Friday, August 28, 2015

Creative Destruction

Creative destruction. That's what happens when new technology effectively kills off tried and true ways of doing things, yet brings about new opportunities – that sometimes even allow us to make a dent in the universe.

I'm a professor at the second largest university in the United States. Pretty cool gig, right? But not when you watch your classes, some of the most popular on campus, dwindle in enrollment to just a handful. Why? Because with the dawn of online learning, students started abandoning my classes for anything taught on the web. And I taught face-to-face. I had to adapt, and fast. So I got myself certified in online teaching, and jumped into an amazing new “market.”

The immediate problem that arose was, how am I going to distinguish myself from everybody else, who just assign texts to read and assignments to turn in? Boring… Major-league boring. I asked myself: what do I do that really works? Why were my classes ever popular to begin with? Well, everybody seems to like my lectures, which weren't just lectures, but often semi-theatrical presentations. 

Then I realized that the university has a full television studio, with state of the art cameras, a teleprompter, a green screen, and a full editing suite. I can't imagine what it cost the taxpayers. And nobody's using it! So I teamed up with the videographer and editor-in-chief, and began to bring my lectures to life. Among other things, I teach the history of the Holocaust – a pretty depressing topic. But rather than just talking about various characters in the sad saga, why not bring them to life, with some costuming, some acting, and a good dose of chutzpah? Let's make television!

A year later, the creative side of the destruction is taking off, and I now have a record enrollment (sixty-five!) in a class that was struggling for survival the last time I taught it. Every week I magically “zap in” another character, who can be placed in front of any background in the world via the green screen. Online teaching will never be the same…

Check out a brief segment from one of my character impersonations (complete with feigned Polish accent). Meet Abba Kovner, a dynamic Jewish ghetto fighter during the darkest days of the Holocaust. Here he is at the end of the tragedy, issuing a warning, that the threat of genocide didn't end with the death of Hitler. There is a new “slaughtering knife” that waits in ambush for the Jewish people. When we look around at the world today, at Iran and even continental Europe, where it’s once again dangerous to be Jewish, he nailed it, didn't he?

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