Learning from YouTube

September 7, 2007

I am teaching an experimental class on/about YouTube this semester.

After two class sessions I realize this course is going to be really fun and super hard, challenging me as a professor in new ways that I am unaccustomed to. Let’s start with the press, the numbers, and the public nature of the course (all related). After the first course, I was interviewed for an article about the course for “Issues in Higher Education” which came out before the second class, where there were two journalists and a photographer attending. This, added to the fact that we tape and put on YouTube each class, and that I had learned that people actually were watching these classes, led me to be self-conscious to a degree I am usually not when I teach. Typically, over an hour of teaching you hit some high notes, make a few blunders, and otherwise get through. You’re human, and undergraduates are your witness. During our second class, the issues got serious and complex quickly, primarily concerning the ubiquitous representations of race and racism on YouTube and in our class (and this is good) but I was self-conscious about how my colleagues would view the way I didn’t hit gold in the live processing of these complex ideas. The self-consciousness slowed down my thinking and so on and so forth. Now the class is about, among other things, issues of privacy and access in higher education. And while I’m committed to what it means to open access to my class, it now seems clear to me that it limits my teaching (and perhaps my students’ learning, in that they are equally self-conscious).

Numbers (hits to the page keep doubling) also add a weird and unwieldy stress to my teaching, and the course. Yes, they are informative about the logic of YouTube, but ultimately invasive. As is simply managing the outside communication this brings (emails, letters, requests) that expand the demands on me from my 30 enrolled students to anyone interested.

I am also concerned that the experimental nature of the class (largely student led and limited to YouTube for all coursework–assignments and research) is going to make our work much harder, and my chances of failing much larger. It was exciting to see that in the second class, and with only the most superficial of assignments, the students were already touching on many of the BIG IDEAS about YouTube and digital culture: its postmodern reliance on humor, celebrity, and referentiality to mainstream culture; its democratic function as soap box for the talent/opinions/expression of regular people; its mind-numbing, time-wasting superficiality; the raucous and unruly nature of conversation it produces. My challenge will be to work with the class to hone, focus, and systematize such conversations given that we can not refer to other scholarly works, and given that I have ceded a certain amount of real control to them. How will I guide the conversation ways scholarly and rigorous given that our frame and guide is not?

Frankly, I’m not certain, now that we’re doing it, that there’s enough to do or know about YouTube (given Youtube as the tight structure for gaining such knowledge) to sustain a course. While I’ve succeeded in developing a structure that models the content I seek, I am not certain we need 15 weeks to figure this out.

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