lördag 3 september 2011

I met NPR Planet Money!

This past week my course, "Future of media" - this year featuring "Radio of the future/future of radio" started (see the previous blog post). I was extremely happy to have bagged a guest from my no. 1 favorite radio show (podcast), NPR Planet Money.

I think the guys doing that show are brilliant, turning "boring" economics into great radio. I'm actually amazed that they manage to churn out two 25 minutes long radio shows twice per week, week after week, and that these radio shows are riveting. I've been glued to the program ever since I listened to it the first time a year ago. As a service to my students, I listed a dozen or so of my favorite shows from the past year for the to listen to. I'm sure there is something for everyone there.

Our guest from Planet Money was Adam Davidson, co-founder and co-host of the show. This is who he is and what he talked about. It was great having this voice, and this agile mind that I have heard week after week right there, in our classroom. Ah, I "forgot" to mention that Adam was in New York, visiting our class through Skype. We chose a late afternoon time slot in Stockholm so that Adam, six time zones behind us, could connect to us in what was to him morning in NY.

I was of course a little nervous and worried a lot beforehand about different things that could go wrong; what if there was a problem with the connections, or with the sound, or if Adam wouldn't answer when we called him up? But despite having to do it over a wireless network connection, it worked like a charm for the most part, with only the sound failing us slightly now and then. It's the first time a have a remote guest appearing through Skype, but the overall successful execution made an impact on me personally - with some added preparations, it really is possible to invite anyone anywhere in the world to give a guest lecture!

Well, there were of course a couple of things that were a little difficult. We connected my computer, with the Skype window open, to a projector that projected the image of Adam on to a big screen. He started by giving a talk, and I turned the computer around so that he could see the class through my computer's camera. When his talk came to an end, I turned the computer around again so that he faced me instead. That meant I had to mediate between the students and Adam, repeating questions from the audience to him. I also had a battery of back-up questions that I had prepared (sort of like an interview).

Some curious things that I noticed in my own behavior was for example that I felt compelled to look at Adam and into the computer/camera all the time. I really did need to glance at my prepared notes and questions now and then (to figure out which question to choose next), or at the audience to see if there were any questions out there, but it for some reason felt rude to look away from the screen since Adam one and only on thing to look at - and that was me.

I also felt that when he talked to the class and the computer faced the auditorium, he would probably not see the eyes and perhaps neither slight movements (nods etc.) from the students (feedback through backchannels). After I while I felt that I needed to do him the service of standing beside the computer and humming my approval (or understanding or something) now and then just so as to provide him with feedback. That felt a little strange and silly though since he couldn't see me (I was besides, not in front of the computer). I still felt that I needed to provide him with that service, since it must otherwise be difficult for someone to "speak into the air" to a for the most part unseen audience. On second thought though, that's what he does for a living; recording a radio program and talking "directly" to people as if they were right next to him... I didn't think of that at the time. In fact, I only thought about it right now as I write this text.

My dual (or triple) role of talking/interviewing Adam, mediating between him and the students, and just generally thinking about how to mediate between the characteristics (limitations) of the technology left me totally exhausted. The effort was much large and it was much tougher on me that giving an "ordinary" lecture - mostly probably because of lack of experience and having to think so much about content, delivery and format. I had at the time absolutely no feeling for if the lecture was successful or not because all my brain cycles went towards just making it all work while at the same time thinking about how to make it work better (again overcoming the limitations of the technology). After the lecture, my co-teacher said it worked like a charm though and I believe him. Not the least since Adam got a loooooooooong applause from the audience - so I think the whole thing really was a success with them.

I too was happy. I got to know a lot more about public radio in general and Planet Money in particular, and I got to ask and get a lot of questions answered by one of the Planet Money founders/hosts. Awesome. The course will (among other things) produce a book(let) about the future of radio, and I promised to send a thank-you copy to Adam when it was printed, at the end of the year.

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