“With a shared goal in mind, groups of people with vastly different backgrounds and life experiences can come together to create something meaningful and substantial in a short amount of time.” (Student reflection, Salzburg Academy on Media and Global Change)
In reflecting on their experiences, a former student cut to the core of what drives the Salzburg Academy on Media and Global Change (also referred to as the Academy), an experimental and immersive media pedagogy project born in 2007. Based at the Salzburg Global Seminar in Austria, the Academy brought together undergraduate and graduate students for an intensive residential program focused on experimenting with media for social change. The program ran for over a decade, until it was forced to go on hiatus in 2020 due to the Covid-19 pandemic. By that time, more than 1,000 students and 300 faculty and guest scholars had participated in the Media Academy.
Born out of the experiences at the Academy and a process of collective reflection, the Transformative Media Pedagogies edited book (Routledge 2021) explores the concept of individual and collective transformation as the underlying driver for dynamic learning experiences that support equitable and just civic futures. Edited by Paul Mihailidis, Sangita Shresthova, and Megan Fromm, the book brings together scholars and practitioners who shaped the Academy over the years to share and reflect on specific processes and practices that inform its pedagogical approaches, with a look toward how what was learned in a specific place can travel across space, even in virtual or hybrid environments.
Faculty, practitioners and students representing institutions from 30 different countries met every three weeks in Salzburg over a 12 year period to practice critical inquiry and creative production, and explore the impact of media systems and structures on civic cultures around the world. From the moment they confirmed their participation, the students were exposed to a broad range of theoretical and practical approaches to media, social change, global citizenship, and other related subject areas. Just as importantly, they also became part of an immersive transformative learning experiment that mingled the formal with the informal to challenge their assumptions and expectations and allow them to see the “world through a different lens”.
On the more formal side, they read and discussed scholarly writing, attended lectures, participated in workshops, and worked in small groups to negotiate and create media-centered projects completed as a culminating moment of their time at Salzburg. On the less formal but equally important side, the students connected in social settings, in informal gatherings, and at off-site excursions, which included a boisterous talent show and a visit to a Third Reich concentration camp. Both the formal and informal programming, combined with collaborative media creation, were crucial to the transformative process, giving, in the words of one of the students, “everyone the space to exist”.
Moving beyond the specifics of the Media Academy, what do transformative media pedagogies offer teachers, educators and practitioners in the current moment?
Transformative media pedagogies center embodied presence with others, and the pursuit of emancipatory and liberatory social change grounded in care for others, imaginative alternatives, and agentive action-tracking towards positive social change. Three value constructs anchor these approaches:
Care – Establishing deep relational care is fundamental to the learning environment. This care needs to be nurtured and supported through formal and informal programming choices. In practice, this includes activities that destabilize beliefs, foreground authentic informal encounters, and build empathy through shared embodied experiences.
Imagination – Imagining alternative forms of participation, structures of engagement, and pathways to advocacy moves people beyond the limitations they perceive in their everyday lives. This process is supported through exercises that encourage shifts in perspective taking, worldbuilding, and immersive storytelling.
Agency – An aspirational goal, agency sits at the intersection of how we understand our place in the world, and what capacities we have to act to support the ideas we value. Students are encouraged to reflect on their ability to take action through joyful cultural and creative practices as well research and user-centered design.
While the book takes into account competencies and skills, the real focus is on mapping learning pathways that support empowered and collaborative media makers and storytellers focused on positive social impacts in the world. As such, this book will be of interest to media educators, researchers, practitioners, and entrepreneurs seeking to implement transformative media pedagogies that support equitable and just civic futures.
To dig in deeper and learn more, you can watch the Transformative Media Pedagogies book launch that took place on February 16, 2022.
Transformative Media Pedagogies is available for purchase with a discount using the flyer below.
Guest blog post by Sangita Shresthova, Director of Research and Programs and Co-PI of the Civic Paths Group at USC