Professor Profile: Interacting face-to-face with today's 'Digital Natives'
Published: Sunday, February 17, 2013
Updated: Sunday, February 17, 2013 20:02
Imagine a world where you can watch your favorite television show and have the option of viewing multiple endings for the ultimate interactive experience. Or where you can check your iPhone to see how crowded that new restaurant is at precisely 6:25 p.m. and decide whether or not it’s a day to order in pizza. Donald Fishman, a professor in the Communication department, predicts that this world is closer than we may think, and it is approaching very quickly.
Fishman is deeply immersed in the study of how technology is affecting our means of communication. He teaches courses in communication law, crisis communication, and a media law and society class, which deals with intellectual property. Crisis communication, which studies the challenges that can affect a company’s reputation, is one of his current focuses, as he is currently writing a book investigating the topic.
Fishman has been interested in communication since an early age—he received an 8 mm camera at the age of 13 and was fascinated with how movies were produced. Born and raised in Minnesota, Fishman studied at the University of Minnesota for his undergraduate degree, and then went on to receive his master’s degree at Northwestern University. As a student, Fishman was involved in both student publications as well as debates, which provided him with a great experience before he entered the professional world. He has been a professor at Boston College since the early ’70s, and even served on the board of directors for The Heights for a 10-year period. Now, Fishman serves as the assistant chair of the Communication Department, as well as the co-director of the Jewish Studies Program.
Fishman is also dedicated to being a proponent of free speech—he is currently the book review editor for First Amendment Studies, a peer-reviewed journal that publishes articles on the theory and policies regarding free speech. Although having this ability gives certain people the opportunity to make offensive remarks or insignificant comments, he views these as necessary risks to benefit the majority of citizens.
"It teaches people tolerance, understanding for groups you may not agree with," he said regarding the First Amendment. "And I think BC has done a good job in trying to encourage a diversity of viewpoints, and not stepping in to censor." Having such beliefs is often encouraged, but Fishman recognizes that not everyone may share his perspective.
"As a communication law professor, sometimes you are the most liberal person in the room," he said. "A lot of people just have partisan beliefs. I usually try to look at how free speech is helpful to society."
One of the aspects of teaching that Fishman enjoys the most is the interaction with students, which he fears may be lost in our ever-progressing technological world. He appreciates having students come in for office hours, although he has noted that fewer people have stopped by over the last 10 years, possibly due to email. Referencing his 13-year-old daughter as an example, he explained how the younger generation often becomes engrossed in social media and online communication such as Facebook, Facetime, and Skype. "I think the context of Facetime and the context of email robs you of some of the interchange that college should be about," Fishman said.
Nonetheless, he recognizes that using technology in the classroom is necessary for today’s "Digital Natives," the term used to describe this generation of students who were raised in the technological culture and never had to use a typewriter or a payphone. The downside to using an excessive amount of technology is that it can have a numbing effect—something students have definitely experienced at least once with a professor who chooses to read PowerPoint slides without any supplemental engagement. Now, with the presence of methods such as Lecture Capture, which allows students to view their lectures online, Fishman predicts the increase of "hybrid courses" at BC, and hopes that professors learn to find the right balance between technology and personal interaction.
"This new communication revolution is disrupting traditional media," Fishman said. Although many predicted printed books as the first to disappear, the music industry was actually the first one to be reformed, as record stores became obsolete and the use of iTunes and Spotify became unavoidable. Television has also changed drastically, and Fishman explained how viewers will soon be able to click on an advertisement with their remote and have it linked to their credit card account, providing for fast and easy purchases.