Those who can, do

Firas Al-Atraqchi

December 15, 2016

Do or do not, I told her.

She looked at me, slightly bewildered. She probably wondered what the heck I was talking about.

Do or do not, I repeated. There is no try.

We had been discussing her tardiness in submitting an assignment on time and my student had tried to assure me that she would try her best to make the second deadline.

In trying to convey to her the harsh dichotomy of succeeding or failing, I invoked one of the most famous quotations from the library of Master Joda.

Over the years, whether it be during formal instruction or in casual conversation with my students, I have caught myself borrowing - and heavily at that - truisms and wisdom accumulated from the Star Wars and Star Trek universes.

A few weeks ago, during a discussion on how change is the only constant and the impact of technology on the global village, I resorted to a quote from Spock in Star Trek.

"Change is the essential process of all existence."

Even when my students are stuck and can't find a way through their investigative research, I encourage them to "boldly go where no one has gone before".

"You don't know the power of the Dark Side," I tell my JRMC 3333 class when referencing how badly people in authority want to keep information hidden, classified, beyond the peering eyes of the public.

Over the years, my students have picked up on my science-fiction rhetoric and now greet me with that famous Vulcan hand gesture borrowed from ancient Hebrews - "live long and prosper".

At first, I used to find all this amusing, if not a little strange, and I used to be wary of how far I could go using the pop culture of my day infused with educational devices.

It sure beat the awkwardness of having to explain to students who were born into the internet age how a microfiche was operated.

And the card catalogue? Forget it.

But then, it all really made sense. Walk about campus and you can't help but feel that Pax Americana is as prevalent as it was during my college years.

Arguably, far more in this social media muddle we have created for ourselves.

From the odd student wearing the much maligned Bieber T-Shirt to the one discussing the latest episode of Game of Thrones to the avid Netflix watcher commenting on how she binge-watched How to Get Away With Murder, it becomes clear that the merger between pop-culture entertainment and education is inescapable.

Yes, edutainment is not only the sign of the times but it is also the language of this generation.

And in a bid to reach out to students - an endeavor that is becoming increasingly more challenging with all the handheld distractions at their disposal - using that language to make a connection is not only fun but surprisingly rewarding.

This, I am sure, is the challenge at hand at universities and educational institutions around the world - how to get students to sign on without logging off.

The world is fast-changing around us and if we don't adapt to the new lexicons and methods of connection, we may soon be replaced by pre-programmed three dimensional holograms teaching in virtual reality.

My only hope is that students who leave our classrooms once we have made these connections don't forget that social media has its pitfalls. If it is meant to bring our human societies together, then I hope that this can be done in the nature of the sixth W - We - as in We the people of Earth.

That would certainly bring us closer to the ideals behind Star Trek, which were far more than just being about a wagon travelling through the stars.

Gene Roddenberry's vision was to beam into living rooms every week his belief in a future where mankind (and womankind) embraces itself for all the strengths, weaknesses, similarities, triumphs and failures of its past and understands the core values of what make us human as we chart our way forward.

Perhaps one sci-fi truism at a time, I can influence my students to see that there is infinite diversity in infinite combinations.

I do have to admit, however, that there might also be an ulterior motive to learning the language of the new generation. While I am nostalgic for the 80s culture - the music, the food, the stamp-collecting and the really bad hair-dos - connecting with students in their language helps keep me grounded, refreshes my conversations with contemporary life and offers a sip from the fountain of youth.

My next five-year mission: How to integrate heavy metal philosophy into journalism.