top of page

Why Media Arts Education Matters

By Dain Olsen

Media arts education (MAE), as instruction in the range of “digital arts” (e.g. photo, graphics, video, imaging, animation, sound, 3D virtual design, and interactive design) is a unique and valuable addition to contemporary education for many reasons. Its full inclusion in the contemporary core curriculum across all grade levels would update the educational program to current societal conditions, engage and empower today’s students with relevant literacies and skillsets, promote project-based and interdisciplinary learning, and support students in connecting to their communities and the world. To help all learners gain access to these great benefits, the Media Arts Committee of the National Coalition for Core Arts Standards is launching the National Media Arts Education Initiative to support MAE towards full K-12 establishment throughout the United States.

MAE is unique in reflecting our current world in multifaceted ways. Our digital society is infused with media arts products and experiences. Media arts is now the foundational element of our global, networked culture, as its primary means of communication and design. These technologies are how we know about and design our world. With billions of people acquiring and distributing information and experiences through its ever-evolving multimedia platforms, media arts is the primary means by which we create and interact within our environment. Therefore, these media arts literacies are essential for students’ successful functioning in college, career, and life in general, including becoming informed and active citizens in our digitally democratic society.

Media arts empowers students

In its pervasive social usage, its various applications, such as Youtube, Instagram, Tiktok, podcasts, etc., have enabled everyday citizens to take part in its artistic, networked media communications and practices. Students, in particular, rapidly engage in and gain the skills associated with media arts and readily apply them to the production of original works, which scale up to more complex productions – for example: the photo becomes a social media post, becomes a photojournalistic series, a short documentary, a news broadcast, and then a dramatic film.

With their growing media arts proficiencies, students can begin to articulate what is personally meaningful and important to them, as well as their own visions for their world. As a result, they gain a sense of empowerment and equal social standing within this dynamic mediated environment. They can truly state, “I matter. My voice matters.” They are active and confident participants in the prevailing forms of communication and design of our global society.

As MAE students begin to use their skills towards personal expressions, cultural interests, social justice issues, new ideas, etc., they form their own lines of creative inquiry and become teachers themselves as they communicate and express their ideas to others. MAE students are asked from the beginning of their studies, “What do you want to inquire about? What do you want to express or explain? What do you want to design? What emotion or understanding do you want people to experience?” This creative inquiry process inherently promotes higher-order cognition – creativity, synthesis, analysis, application, curiosity, design, problem-solving, and leads naturally to the full variety of topics, ideas, and imaginative possibilities. Students of MAE are encouraged to envision possibilities, and then supported to realize them.

Media arts promotes interdisciplinary learning

MAE connects and interconnects seamlessly across all other arts and content areas, providing students with integrated, interdisciplinary forms of instruction and learning. Students of MAE can investigate, research, design and present about any topic, thus bridging the limiting walls between English, math, history, science, as well as STEM and all art forms. As a transdisciplinary educational hub subject, MAE can function as a center within the school for a variety of design and project-based investigations – 3D animations of physics principles; “Bill Nye the Science Guy” style presentations; videos depicting historical events; media broadcasts of performing arts events; mathematically intensive architectural designs; the engineering of interactive animations and virtual spaces; or social media campaigns to promote media literacy, digital citizenship and social equity.

This virtual and augmented media arts space allows students to produce, design, and engineer anything imaginable. It is the interdimensional textbook and workbook of the future, a versatile laboratory of invention and production where students can create entire interactive worlds. This brings the idea of student-driven learning to another level, where they can begin to truly own the learning process. These students can now invent new forms of art, dance, media, theatre, and music, as well as intersect with all content areas, all while determining their own ideal futures in a sustainable and healthy society.

Media arts builds communities

This limitless creative capacity within the MAE virtual laboratory naturally forms connections across the school, local communities and the world at large. It dissolves the walls of the traditional classroom and school environment. MAE students can produce and investigate anything regarding their communities and can connect with other students or experts around the world. My own media arts class in inner-city Los Angeles used Epic Games 3D design software to create highly realistic urban designs for their local neighborhoods. With guidance from the Los Angeles City Department of Planning, they took images of dilapidated, neglected areas of their community and used planning design principles to reinvent them so that they were attractive, pedestrian and bike-friendly, sustainable, and with shelters for the homeless. These socio-economically disadvantaged students were highly engaged and inspired with their newfound powers in this process. They found that they could envision and reinvent their community and have a positive impact on their world.

Media arts projects across videos, yearbooks, websites, broadcasts, and podcasts can unify the school into a vibrant learning community. Students that view their school through this media arts lens come to know and identify with their school in more meaningful, interactive ways. And through broadcasts and design projects, students of MAE can build bridges between school and the community with increased interaction and awareness: tapping into local resources and professionals of the community, interviewing older citizens for their personal histories for example, or showing parents and community members what they are learning in their classes.

Media arts develops comprehensive skillsets

This wide range of experiences and activities develops a holistic range of 21st century skillsets for MAE students, including:

  • creativity, communication, collaboration, critical thinking

  • design thinking, interdisciplinary integration, computational thinking

  • media/tech/digital literacies, civic engagement, cultural agency

  • media production, project management, learning about learning

To briefly address media literacies, it is clear today that every U.S. citizen needs to be equipped with robust proficiencies in the critical analysis of media. In our modern fast-paced world, everyone must learn how to evaluate a deluge of information from various media and social media sources. Students need to be trained from early ages in the basics of journalistic standards and information veracity. MAE provides the safe and balanced context for this kind of rigorous, analytical reasoning in the variety of media arts formats. In effect, MAE demystifies media arts communications and supports citizens to be discerning consumers and producers of media, who are versed in its methods of persuasion and manipulation.

MAE’s broad forms and processes also provide more diverse avenues for students’ inquiry and assessment where they can demonstrate their unique mastery of core content. Special education and English Language Learners, for example, gain alternate means of accessing the core curriculum because media arts is so adaptable in its multimodal accommodations. Additionally, MAE builds robust, real-world connections for students to college and career pathways. It supports workforce preparation, civic engagement, digital competence, and students’ agency in their cultural and societal discourse, easing the transition to their chosen career and college pathways.

Media arts fosters new approaches to teaching and learning

Ultimately, MAE presents the opportunity for new ways of thinking, working, and learning for educators and students. If MAE can fulfill its role as an interconnective, experiential, and project-based center of education for all students, it could support the advancement of the educational ecosystem towards a 21st century understanding of learning and cognition. Current research states that students learn best through active engagement in collaborative inquiry and real-world problem-solving. This cultural-based approach to learning, where the arts, aesthetics, and the joy of creativity are at the center of a multimodal learning process, can nurture meaningful resilient understanding that grows with students throughout their lives.

For these reasons, we must provide all learners the opportunity to engage in high-quality, standards-based media arts education. Please join the movement to establish media arts education in all institutions of learning.


Dain Olsen is a specialist, administrator, and instructor in media arts, currently serving in the Los Angeles Unified School District. He has had multiple leadership roles in the development, promotion, and establishment of media arts at district, state and national levels. He currently serves as Co-Chair of the Media Arts Committee, National Coalition for Core Arts Standards.


Want to learn more?


bottom of page