I apologize for the title’s lack of creativity. I haven’t thought of a pithy or enigmatic label for the connections I want to outline here, so I resorted to what amounts to a list of keywords. I don’t even have a picture for you today. C’est la blog.
Yesterday’s New York Times ran a piece by Elizabeth Van Ness asking “Is a Cinema Studies Degree the New M.B.A.?” (The article ran in the Arts section, and you’ll have to register to read it. My thanks to Alice for spotting the story.) This morning on the way to work I listened to a podcast in which Jon Udell of Infoworld was interviewed about podcasting, blogging, and rich media on the web. There are rich connections here I want to explore just a little.
The Udell podcast (about thirty minutes long) is an elegant primer on podcasting and would be an extremely useful teaching tool for anyone trying to understand the phenomenon at a conceptual and user level; in fact, Udell tells a story of his own experience listening to podcasts that perfectly expresses my own experience with them, and hence my enthusiasm (at least for the listening end–producing them taps into far deeper enthusiasms for me). But that’s only the first level of this interview. On a deeper level, Udell brilliantly summarizes the converging factors that are leading to what many believe to be a communications revolution. He also identifies blogging as the primary point of leverage in this revolution. He’s not alone here either. What’s exceptionally useful about Udell’s podcast is the way he very plainly but comprehensively explains the pattern of influences and convergences, ending with another elegant primer on RSS and how it has changed his life.
The NYT piece says nothing about blogging, podcasts, RSS, or even the Internet per se. Instead, it’s about a deeper kind of media literacy, one that not only trains students to sit back and dissect the rhetoric of, say, television commercials, but provides the deeper training in expressiveness within these media that we in the academy have long taken for granted in the realm of English composition. Dating back to the humanist revolution in education that occurred in the European Renaissance, the idea here is that merely reading isn’t enough. Deep skill in reading cannot be attained without deep skill in writing. Thus we teach not only attention to others’ words, but adaptive skills and strategies in creating those words ourselves. Now, students are going to film school not simply to land a job in the film industry, but to master the skills and strategies of sophisticated visual and aural communications. Moviemaking 101 sits right alongside English Comp.
What strikes me this morning is how closely Udell and the NYT piece agree on the fundamental importance of acquiring these skills and strategies for the new era of rich media on the World Wide Web. Udell points out that we no longer have people type for us. Instead, the word processor means that we all have to learn typing. The gain is that we are more productive. Similar new skills and new literacies–in modes of multimedia writing, not simply in reading–will be essential to success in this century.
Podcasting as such is only about seven or eight months old. Blogging is only a few years old. These changes are coming at us very quickly. Will higher education be able to respond in a meaningful way? I hope so. In fact, I believe that the most creative and smart thinking about education has always concerned itself with the deep understandings of learning and expression that the new century clamors for. We need not start from scratch. What we need to do, I think, is to be honest about the ways in which education has been distorted despite our better knowledge, whether by ideology or by the more insidious effects of scaling along industrial (read: factory and assembly-line) models. (Though I take issue with some of the points and analogies, “Going Home: Our Reformation,” a challenging and inspiring piece Martha blogged about last week, arrives at many of the same conclusions.) Taken together, Udell’s podcast and the NYT piece help us imagine a better way.