Learners Crown Amateurs As Professionals

Learners Crown Amateurs As Professionals

Learners Crown Amateurs As Professionals

The word “amateur” carries a negative association – an amateur is the opposite of a professional, and his output lacks expertise. But there’s another way to look at it – professionals work in their field, but amateurs *love* and passion can be a much stronger motive than a salary. Some amateurs gather fans online, by whom they are considered experts in the subject – that is, they become teachers and educators. These teachers and educators were the subject of the Learners Crown Amateurs as Professionals session at the Shaping the Future 4 summit.

“We are losing our students. We can call it lack of motivation, we can call it an attention deficit epidemic,” said Dr. Cecilia Waismann, VP of R&D at MindCET, in her opening lecture. “I personally do not see it as a sad reality; on the contrary: I think learners have become active with regard to their own learning… The system is providing them with all the resources they need– students are actively learning through this brave new world which is currently expanding”.

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One of these amateurs is Doron Nir, a high-tech entrepreneur and co-host, alongside Re’em Sherman, of the podcast Geekonomy. He said he’d been listening to podcasts for years and heard programs the like of which he couldn’t find on Israeli media – “deep content, people who are having conversations about topics that usually don’t get attention in broadcast media, longer sessions, conversations that extend beyond the 3-5-minute item you usually get on talk shows – and we said, why not do it ourselves?” The practical side was easy – there’s no regulation, the equipment’s on the cheap side, network casting is easy – and their podcast started out as an after-work hobby. Within a year and a half it became meaningful, popular and economically lucrative, and the two started producing additional podcasts.

A podcast can serve as a learning tool for various subjects because, according to Nir, “When you get to podcast, you can explain a topic more deeply, it feels less of a shouting contest, of fake news,” and because “conversations are much more diverse in their topics. If you interview me, we will not talk about anything but podcasts, you’re not gonna ask me about my life, you’re not gonna get a broad context of what I’m doing, of what I’m thinking of, if I’m having a good or bad day, and these things have a tremendous impact on this conversation right now. When we have two hours I’m much more interested in who this person is, what his motivations are, and also to discuss his knowledge; I like people, I like talking to people, and when you talk to a person – not an interviewee, not a professor – you have a normal conversation: How are you doing, what are you doing these days, what are you passionate about? It’s not just about what you know and what you came to say.” Also, Nir said, “We have a lot of hours when we are not able to watch Youtube – we’re on our way somewhere, we’re walking the dog, we’re doing exercise – and this is usually a good time for audio listening. People ask us – where can I find podcasts about economics, medicine, stuff like that – and this is really great content, it’s deep, it’s not compromising in length and depth.”

Podcasts are also good for the creators, Nir said. “I have an 8-year-old son who’s already starting to create content for Youtube – in his case it’s videos on how to build stuff in Minecraft – he sort of walks people through what he’s doing. But for podcasting, just start creating something; some people will listen, some people won’t, it will start an interesting conversation online about things. It’s just a really easy medium, as opposed to video and Youtube, where I think a lot more attention and effort are required; audio is less demanding, you don’t need to look good, set up a frame or edit it. In Geekonomy we made a point that our episodes are not edited […] and that creates a certain authenticity that doesn’t exist in a lot of other mediums.”


Youtube, said Dr. Waismann, is the world’s second largest search engine, and people go there to learn and get answers and its stars are the Youtubers. “A Youtuber is an Internet celebrity who has actually turned the screen around. It is no longer about listening to videos to learn from actors, experts and professionals, but actually Youtube allows, enables and empowers all of us to be able to learn, become experts and share our knowledge – what we know, and what we think we know.” A video about Youtube was screened, and at the end of it a young girl said: “If Youtube didn’t exist – I would have created it”. Waismann said: “That’s what we should be doing. We should not be scared, we should enable kids to enjoy learning. It’s natural for them.”

“You can get an extension of what you teach in school, during school, via Youtube,” said Youtuber Ben Ratzon, who said he’d taught in high schools and universities. “You teach something in class, but after that, during lunch or recess, these kids will go into Youtube and they will learn more via Youtube, because it’s something they’ll look for. School is like TV – you push it down the kids’ throat, you tell them ‘this is what you must do’; some love it and some don’t. But Youtube – the kids choose to come to Youtube, and that’s where my responsibility is – because I have a huge following, so I need to do something to educate them, and that’s the most important thing I can do. Youtube changed my life.”

“Youtube searching allows students to find anything, including conspiracy sites, racism, completely false and inaccurate information,” warned Prof. Renee Hobbs, Director of the Harrington School of Communication and Media at Rhode Island University. “So the obligation upon the viewer of Youtube to be a critical thinker about media is more important than ever before. Every time a child comes to Youtube, she will see an ad before the cartoon or the information will roll – so she better learn how to critically analyze advertising, because that’s how Youtube makes money. The teenager who goes to PewDiePie because he’s so cool better think hard about celebrity culture, and the way in which values get embodied in celebrity and transmitted – good values, sometimes, yes, and also problematic values that are troubling and actually destructive to humanity. And young adults, as they search on Youtube to learn about contemporary society, political controversies, current events – even fashion and makeup – they need to be able to separate marketing and promotion hype from stuff that’s presented without a commercial bias; and they need to be able to distinguish the many, many kinds of fake news that are happening now, as disinformation and propaganda and hoaxes and satire and inaccurate journalism are just multiplying in an extraordinary way. So it’s more important than ever before to ask – who’s gonna teach Israeli children how to critically analyze Youtube?”

“Critical thinking becomes a major aspect for us educators to introduce in the school system,” said Waismann, “because it has to become an important skill for the young generations. They have to be able to look at all this immense amount of information they get and be able to choose from, analyze and understand it.”

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