There was much discussion last week about the BBC appointing its first female commentator on Match of the Day. Rather predictably this assault on the last bastion of maleness caused some debate. The ant-argument seems to fall in to three camps:
i) She hasn’t played the game and you need to have done so in order to be a good commentator. This is just plain wrong and like many fields confuses experience with critical prowess. Many good literary reviewers are not good authors and vice versa, the same goes for film, and most of the printed press in any sport. Indeed I have been rather disappointed with the rise of ex-players having a monopoly over punditry and analysis at the BBC. This is because a) they can’t fight their way out of a cliche bag and b) they’re often not removed enough from the sport to bring other insights. Sure, a commentator needs to be knowledgeable, but you can gain that from other means. After all, do most football fans think their own viewpoint is useless because they haven’t played professionally?
ii) The female voice is not appropriate for football commentary. Hmmm, this one seems to have had too much of an airing, for example Irish-Le-Faux suggests "I don’t think the female voice is equipped to commentate on football due to the high pitched nature of it". Now, obviously not all female voices are the same, but even if we accept there is general a higher pitch, this doesn’t mean they are incapable of expressing excitement without screaming. I, like many footie fans, find the ranty-shouty type commentator pretty unbearable, for example Jonathan Pearce seems to reach a crescendo of excitement and volume while the team walk out of the tunnel and has nowhere left to go when things do exciting (not very likely with England playing, admittedly) without descending in to some guttural scream. Now maybe this gets at the primal appeal of sport for some people, and I accept people will have preferences, but to issue an edict against any female commentators seems ludicrous.
What all this reminded me of is the notion of a legitimacy deficit. Note that a legitimacy deficit doesn’t have to be real (ie that female commentators are really not as good as men), but rather it just has to be perceived, either by the wider public or by the individual themselves (they think I’m not as good). Now legitimacy deficits are something I know about – I work for the Open University, which when it was founded had to overcome an enormous legitimacy deficit regarding the quality and validity of distance learning. I have been involved in the early adoption of e-learning, which again faced the same sorts of criticisms (indeed often the exact same ones, but with the words ‘distance learning’ replaced by ‘e-learning’ – and sometimes from distance educators!). And I encounter the same sort of deficit with web 2.0 stuff now – e.g. it’s not for education, it’s just hype, what about the serious pedagogy?, etc.
One of the good things about a legitimacy deficit is that it often makes the person, group or organisation on the end of it work extra hard to overcome it. This has the result that their output is often better than the standard offering. For example, the OU’s teaching quality is ranked in the top ten in the UK (although the downside is that having worked so hard to get this legitimacy it makes some people reluctant to risk it, and thus an element of risk aversion sets in). There are many examples of it in history – because of the rather dubious manner in which he inherited the title of emperor, Charlemagne suffered something of a legitimacy deficit which may have been the reason behind many of his cultural reforms, including the Carolingian Renaissance. Of course, the reaction to a legitimacy deficit can be negative also, particularly when it is to convince others of your legitimacy by strength (ahem, George Bush springs to mind).
In educational technology here is my ‘legitimacy deficit’ top ten:
- Open educational resources – whether this approach is sustainable, desirable, viable, etc.
- User generated content – need I say more? You know the arguments.
- Social software – is this just for entertainment or serious education?
- ePortfolios – an eportfolio based approach has enormous implications for institutions but whether it will be accepted by learners, universities and employers is up for debate.
- Informal learning – communities of practice, open source activity, etc. How do we map this across and recognise it?
- PLEs – I’ve covered this before.
- VLEs – although pervasive you would have to say they haven’t fully overcome the legitimacy deficit, and a lot of the criticism comes from e-learning advocates who feel they are just not up to the job.
- e-learning – yes, it’s still there, down four from last year.
- Podcasts, wikis, blogs – okay, kind of covered user generated content but there is something about this group where the legitimacy deficit is about the validity of academic debate that takes place, and whether these are the new journals.
- [Insert your own one here]
Being in the legitimacy deficit zone is a good place to be though – this is where the excitement is, so if you’re involved in any of the above remember that such deficits can be overcome and the outcome is often all the better for having that struggle. And good luck Jaqui Oatley too!