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.

9 thoughts on “Edubigots

  1. It’s a common problem, and not one just restricted to your domain, I would say. Son #1 is at a Grammar school in “good old Blighty” and the poor little sod is expected to learn – wait for it – Word, Excel etc. Not how to use a word processor or spreadsheet or such like, but Word and Excel.

    Of course, I’ve tried pointing out the problem to him (i’ll spare repeating your point here too much), but of course it does weigh quite deeply on me, especially given it’s quite difficult to educate him differently remotely (but that’s a different issue which is not particularly germane to the conversation here). One can only encourage with different points of view I think, assuming it is possible to stay both sane and non-violent in the face of the rampant cretinism that seem to pass for education these days…

    Perhaps I’m just being overly harsh and/or looking back at my childhood/education with rose-tinted/shit-smeared (delete as applicable) spectacles. I too did not learn this stuff at school (all I learned at school was that it was wasting my time, but again, that’s another story). I have no suggestions aside from just being bloody-minded and teaching them what you feel is important, but whether or not this is a viable long-term strategy is really something only you can decide. FFTTMTFO, etc.

    • May as well be on Word, because that will impress the employers and is the software that everyone else tries to emulate. Saves fluffing around when he starts using Open Office or something. Other way round might be harder.

      It’s not hard to learn about writing while you’re doing that – I mean, word processing doesn’t negate writing skills does it? Does using a typewriter work better?

      • I dunno, I often miss not using just plain old paper when trying to create architectural diagrams at work (so do some of my colleagues too!).. to the point where it is easier and a damn sight quicker to do a rough, do a better version and then scan it. Maybe hybrid smart pens are the way forward (seen some that aren’t completely horrible).

        But again, I’m moving away from the point of the discussion. Sorry!

        • Everything I do gets put down on paper first. Every bit of that game exists as a pencil sketch. It’s incredibly helpful and hopefully the Powers That Be will allow us to have drawing classes in media arts.

          For some reason it has to be a pencil – using a Wacom just doesn’t feel right 🙂

          • Have you had a look at the Wacom Inkling? An ex work-colleague of mine had one and I was quite impressed with it (not enough cash at the time to go and buy one, but…). Seemed to work well, but I’m not an Illustrator jockey (which is at least one place the output could go, aside from the original paper), so I didn’t follow it up.. YMMV. Worth at least a look, if you haven’t already?

  2. I don’t think it was until I was doing my Masters of Music that I realised, “University” can teach me how to research and give me opportunities to network. Certainly most other specifics can be learnt elsewhere but why not let people who (presumably) know how to teach and (presumably) know what they are talking about help you?

    • Networking is best thing. Lots of people of roughly your age and interests to meet every day. Teaching is variable – surely you noticed that researchers often make really bad teachers 🙂
      But being able to research does involve skills. It doesn’t float above all practical knowledge – not just Endnote but also in the case of music how to score or patch or whatever it requires. Does anyone ever become perfect at the clarinet? Can you learn clarinet from YouTube? Isn’t the studio an instrument?

  3. Media arts can be seen as reduced now to a ‘basic activity subset’ in and of the ‘production economics’ that serve the state’s approach to GDP growth. This is State (in a Federal policy initiative). It functions in an apparent uniform policy framework by enabling outcome measures(rubrics),– to avoid the macro-economic failures of the past ‘arts and crafts movement’ approach to program development.
    The new program approach rationalizes state funding for art, making subsets, by enabling the divisions of specialization (divisions of production, rather than craftsman mastery of the entire process in product creation). See ‘Economies of Scale’ at Wikipedia for an overview of policy economics.
    That your school chooses to use a certain set of applications (Photoshop or Pro Tools) only eludes to the fact that the State believes it has identified the tools of production to further macro growth and has established a symbiotic relationship with vendors that in part affords the program (tax payer relief).
    Teach at an ‘academy’ if the want is something different.

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