Friday, March 28, 2014

Medieval Help Desk Reminds Us to Play to Learn

With new apps, new operating systems, and new devices delivering our daily information and entertainment for work and play, learning how to learn about new media technology is an essential part of media literacy. So how do we gain greater access to access? Start a discussion of strategies for learning new media technology with this classic video, "The Medieval Help Desk," from the Norweigan show "Øystein og jeg" (2001) written by Knut Nærum (with English subtitles).
The comedy setting is the moment when bound books replaced scrolls as the medium of choice for recording written knowledge. The difficulties between the monk and the new book medium offer opportunities to examine our own strategies for learning new interfaces, and the tech support character presents an example for us to compare to the teaching techniques that work and fail for us around acquiring new media skills.  For me, the new book-user monk's reluctance to play around with the book on his own is most poignant. His fear of messing up or losing data keeps him from engaging in the play that he needs in order to learn--and the tech support monk does not help him towards that exploration.

After the jump, I suggest a few questions for pre-viewing discussion, analysis of the humor and discussion about strategies for teaching and learning to use new communication technology.

Before viewing, it may be worth brainstorming about more recent changes in the interfaces of digital media (touchscreens, sharing buttons for social media, youtube--all within the last 15 years); Ask: What changes in media technology have you noticed in the last ten or 15 years? How did you respond and learn to use these new ways of using and sharing information and images?

After viewing the video once in its entirety, ask for raw responses. View again, stopping with each joke to discuss how the humor works--Why is it funny? Connect observations to learners' contemporary experiences with learning new technology and dealing with tech support. This is a great opportunity to reflect on the different ways we learn and access support for using technology effectively (and the ways we fail to do so)--How do you learn a new interface? How is your learning style alike or different? Media and technology teachers stand to learn a lot to inform their practice from having such discussions with their students. Students also benefit from hearing each others' experiences--good and bad--and strategies for learning new communication technologies.

This video and discussion make for a great introduction to an exploration of new media technologies for your learners--especially in teacher education. Follow up discussion with a project where learners set goals for learning a new device or app, and document their learning experiences (humorously or otherwise). Teachers could set goals for both learning new tech and for teaching about it.

The video and discussion also presents an opportunity to kick off an exploration of the history of major shifts in media technology, pursuing questions about what is gained and what is lost in new media compared to older media in terms of information, communication, social interaction, participation and so on. The media ecology question of the affordances and limitations of new media is always relevant, and the medieval help desk presents a great way to deepen discussion.

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