A tribute to and a lament for Marshall McLuhan.  Five days a week, Tuesday through Saturday, I present one of McLuhan’s observations and talk about its relevance today.  300 ideas. 300 days.  300 posts.

How to set an exam.

Marshall McLuhan (1969, age 57).  Are you ready?

At the beginning of this seminar on communications I said that you were to choose 3 books out the 30 on the reading list and that they will be the subject of your final exam.  No doubt you have been wondering what form this exam will take.   Wonder no more. It’s time to sit and deliver.  Have you got a pencil and paper?  Very good, you will have thirty minutes.  Write down three questions on each of the books you have read.

Me (July, 2010, age 58).  A brilliant solution

Fred Thompson, who was a student of McLuhan’s at Toronto in the year after he returned from Fordham in the academic year 1968/69, talks about this exam in his contributions to the books Who Was Marshall McLuhan and Marshall McLuhan: The Man and His Message.

Certainly, McLuhan chose a brilliantly eccentric and efficient way to set an exam.  A more direct approach would certainly have required a much longer exam with questions on each of the 30 books on the reading list.  Almost certainly the questions the students’ came up with revealed much about their understanding of the books they had read and the form of the exam sends the clear message that he believes the questions are more important than the answers. But, it is doubtful if a university professor today would be allowed to set such an exam either by their department or their students.

As a test of your understanding of Marshall McLuhan and his work come up with three questions about him. Here are mine:

(1) What did he mean by “the medium is the message?”

(2) What can we learn about McLuhan from the portrait Wyndham Lewis drew of him?

(3) “What if he’s right?”

Now, what do you think?  Are the questions more important than the answers?

Cordially, Marshall and Me


Barrington Nevitt with Maurice McLuhan, Who Was Marshall McLuhan, 1994, pp. 178.

George Sanderson and Frank Mcdonald, eds., Marshall McLuhan: The Man and His Message, 1989, p. 135.

Tags: , ,

Michael Hinton Friday, July 30th, 2010
Permalink 1950s and 60s, Education, Vol. 1 No Comments

Leave a Reply