In Michael Wesch’s article “YouTube and You,” he discusses vlogs, or video blogs, as a specific type of media, a sort of “shouting to the wilderness” in which there is no specific addressee for the message but one of whoever will listen. He discusses the way that face-to-face communication happens, the way we evaluate those around us to determine how we will react, all things that we often process fairly instantly (p. 22). I was instantly reminded of a blog post I had read by Anastasia Salter on making videos for online courses and the challenge of having no audience.
Teaching, or at least good teaching, is often viewed to be responsive, especially in light of concepts of personalized learning. We should adjust to the students in our class, speed up or skip over things if it is clear that they already understand them, slow down and go into more depth if our students are struggling. We use body language to gauge how things are going, whether we are lecturing, having students work in groups, or sitting one-on-one with a student. Do they understand? Are they bored? Are there signs of aggression or anxiety or passion?
None of that is present when recording a video. It is possible to get some levels of it with software like Zoom.us or Google Hangouts where students are visible over a webcam, even voice calls on Skype or the Hands up button in conferencing software. But when you are recording a video, often it is just you and a device. It might include someone helping with the recording, you might attempt a faux audience with a colleague or a family member. Mostly, though, it is a solitary thing built around pretending you have an audience.
So what does this have to do with digital citizenship?
In presenting ourselves online, Sherry Turkle suggests that we carefully present our best selves. When it comes to teaching, I think many of us would prefer to always present our best selves, to be honest. Anyone else prefer that they could always be the best version of themself? But in thinking about who we are in an online video, this gives us some insight into what we are trying to accomplish. Not solely the conveyance of information but also the transmission of who we are. If the goal is to be a good teacher and aid students in learning, then we also need to find ways to share something with them that they cannot get in a textbook. Videos in an online class can provide at least the illusion of a human connection. There is the opportunity for doing it over, for picking a better day if you are feeling grumpy or unengaged yourself. You can reach out, offering some of yourself. Unlike vloggers it probably isn’t focused on you but you’d better believe that you are supposed to be part of it. Reading a book or solely delivering facts is no more engaging in a video than it is in you classroom.
We can take the real world and put it online. We can be real while online. Nathan Jurgenson discusses the fetishization of the “real life” that happens when we log off. Online classes, however, require that online be as real as offline. In fact, we have to be more real. If you want students to really connect, to feel like they know you, it is imperative that you always be you. There is no hiding, no shrinking away, no lacking personality. Every message, especially videos, should convey who you are and what it would be like to meet you. Or at least the best possible version of you. That is how to make online real. That is, to treat it as real. Give it even more of you than you would in person, because at least for now, this is still a conscious thing. We must perform ourselves with intent online whereas in a classroom we don’t think about it. Or at least some of us don’t. For an example, check out The Plaid Avenger, an alterego created by John Boyer, as part of his teaching. He becomes The Plaid Avenger in class. He is bigger than life with an intent to engage and excite his students. He presents this character online and in the classroom. This is performance taken to the extreme but it is an example of the fact that this is still real even when it isn’t.
Whether or not you would ever be as extreme as someone like the Plaid Avenger, it is hard to dispute that he is real, he is amusing, and he goes to great lengths to communicate with his students. His passion for his material, his desire for his students to learn, is very real and it comes through. Alec likewise has shared a whole lot of who he is online, not necessarily by revealing personal details but by being genuine. While this video below is more scripted than our classes with Alec, and certainly less performative than the Plaid Avenger, he is still being real, not that much different from the man in the classroom. Is this video any less real than meeting Alec in another way?
Sure, sometimes we fail, but that is no different than real life. We reply to an email when grumpy, we post something without thinking quite as carefully as we should have. Sometimes, however, we really succeed. We offer ourselves up online, in all the best ways, and even if it is polished up, a little less prone to being in a rush or having a cold or dealing with the frustration from the thing that happened before you walked into the classroom, it’s still you. It’s still real. That is the digital citizen I try to be (even when I hate recording videos of myself).
So EC&I 832, have you recorded videos of yourself? Do you struggle to be you?