George Lucas Educational Foundation
Communication Skills

Setting Up a Student Media Program in Your School

High school students can benefit from learning how to create different media in a responsible way.

April 18, 2024
Halfpoint / iStock

Given its ubiquitous nature, media plays a pivotal role in the day-to-day education of students. Media consumption by teens has been linked to declining mental health, raising the need for us to empower students as critical media consumers.

Jeremy Murphy, a multimedia teacher at San Jacinto High School, in San Jacinto, California, notes, “Students are constantly exposed to media messaging on all platforms, so understanding the decisions, processes, and ethical guidelines for effective media development can make them more discerning media consumers.” 

Moreover, let’s empower them to create meaningful, relevant media that tells their stories in positive ways. Beyond using media as texts or embedding media-making tasks, classrooms and schools can embrace student-led media programs. Doing so equips students with marketable, real-world skills for their future while helping them build critical thinking and media resilience skills today.      

Why Student-Led Media

David Gamberg, former superintendent of Southold and Greenport Schools in New York, says that while student TV broadcasting certainly gives students a voice in their high school, it does “so much more in the way of storytelling, digital citizenship, and even the civic engagement of any school community.”

The authentic skills that media courses build cannot be replicated in other classes, in part because media is meant to be shared. And when students know their work will be shared as part of the course objectives, the authentic audience infuses the project with more relevance: Real people—not just a teacher—will see this. It has to be good. Murphy explains that “by design, media courses require students to create products for public consumption. These are not just assignments that will only be seen by the teacher, but creative products that will be made available for public viewing. Publishing student media products requires students to approach projects responsibly and consider their audience during the development process.”  

Gamberg and Murphy both observe that student-led media encourages collaboration with the campus and local community, telling the stories of students, clubs, and other school organizations. Murphy expanded on this point, noting that student media teams may also “live stream athletic events and co-curricular activities, practicing all skills required of live broadcast event coverage” and allowing people in the community who cannot physically attend events to participate. 

How to get started

While creating a media course used to be a journey into expensive cameras and elite training, resources abound to help nearly anyone launch a media course or unit. With as little as a cell phone, you can support students in their quest to tell their stories and connect with relevant, meaningful content. 

A veteran of teaching media who has launched several student-led media programs, Murphy explains that more than money, you need “a group of students who are invested in starting a professional-level program. With a dedicated group of students, an effective media program can be established with little startup costs.” Many students have devices with high-quality video and audio, allowing anyone to capture pictures, audio, and video. 

Local and national media organizations provide primers and support to help any teacher—even those with little to no experience—support student media. PBS’s Student Reporting Labs hosts Storymaker, replete with how-tos, lesson plans, and advice for starting a media program. These tools allow any teacher to embed media-focused project-based learning into their curriculum or create a full media course from the ground up, no matter their personal level of expertise

Tap into existing school sites and social media accounts to share student-created content. Free sites such as Adobe Creative Cloud, YouTube, and Weebly also allow groups to post their media and share with their community.

While students are digital natives, they may be naive about digital citizenship. “The most important step is to help students navigate the ethical guidelines and legal responsibilities of media development,” Murphy says. “Once they have a good understanding of their media group mission, students can start telling the awesome stories around their campus and sharing those stories with the community.”  

Authentic Tasks, Authentic Feedback

The relevance of making media is matched by the authenticity of feedback that students receive on their work. “Since student products are available for public consumption,” Murphy says, “they will usually receive feedback on some of their projects during the course of the school year. The positive feedback is saved and shared with the whole group to help reinforce the validity of their student media program.” 

Since one goal of student media programs is creating authentic engagement, criticism and positive or negative feedback provide real-world opportunities to reflect on the work: Is the praise or criticism warranted? Why or why not? Is the criticism or praise specific? Does the feedback provide actionable changes or growth we can incorporate in the future? What makes the piece resonate (or not) with the audience? Overall, what type of feedback are we receiving? What pieces garner the most comments? The most positivity? The most negativity? Why?

Media organizations also offer opportunities for students to compete for recognition and air time. Student Reporting Labs airs student submissions on the PBS NewsHour; NPR hosts an annual podcasting challenge; and numerous local and regional student broadcasting competitions help honor and celebrate student media makers.

Broadcast Awards for Senior High (BASH) gathers submissions from student news broadcasts and provides feedback from media experts. Hosted by Hofstra University, BASH not only celebrates student work in multiple categories, but provides educators with training and support. For those without a broadcast course, the Student Television Network Challenge engages students in a weeklong challenge to produce content. 

Some takeaways

Reading and creating media are fundamental life skills that help students think and analyze information critically. Murphy has seen the power of media in his students: “Throughout their involvement in a student media program, students learn the value of storytelling, accurate reporting, clear messaging, and audience engagement.”

Former Superintendent Gamberg agrees: “Media programs are wonderful opportunities to give students the chance to learn hands-on in a real, authentic way. It’s consequential. It’s impactful. It gives them the chance to do something that’s meaningful to them.”

Students are awash in media, and AI promises to make the media landscape more difficult to traverse. We can let students drift and fend for themselves, or we can equip them with skills and teach them how to read and create media. We can give them the skills to discern and discriminate media and provide positive outlets for them to connect to their community. We can honor their stories and elevate their voices. Given the wealth of free resources and support systems available to all educators, the time to dive in and make media-making happen is now. 

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  • Communication Skills
  • Media Literacy
  • 9-12 High School

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