Tout va bien, the 1972 film directed by Jean-Luc Goddard and Lean-Pierre Gorin, centers on a strike at a sausage factory, witnessed by an American reporter (Suzanne/Jane Fonda) and her French film director husband (Jaques/Yves Montand). In the film, performers employ the Brechtian technique of estrangement, looking at and speaking directly to the audience. Observing themselves as observed, and actively leveraging the inherent voyeurism of their audience as a key element of the film’s narrative, the actors of Tout va bien alienate the viewer from passive acceptance of their cinematic entertainment; instead, the viewer is forced into a frame of mind that recognizes the artifice of diagetic self-containment. This effect of making the familiar strange draws the attention of the audience away from the artificially constructed world the film depicts and towards the political content it portrays: outlining the logic of class struggle in France after 1968 and the moral vacuity of capitalism. To these ends, the factory set consists of a cross-sectioned building, which allows the camera to dolly back and froth between rooms. Travelling through walls and, during one particularly memorable long take, actually panning-out to portray several spaces simultaneously, the factory set breaks the forth wall in the literal sense while interpolating the audience within the disintegration of civil society performed before them. This particular aspect of the film is important because, an a purely technical level, Tout Va Bien is instructive for its utilization of the artifice of the medium of cinema as a vehicle for ideological signification. The camera is no transparent eye, and the viewing of cinema is an inherently political act inasmuch as it is contingent on cultural and economic conditions; here, with great eloquence, these facts expose themselves.
I am brought to meditate on this method now because of the intense utilization of recorded content in 4.605x. Based on a residential course offered at MIT this last spring, the bulk of our courseware either is or refers directly to recorded lectures, divided into ten-minute segments, and interwoven with spliced-in presentation content. These videos both provide and highlight the privilege of access to MIT’s world-class course offerings. On the one hand, we are making available, for free, a simulacrum of an experience that up until this moment was only available to those with the means and permission to attend MIT classes. On the other hand, we recognize that the product we are developing is not, and cannot be, a substitute for residential education at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Those who enroll in 4.605x will receive no official credit for the course and, since MIT retains copyright to the material in this online offering, they are also not free to engage with the material of the course outside the edX online environment, as they see fit. Moreover, unlike students in the residential course, 4.605x students will not be able to interact with the professor, or participate in such collaborative activities as recitation sessions or office hours. The format of our videos, divided into segments and displayed sequentially, serves to reinforce this alienation of the online student from the educational institution they have ostensibly been provided some access to. Insofar as these limitations will exist, however, there are also opportunities provided by the MOOC format that are not available to residential students. These include the possibility to watch lectures episodically and at one’s own pace, and the ability to pause, rewind, and revisit portions of the recorded discussion for purposes of comprehension or review. All of this is merely to say that material constraints of video in our MOOC have a marked pedagogical and political impact on the experience of the online course.
There is value to our massive open online course offering beyond entertainment, and the reinforcement of an institutional brand. With this in mind, I am brought to wonder how the imposition of discontinuity on the lectures we distribute, and the alienation of that content from its residential form, can be leveraged as a value added proposition for our future students. In our courseware, we have employed multiple-choice assessment material as a means of focusing the viewing experience and increasing student learning comprehension. Leveraging the inherent distraction caused by the mutlifacted nature of the interface, questions displayed beneath videos highlight the fractured, virtual nature of our videorecordings while also reinforcing salient points in a manner not possible in a traditional course environment. This effect of making the digital apparent as draws the focus of the MOOC away from its simulacral character and towards its medium condition as digital content. Thus, the necessary fracturing of the lectures portrayed, and the freedom of movement between them afforded by our interface, are brought to bare as pedagogical instruments rather than contributing to a loss-in-translation. It is a small gesture of course, but we consider this nod towards the estrangement of the virtual, as a pedagogical opportunity, as the first of many steps in shaping a future for online courseware that is politically equitable and executed with the best interest of its students in mind.
Despite its virtual nature, online education is an inherently political medium inasmuch as it involves the interaction of people with regards to privileges of access and knowledge. It is our hope that our offering remains a disruptive force for the perpetuation of knowledge at an unprecedented, global scale. Careful attention to format, and the particular opportunities of our medium, is one method for ensuring that is so.