"Place-Based Media Arts" is the integration of Media Arts Literacy with Place-Based Education. Place-based media arts projects are designed to assist students in creating meaningful multimedia projects that engage students in curriculum and community. Through these projects students learn the tools necessary to evaluate and navigate media influences as well as how to effectively participate in global conversations. While place-based education has often had an aversion to technology out of concern for its tendency to distract students from their immediate surroundings and distrust their own senses, we see that the media arts can do just the opposite when used intentionally as a way of reconnecting students to place. Place-Based Media Arts is grounded in the pedagogy of place-based education, and looks to the ideals of the youth-led media justice and empowerment movements.
David Sobel (2004) describes Place-based Education as "The process of using the local community and environment as a starting point to teach concepts across the curriculum. Emphasizing hands-on, real-world learning experiences, this approach to education increases academic achievement, help students develop stronger ties to the community, enhance students' appreciation for the natural world, and creates a heightened commitment to serving as active, contributing citizens."
Place-based Education involves students in their local communities and helps students see the meaning of the work they do, the education they learn. It seeks to overcome the traditional isolation of schooling over community life.
Media Literacy, a Critical Literacy for the 21st Century
Corporate media dominates so much of all of our lives. It is critical we learn and teach our youth to be able to analyze and evaluate the media messages they are receiving. But more than teaching a student to be an educated consumer of media, teaching a student to be a competent creator of media, allows our youth to engage in global conversations about the future they hope to have. In creating place-based media arts projects students learn the vital lessons of place, and technology skills, media literacy, as well as leadership and group work. Media arts projects are inclusive in the different tasks needed to make a media project; students can be writers, interviewers, cinematographers, audio technicians, editors, actors, illustrators, animators, researchers, musicians, public speaker, even poets. Media arts projects, like other group creative expression projects, specifically develop the skills of effective communication, creative and critical thinking, teamwork, problem solving, and enable a deep engagement in the subject matter and the community.
Youth-Led Media Justice and Empowerment
The youth-led media justice and empowerment movements involve youth educating youth in media literacy to challenge corporate dominated media, and respond to the need for media justice in our communities. Media literacy workshops like those organized by Outta Your Backpack Media (oybm.org) and Longhouse Media (longhousemedia.org) empower youth to tell their own stories. Schools are sorely lacking in providing media literacy education and youth have proven this is an education they value, as they organize to teach themselves these skills. Looking to these movements provides inspiration and guidance in ways we can engage students in learning literacies important to their lives now and in the future.
Regenerating and Sustaining Community
Place-based Media Arts starts with asking students to look to their family, local community, and environment for the resources and subject matter to explore for a media project. Through these projects students spend time learning from their elders, community teachers, and traditions in the context of a school assignment while preserving that particular piece of knowledge for themselves and their future generations. Place-based projects are Deweyan in the sense it is learning by doing, experiential, and engage students in the curriculum, and cooperative group work. Every one and everything in the community becomes a potential resource for the exploration of a student's subject. Teachers, parents and community leaders can create opportunities for elders and youth to come together and provide a catalyst for the youth to ask the elders for information, stories, and oral histories. Education is enhanced with creative, participatory, teaching methods like these.
Place-based Media Arts projects are inherently multidisciplinary both in the subject of the project and within the project itself. Students learn to research their subject using various methods, such as interviews, books, online information, public records searches, then students write a script or treatment, depending on their intended outcome. A narrative is presented through a script, a treatment is used in documentary work. Some projects require a combination of both, some require acting and connecting to the subject matter in physical expression. A student's cultural as well as traditional literacies are reinforced while learning with media arts, yet students also learn modern technological skills, and important social skills such as collaboration and networking.
Reestablish Intergenerational Communication
I believe Place-Based Media Arts Projects can be successful with any group of students, anywhere. I have worked primarily with Indigenous communities and have witnessed the beauty of place-based media arts projects as a vehicle for reestablishing an intergenerational transmission of knowledge. Storytelling and oral traditions are prevalent in many traditional cultures yet due to current economic situations many youth are now growing up separated from their elders' stories and knowledge. Many kids are unaware of their communities' and elders' worldviews and these valuable insights are rapidly being lost due to lack of intergenerational communication, lack of cultural community contact, and language loss. Corporate sponsored television is swiftly becoming the primary conveyor of important stories for all of our children. However, with Community / Place- Based Media Arts Projects youth can reclaim their oral histories, reclaim their place names and the stories that come with them, and reclaim their own important familial and ancestral stories. Place- Based Media Arts projects can create opportunities for children to gain some of that knowledge and to understand the worldview of their traditional teachings so that they may be able to carry them into the future.