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In Defense of Media Studies

Caroline Bagshaw | Monday December 05, 2011

Categories: Hot Entries, Understanding Media, iTraining, Templates, Staffroom, Why Media Studies?, The Case for Media Studies

Associated Resources

This information is designed to be used to clarify questions concerning Media Studies. You will need to alter various sections to suit your centre.

How do we judge if a subject is easy or difficult? Condemnation of Media Studies reflects a fundamental confusion about its aims…

…If anything is a symptom of dumbing down, it is the willingness of politicians and pundits to pronounce on things they know nothing about. But why would they bother to find out? It is so much more convenient for them to represent Media Studies as just a matter of ignorant chavs sitting around watching telly.

Much of the discussion of Media Studies reflects a fundamental confusion about its aims. On the one hand, it is chided for being not vocational enough: …yet on the other, it is condemned for not being academic enough.

But how might these arguments apply to other subjects? Do we judge the value of English degrees on whether they equip students to become professional literary critics? In fact, the employment rate of Media Studies graduates is higher than in most other humanities and social science subjects; and most of them are getting jobs in media-related professions, however precarious they may be.

The charge of being insufficiently academic is one that Media Studies students – who routinely struggle with the complexities of social and cultural theory – would find quite ridiculous. The academic study of the media dates back more than 80 years, and there is a vast body of scholarship on the sociological, psychological, cultural and economic dimensions of the media.

Indeed, there are many academics researching and teaching about the media at Oxford and Cambridge, and at most leading “old” universities. Meanwhile, competition for places on Media Studies degrees is intense, with required grades often much higher than for other subjects.

How do we judge whether a subject is easy or difficult? Is art difficult? For some it is as easy as breathing, but for others it is something they will always struggle to master. For some, maths must seem like a soft option, while for others it will forever remain a closed book.

The suspicion of Media Studies is very similar to that which greeted sociology in the 1960s, or English literature in the 1920s. Then, the suggestion that young people might study books in their native language rather than just in ancient Greek and Latin was little short of scandalous.

Now, the idea that young people might study the media of modern communication seems equally scandalous. Newspapers have been around for more than 250 years, the cinema for more than 100 and television for more than 60. Perish the thought that schools should recognise, and interrogate, their existence.

This suspicion is fuelled by some who work in the media, but who seem to regard what they do as somehow unworthy of serious critical attention. Or perhaps they find such attention threatening?

By all means let’s have a serious debate about how we teach Media Studies, and what it can achieve. But that debate needs to be based on more than ignorance and narrow-minded prejudices about modern culture.

David Buckingham, The Guardian, Saturday 22 August 2009

“Don’t let your boy’s schooling interfere with his Education ~ teach them strange things about the world around them that all the long terms at Harrow and Winchester have failed to discover to them.? (Attrib. Mark Twain)

I think one of the most crucial elements of Media Studies A Level is that it is a key subject for teaching the

transferable skills

which students will need in the 21st Century.  The children we are teaching now are likely to have a number of careers during their working life, as the job-for-life only still exists for perhaps medicine, dentistry, veterinary - and even in these areas transferable skills are important.  Media Studies combines the academic with the creative and is almost unique as a subject in the range of these transferable skills which the subject allows our students to develop:

  • Plan and arrange events and activities (filming done off-site without the teachers’ presence)
  • Delegate responsibility (joint projects, where elements such as filming / editing / sound are allocated out)
  • Motivate others (production relies on successful team-building)
  • Attend to visual detail (In analysing the work of others, considering visual detail is a major part of what we do.  In their own work they lose marks if there are inconsistencies or lack of visual cohesion)
  • Assess and evaluate my own work (we’re always editing and improving in Media; A-level coursework includes an evaluation of their own products)
  • Assess and evaluate others’ work (one of the main Assessment Objectives of A Level Media)
  • Deal with obstacles and crises (production work rarely goes to plan…)

Media Studies | What the Russell Group Universities Say…

Facilitating subjects:

  • The Russell Group of the “top 20? academic universities have identified some subjects as “facilitating?
  • These are: Maths, English Literature, Physics, Biology, Chemistry, Geography, History, Languages
  • “If you are thinking of taking more than 2 subjects which are not facilitating subjects? then you might not be looking at the Russell Group of Universities
  • For the Russell Group the advice is that you should be looking to study A Levels in “at least 2 of the facilitating subjects?

Do universities prefer certain advanced level subjects over others?

There are many rumours about subjects being regarded as ‘hard’ or ‘soft’ and different people will have differing opinions on the matter.

In general, subjects referred to as being ‘hard’ are more traditional and theoretical subjects, for example: English, History, Physics and Chemistry. In fact all the facilitating subjects listed earlier (see Informed Choices Leaflet link below) can be considered ‘hard’ with the addition of others such as Economics and Politics.

‘Soft’ subjects are usually subjects with a vocational or practical bias, for example: Media Studies, Art and Design, Photography and Business Studies. However, there is no set definition of a ‘hard’ and ‘soft’ subject.

Generally speaking, students who take one ‘soft’ subject as part of a wider portfolio of subjects do not experience any problems applying to a Russell Group university. The Russell Group of Universities ~ Informed Choices leaflet, available at www.russellgroup.ac.uk

What can I do next with A Level Media Studies?

Last year our Media students went on to degree courses including the following:

  • Computer Science at Coventry
  • English Language and Literature at Nottingham (Russell Group)
  • English at University of Cumbria
  • Fashion Journalism at University of Arts, London
  • Illustration at Lincoln
  • Marine Conservation at Exeter
  • Media Communications at Liverpool (Russell Group)
  • Media Communications at Glamorgan
  • Philosophy at Leeds (Russell Group)
  • Philosophy at York
  • Psychology at Aberystwyth
  • Psychology and Philosophy at Nottingham (Russell Group)
  • Public Relations at University of Arts, London

This year, A2 students are applying for degree courses including:

  • History of Art
  • Computer Sciences
  • Media and Communication Studies
  • Electronic Engineering

What results do our students achieve in Media Studies?

A2 results in 2011

  • X% of our students achieved Y (eg. A*-C)
  • X% of our students achieved A*

A2 results in 2010

  • X% of our students achieved Y
  • X% of our students achieved the new A* grade

Oxford University’s Centre for Research into News Media

The Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism was established in autumn 2006, with core funding from the Thomson Reuters Foundation, and is part of the Department of Politics and International Relations at the University of Oxford. At the heart of the Institute is the long-standing Thomson Reuters Fellowship Programme for visiting journalists, now in its 28th year, and based at Green Templeton College. The Institute builds on this tradition and is now a university research centre of excellence.

It marks Oxford University’s commitment to create an international research centre in the comparative study of journalism. Anchored in the recognition of the

key role of independent media in open societies

and the

power of information in the modern world

(from http://reutersinstitute.politics.ox.ac.uk/)

The stories they are covering look awfully similar to those I’m currently addressing with my Media students.

Further Information

  • We run the AQA exam board A Level in Media Studies (www.aqa.org.uk)
  • The course is currently taught by two highly experienced Media and English teachers, both of whom have marked and moderated for exam boards for a number of years, are published authors, and offer outreach training to other schools
  • 50% of the course is theoretical; 50% of the course is practical
  • The majority of our students haven’t done the subject at GCSE