The Euphemist

Reflections on Jewish Studies and many other subjects big and little, by a perpetual student who sometimes searches a little too long for just the right word ...

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Location: Minnesota, United States

Christian, truth seeker, husband, son, brother & uncle, Lutheran pastor, musician (cello, etc.), Jewish Studies grad student, intellectual historian, aquarium enthusiast & pet owner, philologist, astronomer, Norwegian-American, Ford pickup driver, buffoon.

Monday, October 17, 2005

Video courses: an audio-visual extravaganza

Twenty years ago as an undergrad I took an African history course, in which the prof showed us a series of filmstrips (yes, filmstrips), the good old-fashioned kind with a phonograph record soundtrack, complete with beeps telling you when to advance to the next frame. Some of you remember exactly what I mean, others are scratching your heads. It was outdated technology even for the mid-1980s, so when he brought out one of the filmstrips he always called it an "audio-visual extravaganza."

The Spertus MSJS program is an audio-visual extravanza of its own, done partly with video lectures, partly with one-week intensive campus sessions (I haven't done any courses on-campus yet, though I did make an actual visit to the Chicago campus nearly two years ago). I'm now starting my third video course, and through the miracle of VHS the Spertus campus comes right to my living room or office out here on the prairie.

Whether deliberately or by chance, the Spertus video course camera crew have a penchant for capturing students in mid-yawn. Most of the screen shots consist of an enthusiastic professor in front of the blackboard, with the backs of the heads of one or two students adorning the foreground. Occasionally they throw in a shot of the students in the classroom, looking a bit glazed-over. Frequently on the video you can hear the soft sound of a student asking a question in class, but for some reason there are never any visual shots of questioners asking questions. Perhaps it was hard for the camera crew to tell which set of lips was actually moving.

The instruction booklet for this course even contains this paragraph: "The recorded class met 4-5 hours each day during a hot summer, and class participants inevitably found it difficult to maintain an attention span for such an extended period, especially with material of the complexity of medieval Judaism. You do not have this problem." Don't be too sure. I've awakened on the floor a few times with the tv screen blue because the video was done.

This is no reflection on the content of the lectures, which are always highly interesting and thought-provoking. But over the years I've lost none of my talent for drowsiness during lectures, and apparently the same is true for the mostly old-than-average students co-starring in the Spertus video lectures.

The profs are highly qualified scholars with great enthusiasm for their subjects, and it comes through. One professor, a consummate Hebrew scholar, often turns a Hebrew phrase with great verve, and her pronunciation of the letter 'ayin is something I'll never achieve. It is the most gutteral of the gutterals, though the heth is also rather gutteral - a fluent speaker can almost raise the concern that something's about to be coughed up.

The introductory notes for my new course also mention that three distance learners were in the class while it was being taped, two from Texas and one from North Dakota, which fascinates me, since I've lived both places. In fact, the lectures were taped during July 24-29, 1994, which happens to have been during the first full week of my two-year residence in Texas. I wonder if I'll be able to pick out the North Dakotan. People from ND usually don't dress much differently from others, but generally have a conspicuous cleanness, like Paul McCartney's grandpa in "Hard Day's Night" ("He's a stone mixer, but he's clean ..."). And of course, North Dakotans (like East River South Dakotans & Minnesotans, I'll admit) talk not unlike the characters in the movie "Fargo" (though I adamantly maintain that the movie lays it on a little thick - on the other hand I admit I've known people all my life who talk exactly like the "Fargo" characters ... I've been told that I do, too ... ), so if he/she pipes up with a question it'll be a dead giveaway.

I haven't actually begun watching my new video lectures yet, as I'm supposed to read some of the assigned readings first. But I eagerly await my new "audio-visual extravaganza." The intro notes also say, "Unlike students in the classroom, you have the advantage of 'instant replay.' You have access to 'class sessions' at any time - particularly at times that you are most alert." Most alert, eh?! I'm not sure I ever am at my most alert ... so I think I'll be doing a lot of replay, which is nothing new ...


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Blogger Michael said...

"The Fog?" How strangely appropriate! A horror flick about students glazing over while watching video lectures!

7:34 AM  
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