Posted tagged ‘entertainment’

Let me entertain you!

July 21, 2010

In his song ‘Let me entertain you’, the singer Robbie Williams suggests that his audience is ‘tired of teachers’ and that ‘school’s a drag’; his remedy is to invite them to be entertained. And of course, entertainment is the idiom of the age, the platform from which a good deal of communication (of even quite serious matters) is disseminated. Entertainment is no longer just diversion from the serious business of life, it is the mainstream.

So it shouldn’t come as a shock to anyone that an analysis of the qualities that English students seek in their lecturers has revealed that ‘edutainment’ comes high on the list: higher than care for students, and assessment and feedback (though not as high as ‘great teaching’). This goes alongside the trend by which students increasingly use social networking site Facebook as their preferred medium of communication in academic matters.

And in fact, the idea that good teaching should also entertain is not new to me. Letcurers are performers, and one of their tasks is the find methods of communication that get the message across and stimulate the audience into active participation. A good lecture should have something of the music hall about it. But while this comes naturally to some academics, it is quite alien to others. And in any case, entertainment is a skill that needs to be taught and learned.

So I suspect that the academy needs to become serious about entertainment, and to make it part of the methodology of learning. In particular, we need to resist the temptation to see entertainment as cheap and boredom as noble.


Guest blog: A festival of ideas

July 29, 2009

A Festival of Ideas
by Dr Iain Mac Labhrainn, Director of the Centre for Excellence in Learning and Teaching (CELT) at NUI Galway

It was nice to see TED (Technology, Entertainment and Design) receive such coverage in much of the press last week although one suspects that it is perhaps the celebrity attendees (via the “entertainment” part of the label) that may have lured the photographers at least. TED though is both a celebration of ideas and a binge of creativity, style and eloquence. Carefully selected speakers are each given just 18 minutes to describe their ‘big idea’ or reflect on a particularly resonant experience to a live audience on stage, surrounded by cameras and in the knowledge that it will be broadcast to the world via the website, YouTube and iTunes.

Despite the outrageously expensive ticket prices (thousands of Euros per head), the event is popular (and of course is highly expensive to run) and all the presentations are ultimately made available and released under a Creative Commons license that ensures that they can be used for a variety of purposes by educators across the world. Many university courses now embed some of these in their courses and many academic staff also find them inspiring, not just in terms of the content but also in providing to some extent, interesting examples of how to capture an audience’s rapt attention.

From my perspective, in some ways this is a vision of what at least part of a university’s mission can and should be about – not just creating and nurturing new ideas but sharing them and indeed celebrating the joy of learning, of research and of creativity with a wider public – a place where ideas are the currency and where different disciplinary traditions meet and knowledge is contested. Of course it’s not possible to really get at the detail and the subtlety of academic research and scholarship in 18 minutes, nor should we forget to remind others of how much hard graft is involved in research (and learning a particular discipline). Nor can all of our statisticians swallow swords, nor all of our neuroscientists be recovering from a stroke ! But despite the slings and arrows of outrageous budget cuts and administrative loading, we all have somewhere within our heart a love for our subject that drove us deep into the discipline in the first place and perhaps at least those who have the ability to share in this way can be encouraged to do so and for it to be seen and recognised as a valid contribution to the academy and not just sneered at as part of ‘dumbing down’ or a ‘culture of celebrity’.

Even to talk to one another within the university (“in-reach” perhaps, rather than ‘outreach’), breeching the disciplinary barriers and going beyond the “academic tribes and territories” would have great value, particularly at a time in which funders and policy-makers are increasingly distinguishing between subjects in terms of funding and perceived economic relevance. A simple but rewarding aspect of our local programmes in Academic Practice, for example, is the ‘field trip’ where participants walk across the campus and visit each other’s labs, classrooms and buildings, describing their teaching and research in accessible terms.

TED itself is also now nurturing local events across the globe that follow the same basic structure of short, powerful talks or performances to an invited or selected audience that encourages cross-fertilisation of ideas and perspectives. It would be remiss of me not to mention that TEDxGalway is already being planned for December.

Fighting boredom

May 15, 2009

A university (not in Ireland) that periodically conducts surveys of students in their first year of study to find out what they were most concerned about, has found regularly that it is not money, grades or post-university employment, but boredom. Students coming from the rather actively managed environment at school, and used to being entertained there and at home, can sometimes worry that when these props are removed this is what they will encounter. And for them, the prospect of boredom can be terrifying. This is not the boredom of the spoilt child who has watched every DVD for the third time, but the boredom of the person who cannot make a connection with the world they are in; and the consequence is not irritability or a tanturm, but depression.

Those of us who work in universities don’t always realise that it is not an exciting world full of marvels for everyone. And we need to ensure that what we offer, inside and outside the curriculum, is both stimulating and, frankly, entertaining. Those who have not yet caught on to the sheer thrill of the intellectual content of our syllabus need to be brought to that point, and we need to design our programmes, our facilities and our campuses to provide that. If the students’ fear comes true, and they experience boredom throughout their studies, they may leave us disillusioned and unmotivated. So we should not be afraid to see university programmes as providing, amongst other things, excitement and entertainment. And maybe we should ask ourselves from time to time whether, in honesty, we think they do that.