Teaching in the age of reproduction

Revisiting Walter Benjamin’s Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction and found this paraphrasing that seems to describe our current situation with online teaching:

Although Benjamin discusses photography briefly, his argument focuses primarily on the revolutionary potential of film as a mode of mechanical reproduction. The film actor, unlike stage performers, does not face or respond to an audience. The audience’s view also becomes synonymous with the imperious perspective accorded to the camera. The net effect of these innovations is to place the viewer in the impersonal position of critic—something prior cultic experiences of art would never have allowed (229). The prevalence of film, as well as other mechanical reproductions, also creates a culture of minor experts ready to judge art rather than loose themselves in participatory ritual (231).


What was once a participatory ritual of going to class and taking part in discussion, which could even be described as “cultic” depending on the charisma of the teacher, has now been translated into videos that students can only watch. This can turn them from immersed participants (ideally!) into critics-at-a-distance, who must now also contend with production values, internet speeds, and other obstacles to immersive participation (for the most part, except interactive ones and and videos with integrated quizzes, which complicate things slightly).