Children or young people and media is a topic which invariably sparks heated debate Particularly when it comes to digital media, adults are generally of the opinion that less is more. But should children really steer clear altogether of televisions, computers or smartphones? And is it true that young people have lost all interest in reading books, choosing to follow internet influencers instead? These were just some of the questions investigated by researchers at the Institute of Book Studies at FAU in collaboration with the Akademie für Ganztagsschulpädagogik and the local education authorities in the Forchheim district in the project ‘Media-based education and literacy in kindergarten and school’, which ran from 2017 to 2019.
The researchers discovered one crucial aspect: the key to using both analogue and digital media is literacy. In the reading buddy project ‘FORlesen’ which was launched in the Forchheim district in 2016, the researchers investigated how best to promote literacy. As the FAU Institute of Book Studies had already worked with the local education authorities in Forchheim on this project, they were able to base their study on information gained at first hand.
‘As we have been working with authorities in the Forchheim region for ten years now, our research focuses on this region,’ explains Dr. Titel. He continues, however, that the findings are relevant on a much wider scale. The same applies to the topic of distance learning, which became highly relevant virtually overnight due to the coronavirus pandemic. The researchers therefore decided at short notice to devote a whole chapter of the study to digital education. ‘In spite of all the initial difficulties, the situation provided valuable impulses for how best to stimulate learning using digital tools and technologies,’ summarises project leader Dr. Volker Titel, who stresses that uncertainty is still rife in this area, among teachers and learners alike.
‘Media education is not a school subject on its own,’ Dr. Volker Titel continues. The results obtained by the team of researchers indicate that at the current time, the extent to which educational institutes incorporate media education into their already crammed timetable depends to a great extent on the dedication of specific individuals. Media education involves much more than warning children and young people of the dangers posed by the internet. Rather, it should also give children and young people the skills to decide which medium, whether analogue or digital, is most suited to the context in hand and how to use it as effectively as possible.
The team of researchers believe that an increase in the number of full-day places available at school and kindergarten is a step in the right direction. The additional time available in the afternoon would offer a chance to work on projects in this area without the added pressure of having to grade work. As an example, the researchers cited the forest project week of a kindergarten in the Forchheim region. As well as setting up a ‘forest corner’ with books to read and audiobooks to listen to in the kindergarten itself, the children took tablets out into the forest and used them to take photos. They then presented their work to their parents in an exhibition at the end of the project week. The children even designed the exhibition catalogue themselves.
‘This shows that media does not always have to be consumed passively, as often claimed by those who are against young children using media. Instead, a range of different media can be used to explore a topic actively and in depth,’ summarises Dr. Titel, adding that this is only possible ‘if you know how, in other words if you have the necessary media skills.’
All findings from the research project and recommendations for dealing effectively with analogue and digital media in classroom and preschool settings are summarised in a practical manual and coursebook. Whilst it is aimed at scholars, approximately 70 examples of ‘best practice’ have been included to give educators practical guidance.