How to develop students' media skills

10th October 1997 at 01:00
Picture Power. CD-Rom for Multimedia, PC and Apple Mac; Pounds 24.95 (Pounds 49.95 for five copies). English and Media Centre. 136 Chalton Street, London NWI 1RX. Tel: 0171 383 0488.

Every picture tells a story, the saying goes. A new CD-Rom from the English and Media Centre, called Picture Power, is designed to highlight how pictures can be used to tell different stories with different meanings, depending on how the images are used.

Many teachers of English and media studies will already be familiar with the materials contained in the book Picture Power, which was published last year. This CD-Rom brings those materials to life in a dynamic way by allowing students to make five still-image movies with music, captions and their own soundtracks in a short space of time. The beauty of the program lies in its simplicity - students focus on the main task, which is to discuss and reflect on the issues surrounding the choice of particular images to tell a story.

The first screen presents you with five choices of photo-story. They range from the domestic to the dramatic, with one story including striking images from the demonstrations. against the Criminal Justice Bill in 1994. The images on the screen appear in thumbnails, so that you can see each one. The images are quite small in this view, but they give you a good idea and can be looked at in close-up. Once you have selected the picture you want, it is simply dragged to a film-strip and becomes part of a film sequence. Each story has a selection of appropriate music to choose from and a choice of transitions. There is a facility for adding your own captions, and students can include their own voice-overs if there is a microphone attached to the computer. Finally, your choice of sound and pictures can be played all the way through, as in a movie.

This is a program designed to be used by small groups of students, since discussion of where to place images would be crucial to the learning experience. All stories can be saved or printed out and viewed in a storyboard sequence. Sharing the story with the rest of the class and justifying choices would be easy, and there's a comprehensive Readme file. The technical guidelines included in this file are also clear and easy to follow. The program has a clear visual help feature, which explains all its main features, and for each story there are resources to guide teachers and students into ways to approach each story - a valuable addition.

The CD-Rom also includes all the images and text from the English Centre Materials Choosing the News, which teachers can use to support children's understanding of editorial choice and layout using desktop publishing programs.

The expansion of media courses at A-level and GCSE has confirmed a need for resources to develop skills of image analysis and visual literacy. We are operating in an age where new literacies are developing, and students need guidance in how to consider images critically. This CD-Rom brings the work that the English and Media Centre has done into a new era and is a must for any department teaching English, communications or media studies.

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