Saturday, March 03, 2007

Tech Changes Fast; Teach Thinking Instead

I'm not sure what to write. I'm not sure what I even think right now. It's still digesting.

Yesterday, the college of mass communications' national board of directors met in Lubbock.

I was born in the Midwest, and I have spent most of my life living in the "middle." One of the problems with living in the middle is that the population centers are on the coasts. And it's difficult to get people to come to the middle.

That's what makes yesterday's meeting so amazing to me. Sitting in Lubbock, Texas, (not quite the backwater of its image but not exactly Times Square), we had a room full of heads of media industries. I won't waste time dropping names here, but there were an impressive array of leaders from all areas of media.

It is likely that had I not come to Tech, I would never have been in the company of so many decision makers at one time. And we were in Lubbock, not New York City.

It was a fascinating round table discussion. We listened as they talked about what today's students need. The recurring theme was the change of pace of new technology.

We cannot teach that, of course. By its very definition, fast-paced change is, well, changing too fast to teach. If you've never taught a college course, you may not know how much time goes into getting the course ready. Even if you take a semester to get a course prepared on, let's say, user-created ads (such as those in the Super Bowl), by the time the students show up for the course, you might as well be teaching the telegraph.

Things will have changed.

As I sat there, I kept thinking that this fast pacing means that we must focus on creative thinking more than even. Instead of trying to keep up -- for example my first journalism class at NMSU was the last semester they actually used typewriters -- we need to take a step back from technology and teach thinking.

I sat pondering this, and then my colleague Coy Callison actually said it out loud. Thanks, Coy. Of all of those media leaders, none likely even heard the word Internet in a college classroom. Yet they manage to lead large corporations in a digital era.

Along the way, someone taught them to think. And that has served them well. And I think that is our job in the university classroom today.

Don't get me wrong. I will make changes in the way I teach because of what I heard on Friday. I will make changes as soon as Monday. But I will not throw my syllabus in the wastebin because the media industry is changing fast.

In an address Thursday night, board member David Fowler, a creative guru at Ogilvy & Mather, talked about the "big idea." He was referring to David Ogilvy's quotation, "It takes a big idea to attract the attention of consumers and get them to buy your product. Unless your advertising contains a big idea, it will pass like a ship in the night."

Today the big idea is more important than ever.

I will not concede to Marshall Mcluhan. Not today. Not ever. The medium is not the message. The message is still the message. And you still need the big idea ... perhaps more now than ever. And our students are far better served learning how to come up with the idea than chasing the current media fad.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

YOU are right! The message is still the message! Don't forget it. Tell 'em, tell 'em, tell 'em.

9:22 PM  

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