YouTube Tour #1 (Education February 5, 2008)
NOTES: Origins and Context | See Also
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Origins of this content
This 2008 blog post is connected to my YouTour project where, after teaching the 2007 LFYT class, I attempted to create on YouTube a structure to think through, display, and organize the hundreds of student videos made for the course, which were (like other videos on YouTube) hard to systematize, see, or make sense of via our class page. I created tours around six themes: community/archive, owner/user, vernacular, popularity, entertainment, and education. As was true for the entire project, I was attempting to hack YouTube to force it to do the things I needed as an educator and scholar: organize, track, build, map, and otherwise make randomly displayed information more coherent.
Visual rhetoric considers how "a resurgence of interest in the ways that our means of representing experience, including mental experience, has some bearing on what can be known. In simple terms, word choice is both stylistic and epistemological; how we say or write something has a real effect on how we know."[cit]

Learning From YouTube has been supported by a Mellon grant, Scholarly Publishing Initiatives, that evidences a growing concern, and related inventive efforts, about academic publishing given new technologies.

"Anxieties about the debilitating effects of amusement have been around for a very long time. In contemporary usage, the phrase entertainment value usually implies three things: entertainment does have some kind of value; something that has entertainment value isn't otherwise very valuable (not 'That's entertainment!,' in other words, but 'That's just entertainment!'); and, paradoxically, this very lack of value is what gives entertainment its ability to enchant and manipulate both masses and individuals."[cit]
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More videos related to the content of this page
Today, I posted my first YouTour of the work and lessons-learned by the LFYT class. I will try to post one per week, with accompanying blogs, for the next eight weeks, resulting in six YouTours: education, entertainment, popularity, vernacular/visual, user/owner, and community/archive. It took me a while to decide how I'd like to present the many things I think we learned during that hectic semester, and I was pleased when I remembered the YouTour method, one we had devised during the semester to try to work YouTube against itself by creating a linked, sharable, and repeatable path through its chaos, with associated comments.

It seemed right to "publish" my results on YouTube, continuing to hack and use its forms to hold our analytical content and designs—to continue to use it to speak to, and about, itself.

Attempting to present my analysis of the site on its pages rather than, say, in those of an academic venue demanded profound changes in the nature of my work as a media scholar and educator that, as ever, prove telling about the workings of YouTube.

The key differences were a matter of time and brevity, vernacular, audience, professional standards, and language.

In brief, time is of the essence on YouTube. As I made the videos for my tour, and the tour itself, I was hyper-aware that I needed to keep cutting, condensing, summarizing, and simplifying to speak effectively on YouTube (to keep the attention of its distractable, easily bored viewer), which, of course, is also a major part of its vernacular: there is a premium put on ease and efficiency, condensation and simplification.

Whereas my students are forced to hear me speak, or at least pretend to, the YouTube viewer must want to stay there because of my media skills, useful information, and entertainment value. A language of bullets: quick, exciting, and mobile. And here I would also add, the necessity for using nonspecialist language, so as to be heard effectively, which gets me to audience. For I assume an even more general and diverse audience on YouTube then I imagine for this page of Learning From YouTube, an audience that bares little relation to those who reads me in academic journals.

I can count on no shared references or lingo, other than that of popular culture, which diminishes the complexity of my thoughts even as it expands their reach. Unlike in a classroom, where one speaks to undergraduates equally unschooled in scholarly discourse but where you work to school them and together grow a shared language, the scattered and random nature of YouTube's viewership demands staying at the basic level, never giving the audience an opportunity to grow its vocabulary.

On a different note, the systems of proof and authority are diametrically different on YouTube from those of academia. My proof on YouTube is always another video, any video. Its existence, and mine, on YouTube's pages gives us as much and no more authority than any other user, that is, of course, unless we have the power of numbers—glorious hits—on our side.

Academic writing, on the other hand, also relies upon the affirmation of outside voices, however, what differentiates these voices is that they are accredited (through the systems of vetting of publishing and other forms of accreditation) and that their arguments build relationally , one train of thought building slowly, and in dialogue with a tradition rather than the piecemeal character of the solo rant, or private confession, of YouTube.

Clearly, these reflections make me sound like a snob and not the proponent I have always been of a democratization of access to and discourses about the media. However, expanded access cannot itself be a stand-alone goal, as I believe my remarks above attest. Access to media production and dissemination must be accompanied by the tools that allow for a growing complexity of discourse: these are, quite simply, the capacities to work together and to learn from what has been done before. In conclusion, you can see me speak about these ideas in greater length, and in the form of scholarly presentation, as a "real academic talk" stuck on YouTube.