Sunday, May 04, 2008

Open Classroom on YouTube

In various posts I have suggested that we experiment with open classrooms. Here is a discussion about an experience teaching in an open classroom.

Alexandra Juhasz, professor of media studies at Pitzer College, developed a course about YouTube using YouTube as the platform for conducting the course. She writes,
"I decided to teach a course about YouTube to better understand this recent and massive media/cultural phenomenon, given that I had been studiously ignoring it (even as I recognized its significance) because every time I went there, I was seriously underwhelmed by what I saw: interchangeable, bite-sized, formulaic videos referring either to popular culture or personal pain/pleasure."
There were really two experiments going on simultaneously in this course. First, the course itself was translated into the YouTube format. This required the course to be converted from an environment that relies a lot on text (readings, papers, even most slides in lectures have a lot of words) to video. Additionally, the classroom was open to the public and so the students and teacher could not only be observed in the classroom, but non-class members could comment about the material in the classroom. As she reflects on this experience, she comments on the impact of the open classroom, stating,
"The elite liberal arts classroom, usually (or at least ideally) depends upon an intimate and “safe” gathering of high-paying, and carefully selected students, to create a communal pedagogy. In my typical Pitzer College classroom, once doors are closed, students are asked to publicly contribute their interpretations, and sometimes personal experience or knowledge, always knowing that they are not experts, but are certainly experts-in-training. The steady construction of a confidence of voice, particularly in relaying a complex analysis, is one of the “services” we professors hope to provide. Students, often feeling vulnerable in the eyes of their classmates and their esteemed professor, are challenged to add their voices to the building dialogue, one in which they are an active, continuing member. Ever aware of the power dynamics that structure the classroom, allowing some to speak with comfort and others not, I engage in strategies to alter the “safety” of the space. Needless to say, these lofty dynamics begin to radically shift when anyone and everyone can see and also participate. During the class, students were routinely judged by critical YouTube viewers who we would never see or know, who may or may not be aware of the history of our conversations, or the subtle dynamics in the room. While access grew, the disciplining structures in place in a closed classroom (attendance, grading, community responsibility) could not insure that our outside viewers were as committed and attentive as were we. It was interesting to me to see the strength of the students’ desires to enforce the privacy of the classroom."
The comment by Juhasz correctly identifies one of the problems with creating open classrooms, but the lesson from this experiment is important. The lesson should not be that classrooms should not be open, but when and where they should be open and for what purpose. Opening classrooms beyond the immediate classroom participants needs to be done for specific purposes, not just open to the world for whatever happens. Here are some specific ways a teacher might open a classroom:
  • Students are presenting projects and what feedback about their ideas from a broader audience. (Even this might be open only to people who have a specific expertise or set of interests.)
  • the class is discussing a topic that is related to a current event and invites the public into this discussion.
  • There is a community of interested people who work on a topic related to a classroom topic that would provide additional insight to the students in the classroom.
  • The formal classroom experience is over, but students and former students are interested in continuing the course discussions informally by creating an extended learning community.
The point is that creating open classrooms is not an invitation to open everything up all the time. It is encouragement to think about the times and places in which both the learning in the classroom and the learning outside of the classroom would benefit from the openness.

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