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Thinking and teaching “beyond the screen”: Looking at the role of multimedia in English classrooms in 2016

Jan 2016 Beyond the ScreenThe following post was written by Antero Garcia, president and co-founder of the SLAM assembly. 

I want to invite you to the next #NCTEchat this Sunday at 8 p.m. est on Twitter. Hosted by the brand new NCTE Assembly on the Studies of Literacies and Multimedia (SLAM), I am hoping we can talk about how we utilize multimedia in our classrooms, but with a fairly significant caveat: I want us to think beyond the screen.

Let me explain.

In the mid-‘90s, when I was still a high school student, I remember the occasions that my English teacher wrangled our talkative class and trudged us to the hallowed walls of the school’s computer lab. The room’s electronic hums and darkened lighting welcomed students to focus on the centerpiece of cutting edge technology at the school: flickering screens, mice, and… the Internet. As a class, we would be guided through what are now the most elementary of online functions: seeking information and utilizing these online sources of text and images within documents that would eventually be printed out.

Looking back, these gigantic, blinking boxes felt magical: their squid-like tendrils plugging them into power and into the broader World Wide Web. These computers were, for me, a form of director J.J. Abrams’s “mystery box.”

In the two decades since these memories, the role of computers and screens of digital information in schools continues to evolve. Most specifically, these devices have gotten closer in terms of access and ubiquity in the lives of our students today. If not retrieving laptops from a cart in the back of your classroom, students may likely be pulling school-purchased tablets from their backpacks, or even leveraging mobile devices in their pockets as part of a bring-your-own-device plan. Clearly, abundant forms of learning with digital devices are available in classrooms and schools today.

And yet, multimedia is not limited to simply things that can be downloaded, clicked on, animated. From exploring powerful transmedia narratives in comic books to supporting youth music production to designing and playing games that don’t require an electronic console (such as sports games, tabletop board games, card games, social games, and alternate reality games), the term “multimedia” means so much more than just the digital stuff that is filtered to us via screens.

While we may often be hyper-aware of the digital demands in our classrooms, I believe that multimedia tools should be utilized in ways that foster powerful relationships between students, teachers, and the larger school community. As such, what relationships do you foster vis-à-vis the multimedia used in your classroom? As the new SLAM assembly launched at the last annual meeting in November, I am hopeful that this branch of NCTE can continue to shape the ways multimedia are utilized in English classrooms, digitally and non-digitally, for powerful and critical purposes.

Yes, it may feel a bit hypocritical to spend an hour of your Sunday staring at a screen in order to engage in our conversation. However, I am hopeful that we can launch another year of amazing #NCTEchats with this SLAM-hosted conversation.