This is the sixth article in a six-part series on the importance of the arts in education:
Intro | Visual arts | Dance | Drama | Music | Media arts

So far in this article series, we have looked at art disciplines that have existed in one form or another for ages — some even predating written history. The legacy of these arts gives them a power that we as humans can feel when we engage in them, whether by creating our own works or experiencing the creations of other artists.

Along with connecting us to the past, art can propel us into the future. Like other disciplines that have evolved over the course of the last half-century, the art world has witnessed significant changes.

Traditional arts like music and visual art can now been produced digitally. Previously nonexistent art forms have emerged to form a new category: media arts.

Media arts in education

New media arts is an innovative art form that gives modern storytellers new tools to continue the age-old oral tradition common to ancient cultures worldwide. It uses communications technologies such as television, film, video, newspapers, radio, video games, the internet and mobile media to convey the artist's message.

A simplified definition of media art is art on a screen.

Media arts encompasses a mind-blowing variety of products including but not limited to photography, graphics, music, video, animation, motion graphics, web design, interactive apps and game design; 3-D products, architecture and environments; radio, TV and internet broadcasting; virtual and augmented reality and virtual worlds.

Writers of the Australian Curriculum give the following rationale for media arts as a compulsory academic subject: "As an art form evolving in the 21st century, media arts enables students to use existing and emerging technologies as they explore imagery, text and sound and create meaning as they participate in, experiment with and interpret diverse cultures and communications practices."

As youth engage in media arts, they acquire a set of literate practices important to the acquisition of new media literacy, technology fluency and artistic expression that extend beyond scripted reading and writing curricula, traditional computer courses or media education, writes Kylie Peppler from the University of Indiana in her research paper.

Motivated by their personal interests, students are inspired to imagine and take on responsibilities in planning, designing and producing artwork for their media projects. These productions provide fertile ground for collaboration among students and the opportunity to practice the skill sets inherent to group work.

Key roles for teachers

Initially, students learn technical production skills, such as framing and composing a shot, recording sound and editing image and soundtracks, as well as how to incorporate visual and sound effects, explains Ben Goldsmith, senior research fellow at Queensland University of Technology in the Conversation. Such skills enable students to recognize how media works are constructed.

In comparison to other arts, the study of media arts has the potential advantage of exploiting skills many young people already possess due exposure to technology at an early age. Such students may be able to easily manipulate the tools to get their message across more immediately, allowing them to focus on other aspects of the task such as collaboration or design.

Teachers can then guide these students on a more conceptual level compared to working with them on developing basic skills equivalent to doing contour line drawings or finger placements on the strings of a guitar.

Along these same lines, not all students come from families with the economic means to expose their children to mobile media and the like. Leveling the playing field to provide accessibility for students from disadvantaged backgrounds is a key reason why digital education should be compulsory in primary and secondary education.

Even in cases where young people informally develop extraordinary capabilities with digital media content and devices, they still need formal guidance in the ethical use and implications of social media, emphasizes Goldsmith. Unlike any other time in history, students find themselves bombarded with images, and teachers must take on the job of teaching them skills they can use to weed through this slew of messages.

It is difficult to keep the practice of media arts separate from the theme of media literacy the two complement each other. It's critical that students are given the tools to scrutinize how media is used commercially and central to how they make sense of the world and of themselves.

Through this analysis, they can more thoughtfully develop their own intentions and practices for what they produce. Their hands-on experience as critical thinkers and innovative creators makes them savvier consumers.

Forging important connections

In addition to creating their own productions, media arts gives students the vehicle to connect with and share their stories with other students around the world. This creates synergy between young people, helping them develop empathy and cross-cultural understanding.

"Having a real audience for one's work is a significant teaching tool that fosters excitement, investment and pride in students," according to the Streetside Stories website. "It also leverages the benefits of global connectivity by allowing students to communicate with other classrooms around the world."

By nature, media arts is intrinsically interdisciplinary. Any issue or theme from another academic discipline or that draws a student's interest can become the subject of a new media production. A graduating senior interviewed in a College Board publication on the arts shared how he was able to do a 20-minute documentary video involving a lot of research and interviews for his urban geography class instead of writing a final paper.

"This kind of learning is really important to me because I get to be involved in issues in the community, rather than just learning facts from a book," explained the student who attends an arts-rich high school. "When you are using art to learn, it sticks with you because you remember the art you made, and that helps you remember other parts of the learning."

As a sort of conglomerate art, new media arts promises a bold future as new technologies emerge and join the mix. Its potential as a teaching tool appears unlimited making it a powerful subject best taken seriously.