So long and thanks for all the global beats Village 900

This is a long post. The kind of post that I write more for myself because it is fairly personal and not something that is directly related to what I usually write about here. Or maybe it is. If you decide to slog through my memories and recollections, you can decide.

I heard a few days ago that Village 900 radio at Camosun College is going off the air on March 4th.

Village 900 is/was licensed as an instructional radio station, one of a handful of stations across Canada that had this instructional designation. Meaning it’s primary purpose was to train broadcasters. It was  experiential education at is finest, and, for the past 20 years, students in the Applied Communication Program at Camosun have been using the station as a launching pad for media and communication careers.

But, as we all know, times are a-changing for traditional media, and for the educators who teach in that field. I won’t get into the details of why the station is going off the air. Suffice to say, this day has been inevitable.

Why do I care?

I have wonderful memories of managing that station from 1995 (when it was then CKMO radio, a small 50 watt FM radio station) to 2001. During that time, I had the opportunity to work with so many people who, if you live in Victoria and pay attention to any media outlet in the city – mainstream, public or alternative – are probably part of your everyday life. I turn on almost any radio station in town, open a newspaper, scan a local website, hear a soundbite delivered by a spokesperson of the government/non-profit/corporation/event, hear an announcement on a ferry, voiceover in a tourist attraction and I see and hear the voices of the graduates of the Applied Communication Program. So, my first memory is of the students and faculty I have worked with over the years associated with both the station and ACP.

I was there for the birth of Village 900. Early on, the idea of Village 900 was unique. Moving away from the traditional block formatting you usually find on alternative or campus radio stations, we focused on ways in which we could continually provide an aural reflection of the cultural diversity in our community. We created a melting pot of sound, blending world, worldbeat, traditional folk and roots music continuously throughout the day. One minute you might hear the Algerian club rai of Cheb Mami, the next the lipstick, lies and gasoline of Fred Eaglesmith. We dubbed the music format Global Roots, and tagged the station with the identity of Village 900 – A World of Music, A Community of Ideas.

We imported programming from around the world, airing shows from Radio Netherlands, the BBC, Channel Africa, the United Nations. We took this idea of global culture seriously, and tried hard to reflect it on the air by making connections with public broadcasters from around the world to air their programming . This was really early days of the Internet when this stuff wasn’t available with a click like it is now. Radio programs arrived weekly in the mail on cassettes, reel to reel tape, and CD’s. If we were lucky, we might get a satellite feed.

There was also a real commitment to local artists from Victoria, the Gulf Islands and Vancouver. Chances are, if you were a world or folk/roots act based in Victoria, you passed through the doors of Village 900, often with guitar in hand, pulling up a mic and tossing out a few tunes live on the air.

Village 900 and its predecessor CKMO are intensely personal for me in a couple of ways.

First, as part of the development team, it was a station that embodied and reflected my own deeply held beliefs in the power of universality, multiculturalism, education and culture.

It also introduced to me the entire world of alternative media through the works of people like Noam Chomsky and Neil Postman. By virtue of being a “campus” radio station, I had the opportunity to see both radio and the media in a whole different way than when I worked at a commercial radio station. In fact, it validated for me that community radio is what radio is supposed to be, and that commercial radio (and, by extension television as well) is, for the most part, a tragic waste of a publicly owned bandwidth.

I used to be passionate about that (and God love ya VIU for keeping this students writing from 1997 alive and available on the web 15 years after the fact. It’s a credit to you and your IT people that you have not trashed this stuff and sent me scrambling to the Internet Archives to dig it up). But today, in a world where anyone can be the media, I don’t care that much any more. The media has been democratized, and there are other, more important battles these days.

Village 900 was also a low risk experiment which afforded me the opportunity to play; to try things unencumbered by a ton of constraints. Sure, I had some parameters, but for the most part as long as the station met the mandate of training communication students while abiding to the broadcasting laws and regualtions we were governed by, I was pretty well left to my own devices. I had autonomy to make decisions and try different things.

The website, for example, was my ongoing personal learning laboratory – a project for me to experiment with. Which meant that, in 1995, I could do things like make a station website even when I had no idea how the web worked.  I did it because I could follow my interest (passion based learning?)  into this new thing called the web. I was an active BBS user in the early 90’s, so was curious as to what this whole web thing was about. After building a website, and then another, and another, I got hooked. My love of the web – both the technologies and the culture – was ignited at that station.

Working at the station also ignited another lifelong passion for me; a love of education. One of the truly unique aspects of the station was the requirement that we air educational radio programs. What that meant was that we had to, as a condition of our broadcast license, work with faculty at the College to create for-credit courses that aired on the radio. In 1995 when I first got to the station, I saw this requirement of our license as a bother – a technicality that needed to be filled.

Oh, how wrong I was.

What started as a requirement soon became one of my favorite activities. I loved working with the faculty and producing their radio programs. We did all kinds of wonderful programs.

I remember working quite closely in those early days (95/96/97) with a Psychology instructor named Gary Anderson. With Gary, we created a handful of Psychology radio courses. Each course consisted of 12, 1 hour radio shows. We went all out. Gary was full of ideas and had tons of energy. He had vision and a passion for radio. He loved the medium. The storytelling, the conversational aspect that great radio presenters have, the theatre of the mind, the ability to connect with experts via telephone. We interviewed psychologists, created radio dramas, had panel discussions, dramatizations, went out of the studio and did streeters. This was not a single instructor talking for an hour at a time. These were full on productions. At our height, we were airing 30 hours a week of educational programming, including English, French, Psychology, Geography and Physics courses.

Little did I realize that during the process of creating these courses, I was being turned into an educational technologist.

Looking back on it now, I realize that this was the pivotal moment in my career when I began to feel more like an “educator” and less like a broadcaster. Which is funny because, even though I worked as an instructional assistant with students carrying out the day to day operations of the radio station, it was working on those radio courses that made me feel like I was doing something “educational”.

It was during the development of these radio courses that I first heard the word pedagogy (wish Wikipedia was around that day), and was lucky enough to work with both a skilled broadcaster and educator in Helen Pearce, who understood more than anyone I have worked with, how to use audio in an educational context.

So, here we are…at a thousand words and I could probably write another thousand about what a profound influence working at CKMO/Village 900 and in the Applied Communication Program at Camosun has had on my career and my life. Transformative experiences in higher education are not limited to students.

In recent years, my involvement in the operations of the station has diminished. After leaving the Applied Communication Program in 2001 to delve deeper into the web side of the edtech world, I did sit on the board of the station for a few more years. But I found that I was too close to it and had taken it as far as I could. It needed new blood to survive. Like a parent who knows that it is time to let their child go, I had to step away.

After hearing the news, I’m feeling both sad and nostalgic. Like an important piece of my life is passing into history. Perhaps this is a eulogy written for an old dear friend who, when we were both younger, would walk along the same path. But upon reaching the fork, chose different directions.

It will be an odd sensation on March 5th when I hit preset #4 on my car radio and hear nothing but dead air.


Frog in a pot

frog in a pot 1

As I was reading Electronics and the Dim Future of the University by Eli M. Noam I couldn’t help but feel I had stumbled upon a very prescient academic. This article resonates just as strongly today as it did when it was written in 1995.

First, before I start cherry picking quotes from the article, let me say that I am not someone who relishes the fact that higher education may be in trouble. I’m not an anarchist or revolutionary who believes the system must break down in order for something new and better to rise from the ashes.  I passionately believe there is an enormous amount of societal value in having strong, publicly funded institutions of higher learning like universities and colleges. Which is maybe why I react the way I do to what I see happening in the webscape. It both exhilarates and terrifies me.

The question is not whether universities are important to society, to knowledge or to their members — they are — but rather whether the economic foundation of the present system can be maintained and sustained in the face of the changed flow of information brought about by electronic communications. It is not research and teaching that will be under pressure — they will be more important than ever — but rather their instructional setting, the university system.

I am sure there are other academics who thought like Noam in the early days of the web, but as I read his 1995 article, I was struck by how many of his points have appeared, or are appearing, on the 2012 learning landscape.

 If alternative instructional technologies and credentialing systems can be devised, there will be a migration away from classic campus-based higher education. The tools for alternatives could be video servers with stored lectures by outstanding scholars, electronic access to interactive reading materials and study exercises, electronic interactivity with faculty and teaching assistants, hypertextbooks and new forms of experiencing knowledge, video- and computer-conferencing, and language translation programs.

Hmmm, Kahn Academy? YouTube EDU? Flat Earth Knowledge? Open courses?

A curriculum, once created, could be offered electronically not just to hundreds of students nearby but to tens of thousands around the world.

MOOC’s? University of the People? P2PU? Saylor?

In any event, the ultimate providers of an electronic curriculum will not be universities (they will merely break the ice) but rather commercial firms.

Udemy? UdacityCode Academy? Straightline?

Today’s students, if they seek prestigious jobs or entry-restricted professions, usually have no choice other than to attend university. However, this is a weak and mostly legal reed for universities to lean on, and is only as strong as their gatekeeper control over accreditation and over the public’s acceptance of alternative credentials. When this hold weakens, we may well have in the future a “McGraw-Hill University” awarding degrees or certificates, just as today some companies offer in-house degree programs. If these programs are valued by employers and society for the quality of admitted students, the knowledge students gain and the requirements that students must pass to graduate, they will be able to compete with many traditional universities, yet without bearing the substantial overhead of physical institutions.

Open Badges? Instructor certification?

Now, granted, I haven’t lived in this world of academia as long as many of you (okay all 3 of you) who are reading this, and I might be suffering from a case of — (oh dammit, what is the word – that term that refers to each generation feeling like they are the generation that is living on the cusp of some GREAT CHANGE)….anyway, you get the idea.

Or maybe I am not far fetched in thinking that the world of higher ed is on the cusp of a shakeup. That we have reached some kind of tipping point. Or, as John Naughton notes in The Guardian article that led me to Noam’s article and inspired this post…

Some things have happened recently that make one think that perhaps the water might be reaching boiling point for traditional universities.

Photo credit: Frog in a pot 1 by jronaldlee. Used under Creative Commons license.