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Jarvis' 'This is BS' ... is BS (sort of)

Jeff Jarvis — the journalism professor, author, and leading voice in new and social media — just posted a video of his recent lecture from TEDxNYED: “This is Bullshit." (I was prudish; I censored it in my headline.)

It’s worth a watch (or a read, via the notes).

In it, he argues that the traditional lecture format — the format he’s employing (hence the title) — is outmoded in the digital age. I’m going to summarize (and probably oversimplify; really, watch the original):

* In teaching, as in journalism, there’s no point in repeating what’s been said elsewhere. Direct your students (or audience) to great examples of what’s already established. If you're going to say something, say something new. “Do what you do best and link to the rest.”
* If you’re not offering a new perspective on a topic, be a curator. Add context.
* Don’t start from preconceived ideas about what students (or those in your audience) need to know. Ask them. They won’t always know what it is they need to know, but they might.
* Don’t see incorrect answers as failures — see them as opportunities to identify what information’s missing.
* Students (and your audience members) know a lot. Challenge them; let them challenge you and one another. Don’t assume or teach that there’s one right answer. Don’t let ego convince you you’re an infallible authority, or that the conversation only moves in one direction.

Jarvis is a fantastic speaker. He's thoughtful and engaging. It’s easy to get caught up in what sounds and feels visionary. I did.

But when I boiled the speech down to those basic points (did I do a fair job? Seriously, seriously, seriously, watch the video and decide for yourself), it didn’t seem all that revolutionary. It seemed like a basic outline of the ethics that have always made great teachers great.

There is, indeed, a great deal of unnecessary repetition in academia, as in media of all sorts. And Jarvis is right that we need to be more effectively thinking about economies, about eliminating redundancy. What’s more, academics need to be more willing to freely share their work under liberal licenses(or via the public domain), if we’re really going to move into an age in which collaboration takes its birthright as king.

But let’s not pretend that's a wholly new idea. Every worthwhile teacher draws on outside material — on texts and other media that well-establish the ideas he or she is trying to share (total knobs cite only work of their own authorship). Certainly, in what Jarvis calls “the Google age,” academia needs to take an extraordinarily fluid and open approach to that concept; if it doesn’t, it’s wasting obvious and invaluable resources. But the concept itself is well-grounded in tradition.

And let’s not pretend there’s nothing useful about a local, in-person, engaged presentation of a valuable (though unoriginal) idea — even if the idea is well-covered in great presentations available elsewhere. There’s something to be said for knowing your very specific audience — for matching your pace against its own, for facilitating interruption and interaction that are more natural in person than through any remote (or even precomposed) media. A curator can customize and contextualize; a local authority can reimagine.

Bad teachers have always been victims of their own egos, unwilling to acknowledge the valid and intriguing perspectives their students (and the larger community) bring. They’ve always assumed there’s only one right answer, and insisted their students do the same. They’ve always treated education as a cookie-cutter product, instead of an ever-evolving process.

Great teachers have always been both open to questioning and eager to question. Great teachers have always listened and learned. No great teacher has ever taught the same lesson twice.

The vision Jarvis lays out is one of a great teacher — only one much more connected than yesteryear’s. It’s a perfectly fine vision, but one that’s much more novel in the newsroom (still, sigh) than in the classroom.

Louis C. Hochman is wholly unqualified to be talking about academia; his teaching experience is limited to Senior Takeover Day at Old Bridge High School. And he's sure as hell no social media expert. And he really digs a lot of what Jeff Jarvis has to say. But he enjoys writing and rambling, so there's that.

Views: 10

Tags: education, jarvis, jeffjarvis, lectures, media, news, socialmedia, teaching

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