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Guest Post by John Chase… Character Education: The Secret Benefit of Edtech and Media Literacy

Content Mastery vs. Self-Mastery

While mastery of content and literacy skills are important for career and college readiness, these performance standards are too often trumped or canceled out when a student or employee lacks a work ethic and has not developed a personal code of conduct. As a result, skilled and effective employees are too often terminated for inappropriate behaviors, comments, or exercising poor judgment.

Therefore, and now more than ever, students need activities and lessons focused on character education, digital citizenship, and media literacy… areas that may be more closely aligned than they initially seem to be.

That’s because our task as facilitators is to design non-routine and content-rich activities that stimulate the hearts as well as the minds of students while “allowing for a variety of routes toward completion.” This is especially true when it comes to the development of 21st century skills and the use of technology: the process is as equally important as the product.

So while we often think of media literacy education as involving an analysis of the values embedded in an external text, the crucial “media production” aspect of MLE allows students to examine their own values and how they exercise them (or don’t). In this sense, then, using media-related technology isn’t so much about students mastering a device or procedure so much as it is about mastering themselves first.

The Lessons of Frustration

Working with technology often requires patience and perseverance. When my students first begin working on media projects the most common complaint is “Somebody deleted my work!” or “My project is lost!”

Students quickly learn, however, the importance of good listening skills and following directions. I remind them to watch closely as I demonstrate, using a ceiling-mounted LCD projector, how to do what seem like simple things to you and me, such as properly naming and saving project files so that they’re stored on the correct school server.

So while technology can provide much-needed assistance, it can also be the source of great frustration. The list of potential problems or glitches is endless: can’t log in, the server is down, my computer just froze, can’t open the file, opened the file but can’t see the project, didn’t save my new work, etc.

Working with technology on a regular basis, therefore, helps students learn to expect the unexpected and recognize the importance of remaining focused and calm when confronted with a new challenge… and, of course, asking for help or guidance as needed.

And if that’s not character education, I don’t know what is.

Faith and Hope at the Beach

With this approach, students soon develop creative and effective problem-solving skills, and learn to be flexible in response to challenges. In some situations, even trial-and-error may be the best strategy in learning how to use the media program and achieve a desired effect in a particular video.

It soon becomes clear that collaboration, empathy, and initiative are also very important as one student will often volunteer to assist another. I always remind students when they assist someone to “show their work” and make sure they carefully explain the steps to take; that way they teach their classmates how to fix the problem or to create an “effect” in their video project… and not just do the work for them.

As another example, initial Web searches may be inefficient, unproductive, and time-consuming, but over time students become more experienced researchers and develop effective strategies for searching the Web such as phrasing a query in an optimal way, using alternate words/phrases when searching, evaluating the quality of Web sites, distinguishing facts and opinions, handling inappropriate sites and images, and so on.

credit: Brian Tofte-Schumacher

Recently my seventh grade students were using Google images to search for pictures for “9/11 Tribute” videos they were creating. Prior to searching we brain-stormed and identified helpful search terms and themes that would result in suitable images for their videos. The list of terms included words like hope, faith, courage, honor, sacrifice, perseverance, empathy, justice, interdependence, Ground Zero, The Pentagon, and World Trade Center.

Before they started searching I posed the question, “What should you do if your Google search for an image of faith/hope locates a picture of ‘Faith’ or ‘Hope’ sun-tanning at the beach?”

After some initial giggles we all agreed that a student should not announce this “find” to the class and call over friends for a closer look; rather, the student should continue searching and disregard such images or even consider rephrasing the query if the majority of images are not appropriate or suitable for the assigned task.

Beyond Bubbles

College and career readiness is not simply about understanding a McGraw-Hill textbook or filling in the right bubble on a standardized test, but knowing how to behave and cooperate with people in the classroom and on the job. Project-based learning, performance assessments, presentations, student portfolios and other forms of authentic assessment provide a more reliable, robust, and comprehensive means of documenting student achievement because they assess student performance and a collection of student works over an extended period of time.

Most importantly, an extended task generates valuable data regarding student character development. The finished project provides evidence of planning and preparation as well as how carefully the student followed directions. Projects and presentations help students to develop essential college and career skills including

  • time management
  • public speaking
  • problem-solving
  • creativity
  • decision-making
  • endurance
  • initiative
  • collaboration
  • communication
  • patience
  • persistence
  • resourcefulness
  • risk-taking
  • pride
  • and self-reliance.

Unfortunately, the impact and importance of the most vigorous and vibrant qualities of the Common Core—constructivism, media literacy, technology integration, project based learning, and performance assessment—are being de-emphasized because they don’t easily adapt or conform to the boilerplate format of a standardized test. Yet clearly students aren’t standardized, and neither are the careers of the 21st century. While content mastery of course indicates a readiness for college and careers, it is content of character that ultimately determines success on campus and in the workplace. Media and technology-based learning activities stimulate the hearts and minds of students while helping them to develop social and emotional skills that are essential for creative, meaningful, productive, and rewarding lives.


John Chase has been a 7-12 social studies teacher for 24 years. During that time he developed an art and media integration curriculum and program that helps young citizens to develop critical skills, essential for participation in a modern democratic society. In a broader sense, he is promoting music and media based education as means of “reaching” the growing number of disengaged and at-risk youth while preparing them for adulthood and employment.
Song-based lessons, media projects, and digital learning activities capture the interest of young people and provide opportunities for all students to succeed in the classroom. Concurrently, student self-esteem will increase as they begin to view themselves as competent and capable learners. All students can learn, but first you must get their attention.
Chase is also the founder and director of M.U.S.I.C., a non-profit 501(c)(3) publicly supported organization that promotes the educational use of songs by teachers in all subject areas, thereby extending the use and study of music beyond traditional General Music programs. Songs are a timeless expression of the human experience. They capture the history of events, ideas, and people that have shaped our pluralistic society. Song lyrics are an excellent teaching tool that will engage, inform, and inspire young people.
About Peter Gutierrez