Monday, November 07, 2011

How we teach newer media

Buy the book as its too late to attend the night club
There's a story I believe to be true about Robin Williams from his visits in Britain the 80s, and 90s. 

In the centre of Piccadilly Circus, next to where the Odeon cinema, used to be was a small dimly lit room club called the Cat in the Hat.

I knew this club well, as on Fridays it featured some of the damn funkiest people in London, dancing to what became 'rare grooves'.

These were  tracks from Maceo and the Mack, the JB's and Vicki Anderson's Message to the Soul Sisters (you need turn this up and kick of your shoes. Er p.s close your curtain's too otherwise the neighbours will think you mad)

Anyway, on Saturdays the Cat in the Hat would transform into its original domain - the Comedy Store. Now the legend was it, from a couple of people wanting to go dancing, was they stumbled into the club and stayed because there was this US guy doing stand up.

Many people went back and each time noticed his set was never repeated. Robin Williams did not have a parachute to protect him. He was just a wise-cracking flanneur who couldn't be contained.
Zudong - former online student. Picture by Valeria

Newer media is a set not so different from Robin Williams sojourns. Yes, for the sake of the following year's cohorts you might repeat things, but in reality, you end up with new material, and thus new enterprises for running your mouth.

This doesn't amount to a lack of structure, but more importantly an attempt to see past it. There are rules for everything in the media world, but in this mutating ecology, the only rules become there aren't any.

Wait there is one rule. Learn what they did, why they did and disregard it and strike out. In a couple of weeks a delegation from China come by our uni wanting to observe and understand how online and videojournalism get refluxed.

It's not the modules in themselves that are all important, but the strategy behind learning how to learn.  This involves a couple of things, I believe. Firstly don't teach perfectionism as the end-product, but the idea of understanding how being forced to make mistakes leads you to understand perfectionism and respect it.

Here's an example. We may speak about social networking, but in Journalism classes, its anything but, independence is still a strong charateristic of the new journalism. So how do you get people to social network amongst each other? You tell them?  Chances are though if they've not recognised the value of interdependency our instincts return us to type.

In other words we'll always seek to conform to our own traits and individualism, when frankly the wisdom of crowds done well is a powerful learning resource.

So one exercise we run is to give out assignments to finish against the clock, and then midway through this invent a crisis that forces people by default to work together ( the Hitchcockian crisis of dilemma) Then as we're nearing the assignment end we introduce another variable, which leads to the wisdom of crowds making decisions about their immediate outcomes.

In our case, we let them kill half their stories which had them decide who's would go forward and with ten minutes left on the clock asked the cohorts to kill all but one of their stories to present.

Inevitably I'm talking structural and delivery here, but there are more fine-grained examples I could give which look at the subject matter, which we'll leave for another time.

p.s I don't put former students comments up here about what we do, because well that's what we do and you need to keep you humility in check, but here's an extract from Zudong speaking about her experience from last year.
 I have to say it was quite challenging and during that time I constantly felt that I must come up with something good enough, worth your time and attention, which gave me great pressure, for i knew that you were really difficult to be impressed and set high standards at all times.