Lifelong Learning: Lessons from a Spider

La Machine_48 by ajarl.jpg
La Machine_48 by ajarl (CC BY 2.0)

Many – maybe most – people are not the greatest fans of spiders, so much so that I’m cautious about using images that (hopefully) won’t trigger arachnophobia. They’re not my favourite creature either, but I do owe them my gratitude for a lesson one of their kind once taught me…

When I was a sessional (or casual tutor) at Deakin University’s Geelong Waurn Ponds campus, I shared an office with Tony Chalkley – now my colleague in Deakin’s School of Communication and Creative Arts. We were chatting to each other about some subject long since forgotten when a fairly large arachnid walked slowly across the desk between us. Tony and I just stared at the spider as it passed by, then looked up and stared at each other. We didn’t know what to do. One of us said, ‘Our PhDs don’t prepare us for this…’

I don’t know what happened to that spider (we didn’t touch it), but the point of this blog is that the joke Tony and I shared at that moment has come to exemplify for me a lesson I’ve learnt repeatedly as the years pass by. A student’s studies never fully prepare them for what comes after. For me, my Bachelor of Arts, Honours degree, and the PhD that followed had nothing to do with creative media-making and how that might inform both my research and teaching. I didn’t need to have any kind of online presence beyond the emails I sent and the literary discussion forums I contributed to a handful of times. I didn’t need an ePortfolio of any kind. The gap between the films I made for high school assignments and the videos I made for university teaching was 11 years. The only filming I did during that hiatus was of some of Tiff’s shenanigans. And as I noted in a recent post, those early videos were made in analogue form. Things have changed.

Photograph by Chen, 30 August 2015.

Being a lifelong learner is crucial to anyone’s success in the present; this applies to academics, to people working in industry, and to students. I don’t often gesture to Wikipedia for explanations of key concepts, but the definition formed by its online community is spot on! I recently had a conversation about lifelong learning with a cousin who works in online marketing and public relations for a large Australian company. My cousin emphasised how much trouble she and all of her colleagues have trying to keep up with the ever-changing online world, even while they’re working with social media on a daily basis. For this and for other reasons, my emphasis is always on students ‘learning how to learn’ rather than me teaching them specific technical skills, which in any case might need to be re-learnt when platforms change over time.

Learning-by-doing is the only way to really understand the nuances of digital media practices and processes. Intertwined with this are the important issues of confidence, initiative, and creativity. I often hear students expressing nervousness at the very notion of tweeting or blogging (not to mention the intimidating experiences of podcasting and vlogging). I’ve often seen students only putting in the bare minimum of effort to obtain a credit point. And I’ve often witnessed students conveying self-doubt about their creative potential. A number of students even say ‘I’m not creative at all’ – which is never true of anyone. It was long after my studies were completed that I discovered the Media Studies 2.0 approach and pushed myself out of my comfort zone to upskill and teach in part via YouTube. This very same need to break out of one’s comfort zone applies to students as well.

An outline of some key ideas behind Media Studies 2.0 and a glimpse of the journey my video-making has taken can be found in the video below:

The footage in this video spans four years and I’ve finally got some things (ranging from a more relaxed delivery to a more effective use of YouTube thumbnails) right – or at least better. Learning isn’t always instant; some things might take longer than a week (or even a degree). Most importantly, learning needs to be lifelong. I stressed in another recent blog that sometimes things go wrong, but that doesn’t mean they can’t be valuable experiences. Like another, slightly more famous arachnid attached to a waterspout, the main thing is that learners persevere. Any spider walking across a table has undoubtedly fallen down many times along the way.

Thanks for reading/watching, and good luck with your own online endeavours!

Featured image: Lego spider by Ian Lamont (CC BY 2.0)

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