The Duck of Minerva

The Future of Teaching?

10 April 2012

Dan Drezner was kind enough to link to my YouTube ISA Presentation. However Foreign Policy has headlined it “Is This the Future of Teaching?” Given that a number of colleagues have written to me this morning along the lines of “if that’s the future of teaching, I might as well give up, it looks too hard,” and “how long did that take you, anyway?!!” I feel compelled to provide some caveats.

1) If the medium is the message here, it’s a message about conference presentations, not in-class lectures. And while I will continue to use video mash-ups at conferences in the future, they’re not always going to be this detailed and probably never again going to be this long. My goal in the future is to limit them to 3-5 minutes. This will not only make them more manageable and concise, but will also leave more time for discussion on panels. I’d love it if more people adopted this approach, but it’s certainly not the only one. At this past ISA, I’ve participated on panels that included Powerpoint and video, that included only Powerpoint, that included only video, and that had no visuals. This model provides additional tools for presenting, but they’re not the only ones. My point re. conference presentations is that we can leverage social media not only to present in interesting ways but also to disseminate our academic work more widely – and that this is changing how the academy works and who it reaches.

2) If you do want to emulate this kind of presentation style, it’s not as hard as it looks, and it gets easier with practice. I created very little original content for this video – simply grabbed bits of existing YouTube videos and pasted them together, then threw on a soundtrack (which you could also easily skip – some commenters on the video have said the music is distracting) and carefully cited the sources. The mashing-up itself is pretty easy once you get used to it. I use a software package called Camtasia, which allows you to grab video snippets as easily as you might take a screenshot. [One qualification: identifying and capturing illustrative tweets is time-consuming and probably not worth the effort. Capturing, pasting them into a Powerpoint slide then taking a short video of the slide: easy enough. Finding the right ones is hard as Twitter does not make it easy to search for them.] But the bulk of the time creating this presentation was formulating my ideas in written form, and finding appropriate visuals to go with, but truth be told that’s the most time-consuming part of any conference presentation.

3) Regarding the classroom, I don’t teach in this style, and probably wouldn’t.
It’s true that short video mash-ups can make good teaching tools (especially if you can’t be present but you want students to absorb the material anyway). But the amount of prep-time to do presentations like this well on a day by day basis would be prohibitive and unnecessary, even counter-productive. Classrooms work best when profs throw out provocative material and allow students to react, then facilitate discussion. I’d be likelier to pick a clip from Kony2012, play it and discuss – or require students to create and present their own 60-second parodies – then to create my own mash-up. My point with regards to teaching is not that we should be doing videos like this in this classroom (a video in a classroom is not new media, that’s old media). It’s that we should be thinking about how to leverage new media to make classrooms more dynamic learning spaces. I’m not entirely convinced that having a live Twitter feed or Facebook on every laptop does contribute to this; I am convinced we should be thinking and researching and experimenting.

Finally, I am as intimidated as the rest of you about what this means for the future of teaching. One of the videos I borrowed from for my mashup is this mashup created by students in Anthony Rotolo‘s Information Studies class at Syracuse. Rotolo, who teaches social media and politics and also a popular class on Star Trek and the Information Age, specializes in integrating social media into the classroom and blogs about social media. His students’ mashup expresses visually without narration what is more carefully described in this short promotional documentary about Rotolo’s pedagogy.

I am gobsmacked by what he does and have no idea how I would make it work. At the same time I’m kind of intrigued and when I have a semester I can give over to experimenting, I probably will. My point in regards to teaching is not that mashups are the future. It’s that some of the flattening and broadening that I described in relation to our own professional networks are also relevant to our teaching. But what we make of that is up to each of us, and I’m far from certain how far I myself want to go with it, and how much I’m willing to invest. It’s a deeper conversation that I hope can begin on this comment thread.