The Essay vs YouTube

The week both my EDT 400 and EDT 520 classes watched the fantastic An anthropological introduction to YouTube by Dr. Michael Wesch. As usual, it starts great conversations about how revolutionary YouTube, and other online video sites, have become. Most people tend to think of YouTube as only a “kick in the crotch” or “dog riding a skateboard” video site. After seeing things though Dr. Wesch’s lens, most realize there is also a wealth of content that fits in with even the most traditional of teachers curriculum.

As I was talking with one of my students, I found myself going back to my common “soap box” arguement that posting content for the world to see is more meaningful than the traditional essay. When I say traditional essay I mean an essay that:

  1. Is research based, and fits the intro, supporting paragraphs, conclusion type.
  2. Is written for an audience of one. Usually the teacher.
  3. Is written for the purpose of getting a grade. That may not be the teachers intention, but it ends up that way for most students.

I think I have a pretty good point. While there is nothing wrong with writting and essay, aren’t there other ways to communicate information. In the 21st century, it is very easy to argue that these other forms of communication are better, more meaningful, and more relevant to all students futures.

I work in higher education where the main focus is on publishing to journals. You know, the whole peer review thing. Most journals are only read by a select few subject matter experts. If the article is presented at a conference, it may see a few more eyes. Either way, it still takes a few months to reach that select audience.

So far I haven’t seen that much engagement in getting the content of these journal articles across using other mediums. Not just a reading of the article, but a complete recreation and presentation of the information to fit the wide array of mediums available today. Maybe it isn’t the traditaional way, but woudn’t YouTube be a better way to spread the hard work and innovation that goes into these articles? Wouldn’t the number of possible eyes and collaborative opportunities YouTube (and other new mediums) provide be better? Isn’t sharing those ideas just as important as the work itself?

In reality the correct (at least in my eyes) answer isn’t either or. It is both. There will always be the need for scholarly articles. They provide a depth and strict attention to detail scholars need to understand a work. However, that is no longer enough. In addition, these articles should be accomplanied by other forms of media. Dr. Wesch has done this beautifully. His Web 2.0…The Machine is Us/ing Us YouTube video exists because of his work with digital ethnography. It sparked interest from the masses and brought a whole new audience to his work. Isn’t that what we should expect from reseach in the 21st century?