Interview with Colin Scheyen, author of Beyond Media Literacy
Late 2014 Robert Runté, Five Rivers’ Senior Editor, finalized a contract with Colin Scheyen, one of his former grad students, for a book which had its genesis as Scheyen’s Masters project at Athabasca University.
|ISBN 9781927400876, 6 x 9 Trade Paperback, $12.99
eISBN 9781927400883 $4.99
Beyond Media Literacy: New Paradigms in Media Education, is a fabulous little teaching guide for educators from middle school to university, even adult education. It’s a refreshing, accessible, completely relevant window into what can be an overwhelming and confusing sphere, that of media literacy.
Who is Colin Scheyen, and why is he qualified to write this teaching guide?
Colin Scheyen is an award-winning filmmaker and educator. Much of his work focuses on issues of media literacy and social justice. As an educator, he has worked in both the public and private education systems in Canada and the United States to provide learning opportunities for some of North America’s most under-served communities. He received a B.Ed from the University of Alberta, a B.A. in English from the University of Calgary, and a M.A. in Educational and Cultural Studies from Athabasca University.
Colin’s work as a filmmaker is an extension of his work as an educator. Nuclear Hope (2015), a film that discusses Canada’s nuclear waste issues, won the Rising Star Award at the Canada International Film Festival. More Than a Rhyme (2013), which explores youth identity through hip hop music, received many accolades and has been screened throughout Ontario.
Colin is currently the coordinator of the Studio2 program at East Metro Youth Services in Toronto, Ontario. This innovative program provides opportunities for youth to explore their own creative voice through film, photography, graphic design, and recording arts.
Colin was part of developing curriculum that has been used by the Government of Alberta and multiple colleges throughout New York City, including an online curriculum that empowered international engineers and accountants with the skills necessary to succeed in the Canadian workforce.
5R: Why write this book? What prompted you to create such a detailed book about teaching media literacy in the classroom?
CS: Being a teacher is hard work. Not only are you expected to educate overcrowded classrooms for six to eight hours a day, but you are expected to be a disciplinarian, a counselor, a supervisor, and an entertainer. On top of all of this you also have to be an expert in just about anything. There is an enormous amount of pressure on educators to be everything to everyone, and I don’t think it has to be this way.
I felt this pressure when I worked in the school system and I wanted to show teachers that it doesn’t have to be this way. There are in fact more meaningful ways of educating and working with young people that doesn’t require us to wear all of these hats. In fact the only hat we need to wear is our own.
5R: How do you get from documentary filmmaker to teaching media literacy?
CS: It’s actually the other way around. I went from an education background to documentary filmmaker because I see so many parallels between the two. Documentary films, at least the good ones, are rooted in reality and explore issues in the real world. Pedagogy is the same thing.
5R: How do you respond to people who refuse to embrace modern technology and media?
CS: We are very fortunate to live in an era where basic literacy like reading and writing is free for everyone. However, our society has also evolved into a new era where these tools are not enough. We need to treat media literacy as the new fundamental building blocks of how we communicate with one another.
But I should also add that this is not enough. Just because you keep up with all of the latest gadgets from Apple and Samsung does not make you media literate either. Literacy means READING and WRITING. We read media messages all the time, but how many times do we write media on a daily basis? How many times do we create and explore our own voices? The answer for young people and adults is the same: not as much as we need to.
5R: How important do you feel it is to be literate in media technologies, and beyond that, in social media?
CS: Being media literate today is as important as being able to read and write 50 years ago. This extends far beyond social media or another other digital platforms. But it’s also important to note that none of these technologies will ever completely change the world. People change the world, not technology and we need to engage young people to be active participants in their own communities. Digital media is a great way to do this because it helps us connect to one another and tell our own stories, but we always need to remember that it is people who steer the ship, not technology.
5R: What impact do you see modern media having upon society?
CS: I think Marshall McLuhan said it best when he said that “we shape our tools and thereafter our tools shape us.” There has become a very elegant relationship between the directions our society has taken and our relationship to the tools that have helped us to get there. But make no mistake, these tools only reflect the best and worst in all of us. If we foster a culture of consumption and self-interest, our tools will reflect those interests. If we foster a society of comradery, compassion, and solidarity, then I can assure you that our tools will be there too to help us do that.
So the answer to your question is not found in the multimedia platforms that we have created. They are found in the ways that all of us engage with one another on a daily basis. Educators who are interested in diving deep into this digital world need to be careful that they don’t get distracted from what is really important: conversations, stories, honest dialogue and kinship. These are what will make the world a better place.