The first college class that I taught was in 1998. It seems so far, far away. I had just left teaching middle school and high school for 5-6 years. These days I keep remembering the ordeals—both in time and money— that I had to endure to show video or images in my classes, which I did quite often. If I had some images I wanted to show, I would make color-copies and do them in multiples to pass around the room. Thank goodness for Kinkos, open 24 hours, where you could often find me at 4am in the morning copying in a last-minute pinch if I came up with some new lesson plan during the weekday rather than on the weekend. My paychecks seemed to just evaporate buying books and rendering those color copies. I always used full-color photographs and artwork because I was intent on making sure that my black and Latin@ students saw images of themselves that could sustain who they were and were meant to be. If the classroom didn’t provide that, then we would be at the mercy of Hollywood and cable television, not the kind of fate I had in mind.
Showing documentaries and films was another ordeal and yet another place where my money evaporated. I had to be rather creative to get Blockbuster (do they even still exist?) to order what I wanted and then copy stuff at home for my own personal library. I had a set of friends who would send me videos too, it was like a private youtube network. On campus, I would have to reserve a VCR/TV at least a week in advance which came on a huge rolling cart with the television and VCR padlocked with the kind of thick, metal chains you use to lock down a motorcycle (in New York City, that is). On more than a few occasions, I would have to wheel that thing across campus. The wheels were never great and the sidewalks were never smoothly paved so you could be sure that I was rolling that thing all up on the grass and in the flowerbeds. Then I would have to wait on an empty elevator upwards of 15 minutes to get to my classroom. If you didn’t arrive at least one hour before classes, you were in BIG trouble because you had some serious work to do to get your class prepped (and I learned the hard way to CHECK the equipment to make sure it actually works before you leave the equipment room or you would have an even BIGGER mess and even more dead flowers on your hands). If you had multiple classes back-to-back in different buildings, you would need to stagger the classroom viewing because you had to request the chained-TV/VCR-wagon in each different location. Time between classes didn’t permit you to drop off one wagon and pick up another wagon. If it rained or snowed, it was a WRAP! Just be prepared to start the process all over again because no TV/VCR wagons could be taken outside then. It was, to put it mildly, an EXTRA HOT MESS! You can see that with this kind of preparation and extra work, it was really difficult to become or nurture a teaching force who would fully incorporate multimedia work in their classrooms and teaching. The only thing that was worthwhile were the jokes the guys in “tech” would make when they saw what happened to the grass and flowerbeds when I was done for the day! Like I said, a hot mess!
On a reg’lar ole day, I just looked like Radio Raheem. Playing music and incorporating lyrics was just so much easier; that is, if you had your own boom box. Otherwise, you would be stuck requesting some too-heavy CD/tape player one week in advance with no kinda sound or bass at all (which, to me, was as much of a hot mess as rollin all up in the flowerbeds). So yeah, I just carried a boom box to class with me all of the time. I got all manner of jokes from students (nicknamed “the professor with the radio” or, just, “Professor Raheem”) but it seemed to make them register for my classes all the more so I took it all in stride.
I am as committed to multimedia curriculum today as I was back then. There’s not that much of a change in my disposition though many educators like to imagine that we are somehow more multimedia now than ever before. It’s a really anti-historical argument, digital empire in full effect in its privilege/domination to imagine itself as brand-spanking-new. Am I more visual now than Lois Mailou Jones in the Harlem Renaissance? Or black female quilt makers? A stupid suggestion, if you ask me.
Yes, there are certainly differences. When I usedta put images on my typical 15-to-20-page syllabi, I had to cut and paste in the scissor-and-glue style. Glue sticks vs. them bottles of Elmer’s messy glue (or rubber cement) were the greatest technology to me when I was teaching back then. Boy did them glue sticks save time, even if the glue did dry up too fast! Granted, I am being somewhat facetious here in calling glue sticks new technology, but in my everyday life as a teacher, that’s exactly how them glue sticks were experienced. As for now, where I once used blackboard to house the online hyperlinks and materials of a semester, I now use a website. My students who have been dropped from the class can still tap in even when their university IDs do not work, my former students can tap in, and I can embed videos and music in new ways to create different kinds of visual and auditory texts for curricular content. It’s as convenient, fast, and streamlined as them glue sticks and makes my curricular goals easier. No more equipment requests a week in advance and now, each day, a student directs a multimedia rhetorical analysis, something I simply could not have planned given the scarcity of equipment (there is a screen and PC in each classroom and all students receive a laptop).
Like before, I get to maneuver around all kinds of interesting quirks and new plannings. I don’t have page limits or the designs of the page to limit the content and presentation of the curriculum anymore. I don’t have annoying digital pages on my university system as an appendix to the course with all of those annoying university logos and brandings. Everything is all in one place now and I have more control over design (albeit, not full control). I can link out and include photos of the authors who we are reading in the hopes that students feel more connected to them; the authors become metaphoric members of the writing community (the authors who we read sometimes contact me/us so the community is real). It became important to me this semester, for instance, that students SEE Jacqueline Jones Royster and Shirley Wilson Logan as they are reading their work; these are not scholars from up on high but unilateral black female meaning-makers in their lives.
I haven’t included more audiovisual segments into the course (that has been there from previous semesters), but I have included more visuals and hyperlinks. I suspect that I will learn a lot more about this curriculum and about teaching now that I have moved to a different platform. I won’t lie here: I don’t miss what I had to do in them days of old though, sadly, I am no longer called Professor Raheem (many of my students don’t even know who Radio Raheem was and/or what he symbolizes). Yet and still, my students do have new nicknames for me based on their newest cultural apparatus. I will confess that there are days when I wouldn’t mind running over the campus fauna a little bit. I may still get my chance.