During my final semester at Brandeis, I took an internship in which the goal was to form a solid foundation in classroom technopedagogy through work with 2 anthropology courses: ‘Museums and Public Memory’ and ‘Visuality and Culture’. Both courses engaged with YouTube primarily (although M&PM also used twitter) in order to share information with both the class and the broader community. Further, I was given the opportunity to serve on the planning committee for an international conference entitlted Social Justice in the Age of YouTube and Vodaphone.
Along the way, I shared many thoughts with my advisor (Mark Auslander) on ways in which technology should be used in the classroom. (I’ve also been chatting with Fran Kick about integrating text messaging and twitter into his leadership seminars, who may wish to think about utilizing the twitter interface to facilitate his messages, and pollster to weigh responses ;). I even spoke at graduation on the importance of media in our social lives.
As part of the requirement for the internship, I was required to type a final ‘report’, which I’ve titled Technopedagogy at Brandeis University: Reflections in Media Engagement WITH the Classroom. Below, is that report.
Beginning in December, right after the end of the Fall semester, I embarked on a project that aimed to enrich participatory media literacy on the campus of Brandeis University, particularly focusing on YouTube’s capability for social interaction among scholars, community members, and general bloggers. Because of the scope of the project, I, along with the help of numerous faculty members and Cultural Production M.A. students, attempted to create an atmosphere for which media could be engaged in critically.
Participatory Media Defined and Explored
Socialtext.net defines participatory media as any electronic media that expands the power of cultural production to include people whose presence is not directly present, and acquires the ability to create social, cultural, economic, and political changes in the ways in which people communicate. Although this paper focuses on YouTube and the Internet, participatory media is not limited to newer technologies, as a specific type of literacy is required for the efficient and successful use of newspapers, cellular phones, blogs, wikis, etc. This is not a new concept in our everyday existence. Instead, in this age of the Internet and World Wide Web, these technologies are blending together and becoming so multifaceted that they are becoming an integral factor in everyday social and commercial life.
Marshall McLuhan was very interested in the way in which the media is the message, particularly with the idea of the meta-media- the media that encompasses all genres of message. In early days, this was arguably the scroll, as every type of media was printed on a scroll. Today, scholars might argue that the Internet is a, and will become THE, meta-media. I would disagree, and say that the Internet is becoming the anti-media, as there is nothing internet-y about the Internet. To read the news on the Internet is to read the news. To watch TV on the Internet is to watch TV. In few cases does the Internet actually contribute to the message, instead, it acts as a conduit that controls the amount of media. As Dominic Boyer suggests in his reworking of McLuhan in the “Cyber-age”, the Internet is merely a linguistic gloss that allows communication and knowledge to move forward despite gaps in our experiential knowledge of the forces at work in the world “out there”. It would be, according to Boyer, impossible to define further the sense of immense social power and pressure of mass communication in any way, given the now infinite context in which media exists.
Thus, participatory media, especially in the age of the Internet, is not necessarily about using media or how much time we spend on it (which has increased dramatically in the last six years), rather being surrounded by the media. The ways in which media and Internet are used do not just affect those who use it, rather the social contexts in which the actors who use it act, and thus even people with insufficient access to the ‘media’ are affected by the message. Blogs, wikis, Facebook, Youtube, Ebay, books, newspapers, TV, dvd’s, Hulu, and Myspace, not only change the way we “internet” (in a verb tense), but also change the ways in which we interact face to face, and all interact with that face to face communication. What is new about participatory media is that the media is no longer needed to be pervasive in everyday life. The semi porous membrane that separates audience and public has become more than semi porous. Thus, to engage critically in the use of participatory media is to engage critically in the ability to communicate in general, in the “real” social world, whatever that may be.
Museums and Public Memory & Visuality and Culture Courses
(See attached participatory media literacy syllabus)
In the academy there seems to exist a technophobia- one that feeds on the fear of professors that students will give in to the tantalizing taste of the Internet while they profess knowledge. I specifically think of a story from a professor where a student purchased a similar blouse to the one a lecturer was wearing, and then told the lecturer that she purchased it during her lecture. The interesting thing in this story, and the millions of other adages that mimic it, is that the blame is put on the Internet, not the teachers themselves.
While this seems to suggest that the lecture is boring, this is not at all the idea that I am expressing. What I truly want to get at is that professors, by eradicating the use of laptops, computers, and the Internet in their classroom, are merely fueling the fire of the distracting Internet. Professors should be, must be, on the front line, teaching students how to engage in the media. While many people remark that the liberal arts education is not about receiving ideas, but creating ideas, teaching participatory media in the classroom engages in how not to receive ALL ideas. That is, by teaching how to use media in the classroom, we can train students to block the cacophony of ideas to focus on one specifically, the message being physically created.
In the last semester, I have engaged with two anthropology classes to introduce participatory media into the classroom, both of which focus on the politics of representation. This, of course, has not gone without resistance. Faculty members outside of the two that I worked with have voiced fears and complaints of turning away from books, the “only firm ground in this technology-saturated, and obsessed, world.” Simultaneously, and students have resisted too, although some not directly. The overall lesson that was learned is that students prefer NOT to use participatory technology in the classroom, as it tends to urge them to actually use the technology, as opposed to being used by it. Furthermore, it is resisted because the classroom becomes a fluvial entity that flows outside of the academic time regime and into spaces and times which it is thought not to belong.
In my interactions with the classes that specifically engaged in YouTube, watching videos and talking about their production, I found that YouTube has a firm grasp on using students, as opposed to being used by them. Many of their videos were boring, much like the way that most of them write, and although engaging with the content they were to talk about, seemed to alienate their personalities from the assignment. YouTube was merely a paper to be read on a screen. However, many of these students recognized what a good video blog was, and some (by the end) were able to create some content like this. Most, however, were left in the rut of just reading. As many students commented, YouTube was more exciting to them as a tool
for consumption, as opposed to one for being able to create interactive intellectual experiences. They would rather watch the Numa Numa dance, as opposed to a video blogger discuss multiple consciousness, the politics of representation, or why a certain museum exhibit was inherently racist. Quite simply, they knew YouTube as a means for consumption, and had been disciplined by its layout to put primacy on consumption, as opposed to production.
Thus, we must use social media in the classroom, integrate it into the academy, and even use it to break down the walls of the ivory tower (as will be seen in the next section). To continue to ignore the role of social media in cultural and knowledge production is to reinforce the stereotype of the guarded ivory tower as out of sync with the real world, and will only serve to crank out complacent cogs in the machine of life, as opposed to critical, liberal democratic citizens. We must introduce social and participatory media into the classroom not because the world uses it, but because the world uses social media blindly, without recognition of the new challenges and opportunities it, and they as actors in it, might create.
Cultural Production Interdisciplinary Symposia
Should we not aim to break down the walls of the academy? To disturb the notion that those within hold some type of more valuable knowledge than those outside? And what about the walls of the individual academies, should we not also try to navigate those as well?
These were the questions that formed many of our goals in creating the Cultural Production YouTube channel (youtube.com/culturalproduction). Throughout the semester, we sought to post clips from the various lectures, discussions, and symposia that the Cultural Production program took part in with other departments and programs. Our primary goal was to engage with a community that was not directly (physically) accessible to us.
It was envisioned that we might use YouTube to create a social arena in which scholars and practitioners could create a social network where ideas could be explored via comments and video responses to posts by individuals and to various lectures. For the most part, however, our attempts failed to elicit viewings, let alone comments.
Our most successful content in terms of viewing was that which focused on controversial issues, distinctly the roundtable on memorializing Guantanamo and those from various events and discussions on the Rose Art Museum. One possible reason could be the timeliness of the events that the content was based on. In many cases, our discussions were around academic symposia that did not focus on timely content, rather on analysis of one theme. From surfing content on YouTube, I am led to believe that there is a time frame of relevancy, whereby the charisma of a video runs dry, and that time frame being based on the amount of people viewing the content. To be distinct, if a headline of the daily newspaper would be “MAN FIGHTS BEAR IN CENTRAL PARK”, then we could assume, and should expect, that people would be going on to YouTube to see videos of it. Therefore, to become relevant to those outside of the academy, we should engage with their timeline of timely content. I would suspect that a cultural analysis of the Swine Flu might receive a large number of hits in this milieu.
Also, in regards to what successful academic content would be, it seems as if a talking head is not a model that yields success, nor is a read paper (as learned from the various classes). Instead, for academic content to truly be of interest to those who are not seeking that content specifically, it needs to feel organic in some sense. One example would be the round table discussion on what a Guantanamo memorial would even look like with Julian Bonder, Michael Ratner, and Mark Auslander. A similar example can be seen at the Piloctetes Center YouTube channel’s various roundtable discussions. This content seems to flow and include a less pedantic tone than that of an academic paper being read aloud.
Through this internship, a particular emphasis has been put on content delivery, as opposed to content consumption. Indeed, a focus must also be put on personally regulating consumption if we are to create both critically engaged students and progressive pedagogy in the classroom. While I failed frequently in my internship to accomplish this goal, the objective can, and will, only be met by repeatedly failing and coming ahead with new ideas about technology and media in and around our teaching. What we must remember is that we are not competing against technology, rather the ideology that surrounds technology, and success occurs when students begin to question that ideology.