An article in the Harvard Magazine discusses how the increasing use of digital media such as video and the Internet is changing the college classroom. Lectures have been a staple of the college classroom since the Middle Ages where lecturing was developed from universities in that time period. The lack of books in that time period coupled with the expense of making copies made it practical and efficient to have a lecturer read to a gathering of students.
However, lectures are fast becoming a thing of the past with the increasing use of media to supplant lectures. While images and even video aren’t new to classrooms, the way students consume such media has changed.
The old-style classroom, grounded in spoken lectures and reading lists, is becoming obsolete. Images now dominate a new style of teaching in which visual, audio, and interactive formats rule, often trumping words as the dominant means of communication. Media enhancements aren’t exactly new: 50 years ago, one of Kelly’s predecessors, G. Wallace “Woody” Woodworth, prepared a 78-rpm record for a Music 1 class by taking a piece of blackboard chalk and marking an “X” on a groove at the entry cue. But new technologies, and a generation reared on them, are propelling the modes of teaching toward nonverbal media and briefer, more compact transactions. Communications—and pedagogy—are moving away from Tolstoy’s thousand-plus pages and toward Twitter, which limits its messages, or “tweets,” to 140 characters.
In the last two or three decades, Western culture has shifted its appetites toward images, film, and video. Word-driven media like newspapers are thinning out while video agoras like YouTube grow exponentially and threaten to eclipse even television. “The change has been so rapid that people and institutions haven’t been able to adjust,” says Shigehisa Kuriyama, Reischauer Institute professor of cultural history, who teaches in both the departments of history of science and East Asian languages and civilizations. “You have academic tenure, which works in a time frame of decades. Yet we now have technologies that are changing yearly.”
The student audience is primed. Thronging into classrooms is a generation saturated since early childhood with images and interactive media. Pictures, both still and moving, are their native vocabulary. “They don’t read books,” says Bernbaum professor of literature Leo Damrosch, who liberally lards his courses on humor and the Enlightenment with visual exhibits. “Even English concentrators finish high school having read The Great Gatsby, three or four other novels, and some short stories. I have three short novels on my reading list, and students ask, ‘What? Read a novel in a week?’ Many are not very good writers, either, and it is too late for Expos [Harvard’s required expository writing course] to fix it. Whenever I have had great writers as students, they were avid readers as kids.”
Read the full article at Harvard Magazine: Professor Media.