Media are merely vehicles that deliver instruction but do not influence student achievement any more than the truck that delivers our groceries causes changes in our nutrition (Clark 1983).
Take that, you teachers who use instructional technology in the classroom!
For those of us who study the effective and efficient use of instructional technology, Clark’s words are startling. Is this true?
As an instructor in Mass Communication, PR Track, I see a parallel question with education’s use of media and media used in communication/PR.
For trained communicators like me, one other name comes to mind — Marshall McLuhan. McLuhan is famous for saying, “the medium is the message.” The focus is on the medium itself not so much the content of the message.
It’s Clark versus McLuhan in a steel cage grudge match.
If Clark is correct, then what matters in education? Perhaps it’s the teacher, the quality of instruction, the subject matter, what is presented, but not necessarily how it is presented. Clark argues that the media teachers use only conveys instruction without helping student achievement.
If McLuhan is correct, then the message content is less important than the medium conveying it. That seems to fit with today’s fascination with social media. The traditional media that communication/PR professionals have used for decades now seems to be foresaken for social media.
But are communication/PR professionals missing something? My best friend Communication Consultant Extraordinaire Robert J. Holland thinks so. Writing in his blog, Communication at Work, Robert says:
Communicators are still drooling over social media. We want to know everything about it — everything, it seems — and we want to figure it out fast so all our peers will be in awe of us. And before long, we’ll realize that social media are pretty much like all the other communication vehicles out there and we’ll move on to the next thing. For now, however, we’re still in the high hormone stage.
I think Robert nails it. The communication/PR profession’s fascination with social media as the newest and greatest may blind us to the importance of the message and to a proper media mix.
But what about Clark’s bold statement about media and instruction? For educators like me, especially Mass Communication instructors and anyone who wishes to use instructional technology effectively, is the media we use that unimportant?
I don’t think so. I think the media we use is important in helping students learn. But as Robert B. Kozma (2001) says, “whether or not a medium’s capabilities make a difference in learning depends on how they correspond to the particular learning situation — the tasks and learners involved — and the way the medium’s capabilities are used by the instructional design.”
Back to communication/PR, where the (social) media is the message. Holland says:
Too many of us have become obsessed with social media, treating them as if they’re the last cute girl (or guy) that will ever come our way. It’s clouding our judgment and we’re losing our grasp of the fundamentals. I get that social media have changed communication forever. I get that social media have caused a significant shift in how organizations engage and interact with their stakeholders. I get that it’s important for communicators to have a working knowledge of social media including some technical skill. I understand social media’s impact and importance. Last summer I told my public relations students that the change in communication brought about by social media was like that of the Gutenberg press.
To summarize, here is the situation:
- In education, some argue that media merely conveys information without helping students learn.
- In communication/PR, some argue that the media, especially social media, is all-important.
For a communication/PR instructor like me, I must find common ground. I think that common ground is captured in the following, which I will call “Lester’s Manifesto”:
I will use instructional technology that helps me create a two-way symmetrical dialogue with my students to help them learn. I will use all relevant media that helps me teach my students successfully. Media in all forms are a tool, whether used by an educator or a communication/PR practitioner. Each medium has its own characteristics. Each has a proper use. No one medium is better than all the rest. In fact, I firmly believe that a well-thought-out media mix is always better than heavy use of a single medium, whether the use is in education or communication/PR.