I recently attended the International Academy of Web Television Awards, where I walked the red carpet as the host of eduKanTV. At first, I considered this event the red-headed step-sister to the iconic Academy Awards, but once I saw the quality of these programs, I quickly revised my Wayne’s World- inspired preconceived notion of web television programs. As I worked the crowd at the after-party, I met producers, publicists and executives from some of the major Hollywood film and production houses. It became suddenly clear to me that traditional television and film companies perceive a palpable threat to their monopoly on both viewers and talent posed by the burgeoning web entertainment industry. In order to protect their position at the top of the food chain, they are actively recruiting the best shows and talents to their networks and production companies.

American Federation of Musicians

American Federation of Musicians

So how does this relate to higher ed? I wasn’t until I read an MSN article the other day that shed light on the “talkies,” the first movies that incorporated sound with the picture, that I made the connection. The addition of audio flat out ended the careers of many silent screen actors whose untrained voices assaulted the tender ears of the movie-going public, while the few stage actors thrived, using their finely-honed vocal projections to delight audiences. The American Federation of Musicians joined in the cacophony once it became clear that the talkie rendered their services obsolete and placed an ad in the Pittsburg Press in 1929 that in part said:

This is the case of Art vs. Mechanical Music in theatres. The defendant stands accused in front of the American people of attempted corruption of musical appreciation and discouragement of musical education. Theatres in many cities are offering synchronized mechanical music as a substitute for Real Music. If the theatre-going public accepts this vitiation of its entertainment program a deplorable decline in the Art of Music is inevitable. Musical authorities know that the soul of the Art is lost in mechanization. It cannot be otherwise because the quality of music is dependent on the mood of the artist, upon the human contact, without which the essence of intellectual stimulation and emotional rapture is lost. (via Duke.edu)

By the next year, approximately 22,000 movie house musicians had lost their jobs.

Although established Hollywood production houses are rushing to recruit this new web talent, they are not sure what to do with it, how it fits into their conventional model or even how to monetize it. Kind of reminds me of traditional higher education’s response to MOOCs, OER content and para-educators, such as TED and the Khan Academy. Online learning has been around for over 15 years offered by early adopters, like eduKan, and for years have fought the perception of traditional faculty and administrators who failed to see how these online courses could be as good as what is offered in the classroom.

Those who are saying, “You can’t replace teachers with technology,” or “this is the demise of higher education as we know it,” sound like theater musicians to me.

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