial, for example, prompted an exchange about portrayals of “ideal families” on commercial advertising. We detected quite a bit of nostalgia, as this ad reflects an upper middle class household, where only one parent works outside the home.

This ad, on the other hand, initiated another discussion about limits. How far can you go in an ad before you cross a line?

As an instructor, I am beginning to play around with interactivity.  Googledocs certainly allowed us to share insights about content that I would probably have missed, had I been solely relying on my own resources. In fact, I probably would have never come across many of the commercials that my students shared with the class. This is because recall definitely played a role in how my class looked for examples. Indeed, several students selected commercials they remember watching as children, which also provided a good opportunity to talk about what makes commercials stand out.