We’ve all seen these: Commercials for beer featuring scantily-clad women doing things that have nothing to do with beer. Pundits making sweeping generalizations supported by dubious “facts.” Sitcoms focused on the perspective of a white male, with plenty of tired jokes about women who just want to get married or rich or pregnant. And when we encounter these messages, we leap from the couch to mobilize in righteous fury and demand better from media producers. Right?
Probably not. More likely, you scream at your screen and perhaps change the channel, because what else can you really do?
It was in this vein that my organization, The LAMP, first came up with the idea for what is now called MediaBreaker (mediabreaker.org), a free, cloud-based video editing platform for remix and criticism. We use it in our programs to help young people practice deconstructing media messages by creating their own videos – or ‘breaks’ - to challenge the biases, facts or persuasive techniques used to effect the way we think and feel. It’s a powerful tool for teaching media literacy, fair use and for raising what we sometimes call “the next generation of Jon Stewarts” – by which we mean active media consumers who can criticize what they see, hear and read, and talk back by making their own original video remixes.
The LAMP was recently named as one of the winners in the Digital Media and Learning Competition’s Trust Challenge, for our plan to develop MediaBreaker Learning Pathways, where educators of middle and high school-aged youth can curate videos for remix in their classes or programs, students can safely challenge copyrighted works and practice responsible reuse of those works, and where classmates can support each other and earn badges to signal their accomplishments. This environment will enable the tool to reach a much broader audience and empower educators to integrate active media literacy as part of their teaching or programming.
However, as we’ve been discussing MediaBreaker Learning Pathways with our colleagues working in the media studies and education field, we’ve learned that the applications for this tool extends beyond educators of teens, and into the realm of higher learning and teaching classes online. For example, one doctoral candidate we spoke with said she would use the tool with students in her online media studies course by assigning videos and companion articles, which the students would then synthesize into a remix video. Or, students could remix a video of their professor’s lecture by quickly and easily inserting questions or comments for discussion.
Traditionally, students write papers based on source materials, but with MediaBreaker, they would create a kind of multimedia essay that uses sources to challenge, contrast or support by editing directly into a video. Within the closed Learning Pathways environment, teachers can view their students’ progress, and the students are able to tinker without the fear of being hit with a copyright infringement lawsuit or being targeted by the vitriol so commonly found in online comment spaces. The sandbox allows for trial and error and fosters a constructive learning environment, all within content boundaries determined by the educator. Of course, when MediaBreaker Learning Pathways users create a broken video they do want to share with the outside world, they can submit it to The LAMP to verify its fair use in order to be included in the public library of MediaBreaker videos, but the ethos of Learning Pathways will continue to be one of trust, play, inquiry and making through breaking.
For me, these types of discoveries about a project are some of the most exciting points of the process. The idea for the MediaBreaker tool came up in 2012 and the prototype was launched in 2013, so for three years, The LAMP’s staff have been looking at MediaBreaker more or less as one looks through a microscope. Developing Learning Pathways gives us not only the fresh eyes of our talented partners (MOD-Lab, Insert Culture, Convergence Academies and Global Kids), but also the perspectives and ideas that come from a growing community of stakeholders, all of whom are just as eager as we are for people to get off their couches and start talking back.