Making Media is derived from a project on practical media work with secondary-age students in London. The six cases studies which form its core are used to illustrate arguments for the teaching of media technologies and critical reflection within an all-embracing social context.
For teachers drawing on the assorted, sometimes conflicting, traditions that have influenced the development of media education for at least three decades, the authors are refreshingly aware of how hard it is, in practice, to get the balance right.
The book has an appealing honesty, subjecting both progressive education's undiscriminating enthusiasm for "learning by doing" and the steely, but influential, deconstructionism of the academic film journal Screen to the same fastidious scrutiny.
The introduction gives a brief historical sketch, highlighting the distinction made in the past between media production in the classroom and the critical analysis of media texts.
The case for ending the separation is the book's theme. The authors believe that the breakdown of the tension between "dominant" and "oppositional" practices - a tension underlying the aesthetic strategies of the film avant-garde of the 1970s and 80s - has rendered much traditional media theory obsolete. Simultaneously, they argue, the boundaries between media and other texts have become blurred. Nowadays young people no longer watch programmes, they watch television.
The six case studies are pertinent and fully contextualised. The questions raised about the value of group production in the study of the Inner London Education Authority's Cockpit Cultural Studies team illustrate the book's thoughtful, analytic approach. Well-intentioned egalitarianism which leaves groups of young people to find their own way with the camcorder may, in the end, be abdication rather than enfranchisement.
In another case, the uncritical use of production diaries or "logs" by GCSE candidates raises doubts about the value of this common form of written self-evaluation. As the authors comment, media teachers are wearily familiar with project diaries that make Adrian Mole look like Proust.
Although aimed at English and media teachers, Making Media should be read by all teachers working in the arts.
Repeated references to practices shared across art, drama and music reveal not only the paucity of our 19th-century model national curriculum but also the potential of transcending its arbitrary boundaries. As technology extends its influence across the timetable, media education may help us to do just that.