Each Sunday night for six weeks, as I put myself through the excrutiating process of watching myself on the four or five videos that constitute the jumping off places for each week for the Coursera MOOC on "The History and Future of (Mostly) Higher Education," No one should have to watch themselves in zombie office lighting, not quite making eye contact, talking and talking but I do because, otherwise, I won't be prepared for the real action, which happens on the Forums where some of the smartest, most engaged conversation I've ever been involved in happens among some small subset of the 16,000+ people in the course. Whereas my face-to-face classes are models of deconstructive, student-generated, student-led, peer-graded, project based co-learning, in the videos, there I am, talking away. Why? I ask myself. Of all the forms that Massive Online Open Courseware could take: "Why video?" I think it can be answered in one word: YouTube. Or is that two?
This question is prompted by a very smart blog and discussion by educational innovator, theorist, practitioner, and leader Joseph Ugoretz on his "Prestidigitation" blog. I highly recommend this smart, incisive discussion of visuals in the classroom, of pedagogy, of one- versus bi- or multi-directional conversation by one of the real pros of the form. Check it out!
I've written (probably too many times!) about my annoyance with the low-tech, amateurish video production of our MOOC, including recently in Hybrid Pedagogy . For all the low-fi quality, those six weeks of videos consumed no less than 40 hours a week, from May until January, of my time and of my colleague at HASTAC Kaysi Holman who produced the videos quite literally by learning from lynda.com how to edit with Screen Flow, how to try to adjust the lights for the terrible lighting, how to work multi-directional mics, and on and on. When we learned what percentage of students would be non-native speakers, and because I speak quite rapidly, I'm told, she even went through and added text to highlight main points, to give visuals for those who might not understand my references (if English is your third language, you might not be able to hear "Kant" as a proper name, let alone "Schleiermacher" and if you were born after 1995, you might not have a clue what "Wayne's World" is).
Because we have been so determined to see if a platform that is massive can generate a world-wide conversation about the future of eduation, we were willing to expend this kind of time and energy. We need this massive conversation We're using a commercial platform but the real energy is happening beyond the MOOC, in reading groups, in classrooms, on Twitter, on blogs like Joseph's and many, many others that we're trying to capture and link to wherever we can. There is energy. There is movement. There are ideas worth sharing.
Academics--contrary to the last decade of defunding of what we do and demeaning of who we are--in fact are dedicated, innovative, and we have the best interests of our students (not a quarterly profit report) at heart when we become teachers. We're not all great--but no one becomes a teacher for the fame and fortune and fast lifestyle!
So why amateur video? That is the metier of our era. 16,000+ people will not sign up for a power point. And as I said in the first video, where the meta-MOOC was about making the MOOC and the limitations of the form, the whole adventure/commitment of learning how to lecture to a webcam with cue cards was humbling enough to be a great excercise in exactly the method I advocate: being willing to learn new things, being willing to not be an expert, being willing to take a risk. Academics are good at telling our students to do this and, as one of the Coursera participants noted in a Forum this week, woefully bad at modeling non-expert learning.
If video helps to make a learning community worldwide, so be it. The point is that, for all the pyrotechnics and special effects of blockbuster movies, most people spend a lot of time now watching really terrible amateur videos on low-res tiny screens. What humbles me and inspires me about the people I'm encountering in the Forums on "The History and Future of (Mostly) Higher Education," is how generously they move past the limitations of the form and talk through, in a far more sophisticated level, the ideas. As I had hoped, the amateur video is a jumping off point for something profound.
In the meantime, I recommend to the 16,000+ students on Coursera that they watch the videos on double time (although I'm told I talk too fast for double, so 1.75 or 1.5 is optimal). That's what I plan to do next Sunday night as I prepare for yet another amazing week in the Forums--where the real action is happening!