Welcome to “Shaping Media”, Larisa and Raine.

Some introductory notes

A medium is not restricted to being a technical device, like a radio, a newspaper or a browser. Any conceptual space that enables us to identify, interpret and generate signs in a specific, meaningful manner can be seen as a medium. “Speech”, “text”, “hypertext/multimedia” are examples; cultural concepts like “School”, “Therapy”, “Art” or “Journalism” may be also conceptual media, changing over time and culture in their definition and possibilities.

Some media theoretical tenets of pedagogical media theory:

  • We cannot communicate outside, or without a medium.
    (I will never be able to think exactly what you think, there will always be technical and conceptual media between and around us).
  • A medium enables us to interpret phenomena within it as meaningful and dismiss phenomena outside of it as contextually meaningless, or as having a different level of meaning.
    (a bag of popcorn seen dropping down in a movie has another level of meaning as a bag of popcorn dropping in the cinema, in the seat near you – in the context of the movie).
  • A medium allows for specific forms in it to be generated, and inhibits the generation of others.
    (a photo will deliver a specific angle of view, but may not to let the viewer change it)
  • If a medium works well, over time we will not be aware anymore of its workings, it will become our ‘second nature’.
    (You usually speak without thinking about how to express a specific notion; until you try to express yourself in a foreign language)

Every one of these tenets can be the starting point of a closer view on the media we’re embedded in.

An example: “School” as conceptual medium

“School” has several markers of context (Bateson 1972, p. 212), that help us identify when we’re ‘within’ the medium of schooling, help us interpret actions within it accordingly, and let us act accordingly. E.g.:

  • The environment is artifical and purposefully created: The architecture and furniture is arranged in a way that the attention of many is directed to a central stage or place. Vice versa, from this central stage or place, every person in the environment can be faced and addressed by the person in the central stage area.
  • The furniture is created to be comfortable enough to enable a person to endure some hour or longer in an unmoving position, but not comfortable enough to facilitate dozing or sleep.
  • Furthermore there will be individual means to lay down books or notebooks for reading or taking notes.
  • There may be some kind of writable display at the central stage.
  • There is always a person on the center stage who is seen as competent, skilled, experienced, and authorized to correct, test or certify knowledge of other persons in a specific area of knowledge.

Following are some questions, loosely based on the four tenets above, that a teacher may have, when she tries to approach her field of work with a view on pedagogical media theory:

  • Do we (always) need this medial form of schooling?
  • How can we open this medium to other medial forms (e.g. internet based recherche, simulation games, excursions etc.), or turn its general contents more relevant for the individual pupil?
  • What are the advantages, what are the disadvantages and impossibilities of classic schooling? What do we want to be possible, but would require a new approach to schooling?
  • Where do these markers historically, culturally, economically etc. come from, and can we imagine a school that has different markers? How would that affect lessons and content, and the notion of learning, teaching, knowledge? How would it affect culture and society? How can we ‘disturb’ the notion of “schooling”, without total disorientation or rejection of its subscribers?

Interculturally and historically interesting: A modern chinese classroom, a modern western classroom, and a 19th century western classroom do look the same. Does form follow function?
Then – what is the function (= the message, to speak with McLuhan) of the classroom arrangement?


Larisa, as a journalist you’re traveling between different cultures, and – I guess – change between the roles of observer, interviewer, participant and describer. I imagine that there are many different kind of journalists working today (the same with “teachers” or “artists”), utilising many different kind of media, and many different approaches to how these media are used.

Authentic partiality or striving for objectivity; actuality and presence or long-term in-depth recherche; trying to change things locally or raise awareness globally; or a preference for a specific kind of technical media for recording or distribution  (photography, video, audio recorder, drone; print magazines, newspapers, webblogs, online magazines, documentary films for cinema etc.) – there are many dimensions to journalism.

  • How do you define a journalist in general, what is the cultural purpose of his or her work from your point of view?
  • You wrote that you’ll use the format of a documentary film for your current work in Cuba. What were the reasons for the decision to use film instead of text and photographs?

(Maybe this could be a possible intersection to Antje Breitkopf’s seminar.)


Raine, you do not seem to create content, but rather help to design a very new medium for content – that’s quite fascinating. What will change, what may remain the same compared to 2D-animated-sequential-images? Will storytelling, documentation, cuts etc. be the same in this new medium? What are the sensoric boundaries of 3D visuals, i.e. how do I know something is 3D-mediated, rather than hallucinated or real? Is the medium you’re working on confined to a screen (so the boundaries between medium and reality are clearly defined?)

The history of culture is a history of new leading media (e.g. speech, scripture, print etc.), their differentiation and expansion. Every new medium has different advantages and drawbacks compared to the existing ones, and will (at first) try to imitate their existing medial grammar and vocabular. I.e.the first movies where arranged like theatrical stage plays; the first photographs were arranged like portrait paintings; the first webpages were mainly texts with some links.

Does this compare to 2D and 3D visuals? Is 3D something singular and new?

Tasks: Introductory texts to read

  • Scott McLoud (1993), “Understanding Comics. The Invisible Art.” first chapter, p. 7-23You can find the text in the Dropbox folder “introductory texts”.
  • Marshall McLuhan (1964), “Understanding Media – The extensions of man.” first chapter “The Medium is the Message”
    You can find the text in the Dropbox folder “introductory texts”.

When you read the comic, try to imagine how a comic would look like with your preferred working media in it: “Understanding (intercultural?) Journalism” or “Understanding 3D Cinema”… ;)

As starting points, I think three quotes from the text maybe helpful.
Can you connect the concepts to your own field of expertise?
E.g. what could be the ‘message’ of journalism; what may be the ‘grammar’, what the ‘vocabulary’ of the medium of 3D-visuals, etc.?

Feel free to add or exchange them with other snippets, or even with texts that you think follow McLuhans theory, but are more accessible or relevant to you.
E.g. Heinz von Foerster’s accessible text can be read as “Look at the medium rather than the message”;  i.e. look at the rules that define the space for decisions, rather than at the decisions itselves.

1. “The medium is the message.”
– McLuhan (1964), p.7

2. “This fact, characteristic of all media, means that the ‘content’ of any medium is always another medium.”
– McLuhan (1964), p.8

3. “(…) the grammar of print and typography.”
– McLuhan (1964), p.13

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About Wey

My name's Wey-Han Tan, I graduated 2007 as Diplompädagoge (educational scientist) in Hamburg, and 2009 as M.A. in ePedagogy Design. Currently I work at the project "Universitätskolleg" as scientific assistant at the Faculty for Educational Sciences, Psychology and Human Movement at the University of Hamburg. My research interests are game based learning, second order gaming, media theory and (radical) constructivist approaches. I like pen-and-paper-roleplaying, especially in contemporary horror settings like "KULT" or "Call of Cthulhu".
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