The Future of Teaching?

by on 2012-04-10 in Uncategorized- 26 Comments

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.

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  • dnexon - 2012-04-10

    Seconded. Charli’s video was very nice and her commentary was excellent, but it isn’t supremely difficult to produce that kind of video. I’ve shied away from it over copyright concerns, but Charli’s inspired me to stand up for fair use… One of these days.

  • dnexon - 2012-04-10

    But on the substance: various kinds of audio-video presentation, web 2.0 integration, etc. can be powerful tools. But I think we fetishize them a bit while overplaying the degree that our students (who certainly have learning styles inflected by growing up in the Information Age) are unable to, say, hold their own in a normal seminar discussion. These technologies work best when they (1) enhance pedagogical goals — I’m a big fan of blogging to keep classroom conversations going — (2) provide opportunities for students with different learning styles to get the most out of class, and (3) help them to build skills that they need to function. Our job isn’t to entertain; but, by the same token, any toolkit that enhances learning is worth using. 

    Also… one of the real benefits of these tools is to better integrate intellectual life with the rest of “student life” in a way that many schools are struggling with, i.e., bringing the former into everyday life. That’s kind of what I mean by expanding and extending the classroom. There are also ways that new technologies can do things better than old systems: PTJ has a great pitch about using online portfolios not as arbitrary assignment depositories for a particular class but as a mechanism to replace the “report card” by allowing faculty to store feedback and evaluation with students — and allowing them, in turn, to create tailored profiles for themselves. This kind of use also allows longitudinal evaluation in a way that we’re generally very bad at. Anyway, I’m not sure that I’m explaining myself well at all. But it is that kind of day.

  • Jarrod Hayes - 2012-04-10

    I wonder if I’m too technologically disconnected to attempt Rotolo’s technique. 

  • Jarrod Hayes - 2012-04-10

    Charli, on the point about blog mention raising the probability (possibility?) of a paper being read by anyone, are communal blogs like Duck now yet another set of gatekeepers?  I wonder if we should expect to see academics citing themselves in comments like NYTimes commenters cite their own blogs?

  • ProfPTJ - 2012-04-10

    The important shift is not to the use of tech tools in the classroom, but to the idea of a learning space as an interactive product or result of joint action. One can do similar things in a very “low-tech” environment. Of course, twitter makes for more efficient backchannels in a discussion, and it’s easier to take it on the road (one of my favorite exercise is having students live-tweet their visit to some DC site, and then curate the class tweets later using using something like Storify). And blogs capture what might otherwise have been informal table talk outside of class. But in general, the tech should follow the pedagogical goals; it should not drive them.

  • Catia Cecilia Confortini - 2012-04-10

    Janni Aragon (U. Victoria) had a very intriguing presentation at ISA on how she incorporates twittering and blogging into her gender and IR classroom, in ways that seem very similar to what Rotolo is doing. The roundtable was organized by Laura Parisi and there is a plan to include the presentations in the “Conversations” section of a forthcoming issue of the International Feminist Journal of Politics.

  • Colin Wight - 2012-04-10

    I’m all in favour and take an ‘if it works, use it approach’. Most of it’s not that hard with a little technical expertise, and I’ll often allocate my students into groups and get them to locate a short video clip in the context of topic, and then get them to discuss why it’s relevant etc. I already use Facebook ‘groups’ rather than the official Uni Blackboard units, because comms with the students is more efficient that way, fb is mostly linked to their mobile phones, so it’s more instantaneous, and they can pos stuff quite easily with no involvement from me. It’s actually also a really good aspect of ‘research methods’ to get them to think about; who has produced this? Why? Bias? and so on. I also think teaching, or should have an entertainment, aspect, and you’ve got to find ways of keeping them interested. I wouldn’t do everything this way, but it’s part of the toolbox. Whether I’d invest the time for an ISA audience is another matter, but that’s not a principled objection, just that the ISA format isn’t really about communicating research anyway.

  • Dan Nexon - 2012-04-11

    This sounds really interesting, but I can’t quite follow you.

  • Charlie Dunlap - 2012-04-11

    Very well done – and an extremely important presentation.  There are many ways of using new media in the classroom that aren’t hard, including innovative ways of using PowerPoint with embedded videos, as well as such techniques as ‘visual forensics’ and ‘visual footnoting.’  Charli has begun an extremely important conversation!!!!!! 

  • Jarrod Hayes - 2012-04-11

    I doubt it is all that interesting.  Charli points out in the video that the mention of an article on a blog spikes its readership (from none to something), so I’m just thinking here about blogs as screeners, highlighting scholarship amidst the sea of publications.  So this isn’t gatekeeping in the same way as journal editors and reviewers, it is softer gatekeeping.  I’m just speculating here that blogs could become new tools for people to manage their information flows, which would be a means of gatekeeping, no?

  • Charli Carpenter - 2012-04-12

    Academics do cite themselves in comments rather frequently already, I’d say (see Colin Wight’s comment on my networks post). I’m not sure that’s as effective a form of promotion as having your article reviewed by a blogger, but maybe it is. It would be interesting to test. 
    I think you have a good point about inadvertent “gate-keeping” in the sense that what gets read and blogged about is pretty much up to the whims, interests and time constraints of the blogger. So if that’s true, which the study I cited in my presentation suggests, then it’s not necessarily a good thing in terms of academic fairness since the process is far more arbitrary than the review process in journals and such. On the other hand, it might be a good thing IF it incentivizes the kind of policy-relevant research that bloggers are likeliest to pick up on, and IF we think that that sort of research is a public good… 

    One implication might be that academic bloggers should do more of what the Monkey Cage specializes in, which is explain current research findings in sensible, terse prose for policy-makers. Dan Drezner had a great “round-up” of current APSR/IO/ISQ articles the other day, but of course he was only doing it to make the point that IR is policy-relevant. I don’t see him doing that routinely the way he does round-ups of foreign policy commentary. Nor do we Duck bloggers do enough of that, I think. But we probably should.

  • Charli Carpenter - 2012-04-12

    Colin, thanks for these observations; I hadn’t thought about FB groups and mobile phones. A question: what is the ISA format about if not communicating research?

  • ProfPTJ - 2012-04-12

    Performing; networking; inspiring; annoying; and at most, suggesting but not definitively establishing anything.

  • ProfPTJ - 2012-04-12

    There’s a fine line between gatekeeping and signposting. As far as I know, a blog can’t keep things out of circulation, but a journal review and editorial process can.

  • Colin Wight - 2012-04-12

    Yes, I’d pretty much agree with Patrick here. I was being a bit polemical of course, but I genuinely think the ISA format of 4-5 papers on a panel with discussant, doesn’t really allow for effective communication of research. So for me it’s for networking, meeting friends, drinking (too much), eating (too much), business meetings and so on. The panels, to be honest, can get to be a distraction. There’s a lot that could be said about this, but since I’m finalising my book on pluralism and fragmentation in the discipline you’ll just have to wait. I do think that as currently structured ISA is part of the socio-political matrix of the field that impedes effective communication across approaches. So if pushed, I’d say ISA is primarily about maintaining the social structure of the discipline. Of course, it can tell you what trends and issues are emerging, who’s on the way up and who’s on the way down, etc. And ‘gossip’ (integral to the maintenance of any social system); lot’s of gossip at ISA.

  • Colin Wight - 2012-04-12

    The FB groups have been my best tool over the years. I can post stuff when I’m on the bus on the way to work, students can post stuff (vids, links, articles) and because it’s kind of instantaneous it just seems to generate debate among them. You have to set strict rules about what they can and can’t post. I don’t let them post stuff that isn’t relevant to the content of the course. But overall, for me it’s the best communication platform I’ve come across with the students.

  • Charli Carpenter - 2012-04-12

    OK, fine, I’d say that’s what round-tables are about. But panels, surely, are also about communicating research?

  • Charli Carpenter - 2012-04-12

    Charlie: visual forensics? Tell me more. 

  • Charli Carpenter - 2012-04-12

    OK; then I misunderstood the question. I thought you meant the format of ISA panels in particular were not about communicating research, not the conference in general. I agree that actual panels are not the most significant part of the conference, however I would add that they’re not insignificant either.

  • ProfPTJ - 2012-04-13

    I rather like group blogs, myself. I set some pretty strict FB boundaries between me and my undergraduate students: I won’t friend them, etc. I’m fearful of the appearance of bias, especially since I have part-time university admin responsibilities…and frankly I don’t need to be privy to the conversations my students are having via their FB pages ;-) For me, group blogs do much the same thing as Colin describes. And yes, strict rules about frequency and relevance of posts are a must, to keep everyone on track.

  • ProfPTJ - 2012-04-13

    I think of most panels as an excuse for academics to get together in the bar afterwards.

  • Colin Wight - 2012-04-13

    Yes same here, I won’t friend them either and I’m always a bit surprised when one of them sends a request. I have no desire to know what they are up to, and I’d rather they didn’t know everything about me either. But people can be added to FB groups without being friends. I also sometimes allocate a couple of the better students to be administrators for the group. This kind of stuff is only of any use if it doesn’t substantially add to your workload. 

  • Charli Carpenter - 2012-04-13

    I think they only function that way for panelists at our rank. And they function differently for those in the audience than for those on the panel.

  • Colin Wight - 2012-04-13

    I think that what they are ‘meant’ to do. But in reality, how much of a carefully crafted research paper of 8-12K words, or book, can you really present in 15 or so mins? You either destroy the subtleties of the argument, or you don’t have one. In that respect panels are a bit like advertising hoardings; ‘Here, I’ve got this product, but if you want to know what it’s about you are going to have to ‘buy/read’ the whole thing.’ 

  • Charli Carpenter - 2012-04-16

    PTJ, this is a good distinction, but I realize that if I accept these semantics it has implications for the language Cliff and I use to talk advocacy ‘gatekeepers.’ The argument is that since advocacy claims are more credible once they’re legitimated / popularized through adoption by advocacy superpowers (eg. Human Rights Watch, Greenpeace, etc) these organizations also “vet” the agenda through omission. But of course this is not a formal vetting process either, it’s purely a function of network structure and it’s quite idiosyncratic which is why I’m studying it. Would you say that it’s not ‘gatekeeping’ unless it’s based on procedural rules? Is it more accurate to say that this process we’re describing is ‘sign-posting’ or, alternatively, the failure to sign-post which then has important constraining effects on agenda-setting? And if so is there any better term than ‘signposting’ since it doesn’t work well as a noun (e.g. calling organizations that occupy this structural position and have this influence ‘sign-posters’ doesn’t communicate the power relation we’re describing as well as ‘gatekeeper.’) But it’s absolutely true that the gatekeeper metaphor sounds more decisive than it is, since lots of ideas so manage to slip through the gates sometimes…

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