In the picturesque Claremont, California, a group of 35 students are making academic and media history. Together, they are studying a phenomenon that Time magazine said was the prime mover behind its selection for 2006 Person of the Year You. The website? YouTube.
Led by media studies professor Alexandra Juhasz, the course, which meets every Tuesday and Thursday at noon, is possibly the first ever about the video-sharing site. The college says that the course, available at www.youtube.com/group/learningfromyoutube, is a “pedagogic experiment focusing on the potentials and limits of digital media culture.” To take this a step further, Prof Juhasz has invited the public to watch the class or participate at www.youtube.com/mediapraxisme.
To be sure, digital technology is now embedded in hundreds of academic courses around the world. Laptops and Wi-Fi connectivity are passé; so are lectures on podcasts and video conferencing; and BlackBerry presentations are considered par for the course.
But the YouTube class is where technology is not just the tool to study; it is the subject of study. As M Perry, the moderator of the YouTube online class discussion group and a senior media studies major at Pitzer, says, “I wonder about the power of YouTube as an intellectual forum. Is this type of discussion truly unique to streaming video, or is YouTube merely another extension of the Internet as a communication tool? Is the ‘video soapbox’ more effective than text-based blogs?"
Hmmm, tough. For now, at least, blogs are reasonably more popular as an individual form of expression, only because words are relatively easier to write than visuals are to create.
However, its sheer popularity (20 million visitors a month, says AC Nielsen) and growing influence (every 2008 US presidential candidate has a YouTube campaign) could propel the video sharing site to challenge the influence of blogs as a socio-political phenomenon.
Perhaps the 35 students are studying just the right thing at the right time.