The "YouNiversity"

From Smart Mobs, I picked up on this talk by Henry Jenkins given earlier this month in Singapore, "From YouTube to the YouNiversity." Much of the talk covers the main issues in Convergence Culture but updates the examples with recent practices from YouTube to Second Life. I was hoping the talk would focus more on the idea of YouNiversity than it did, but there were still some interesting thoughts toward the end on this subject.

Essentially, Jenkins is imaging higher education with barriers that would reflec the kind of participatory engagement one sees in YouTube (and elsewhere) already. I’ve been talking about this idea of public pedagogy for some time. My courses are publicly available here, here, and here. Not every element of every course is public, nor should it be. But a great deal can be made public, and I believe (and I think Jenkins sees this similarly) that my students education would be greatly enhanced if they saw learning as participating in the broader cultural production of knowledge. We often tout undergraduate research, especially here at Cortland. Well, here it is. An ongoing public undergraduate research project into the rhetoric of media networks and communication. Join in if you care to.

Anyway, earlier in his presentation, Jenkins talks about the difficult decision that media production companies face in dealing with fan use of their copyrighted material. If fans take your copyrighted material and use it as a basis for further creations they are clearly violating copyright. The question is: does this practice increase or decrease the value of the material for the company?

It made me realize that a similar dynamic is at work in higher education mistrust of students. Of course, as we know, one of the most common mantras among faculty is "students can’t write." This being the case, putting our precious intellectual commodities into their hands and into the public might be viewed as seriously risking the depreciation of academic capital. In short, if you really believe your students have little that is interesting to say and that they aren’t good writers anyway, why would you want to make these facts public?

Obviously I don’t agree with those statements. As you might expect, some students write better than others sometimes; sometimes they say things that interest me and sometimes they don’t (though they may interest others). It’s just like anything else. Sometimes I write a good AND interesting post here…. sometimes.

I don’t see my students depreciating the value and reputation of my personal academic standing or that of our college or the discipline of professional writing. To the contrary, like much of the creative labor undertaken by fans, I think their work can help draw positive attention to what we are trying to do. More importantly, as a teacher, I think it offers up an opportunity for engagement. It gives them a chance to see that their writing is more than an exercise or a mode of evaluation. It can actually have value for others.

So welcome to S(yo)UNY.

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