Don't think twice, babe, and maybe it'll be all right

27th August 2004 at 01:00
How to be cool. Aye, there's the rub. Bob Dylan's cool. He's got it right.

He says he never sings the same song twice. It may be "Don't Think Twice" for the thousandth time, but every rendition is a fresh first time.

I suppose any performer has to think of ways of avoiding the stultifying effects of repetition, to try to keep the performance fluid and risky. Take stand-up. On the Edinburgh Fringe, cutting edge comedy currently aims for a kind of whimsical anarchy, improvised to the point of disintegration yet somehow - sometimes - held together in a fragile web. When it works, it's brilliant. When it works.

And that I suppose is the whole point. Being cool is a risky business. On the Fringe this year Cool is Simon Mummery and his whimsical work in progress who will make you laugh.

Cool is female double act Faultless and Torrance, who won't, but who took the risk.

New directions in comedy are very interesting. Where comedy goes, the world follows. In the edutainment world, we take note and learn so we can be cool.

Institutions are rebadging and rebranding to freshen up their act. We know we are in a tough business and our customers have a choice. Choose us, we implore. New courses are devised to meet new demands. You can do a degree in surfing in Wales (oh come on now, keep up - that's internet surfing).

And just look at the surge in recruitment to forensic science courses built on gruesomely detailed television series. It may be the same old three sciences but it's packaged anew.

We have had some spectacular successes which are probably down to marketing in the right way for the target audience. Our "Computing for the Terrified" is a runaway success in a way that basic computing would never be. "Soft Skills for Hard Workers" suggests cutting edge stuff for high-flyers, whereas the traditional interpersonal skills sounds like learning how to say "please" and "thank you" nicely.

We are kind of stuck with core skills, which condemns you to cabbage and cauliflower when you really fancy a bit of rocket or endive. I have never been over the moon about professional writing either, partly because nobody ever can spell professional but mainly because it suggests a besuited, coiffured business person clacking away at a keyboard churning out text when everyone knows writers sit in front of a blank screen in their PJs covered in digestive crumbs, hair pulled into weird and wonderful shapes.

We could call it "Write a Blockbuster Movie in a Couple of Weeks". That would pull them in, now wouldn't it?

Badging a course is a bit like writing a headline. Sure you could think up a great title, but if it doesn't do what it says on the tin, you are in trouble. We want to stir up interest but we don't want to end up like estate agents: "Des all mod cons course, complete refurbish, suit adult returner; fab prospects, fixed price".

So how do we do it? Being cool in the edutainment world isn't easy, but we can't ignore the fact that in FE education is a commodity and we live in an information-rich world. It's tough, it's competitive and our customers always have a choice. But hey, who wants it to be easy? This way we get to inhabit that dangerous space between success and failure.

Are you up for it? And listen, in order to keep myself on my toes, I'm suggesting a course called "OK, Whaddaya Wanna Do Today?" The idea is that I just take it from there. And I never do it the same way twice. How cool can you get?

Dr Carol Gow lectures in media at Dundee College.

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