Do or do not. There is no try.
I recently responded to a student tweet with the above quotation. The student had mentioned something they were hoping to (would ‘try to’) do over the next week or so. I can’t remember who the student was, or what exactly they were aspiring to create – it could have been a blog, a Periscope broadcast, or something else. That doesn’t really matter now, but the brief exchange reinforced the need for me to wrap up the units I’m currently teaching with a simple and single message. I’ll come back to what that message is, but first I wanted to share a brief story…
Many years ago, when I was completing my own studies Deakin Uni in Geelong, I lived with my maltese-shitzu companion Tiffany in the suburb of Grovedale. One day I made myself some lunch: two bagels, heaped with fillings – one of my favourites at the time. Just when I was about to start eating, a neighbour from across the street knocked on my door asking for some help with their computer. So I left the plate of bagels on a coffee table in front of the couch and ducked out of the house for twenty minutes. When I came back, only half a bagel and no fillings were left.
Tiffany, who had already eaten a decent-sized meal an hour or two beforehand, had jumped up on the sofa, somehow transferred the food from the coffee table, and was now too full to be physically able to get down from the couch. I was probably a bit worried, and thankfully she was okay, but I’m pretty sure I couldn’t help myself from laughing as well. I don’t tell that story here to encourage excessive eating or criminal theft, but that story has come to mind a few times lately and I keep thinking about how instinctive – how instantaneous – Tiff’s ‘decision’ to eat the bagel must have been. Careful consideration is often very important, but sometimes thinking (or, more accurately, thinking up excuses) can get in the way of just doing something.
The message I was talking about earlier is, of course, about being active online. Consciously or otherwise, I’m always looking for new ways to convey this point to students. I would love to be able to say ‘Just do it’, but Nike’s stuffed that phrase for all time. I include the hashtag #BeActive from time to time in my tweets, though this isn’t a particularly effective one given its widespread use.
Even when I took a break from work to go to Point Nepean earlier this year, I’m sure I knew at the time that many of the photographs and videos I shot of the amazing scenery there would find their way into my teaching materials. Sure enough, this databank of footage came in very handy for at least a couple of YouTube videos I’ve made since. However, not everything I did that day proved to be 100% useful. When standing in the centre of an old military fortification on the coast, I instinctively used its sound dynamic to experiment with a new way to communicate my key message…
As it turned out, this unplanned endeavour didn’t work. I realised too late that I should have yelled ‘Be active!’ rather than ‘Get to work!’, which seemed too harsh in its delivery. Further, my phone didn’t capture the actual ‘surround sound’ echo created by the structure well enough. So I never used that footage – until now, when I could give it some fuller context – but at least I tried it out.
The crucial importance for my students of making and sharing media, networking widely, and being a life-long learner in an increasingly competitive world is constantly reinforced in my mind at every turn. Over the past week, I participated in two industry forums, speaking at The Content Safari convened by ArkGroup Australia in Sydney and attending the Victorian PR, Media and Communication Student Forum in Melbourne. The former event revealed how the crises of engagement are encountered by practitioners in any industry, while the latter forum reminded me that those graduates who respond proactively to the demands society places on them invariably succeed.
Making blogs, videos, podcasts, infographics, prezis, and/or whatever is not just about building a dynamic portfolio to land a great (or any) job one day; it’s to keep students consistently exploring, discovering, and learning. Amidst all the world’s distractions, developing a habit of learning by doing is by far the best way to stay motivated and stand out from the crowd. I found myself blogging directly or indirectly about the theme of motivation a lot over the past several months. Whether I was writing (and making media) about student agency and education, content production and recyclability, getting things wrong, or the relationship between motivation and reward, that key message of ‘be active’ was always there in the background.
For most students who I’ve come into contact with over the past year, we will now part ways. Students will move forward to further study, internships, job applications, or in some cases progressing in their current careers. I will loop around to repeat my teaching of units that those students have now completed (circle of educational life?). Some will continue to stay in touch in one form or another, perhaps through the KAOSmedia initiative – the latest means by which students might continue to propel themselves – and each other – to be active online. In any case, I wish them all well and hope that they’ve not only learnt something about media-making and collaboration from their studies, but that they have – perhaps more importantly – learnt something about themselves and their future directions.
The following clip from the very end of the Coen brothers’ Burn After Reading (2008) might not seem on the surface to be the ideal video with which to leave students, and not only because it has some colourful language in it (warning given, play at your own risk!). However, the process of self-reflection undertaken by the two characters onscreen is something that students must also now engage in – and continue to do so at frequent intervals in the months and years to come.
Of course, I would like to think – or at least hope – that such a conversation wouldn’t follow after being subjected to a learning environment that I’ve designed and facilitated. But from my perspective, what would worry me most is not if students said ‘I don’t know what we learnt’ or ‘I don’t know what we did’, but if they said ‘I guess we learned not to do it again‘. When it comes to media-making, that’s the scariest option to choose, and the most self-destructive, because students can no longer afford to not do it again… Those who are truly open to the possibilities of the online world, and fully engage with those possibilities, tend to enjoy it anyway – and want to do it again. A lack of motivation can still be an obstacle to navigate though.
The units that are now coming to a close placed great emphasis on student agency, with the cohorts developing much of the unit content through blogging and other forms of media-making rather than simply being ‘spoonfed’ information to consume. Students were required to be active on multiple platforms; many enhanced their online presence, network, and identity in highly valuable ways. From deciding how often to blog, to choosing what topics to blog about, there was much freedom to be had.
At the beginning of the trimester, I stressed the somewhat corny line ‘With great power comes great responsibility’ (it’s obviously not corny here because I’m using a picture). It’s not an easy thing to be given power, particularly in contexts – like the education system – where you are accustomed to having control exerted over you. But when one is unleashed and finds oneself outside that system of control, that’s where the real creativity and initiative has to kick in. No longer surrounded by the customary structure that has shielded us from the elements, everyone is exposed… and only some will be ready. So before I get too philosophical, I’ll end with this:
Watch out for the opportunities that are lurking around the corner.
Put yourself in a position to take advantage of luck.
Eat the bagel.