A few months ago, I mentioned Michael Wesch’s second video in a planned three-part series, “A Vision of Students Today.” The video depicts students in a large university lecture hall silently holding up signs describing their classroom experiences (“I Facebook through class;” “My average class size is 115″), and while the video presents itself as giving voice to students via a collaboratively-authored Google document, two things about the video struck me as somewhat false. First, the mobile, disembodied camera suggests a universal image of students, one that seems to be reinforced by the students’ silence during the video. Second, this image lacked virtually any students of color. And while Kansas’s racial demographics almost certainly inform Wesch’s student population, the video raised important questions for me about how we define the normal collegiate experience when, in fact, Wesch’s vision of a technologically-enhanced lecture hall is far from the norm.
Now, as Liz Losh, among others, has pointed out, in honor of the Martin Luther King holiday, Mark Marino has made a parody remixed response, “(Re)Visions of Students Today,” which calls into question some of the (likely unconscious) visual arguments made by the original video about student life, about the “us” described in the video and the students’ privileged relationship to the digital divide. Marino does so by re-editing Wesch’s original video and writing over some of the students’ original hand-held signs in order to tease out some of these tensions (Marino discusses his intentions here). In looking back at the video, I do think that Wesch is attentive to some of these problems, calling attention to a digital divide and to the fact that many of his students are working their way through school, and Wesch’s attempt to investigate the discursive space of the classroom is an important one. As Wesch points out, whatever else they are learning, students are also learning “to sit in nice neat rows and remain quiet while the information / knowledge is delivered to them by an authority figure standing at the front of the room.” This is not to suggest–as some have implied–that we should abandon all traditional pedagogical practices or that we should replace textbooks with web pages, but an argument for thinking about how classrooms reproduce certain kinds of social relationships. But Marino’s remix is a healthy reminder that there is no singular classroom experience, that some of the broader claims in the video may not describe student experiences in other environments.
And while I’m having a difficult time connecting these points, I think it’s worth adding that both videos seem to suggest for me a need to rethink the status of higher education in general. As this video interview of University of Pennsylvania Adolph Reed by Marc Bousquet indicates, we now think about college education as a commodity and not as a right. Reed argues, cogently in my opinion, that higher education should be free and that the costs to taxpayers would be negligible, a drop in the bucket of our current budget (Reed calculates that the total cost of tuition and fees of all college students currently enrolled at public universities is approximately $35-40 billion). By redefining education as a right, many of the perceptions of education, including the “relevance” of readings, would no doubt be transformed, and the image of students today in Wesch’s video would almost certainly change.
Update: I’m reconsidering some of my original critiques of the Wesch video as the comments below indicate. No time to write a full, new entry here, but feel free to dive into the comments.