“YouTube Studies” vs. “College Credit for Watching YouTube”

A media professor has begun teaching a class on YouTube. Not so unusual that this would happen, given the fact that YouTube has been around for awhile now. In fact, it is kind of cool that it is finally happening.

What I have found more interesting is that as I have been catching up on my RSS reading, I see that two different sources are reporting it in slightly different, yet noticeable ways:

Jobs, News and Views for All of Higher Education – Inside Higher Ed :: YouTube Studies
“It’s a class like I’ve never taught before and a class like I’m not certain has ever been taught before,” Juhasz says during her introductory video.

You’d expect that a professor teaching a class on and about YouTube would be a huge booster of the site. But not Juhasz. She says she is “underwhelmed” and “unsatisfied” by much of the content, which she describes as spoofs of pop culture references that she just doesn’t understand.

Juhasz’s main critique of the site is its architecture. Academics strive to make connections across disciplines, she says, but YouTube makes it difficult to provide context (often in the form of links), and to carry on complex conversations beyond the small space given for comments below the video.

Still, as a professor of media studies, she says ignoring the site is impossible. Instead, she wants students to draw their own conclusions after spending a semester working entirely within the framework and constraints of YouTube. She wants them to think about cultural references, what makes a great work of art and how to define a truly democratic medium. Is YouTube the latter? Juhasz says no — in large part because of its corporate ownership.

An academic take, to be sure. But also a balanced one. Here is the take from my local paper:

YouTube goes academic: Calif. college offers class about video-sharing site
CLAREMONT, Calif. – Here’s a dream-come-true for Web addicts: college credit for watching YouTube.

Pitzer College this fall began offering what may be the first course about the video-sharing site. About 35 students meet in a classroom but work mostly online, where they view YouTube content and post their comments.

Class lessons also are posted and students are encouraged to post videos. One class member, for instance, posted a 1:36-minute video of himself juggling.

Alexandra Juhasz, a media studies professor at the liberal arts college, said she was “underwhelmed” by the content on YouTube but set up the course, “Learning from YouTube,” to explore the role of the popular site.

So, what’s better for students? “A dream come true?” Or, “working entirely within the framework and constraints of YouTube?”

The different approaches don’t surprise me, as media has always shown its biases based on the publication, the audience, and the goals the editors have in relation to the two. As I saw the two drastically different introductions to this story from the two publications, it made me doubly aware of how critical media studies can be portrayed in the popular media.

And, given Michigan’s budgetary crisis this fall, how teaching anything beyond the “basics” could be up for criticism (much like other topics such as film, gender studies, and the like have been in the past) make me wonder:

  • Will we be able to design courses in digital writing that aren’t seen as frivolous?
  • Do students see digital writing as a kind of fun add-on to (or replacement for) the types of writing that we expect in traditional academic settings?
  • Will composition classes be able to invite students to create digital videos as a means of argumentative writing, or will people only worry more because some students are posting clips of themselves juggling (which could have been a legitimate part of the professor’s first “getting-to-know-you and learn-how-to-post-to-YouTube type of assignment)?

This is an interesting pair of articles that I might share with my students next week, since our next assignment is a critical text analysis (and I have yet to share anything on YouTube…).

2 thoughts on ““YouTube Studies” vs. “College Credit for Watching YouTube””

  1. With technology changing so rapidly, I believe in the future this sort of digital writing will be considered normal. Years ago writing used to be turned in on paper and now many teachers required the paper typed out. Right now I think students see a course on Youtube as something exciting and fun but in the future it may become a standard class just like typing out papers have become a standard thing. I think students will be able to create argumentative writing this way . Bob Garfield would probably not like how many useless things are on Youtube. He may think that it is becoming a different and new boobtube.

  2. Thanks for your comments, Megan.

    I was watching the presentation that Michael Wesch made at the Library of Congress, “An Anthropological Introduction to YouTube,” (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TPAO-lZ4_hU) and it made me think that entering into new forms of textual production can still be uncomfortable, even for young people who have grown up with the technologies.

    I would be interested to hear your thoughts on his presentation in relation to how this may become a “standard” way of participating in academic culture.


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