Video and the teacher continued

Inside HigherEd has picked up on the YouTube story I mentioned earlier with students videoing teachers and publishing them on the web.

A couple of interesting points to pick up on, mostly from the comments that follow the article. The article notes

Among the issues being raised [on my Blog and Yellow Dog] are whether this form of expression —
however upsetting to faculty members — is an example of students acting
on their feelings and expressing themselves, something composition
instructors in particular tend to encourage.

Hmm… well, OK, though that doesn’t quite come out the way I meant it. That would tend to suggest that composition instructors are somehow encouraging this type of behavior. I don’t think that’s the case. What I meant, anyway, is that in teaching writing and literacy (which is more than just the responsibility of composition, btw), we tell our students that communication is power, the ability to put forward an argument and share it with others is at the heart of intellectual life and democratic society. So here are students doing just that, putting forward an argument.

Now, we may not like the argument they are making. We may also respond to their argument by questioning its ethos. In short, we think they could make a better argument. However, how do we respond to the following questions:

  • Should students be able to question the practices and content of the courses they take?
  • Should they be able to engage in this questioning in a public forum?
  • Should they be able to offer video evidence in support of their argument?

These are all troubling questions, though I think most teachers would say "yes" to the first. The second was never really an issue until now. I remember student protests as an undergrad at Rutgers. I remember protesting the English department’s decision not to tenure Amiri Baraka, but that was as public as you could get: a local, student protest. Now local issues can be globalized (think locally, act globally), and the university is no longer the sequestered space it once was. Activity in the classroom can be captured on a cell phone videocam and published on the web before the class ends.

Certainly part of the student response is ideologically-motivated, mostly conservative students and their perception of "liberal bias." But much of the talk on Inside Higher Ed and elsewhere is about representations of teacher outbursts or student boredom and other attempts to represent teachers as foolish: to disempower teachers in one way or another. And even the best teacher can be made to look foolish if captured at the right/wrong moment and edited.

There is a question as to whether such secretive videotaping is criminal and/or a violation of intellectual property. This is also discussed among the commenters on Inside Higher Ed. Of course we’ve long allowed students to tape our lectures. Now we have iTunes University to update that practice. Any student in a course will be able to download a course cast, edit the sound file, and post the result. I suppose we are saying this last step is a violation, the making public of teaching.

I think it comes down to this. If a student posts a video of his/her teacher as a "good teacher," that teacher is unlikely to complain, even though the act must be as much a crime or copyright infringement as it would be if it were a "bad teacher" video. As it turns out, there are plenty of videos that come up on searchs for "good teacher," at least as many as "bad teacher." What we are opposed to is the way we are represented (not the act of representation itself). As I suggested in my earlier post, perhaps we might see this student practice, in turn, as an expression of their own opposition to the way they are interpolated as students.

It is objectionable to be made a student, to be the subject of pedagogic scrutiny, to be made a captive audience, and so on. Students are always subject to our heroic pedagogic narratives. Here they claim a different narrative, a different representation. It is perhaps no more fair or accurate than our own versions. Certainly it can be disheartening as teachers to see these representations.

The challenge, I think, is not to find ways to shut down this practice, to tighten the panopticon. Instead the challenge is to enter into this discursive space, to address it with students, to confront the institutional relationships that produce this condition.

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One thought on “Video and the teacher continued

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  1. Again, excellent points here! I think you are right that the objective should not be to shut down this practice (which is probably impossible anyway), but to address it directly with students. In this way, even examples of bad teaching might be made to become lessons in effective teaching, both for students and teachers.

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