Rob Larson - Video in the Modern Learning Environment

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Faculty Spotlight: Rob Larson

Assistant Professor of Communication & Media Studies

Image of Professor Rob Larson

Q: Why is video an important medium in the modern learning environment?

A: To me, personality is a critical element in effective teaching. Content is of the utmost priority, of course, but today's students have instruction of incredible depth and breadth on nearly any subject available 24/7 via the supercomputers in their pockets. Why should students take costly online classes that are primarily text-driven, when immersive multimedia content exists freely from many world-renowned institutions? Today's academic technology must personalize education, and make our educators accessible and human. The best way I know how to do that from the perspective of media studies is to be myself as much as possible, and I can accomplish that using the full extent of my communication abilities. I want students to hear my voice, see my hand gestures, understand the context of my jokes and non-sequiturs, even glean some understanding of my methods by my wardrobe and facial expressions. Ideally, I would like the same in return. I am a staunch defender of the traditional classroom environment, of the lecture, of one-on-one time with students. It is easy to understand that when we cannot be face-to-face with other humans, the next best thing is to see them, hear them, and to be faithful to the traditional communication model. Beyond these essentials, media technology has some distinct advantages that in some ways are even more effective than the traditional classroom context. We all understand the movies, television, infographics and multimedia computer technologies offer rich alternatives to the traditional 'sage on a stage'. But we must recognize that today's students are used to receiving better and more immersive multimedia technology from $50 video games than online classes that can cost thousands. In order to be competitive or even relevant, we must do better.

Q: How do you do you think your students will benefit from our new video initiatives in ALT?

A: Our college is making tremendous strides addressing the issue I've just mentioned. We have made a serious investment in multimedia advancements, both in tech and in people. I am happy to see faculty bravely stepping up to meet the high demands of online learning, and we stand poised to be leaders in online education. To me, it is not good enough to 'update and upgrade'. We must define the new benchmarks of online education and create the latest models. Our students will benefit course by course, but also by knowing their college is a national leader in online higher ed.

Q: What do you think will be coming to video in the near future and a little far off?

A: Immediately, I see us pushing technology out of the way, so to speak, so that human instruction can again be the focus of the educational environment. Like a well-edited film or high-quality recording, we gain the most when the media platform in in the background and we do not notice it. Computer mediated communication at its best should not require advanced computing knowledge (or tremendous patience). People should still be the directors of the education. So I hope we will prove that in our online learning environment, people (not computers) educate. On the horizon, I see VR and AR and hybrid learning, traditional and online fully merging. A conversation for another day! Thank you for your time.

Rob Larson (@roblarson1979) is an Assistant Professor of Communication and Media Studies at the College of St. Scholastica. He holds advanced degrees in Education, Theology, and Philosophy, and writes speculative fiction and non-fiction related to media technology and artificial intelligence. He is a Summa cum laude graduate of the European Graduate School in Switzerland, where he studied with Avital Ronell, Giorgio Agamben, Alain Badiou, Slavoj Zizek, Atom Egoyan, and Jacques Ranciere, among others. He has travelled extensively as a media theorist, recently visiting Shanghai, China and Valletta, Malta. Larson is also a stage and screen writer, video editor, actor, husband, and father. He is currently working on a novel about the Singularity, set in 2013.