Are you Facebooking for the future or still watching Breaking bad? – Experiencing the theory and the visual to comprehend history of the media

Hilary Cunliffe-Charlesworth @hilary_cunliffe and Joan Ramon Rodriguez-Amat – Sheffield Hallam University

Every academic subject has a ‘wicked topic’ – one that forms the basis of the curricula and is perceived by students as ‘challenging’ in other-words, a topic they are not interested in when they come to learn it.  Academic staff refer to such modules as ‘killer modules’ for whoever delivers the module, and however engaging that person is, the feedback from students is that they disliked the module.

The arrival and use of Technology Enhanced Learning has provided another set of tools for the lecturer to use to engage and enable learning.  In particular social media with it’s immediacy and that students already interact using social media would seem to offer a set of solutions to enable students to gain learning.  Initiatives to persuade staff to use social media as part of their teaching, voice the notion of social media offering a contemporary and more facilitative format of interaction that sits along side existing teaching methods, or replaces them.

In this presentation we will give you the views of our students as well as comparing the results with those of previous iterations of our ‘challenging’ module. Our area is Media studies, an academic subject that evolved from communications theories, sociology and the broader humanities of English, Drama and Film studies.  Modules on Media Studies look at the range of institutions that control the media, and evaluate media representations, the changing media landscape internationally (globalization), together with modules on topics such as representations of gender or science, along side more modules that relate to photography, journalism and public relations, some with a particular practical application such as the production of a short documentary radio programme.

When students enter the first year they undertake a module History of the Media. As a syllabus this is standard – providing students with a grounding in the history of books, newspapers, advertising, telephony, computers and the internet.  Each week the topic is considered through a chronology, with the students being asked to undertake a group presentation and reflection followed by an essay on a set topic (such as the rise of book publishing in the 19th century and what impact did this have on the manner of newspaper reporting.

This paper considers what happens when an existing module continues to deliver the same academic content, but employs the use of social media (Face Book and Twitter) to engage the students with the history of media and how the contemporary world reflects the issues of the past.

As tutors taking on this module we respected the detailed research and context of the previous module tutors, but were interested to see what impact, if any, the introduction of a small amount of social media would have, in changing the perspectives of the student to the topic.

In the first week the board subject was introduced and in the seminars the challenge of looking at the history of the subject was addressed. For students subject of the history of the subject was not seen as relevant or pertinent and they called history ‘boring’. The students showed confidence in that they voiced questions about why they had to learn about the history of the topic .  We responded by noting that history is not just about the past but the lessons and repetitions of the past in contemporary times.  Some disliked the breadth of the topic as it seems very extensive and they had little or know understanding of the chronology of the past. It all seemed ‘very distant’ and was unrelated to what they came to university to learn. They were clearly engaged in what the media today is, and how it is represented, and its importance to society in the 21st century.  The ‘history’ appeared to be a barrier to them learning about topics that excited them.  In part, this related to the current UK school curricula presenting history in a comparatively small themed range. While the numbers of students undertaking GCSE level history has remained stable then grown with a slight decrease over the last 20 years  between 22,000 and 26,000 ( the number of student taking the module with  A level History seemed on a show of hands slender. [Figure being compiled.] The topics are predominantly about political history with social contexts.   Indeed, for this and previous cohorts,  the GCSE subject of history was an option.  However, the AQA GCSE syllabus includes a Unit on Media and Mass Communication Through Time looking predominantly as press 1900 then to the present ( The A level Media syllabus is taken by small numbers and cover researching media topics  and creating media products. In the last 20 years the numbers being examined at GCSE level in Media/Film/TV Studies has grown in 2002 from 34812 to a peak in 2008 of 69823, to 62352 candidates in 2015. ( . Thus it can be seen that Media has significantly more candidates than history.