“The Unbearable Lightness of New Media Education” presented by Chan


Session Title:

  • UNESCO Session: Teaching

Presentation Title:

  • The Unbearable Lightness of New Media Education



    My students and I are crammed in a small computer lab, waiting. We are always waiting: for computers to restart, for computers to recover, for projects to load, and in some cases, not load. I have learned that these interruptions are not wasteful, but precious; they are the only moments when I can devote myself entirely to teaching, instead of troubleshooting. If the time spent in front of a functioning computer counts as the waking time of a class, I imagine the time spent between the crashes and recoveries as the sleeping time, so the conversations and exchanges that occur, whether they are casual or curricular, can inform the class like a dream.

    We are waiting to look at a final art project by a student we will call Postmodernity. She launches her project on the computer. A square of white light, centered and small, appears. I won’t describe the whole project, but I will give you the highlights; a young couple walks on a deserted beach (the appearance of a beach signifies love); a camera spinning violently in circles in a busy city intersection (a favorite metaphor of hers that refers to the general confusion of contemporary life); a collection of flat shapes bouncing across the screen (telling me she has mastered the animation software we have in the computer lab); finally, large white type that reads, Postmodernity, copyright nineteen ninety seven.

    Her piece looked technically impressive and very familiar. Postmodernity’s pieces always do. The class creeps into a critique session. Before long, a student tells me the reason behind my lingering sense of familiarity with the piece: Postmodernity had made it last semester, in my Digital Video I class, only now it is a quarter of its original size. Incredulous (and slightly embarrassed that I didn’t recognize it sooner), I ask her why she did not make something new. Postmodernity replied shyly and sincerely, Because everything is been done. There is nothing new anymore.

    Of course I blamed myself. Time is precious in any classroom or studio. I failed to balance the allure of learning new technology with a curriculum reorganized and reconstituted their experience with the technology into something more meaningful. But I am not the only one at fault; I blame Avid for making propriety video software that is not compatible with other software; I blame Adobe, for making their applications increasingly less user-friendly; I blame Macromedia for upgrading their applications every six months; I blame that Cisco ethernet router for having network problems on days that I teach; I blame Microsoft, for being Microsoft; I blame Apple, for not evaluating third party software that run on their operating systems in order to minimize the amount of computer crashes. There’s plenty of blame around.

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