Desert of My Real Life

{October 5, 2008}   Isn’t It Ironic?

The MediaShift blog on PBS’s web site (written by Mark Glaser and which I highly recommend) recently reported an interesting story about the experience one of its interns had in one of her classes at NYU’s School of Journalism. The class was called Reporting Gen Y and was supposed to be about the use of new media in journalism. Apparently, the instructor was not very knowledgeable about new media and so the intern wrote a report for the MediaShift blog about the fact that the class was not particularly up-to-date and that perhaps the instructor should know a bit more about new media if she was going to teach such a course. After reading the report on the blog, the instructor decided to discuss it in class. She asked the class what their responses to the blog entry were. What happened next is in dispute.

The students say that they were told that no one would be allowed to blog or Twitter (which is micro-blogging–writing short entries about a particular topic–see my own uninteresting Twitter entries here) about the class. Because the class is about new media and journalism and the newest media include blogging and Twittering, it is somewhat ironic that such coverage would not be allowed concerning the class itself. And if she did say that such coverage was not allowed, we have to wonder whether there would be a similar ban concerning traditional media such as the student newspaper. The instructor, however, says that she never said the students couldn’t blog or Twitter about the class. Instead, she claims she said that students could not blog or Twitter during class. The distinction she makes is, of course, huge. Blogging or Twittering during the class would be a distraction to the student herself as well as to students sitting around her while blogging or Twittering about the class seems like it should be allowed under any First Amendment rights. It’s difficult to know what the instructor actually said during the class but I think this incident has a couple of interesting lessons for those of us who teach.

The first lesson is that we have to remember that we can learn from our students. Their experiences of life are different than ours. They may not be “experts” in the sense that they have thought about their experiences and put them into a context. But they are definitely experts in the sense that they are on the front lines of new media use. Our job is to help them contextualize their experiences and we should not be afraid to learn from them just as we would hope they are not afraid to learn from us. The second lesson is that we should not be defensive when our students criticize us. We are not perfect. We don’t know everything. Engaging in conversation about our shortcomings empowers our students and helps us grow as instructors. This is a good experience for everyone. Rather than being threatened by our students’ empowerment, we should seek out such situations and savor them for the magic that they hold.

We don’t know what happened in that classroom. It’s actually not that important to me. What is important is to remember that when it comes to using new media, we have much to learn from our students. They are experts in the use of such media. Our expertise lies elsewhere, in the analysis of that use. As always, we can help our students put their experiences into context, help them to think about their experiences in new ways. Defensiveness ALWAYS gets in the way of that.

et cetera