YouTube – UNDER the spotlight, IS the spotlight, and source of energy FUELING the spotlight

Earlier this week MIT Press published a ‘video book’ called ‘Learning from YouTube’ by Media Studies Professor Alexandra Juhasz.  The book is not of the physical kind, nor is it a downloadable file for your Kindle or iPad.  It is a website-book which has been peer reviewed and given an ISBN number, which exists in, amongst and around YouTube, with the site being the subject matter, field of research and platform for dissemination.

An additional architecture framework has been created linked into the YouTube site which includes a multi-search facilitate to navigate the various chapters  which creates the (non-linear) video book concept, with the content being quite short written pieces with dynamic links to video content produced by Juhasz, her students and (laterally) related pieces found on YouTube.  Juhasz herself does not use the term ‘chapters’, instead has coined the phrase ‘textios’, which are the 15 webpages which include text and videos, alongside other forms of non-linear navigation such as tags and tours.

 To see the ‘Learning from YouTube’ video book for yourself, and to describe it for yourself – click here.

As Dr Juhasz herself says, there is not one linear argument this video book is making, but rather multiple arguments that were explored during her ‘Learning from YouTube’ classes at Pitzer College Los Angeles, since 2003.  There are many points of innovation that could be discussed in relation to this video book, including;

–       the experiment’s research findings on YouTube , (and the challenges of even getting qualitative research findings out of something so random and fast as YouTube.);

–       the concept of a ‘video book’, and how this could inform the future directions of media literacy.  Also interesting that such a video book is based on trust of other YouTube users that they will not take down their videos, leaving a video book with empty pages.  It would be unethical to copy their videos to a video book archive without the owners’ permissions as security, so those questions of participation and ownership etc are really interesting in relation to this work;

–       this video book being published and disseminated free by MIT Press, and the future of academic publishing.  This video book was peer-reviewed, copy-edited, has an ISBN number, and went through all the processes of traditional academic publishing.  It is completely free to access and as far away from the inaccessibility of the academic journal system as you can get, which costs money to access, slow to publish, and not updatable.  Also how the concept of a peer-reviewed free ‘video book’ could inform other academic websites and blogs, and how publishing houses and universities could respond to this changing dynamic in academic texts.

–       Dr Juhasz’s concept of ‘Third YouTube’, and its relationship to Third Cinema.

‘Learning with YouTube’ also highlights something to learn from with regards the underlying pedagogy of the production of this video book, as an example of dynamic curriculum delivery for Higher Education.  As an educator I am always interested in ways teachers teach, and am always trying to find new ways for students to experience the curriculum.  As someone who works with young people both in formal education institutions such as universities and schools, and also in less formal spaces such as community centers, galleries and museums, I’m interested in how to reconcile the different styles of pedagogy between those spaces, from traditional top down ‘banking’ style teaching, through to less hierarchical forms of group facilitation.  In the ‘Orientation to the Class’ tour Juhasz explains how her course was run.

“Our classes were recorded and put on YouTube, and all of the students’ research and course work was confined to the form of either videos or comments on YouTube. We learned together in and about Internet culture, DIYmedia, and social video networking by reframing YouTube for higher education, critical reflection, and reflexive processes. Just so, I made videos too. But because of the limits of YouTube (and video), I also chose to blog in real time about these experiences. And then … the course went viral: a telling if tiring opportunity for even more self-reflection and YouTube critical reflexivity!”

Even though criticized by some quarters when Juhasz’s classes were first announced in 2007,  finding innovative ways to teach/deliver/facilitate classes (call it what you will), and to keep them relevant for students has to be one of the key areas that universities have to keep their eye on and develop.  Especially in the UK with the current tensions concerning the raising of tuition fees, students will increasingly want curriculums that reflect the world they live in today.  Rather than wallowing in media communication theories from the 1970s, with ‘Learning from YouTube’ Alexandra Juhasz has put her money (time and effort) where her mouth is and sought to create a class which drags media communication theories into the here and now.

By being a harsh critic of YouTube as well as an enthusiastic user, and producing a media research work inside the very medium of its study, Juhasz’s ‘Learning with YouTube’ highlights the simple fact that, love them or hate them, these new technologies are now a part of our (online) lives that we can seldom avoid.  My friends who swear blind they would never join Facebook still have the occasional glimpse via their partner’s profiles, and get invited to parties etc arranged through their partners profiles, but because they don’t have a profile themselves they can still claim they have clean hands. 

The majority of YouTube users will not have YouTube profiles as there is no real need.  As Juhasz says in one of the tours, YouTube hardly encourages participation in the same way as social network sites, and is more about “solo play”.  So even as a critic Juhasz also understands the potential for YouTube to innovate, as without it this very innovation would not have been possible.  Like with all technologies, if we view it as a tool we can use it for our own ends accordingly for educational, liberation and other processes for the social good.  But we are still only human with temptations, and we want our cake and eat it too.

Even though we may disdain at the huge amount of crap on YouTube and what that says about people living in developed societies with time on their hands, we can’t deny we are also a part of that developed society with time to think about such questions, and the Achilles heel of our human selves may be disgusted, but at the same time fascinated, like anthropologists who at the same time are disgusted and envious of what they witness.  This is why my current favorite video I found on the ‘Learning with YouTube’ so far speaks to that truth, made by one of Dr Juhasz’s students who goes by the YouTube moniker of ‘PerchysBigAdventure’.  YouTube adopts a personality and taunts the politicized student. 

“Go ahead, watch. What, you have better things to do with your time? Write a book?”

And of course he clicks to watch more.  We all click eventually.  Our curiosity gets the better of us.  Go ahead…!

There is a lot of content in ‘Learning with YouTube’, which shouldn’t be a surprise, after all it is a book!  I wish this experiment all the best and I shall watch with interest, and will hopefully also act accordingly, and not just wait for the academy to change around me.

3 thoughts on “YouTube – UNDER the spotlight, IS the spotlight, and source of energy FUELING the spotlight

  1. Shawn: Thanks for the careful and considered discussion! A little more background on one point: while my students certainly know they are in the video-book, YouTubers do not. I point to their videos as does any blog (it’ sjust that half the content of my book is other people’s work!). I assume that videos will be taken down (usually by corporations, sometimes by users themselves) and have a place on the video-book for users to alert me to dead links. At that point, I’ll put in a new and comparable video (by hand in my database) as all YouTube videos are interchangeable and generic. This points to many new features of this online writing: its ephemerality, the labor needed for maintenance and cultural response, its changeability (as well of those of ethics, cooperation, and shared-voice that you mention)

  2. Thanks Alexandra that’s helpful. The flux status of this book is interesting as it forever stays close to its source, an ethnography written & published whilst still in the field, and relys on keeping that close connection to stay alive, can’t be separated. Makes for a really exciting and honest methodology. If you’re archiving each ‘version’ of the book before you have to update due to deadlinks, etc, those changes alone over the years would be fascinating. Great work, sparks lots of thinking….! 😉

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