Experts & Novices, Frustrations with Academia, and SO MANY Screencasts

We began last week’s class by continuing our conversation about the ways people learn — and revisiting the ideas of ways experts learn vs. the ways that novices do. Experts are able to chunk information in a way that novices usually cannot. Because of their familiarity with a specific topic, experts are able to “notice more” — both possibly taking more in but also possibly being more attuned to the nuances of what is deserving of their attention and what might fade into the background.

We also talked a little about a point that I think we all murmur (gripe?) about but don’t always talk about enough openly — the fact that expert thinkers and researchers are not necessarily the same folks who are expert teachers. There are some people for whom both of these descriptors fit. When this happens, it can be pretty exciting for their students. I’m always geeked when I can tell that within the first session of a class. However, one of my biggest beefs with academia (yep, I just wrote that phrase and I’m going with it!) is exactly this problem. Sometimes professors are obviously brilliant, also have the skill sets that make them excellent researchers, but just don’t have the knack for teaching.

Kristin mentioned that there was some chatter now and then about perhaps separating teaching roles from research roles a bit more within universities. This idea is interesting to me for several reasons. My immediate thought about this was that it could potentially provide a more comprehensive/full way to address alternative academic (#altac) careers and fairly value/compensate those who excel in teaching and projects other than the old-school metric of getting research published in high-impact-factor journals.

This lecture material and discussion led nicely into the next segment of class, which focused on developing screencasts. Although we did go through some ideas behind creating a strong screencast, Kristin also touched on “issues bigger than screencasts” which included some broader questions that I think are important to consider. Honestly, I could probably write a whole blog entry on each of these questions at some point, but I’ll spare you that for now. I think they are worth re-stating here just as questions to keep in the back of one’s mind when thinking about screencasts:

  • Does online learning work?
  • Are online modules effective enough to replace face-to-face?
  • Online learning is being adopted at an unprecedented rate. Is it really effective?
  • Does that matter? Or do we just go where the students go? (Political jockeying.)
  • At what point are screencasts PR as much as they are about learning?

Before being sent off into the internet wilderness to create our own screencast, we did an exercise in class where we paired up and examined several screencasts that were how-tos for Google Reader. The first thought I had while doing this was “Oh god. Why are there so many TERRIBLE screencasts? Why do people bother to make and post things that don’t seem at all thought-out are, frankly, confusing?”

After momentarily getting down on myself for being so dang judgmental of these other (after all, learning in public ain’t easy, and we all need space to make mistakes and grow), I realized that the primary motive of a lot of these screencasts was actually not really to teach the reader about Google Reader. Yes, the sceencasts were sort of about Google Reader. However, the main objectives seemed to actually be about just “creating content” to either bump up one’s YouTube/search stats, promote oneself, or to do some not-so-subtle “Oh! By the way!” promotion of businesses or organizations. In one case, a gentleman seemed to be using this tutorial mainly as a way to mention blogs/websites associated with his church!

It was interesting to see which screencasts multiple groups identified as the best. It was clear, too, that simply showing someone screenshots and having them follow along was not always enough or even the best way of relaying the information. In fact, simple animation and storytelling (so… why would I use Google Reader?) seemed key.

This was a critical realization, but it also left me feeling a little bit of extra trepidation about trying to produce my own screencast. Let’s hope I don’t just add to the clutter of frustrating screencasts clogging the tubes of the interwebs… I guess you readers will be able to weigh in on that soon enough!

Photo credit: Hockeyholic,

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