Forgive me for being fed up.
The next person that says to me “you don’t need to teach media production, people can find tutorials on the Internet” is getting an earful. Yes there are tutorials online for Photoshop. Great. There are tutorials online about painting. About taxation. About management. Let’s stop running the MBA because you can find tutorials on the bloody internet.
Oh, wait, suddenly there’s a big difference? Thanks, now I have the real point out in the open where we can all see it – there is a demarcation here. When I pick up a pen and I write, the physical skill of writing is not to be taught, only the organisation of thoughts on the page. That is clear. But when I pick up a paintbrush the barrier is murky – the skill of the brush is entwined with the message being created. This may be taught, and it is expected that your whole life may be needed to master this. For some reason the universities seem to have decided that the skills in media production are those of the pen and not of the brush, and they are dead wrong.
It involves an ignorance of the modalities involved. I’ll start with a simple example. I have heard that people ‘use a computer too much’. The user might be researching, designing objects, reading texts, writing a journal, collating data, socialising, politicising, or maybe putting together a presentation for the next university executive meeting – that’s all ‘using a computer’. It’s obviously ignorant to bundle tasks by their machinery.
The same ignorance applies when people talk about say photoshopping. Everything you do in television, in print, in object design, across photography, forensics, data visualisation and so on it’s apparently all just a single skill that can be completed before university. Again and again I hear that because PhotoShop is now taught in high school, we can safely assume that there’s no need to continue it any further. The proponents forget that we also teach painting in high school. Does that get dropped as well?
If painting is just putting paint on a canvas and writing is just making marks with a pen then sure, anyone with a mobile phone can make a movie. Sound recording is just pointing a microphone at something. Somehow the first two are ridiculous and the latter two not. Why?
Part of the distaste for media production comes from industry standards – do we really have to teach Pro Tools? Surely Audacity is enough to get the idea, and the idea is what matters? I’m no more in love with Pro Tools than PhotoShop but I am far more interested in my students having employable skills than the tastes of the didacts. Especially as they will go out for industry experience and be found unable to complete simple tasks. What do we want for students? Can they all be researchers – every one of them? Do we impose some political ideal about open source and creative economies on them all?
Universities then end up with postgraduate students who are illiterate in the tools needed to complete a production thesis. I personally have had to assist MFA and PhD students with the kind of tasks that are, apparently, taught by internet tutorials.
My major point here is about literacy. The people that are keen on these restrictions have an extremely narrow idea of what literacy is in 2013. They use words and numbers, they understand that a rubric on a page builds clarity that leads to better management. But a page is not the only place where a recording inspires thought. Let me teach the tools that make these recordings and I will make sure that the concepts will be covered as well. That’s my job.
I have to bring up another ugly subject. I didn’t learn any of my skills at a university and I think that’s common. People work in industry and then come to teach. Hell, I learned how to lecture by doing gigs. Students often report that they too only really start to learn once they found a position. Shouldn’t we be worried about that, study what happens after people leave, and make that the issue? Instead we keep pumping more research into the mix, as if that’s all we have left to offer.
I’m going to make a bunch of YouTube tutorials about research practices. Then we’ll all have nothing left to teach.