Friday, March 11, 2011

Reality TV and E-Learning: The Next Frontier? Three Possible Edu-Reality Shows

Are you one of the 2 million or so viewers who watched Charlie Sheen's UStream show (Sheen's Korner) within the first week of its broadcast? Are you one of his 2 million Twitter followers? If so, you may have witnessed a new form of reality television -- one that could have applicability to e-learning. There are courses that study cultural and sociological phenomena, and there are entire degree programs that focus on trying to make sense of our rapidly evolving world. Why not consider new kinds of informal learning?

Let's look at where we are. So far, reality television and live news coverage functions as an enhancement to courses, but let's think of them as the course itself. What would it look like?

The idea of streaming video and live feeds of classrooms, surgical centers, and other instructional settings is definitely not new. One could argue it's as old as television itself -- how many people remember when children gathered around the television set brought into the classroom specifically to watch lift-off of the various NASA missions, starting with Gemini, and moving on with the Apollo missions, and the various space shuttles.

Reality television is a different prospect altogether. Certainly, recorded snippets and entire episodes are often woven into online courses as examples, case studies, and discussion / debate points. Think of various intervention shows, along with family and community relations / situations.

So, to return to the idea of reality television as the course itself, how would we do it? What would it look like?

Here are a few ideas / suggestions, which could all be extremely low-cost, especially if they're done via UStream ( The production values could be as low as in the case of the now notorious "Sheen's Korner" -- which can be seen either as a feeble attempt to usurp Conan O'Brien, or, a way to push the boundaries of reality television, particularly the "train wreck" genre. Celebrity meltdowns, unfortunately, tend to be the gift that keeps on giving -- the more you watch, the more mesmerized you become -- it's almost like watching clips of exotic pets mauling their hapless owners in Animal Planet's "Fatal Attractions" ("My Pet Crocodile").

You don't want to watch, but once you do, you want more and more. You ask yourself why, and all you can come up with is that there is something cathartic about tragedy (not exactly a new finding -- but ranks up there with the eternal verities) -- and, the Aristotelian ideas / precepts still hold: the tragic hero is compelling because of the essentially flawed nature of his/her beingness, and hubris resides at the core.

"There but for the grace of God ..." we intone because we all have a "hubris trigger" in our heart of hearts -- we all would love to be invincible and to somehow transcend / escape angst, pain, fear of death, and death itself.

But the tragic hero tends to die -- and to die prematurely -- precisely because he / she tried to cheat death, and to grab onto all the spoils of life -- wealth, glory, fame, progeny -- and the act of grasping is what triggered the downward spiral.

In very cogent terms, we can say that we participate in our own destruction and salvation. We position ourselves psychologically on the edge of the abyss, and, depending on our mood, we push ourselves over, or, we snatch ourselves back.


Needless to say, the opening credits would need to be accompanied by a link to something by the Pet Shop Boys -- my vote would go to "You Are Always On My Mind" but of course, it's up to the pet shop owner...

People have short attention spans. Keep it short. Keep it tight, and quickly shifting scenes and situations. I'd recommend five 3-minute scenarios that are shot live, but which have been planned in advance. I'd recommend a simple flow from one place / activity to another. Each activity would bring to bear real issues "teachable moments" that have to do with the following categories:

1 -- "Yes, we eat our young" -- The tragedy of overpopulation. Talk about the gerbils, white mice, and, well, the snakes.

2 -- "Sure, we can sell you a genetically engineered Rainbow Goldfish, but is this really what you want?" The dark side of extreme breeding.

3 -- "You make me sad when you make your breed do that!" Breed rescue situations -- why / how the popular way to deal with a breed leads to tragic exploitation (look at pugs, pit bulls, exotic popular pets, and more.

4 -- "I will pay you $5,000 for a Rhodesian Black Mamba" and other ethical dilemmas

5 -- Pet therapy saves lives -- how pet stores can help institute pet therapy in ways that no one really thought would work; and how people's lives are materially changed / benefited

Here's a way to bring together the way we use math in every day matters, but do not realize how powerful the decisions can be when they are connected to real-life situations.

1 -- Casinos R Us: the mathematics of gaming / gambling

2 -- Insurance? What, Me Worry? Delusion is not always the best mindset to maintain when you are trying to live your life in a sustainable way.

3 -- Felicific Calculus Redux: Death Panels, Hospice, and Cost-Benefit Analyses of Keeping Hope Alive -- What do Jeremy Bentham and the purveyors of health plans have in common?

4 -- Was Malthus Right? The Corn Revolution Did Not Count on Technologies of Seeds, Husbandry, and Finance

5 -- Urban Patterns: Why Urban Planning Matters, or, How So Much Crime Is Geographically Determined


This would be a 40-minute show (with commercial breaks, if you can find sponsors and advertisers) with 8 minutes per segment: the goal is to look at what people are doing, and to explore in a rather depthful way, what happens when one goes with the flow rather than hanging tough and enforcing an aggressively egalitarian view of competence and inclusion (essentially a meritocracy).

1 -- Twitter Backfire: What happens when you entrust your publicity to a person who is grammatically inept; the tweets erode your brand image!

2 -- Facebook Shame: Poor grammar, inadequate communication skills; your Facebook presence is suddenly a liability rather than an asset

3 -- Geographical Netherland: We try to go global, but it's not good when our employees think that Ecuador is in Africa.

4 -- Math Phobia Is No Longer Cool: A live feed of employees caught in painful math gaffes

5 -- The Leaderless Organization: Enlightened, Evolved, or Utterly Foolish?

Ratatat! I love it -- why not pull in music from MySpace and incorporate it as the reality soundtrack for reality elearning / education ... ??
My recommendation? Ratatat!! Please suggest your own (it's up to you...)

Find more artists like RATATAT at Myspace Music

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