This Morning: A Pedagogical Broadcast on Students and Mobile Devices

This morning the country’s eyes were on UT Austin, where a gunman shot and killed himself with an AK-47. Thankfully, no one else was injured, and the situation seems to have calmed down. I was relieved as I followed the events this morning to see tweets from friends in Austin that they were safely at home or in a safe place on campus.

In my office before teaching this morning, I watched the livestream on Austin’s Fox Channel 7. I had to go teach at 11, so I didn’t get to watch much, but what I found particularly notable was the use of mobile devices in the broadcast. More accurately, not just the reporting about the use of mobile devices, but the pedagogy of the broadcast: they were teaching us about the uses of mobile devices, and even more specifically, producing a stance toward young students and their mobile device usage. In short, it seemed like the broadcast was arguing, “Young people need to learn how to use mobile devices correctly.”

Here’s what I saw. Admittedly, this was a very small segment, and perhaps not indicative of the overall coverage. First was the general reporting of the situation, which included an extended framed shot of students just milling about outside, using their mobile devices (texting, tweeting, surfing the web for updates, who knows). The reporting seems to imply that there is a general nonchalance amongst these young men and women: they’re too plugged into their phones to actually be hiding like they should be.

But then, the next reporter, standing on campus, explained how unsafe it was, and how she ran into students who were trying to go to class. They’d say, “I have to get to class,” and then the reporter turned to lecturer: “You DO NOT need to go to class. Classes are cancelled. Do not come to campus. Not even to check it out. Read your texts. When the campus says campus is closed and classes are cancelled, then you do not need to go to class” (a paraphrase). As a viewer, a young man only ten years older than these students who is frequently using his iPhone, I felt berated watching this. The reporter had turned mother-figure, lecturing viewers: “You clearly can’t read your text messaging correctly. Go be safe. Quit putting yourself at danger.”

The broadcast wasn’t simply “here’s what’s going on” (reporting events), but a pedagogical act: telling students to be more practical and safe (actually read your texts! don’t put yourself at risk! get off your phone and go be safe!) and to others (wow, can you believe that students just mill about and text!). Students are painted as simultaneously responsible (wanting to go to class) and irresponsible (but in such a dangerous situation); simultaneously tech savvy (using mobile devices) and tech nincompoops (not even reading the text about cancelled class, being on campus in an unsafe environment, just texting).

I wish I had opened up Jing and recorded the footage on my laptop.

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4 Responses to This Morning: A Pedagogical Broadcast on Students and Mobile Devices

  1. Matt says:

    There’s no reason to assume that the students the reporter was talking to were even receiving those texts, either. Penn State has an emergency texting system, but you have to SIGN UP for it. The University doesn’t just put you on a massive texting list automatically. I would assume that Austin is the same, so while the students may not have been aware of the latest news (which maybe still works in favor of the “you don’t know how to use that technology of yours), they would also not be guilty of gross incompetence.

  2. Michael says:

    Yes, Matt, I would assume that UT Austin works the same. And based on how many of my students seem aware of the texting system here (perhaps a fair amount, but not most), I’m assuming students at UT would have a similar amount aware of the system.

    Not to mention that’s also an assumption that all these students are privileged enough to have a phone plan that allows for texts.

  3. Nels says:

    In my Intro to Prof Writing course this semester, we’re reading _Columbine_, and their first assignment is to write a memo and letter detailing a cell phone policy for the school system from which they graduated. I’m basing it partly on the role that cell phones played in 1999 in Columbine, and we were already talking about new phones creating new situations the week before this happened. It’s a good topic to explore these days, the role of mobile technologies in everyday life and in extreme situations.

  4. Michael says:

    Nels, that sounds like a great assignment (and great discussions too, I’m sure).

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