On YouTube (October 10, 2007)
NOTES: Origins and Context | See Also
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Origins of this content
This 2007 blog post reflects on experiments in and about pedagogy that I pursued with my class.
Michel Foucault's work on discipline suggests: "Manipulative techniques became individualised in the 18th century, and the power over the body was extended to the most minute movements. This time, it was driven by a search for an economy of movement. Manipulation was to be uninterrupted, constant, and detailed, leading to a stress on 'discipline.' The changes also were about extracting maximum utility from people as well, and the ascetic disciplines of the monastery were an influence. A 'political anatomy,' a 'mechanics of power' were developing, to simultaneously increase energy and subject it. This implies some prior analysis and classification of the characteristics of the body."[cit]

Online education is big business, growing and developing quickly as a way to expand access to and practices of education. It is much debated and studied within education itself.

One of my ten founding terms for this project is technology. The machines we use affect what we can produce. But machines are never enough, as YouTube itself efficiently demonstrates.
We held our first class on-line, off-classroom on YouTube on Tuesday. What a failure! And it's YouTube's fault! The comments function on the site is neither real-time or synchronous (like a chat room) nor fully outside time or asynchronous (like email), which creates a sort of deadening clunk when you post: it'll come up soon, but who knows when or who will read it?

Also, given that the site is organized around distraction and a bonanza of moving-image riches always at your fingertips and dancing on the edge of the screen but outside your control, there was no way to be certain anyone from the class was looking at any of the eight videos we were attending to at any particular time, which left me feeling isolated, even as I knew they were (most likely) there.

Furthermore, without the disciplining function of the space of the classroom, I felt certain that most of the students did the bare minimum, posting their assigned two questions and then going on to play frisbee (or watch frisbee videos on YouTube), while the few truly committed participants enjoyed the experience, were annoyed by it, and learned much from the clunkiness of the process.

Now, varying levels of commitment define the "real" classroom environment as well. Not everyone attends (in the sense that some miss class and many who are physically there may as well not be). However, a new sense of having no responsibility to our community defined the online class, whereas even the least attentive of students performs the motions of community engagement when held with others in a physical space.

This question of discipline in the classroom, and in education generally, has been raised often in the class (as students demand more discipline or structure even as I remind them that they are participating in their own censure); the undisciplined nature of YouTube, its inability to provide structures, clear links, group spaces—really any kind of coherence—is its biggest fault, at least for online learning.

Finally, while the students have certainly been pushing the form to engage in sophisticated expression and real dialogue, I find the level of interaction on YouTube to be paltry in relation to what occurs in a "real" classroom.

This may be because in a traditional and shared physical space that I moderate, and sometimes lead, my presence makes the students amp up the wattage, or the nature of the group itself in real time and space pushes people to perform.

The laziness of our classroom comments (and even videos) when on YouTube, including my own, points to a level of conversation—supported by and conventionalizing in this environment—that may well serve YouTube's purposes but not those of higher education.