Generation Prosumer

Have you come across the term prosumer?

Well, this is an amalgamation of producer and consumer; production and consumption, produce and consume. On the web these days (because of what became known as web 2.0 technology) anyone can create and add content. So many of us both produce and consume digital content, hence prosumer 

This is something which in education can be related to student-generated content; something that I have a great interest in, in pedagogical terms. So much educational content is produced for consumption. By publishers for students, manipulated and facilitated / delivered by teachers. Or created by teachers themselves. It’s often described as passive consumption (particularly when it’s being derided), but it isn’t necessarily so. It depends, of course, on the teachers and the lesson activities.

The thing is, it really is very easy nowadays to produce good quality digital content. But does this happen in enough classrooms? CAN this happen in enough classrooms? Should it? To what extent is non-digital production any less valuable? What if the non-digital work becomes digital when it is somehow ‘captured’?

Is there enough value in introducing digital projects and student-generated content to ELT courses, particularly for younger learners? And if so, where is the value and how can this content production be made most effective?

OK, I’ll stop with the rhetorical questions, just thinking out loud.

Most of us are now prosumers. Loads of people have devices that they can use to capture images, audio and video and billions of these are being shared online daily. Some stay around a while and some disappear within a limited time. Some go viral. But the fact is, a massive amount of content is being added everyday to the web. Most of it is rubbish. Or at least highly personal and irrelevant to anyone else but the creator, or perhaps the creators personal group of friends, contacts or ‘connections’.

But what of education? Increasingly we are being told that students must master certain skills, 21st century skills. These are of utmost importance to their future, we are told. Everyone has to demonstrate creativity, because it’s the only thing they have to offer. Just remembering stuff and knowing things is pointless. Anyone can find out anything if they know where to look. So we, you, they, have to offer something more. Apparently. If you are not creative, robots will steal your job.

A huge amount of online content – the stuff added most everyday – is video. YouTube gets 300 hours of new video a minute. That means, apparently, that everyone has to become ‘visually literate’ and have the ability to interpret and critically analyse visual content, whether still or moving. And not only that. Students have to learn how to become digital storytellers, using videos and images to express themselves and to explain ideas.

How true is this? It’s something I’ve been thinking about quite a lot.

It’s interesting to notice that many people suggesting that this is the case have something to gain from it, whether that’s people buying their content, accessing their websites, going to their conferences or using their apps. Or visiting their blog. But that is not to say it’s wrong.

In terms of ELT, I think that in the scramble to promote the idea of students creating digital stuff (which I often do myself), by recommending apps and projects, it’s easy to forget, or just fail to notice, where the value lies. As a result, complicated or time-consuming projects are designed with apps that are not really fit for purpose, just to get the students producing something. I’d like to think I try to keep this in mind.

For me, the value can lie in both the process and the product. However, in a monolingual classroom, to what extent do students use the target language enough during the project process to really make that stage pedagogically valuable? In my experience, not that much, but perhaps I was just really bad at classroom management! In multilingual classrooms, such as in summer schools, this can happen much more easily. I had a wonderful time doing projects with multilingual classroom at summer schools and some of them were highly memorable and very successful; hopefully for the students as well as me!

But if the value cannot often be found in the process, then what of the product? Well, a focus in ELT should be on actually using the language, shouldn’t it? As a result, is it better to record a one minute audio conversation, or use a very simple app with image plus voice; or is it useful to spend ages choosing video clips, designing a cartoon, or creating an avatar, in order to then get a bit of language production?

What about doing a simple task regularly, rather than a complex task rarely?

There is certainly the question of motivation. Writing a dialogue and recording it, or recording yourself talking about a picture, isn’t as interesting or motivating, perhaps, as making a video. But if the course is 2 hours a week in class and about 1 hour of homework, is there enough value in the motivation side of things, or of the focus on ‘new’ literacies – digital or visual – or 21st Century skills, to merit spending time on project work not directly related to language learning? And not everyone enjoys tinkering with digital media, not even all teenagers.

Content produced by students can be shared online, giving the work a potentially greater audience than the classroom walls, or just the teacher. Material can be added to blogs, wikis, or social media pages. Students can have e-portfolios; essentially a bank of data for assessment and self-reflection. There are many potential areas of value in projects that result in student-generated digital content.

This is all pedagogy related, of course. But publishers think differently. Having digital projects to cover new literacies and 21st Century skills will sell new courses and help to update older ones to keep them on the market. Perhaps without the inclusion of these things, the courses won’t even sell at all in some markets. As a result, I don’t think these things are going away any time soon.

Anyway, these are all things that I’ll keep thinking about! If you have your own thoughts or opinions, let me know below.

Thanks for reading.

Image credit: Wesley Fryer on Flickr

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