April 2017: M-Passioned Member Josh Weisgrau

Josh Weisgrau, Photo by Bengt Williams, Edited by Andrew Nadkarni

Josh Weisgrau, Photo by Bengt Williams, Edited by Andrew Nadkarni

1) What do you do?
I am the Program Director for Maker Learning at Digital Promise, a national non-profit working to accelerate innovation in education. In that capacity I work with programs like the Learning Studios, the filmMAKER Challenge, the 360 Filmmakers Challenge, and Maker Promise. My work as an educator has always focused on facilitating experience that allow students to be creators, storytellers, makers, and designers.

Before joining Digital Promise I helped develop the makerspace and making programs at Friends’ Central School where I also taught Photography, Media Studies, Computer Science, and Technical Theater, just to name a few of the many courses and extracurricular offerings. I am a co-founder of Rough Cut Schools, through which I engaged in consulting and advocating for media literacy through production in schools around the world.

I have a B.A. in theater from Wesleyan University and a Masters of Liberal Arts with a focus in Media and Cultural Studies from Temple University.

2) Tell me about your latest work or project in media literacy.
Even though my current work is identified as being in the area of maker education, media production (and the literacy skills that can be built through that process) are an important, and often overlooked part of th

at. One project in which I have tried to make that connection explicit is the filmMAKER Challenge, that asks students to not only invent or improve a product, but to make a video about it – because “even the best ideas fail to make an impact if they can’t be shared with the world.” Similarly we emphasize digital storytelling and visual communication in the resources and projects featured in the Learning Studios program, aimed at building social entrepreneurship skills with students around the world.

In the 360 Filmmakers Challenge, we have worked with 30 schools around the country to engage students as 360 degree filmmakers. 360 filmmaking is incredibly new and different as compared to traditional filmmaking and it’s really interesting to see how natural it is for kids while often being harder to conceive of for teachers trained in creating traditional media. I see this program as the equivalent of if we had given a group of students movie cameras in the 1920’s and asked them to help write the rules for this new medium.

3) Why is media literacy important to you?
Right now it is more important than ever for kids (and adults) to be able to think about and think with media – both as critical consumers and as thoughtful producers. Those two skills are entirely linked so understanding things like how to determine accuracy and bias in news reporting, requires an understanding of how news is made; while being able to produce a narrative film requires and understanding not only of the technical elements but of how that may be perceived by different audiences.

Understanding audience is one of the key places where my work in design-centered learning and media literacy intersect most clearly. In design we teach students to always work from the perspective of their user and in media we take in the perspective of the audience. In fact, audience is one of the three main values of maker learning that I advocate for.

4) What are you most excited about in the media literacy field?
I am excited that after years of moving further and further into standardization and rote learning, schooling in the United States is finally (albeit slowly) turning to personalization and creative learning. As educators look for tools and technologies to support this new media become a vehicle for teachers and students to create and share in unique and interdisciplinary ways.

Equally as important is a global need for building empathy and perspective taking skills with the next generation of leaders and citizens. The potential for leveraging audience-aware creative projects to build those skills has never been as strong as it is now, when we need it most.

5) Why did you become a NAMLE member, what benefits do you see to membership, and how will it support your work?
Networks are the key to professional learning and growth. There is no greater resource than other people thinking about and working on the same challenges you are. Discussing both shared and differing viewpoints as critical friends leads to ideas and approaches that no person could develop on their own. There is no better network to find new friends in the field of media education than NAMLE.

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