Being Visible

4 mins reading

Some years ago, a student who I’d never met or spoken to came up to me after a graduation ceremony. This student had recognised me from my YouTube videos in a unit she’d studied as part of her degree. She told me that even though she was an off-campus student studying from interstate, she felt like she ‘knew me’. What she meant by this was that because she was watching me talk to her on a weekly basis in what I then called ‘meLectures’, there was a perceived ‘interpersonal’ interaction that was happening through the screen.

Image unrelated. No idea who did this…

I want to focus here on the theme of being visible, which I flagged in an earlier post on making welcome videos as a highly useful strategy for creating a connection with new students. There is a perceived ‘intimacy’ that the now long history of vlogging conventions has cemented into the collective cultural psyche; nonetheless, speaking to the camera when making videos is only one example of how teachers can/need to be visible though.

In Higher Education, those lecturers who coordinate units with often large cohorts in the role of ‘Unit Chair’ often remain invisible – if not completely unknown – to the majority of students enrolled. When a lecture recording setup involves only spoken audio and screen-captured slides – as I’m guessing it still does in the majority of universities – it is very possible that a student could progress through several months of engaging with lecture content and seminars without ever actually seeing the lecturer.

unit chair widget.pngThe Learning Management System used where I work at Deakin University only began to include a Unit Chair profile picture several years ago, although that alone might not count as all that ‘visible’ – especially after the widget was shrunk in size considerably this year.

The importance for academics to be visible at a time when tertiary teaching is subject to a mass casualisation of the workforce is part of a wider issue and not necessarily related to the digital alone. Web 2.0 developments have played no small role in the power of being seen. The need to be visible on camera to engage audiences stems from a revolution that Professor of Internet Studies Matthew Allen best described in a video I made in 2016:

The internet, by redistributing the means of producing information about ourselves – and let’s face it, in the contemporary world most media does seem to be about personalities, not about things – now we are experiencing ourselves not so much as an audience, but as the product itself… [T]he person is now the media product, and we experience ourselves and who we are as, if you like, the producers of ourselves, and then turn around and we are the audiences for other people like ourselves.

This is a fairly confronting scenario for anyone who hasn’t grown up with social media, much less teachers who hail from long-standing pedagogical traditions that for the most part remain at a distance from social media. And by the way, I’m guessing that if you clicked on the video link above to watch and listen to Matt delivering those lines rather than only reading the words off the screen, there’s a good chance they had more impact.

The implications of this social and cultural transformation for teachers and teaching continue to be confronted and avoided, depending on the context, and I won’t be able to do it justice here. To keep this post to a manageable length (for me and for you), I’ll relate this to one more area I’ve blogged about recently.

Frank is a sage for many of life’s dilemmas, but entirely useless when it comes to visibility.

A further context where educator visibility has come to the fore is the increasing use of social media to build professional-personal learning networks. This kind of online engagement by teachers is very much a form of visibility, even if a pseudonym is employed and one’s avatar picture bears no resemblance to one’s face. Learning from/with colleagues around the world in open and strategic ways is fundamental to developing ongoing and sustainable innovative practices in education at all levels (and not only universities). This issue is something I’ll no doubt come back to again and again – not least of all because this website and the Digital Learning with @digitalzones podcast is motivated directly by it.

One outstanding example I recently encountered of the kind of visibility I mean here is the online activity of French science teacher Nicolas Gaube (a.k.a. @a_happy_teacher). Nicholas’ dynamic on screen presence on his YouTube channel is worth getting a taste of… even if the croissants are virtual 😦

I connected with Nicholas by chance through the and hashtags over the weekend. The internet truly is an amazing place. Half a world away and yet I can get a glimpse into Nicholas’ teaching practice, teaching philosophy, and teaching persona more readily than I can in far more local settings.

The reason? Nicholas is visible.



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