Funny how these changes creep up on you, and then one day: another world.
I’m teaching a summer school class on “Film, Text, and Culture,” and yesterday a little thing happened with big implications. We’re on the Little Women unit right now, reading the book and watching three film adaptations (1933, 1949, 1994). Yesterday was a group presentation day: one group presented on two critical/theoretical essays concerning adaptation, and the other presented on two critical/theoretical essays concerning feminism. One of the essays in the latter group argued that Rudolph Valentino’s subject position in film was unique in relation to female viewers. (That’s a crude summary, but it will do for my purposes here.)
On the preceding day, one student had asked me about an image of Valentino mentioned in the essay. I didn’t know or have a copy of that image, unfortunately, though I did find a large photograph in a film history book, which I duly brought in to class and handed around. That’s a perfectly fine and teacherly thing to do, but it clearly meant I didn’t understand something about the Internet in June of 2006, for the student’s presentation featured an actual clip from a Valentino movie, one she had found on YouTube.
Although I’ve used YouTube myself many times, once even in a professional presentation, I hadn’t even thought to direct her there.
Clearly this example says something about my own need to think more carefully and comprehensively about web-based resources. At the same time, it prompts me to reflect on the fact that YouTube was just starting up midway through last fall’s semester, when I was teaching my Intro to Film Studies class, and when I might have made the mental connection earlier. The larger point is that we’re witnessing not just the now-routine Internet phenomenon of major new resources, but also massively and unpredictably scaled repositories of public domain materials that are vital information resources for ourselves and our students. As the information abundance spreads, and if we are brave and curious enough to embrace it, we will find our own serendipity fields dramatically expanded. And we will find our students bringing archival gems into the classroom, casually and crucially. At that point, the professor’s role as advanced learner, one who models the “ah, what do we have here?” that’s the result and nursery of a good education, will be explicit and essential as never before.
Bring it on.