Active learning and critical thinking cannot flourish in a learning environment without trust. That is why The LAMP works hard with learners of all age groups, from elementary school students to educators, to cultivate online and physical spaces where participants are empowered to freely challenge and critique messages. There is no such thing as a completely objective media message, devoid of bias of any kind, but audiences should always be able to discover: Who created this message? For whom was it produced, and why?
Trust, therefore, is directly related to transparency, accountability and freedom of expression. In The LAMP’s programming, this means that learners should always be free to ask questions and pursue the information and opinions they need in order to form their own perspectives and ideas. This is also true in online LAMP learning environments like MediaBreaker/Studios, where participants in 42 states are actively remixing and deconstructing media messages within a private space visible only to their peers. In these ways, learners can freely explore without fear of running afoul of complicated Fair Use guidelines, and without impacting their digital footprints.
This understanding of trust directly informs The LAMP’s mission, which is to help people live, learn and thrive in the 21st century. This achieved through customized educational programming which teach young people to comprehend, create, and ultimately challenge or critique media messages. When The LAMP measures how its programs impact a student, we measure how far a student has moved along a spectrum of media literacy skills that begins with Consumer and culminates with Activist. This captures our mission to help people progress from being passive absorbers of media messages to active thinkers and makers of media.
Students must have explored issues of trust in order for this growth to take place. They must develop a skeptic’s eye towards media, and understand that trust is earned when producers are clear about their intentions. At a higher level, learners should also explore when and why complete transparency might not be possible (as in the case of writers working in oppressive regimes) and decide for themselves how much they’re willing to tolerate. Where trust and media content are concerned, there are few clear-cut answers, but there should always be freedom to question.
One of The LAMP’s primary purposes in developing MediaBreaker/Studios was to create a tool which would help young people explore questions around trusted digital content. Much has been made (and rightfully so) of the need for increased privacy and security controls as more personal data moves online, but we have not yet seen a dramatic shift or urgency in teaching young people how to understand all of the data and content they engage with on a daily basis.
MediaBreaker/Studios encourages transparency in media content by making it possible for all students, regardless of technical skill level or access to costly editing tools, to talk back to and deconstruct content. In a further effort to reduce barriers to access, only a student’s name and email address are requested to create an account. Students are invited by teachers, who have the ability to deactivate accounts, and who must verify if students are over the age of 13 years old. All videos remain private and visible only to educators and peers; if accepted for publication to The LAMP’s public channels, the name of the student(s) behind the video is not disclosed. The LAMP accepts liability for any disputes that may arise over fair use, keeping the student protected.
The LAMP designed its platform on the principle that free, critical expression are necessary in order to create transparency and trust. We want MediaBreaker/Studios users to know that they are participating in an environment committed to proactive media literacy learning and exploration, and we have leveraged existing fair use guidelines for that purpose. By empowering users to adhere to fair use practices, the MediaBreaker/Studios space discourages bullying behavior, including libel, slander and baseless accusations or opinions. We are teaching young people that snark is not civil behavior, and does not count as critical. While we leave it up to individual educators to address any bullying issues that might arise as their students use Studios, The LAMP will not (and indeed, cannot) reward bullying behavior by publicising or otherwise making available video remix projects which do not follow fair use. To date, we are unaware of any incidents of bullying or harmful behavior having been facilitated or otherwise made possible through the MediaBreaker/Studios platform.
The LAMP continually seeks feedback from MediaBreaker/Studios users. It happens that we are currently in an outreach campaign surveying all users registered with teacher accounts, asking them for details about their experience using the platform. In addition, forms are available on The LAMP’s website at the MediaBreaker/Studios FAQ page, where users can report both general feedback and specific bugs or errors encountered as they use the tool.
During the development phases of MediaBreaker/Studios, The LAMP conferred with educators at Convergence Academy in Chicago, Global Kids here in New York City, and with in-school and after-school educators from select schools citywide as part of a separate training program operated with ExpandED Schools. Students at Global Kids also submitted feedback from testing sessions. The LAMP listens closely to all feedback received, most of which had to do with tool usability and editing features. In deciding which feedback to act on, we consider practicality, mission alignment and resource availability.
Since we have received a good deal of feedback following the tools release in April, at this point we have a fairly strong sense of what needs to be done to improve the tool; the editor can be smoother, and we do still receive reports from time to time of the video editor not communicating properly with the web interface. It also seems that coding in some videos does not make them suitable for use in the editor, but we have yet to figure out how to identify those videos so users can avoid them and save time. We have experimented with compiling playlists of videos which we have found to be compatible with the editor, but so far those playlists do not seem to be in high use.
Like any application or education technology developer, our primary barrier at the moment is funding. We are doing everything possible to keep this tool free for all to use because we believe in making ad-free 21st-century learning opportunities accessible to all students and educators. However, we are exploring nominal subscription fees which would help us keep the tool functional and grow to meet demands for new features and functionality.
Beyond the obstacle of funding, MediaBreaker/Studios runs up against another common problem for schools and informal learning environments, which has to do with infrastructure and support. Schools in New York City, for example, are woefully behind when it comes to broadband access, and lack of a reliable high-speed connection does make the tool more difficult to use, despite our best efforts to design for this environment. We have also seen that limited technology budgets for school often result in having too few staff available to provide adequate levels of technical support for an entire school. A teacher needing support for MediaBreaker/Studios is often just one in a long line of other teachers with outstanding technology requests.
Principles of notice and consent are baked into the user flow of MediaBreaker/Studios. All teachers receive an automated email notice that an account has been initiated using their email address; teachers must then complete instructions in the email in order for the account to be created. A similar process follows for students. A teacher sends an email through MediaBreaker/Studios inviting students to create an account and/or join the teacher’s Studio space, at which point students must follow instructions to create the account. As teachers and students use the tool, additional notices are sent when new video remix projects have been submitted. Teachers can deactivate a student account at any time, and users can change their password or other profile information at any time. Data security is currently maintained through the use of tools like ServerPilot and LetsEncrypt.org.
The LAMP does not monitor all video remixes created and stored across all MediaBreaker/Studios spaces. It is up to educators to determine if bullying has taken place through the platform, and all teachers have the power to deactivate the account of a student participating in their Studio spaces. The LAMP also has the power to administratively deactivate accounts, and to turn off the tool in case of a data breach.
Even in case of a data breach, The LAMP attempts to minimize risk by requesting as little data as possible from users that would be of value to hackers and marketers. Students need only provide a name and email address, and teachers will be reminded at the end of every June to review if their student accounts are still needed.
All of us at The LAMP are proud of MediaBreaker/Studios, and look forward to the next chapter in its development. Because trust is mutable and technology needs and concerns change daily, we anticipate the tool will evolve to adapt to an ever-shifting landscape of privacy, accountability and education technology. We’re excited to share what we learn along the way.