This is my first post-PhD semester, and much to my sadness, I will not be teaching students. My new role is in faculty development around media and pedagogy. I am lucky enough to have a fantastic circle of friends who finished with me that beat the odds and found academic positions. As we all explore our new institutions, I think we’ve been dismayed to hear similar things to what we heard in grad school..
“students are stupid”
This is one of my pet peeves. In my past life, I would hear colleagues say their students were stupid or dumb or some variation of students not living up to whatever intellectual standard the person leading the class has set as the baseline. I do not believe in stupid students. There are three reasons for this:
- Entering a formal learning space as a student is an act of submission and vulnerability. If someone is in a class, they should be there precisely because they do not know something. So, they are ignorant, but not stupid.
- Every person that enters a classroom has an effect on that space, and, as such, contributes something to the people they are able to interact with. Encounters in formal learning spaces all have the potential to be learning experiences.
- The way we ask students to show proof of proficiency in learning tends to mirror how those of us who are able to teach showed academic and intellectual aptitude. Not everyone is able to think or express themselves in the ways that we request. This is a barrier to seeming smart that is arbitrary but very real.
An Adolescent and Undergrad Story
I had my first job when I was in 6th grade and I spent my $100 a week on books. Not fun books though. I had a thing for history and humanity. I spent more time than was probably healthy trying to figure out human morality and reading primary texts of various religions as well as philosophical texts. I also read a lot of books from French enlightenment thinkers, in French, because that is what a teenager does when she is learning French, n’est-ce pas? In addition to all the reading, I was obsessed with the news, probably because I was fascinated by how people framed things because of that morality thing. When I got to undergrad, I was very excited that one of the required classes was a religion course. Religion 150: Introduction to the World’s Major Religions. I took it over a summer while I was fasting for spiritual reasons (yes I was that type of teenager. NO REGRETS!!!). My professor was Ramdas. I really, really loved learning from him. I took as many courses with him as I could. One of his classes changed my life.
Religion, Politics, and Society
We had courses that were designated as writing or speaking intensive. Ramdas taught a course on Religion, Politics and Society that was designated as oral intensive. I enrolled. I need to start this part by saying, I was an awful undergrad. If I felt I was not going to get anything from a course I didn’t go. I did the minimal I had to do to keep my GPA high enough so I could graduate. I spent the rest of the time sleeping (because I really liked sleeping as teenager and I excelled at it).
The first day of class, Ramdas went over a list of topics we would be reading and discussing during the semester. I was disheartened. Abortion? The Death Penalty? Homelessness? I’d already spent so much TIME thinking about these things. My classmates were PHENOMENAL, brilliant, passionate, amazing students to learn and think with. However, I did not know this on day one so, after class, I took my smart ass self up to Ramdas and said “I’ve spent so much time thinking about these things already and I don’t know that I will get anything from the course,” as one does. I am shocked at how patient and open Ramdas was because I would have laughed at me. But, he took me seriously and he said, “You are very smart, and I don’t doubt that you’ve thought about this. But in this class what you will learn is how other people think about things.” It was probably the best class of my undergraduate career. It let me know that even if I am smart, I am really, really, REALLY stupid too. And that is a good thing.
“Why do we keep talking about ‘Youth in Asia?’”
There is a story I share about this course that sort of made what Ramdas meant all sink in. The class was over enrolled. There were 30 people in a class that had 15 spots, but the conversations were fantastic and everyone was always there. We would do our reading that had various points of view from religion, philosophy, politicians, and academics on the topic. We would start the conversation circle with general reflections on what we read. One day we had a very in-depth conversation on the dilemma of youth in Asia. When is suffering too much? Who gets to make a decision about when it will end? How will the family cope with it? I think person X did a better job than person Y explaining why “youth in Asia” is such a difficult topic. And, then there were the people who said, “I’d never really thought about Youth in Asia.” One girl was getting visibly more and more upset and confused. She finally raised her hand and asked “WHY DO WE KEEP TALKING ABOUT YOUTH IN ASIA!? I read something about people dying.” It took a second, but then someone realized she’d never said or heard euthanasia out loud.
Usually when I tell people this story they laugh, but not in a “a-ha” kind of way. It is more of a, hahaha what an idiot kind of way. That usually makes me sad. For me, it was the moment when I realized how arbitrary a barrier can be. If just not knowing how a word you read is pronounced can make it so you are unable to participate in a conversation in a meaningful way when you have the capacity to do so, imagine the effects of all the other barriers people have. We were a special group where people felt safe being “dumb”. I am not sure that is the case in most classroom environments. It was not the norm in most of mine.
When we enter the academy we are surrounded by intellectually curious peers who have done reading and writing and reflecting and speaking. They’ve had the privilege to have the time to do so. Not everyone lives that life though, and not everyone wants to (and that is fine). Students not being able or not wanting to do these things doesn’t mean they’re stupid… for me, when I teach, it just means I need to figure out what tools I need to give them so they can teach me that thing that I don’t know as a teacher. I need my students to teach me how they think, which is why I created an almost fail proof final.
One of the banes of my existence has, and forever might be, grades. I had a conversation a few years ago with someone about grades, and I remember the person saying you could define a course in two ways with regards to grades, one where you go for mastery of applying the material, giving everyone equal access to “As”, or one where it is mastery of content, at which point there will be more stratification. This is, of course, overly simplified. But it did empower me to think of other ways of assessing students that would enable the course to be as fail proof as possible. Much of it centers around the Final Project or Paper.
In my department every semester I can inform the chair that I will be meeting for the final exam at the designated time, as required for the University, but we will have a non-traditional format. I’ve been lucky enough that it has always been approved. The results have always been pretty amazing in terms of what it does for the class. I’ve written about the overallcourse design for these courses before, but this will be more about how the final projects come into being.
FLOW OF THE COURSE TOWARDS THE FINAL
GOALS AND OBJECTIVES
(for both introduction to media history, theory and media AND media & popular culture)
1. to read scholarly and popular texts critically; 2. to practice constructing and shaping arguments; 3. to find a voice in writing about, creating, and presenting media; 4. to creatively experiment
FIRST HALF OF THE SEMESTER/MID-SEMESTER CHECK IN
The first half of the course is always getting the lay of the land. This is usually gauging where the students are, introduction of central concepts (that will be revisited later in the semester), and review of previous courses (if the course has a requisite). The mid-semester check-in (formerly known as midterm) checks to make sure everyone is on the same page. Rather than asking for facts I tend to ask for application of concepts and/or identification of other spaces concepts can be applied. In addition to doing the mid-term, I ask students to identify what they think they’ll want to work on for their Final project or paper. I tell them they need to choose something they will actually enjoy working on, and not something they think I will enjoy because they will be working on this thing for months. I provide them with some examples and guidelines for the project. I encourage them to experiment and try to make media if they haven’t before (since, media course), because the classroom is one of the few spaces they have where if something doesn’t work properly we can control the consequences.
SECOND HALF OF THE SEMESTER/PROJECT PLANNING & REFINEMENT
My biggest fear in teaching theory heavy media courses is that students will think they have to show me how much they get theory rather than how much they get the media. As a result, during the second half we revisit and take a deeper look at the concepts we touched on in the first half of the semester. However, instead of just looking at concepts and theories without something in mind I ask that the students think through these concepts and how they apply to a project or paper of their creation, so they are never approaching theory as just theory. On the day the mid-semester check-in is turned in, they fill out a note card where they write the topic they hope to work on, and how they are thinking about executing it (traditional paper? blog? short film? look book? something else? no idea?). We then move into an activity. The most important thing for me when creating in class activities is that all activities in the class are meta-learning moments. I never want to make them do group work for the sake of doing group work. This semester I decided to make them do speed dating for the first time. In addition to it ensuring that everyone in the class actually spoke to their classmates at least one time, it allowed us to think about the role and norms of “dating” in popular culture (this was useful because gender and sexuality were one of the early concepts, and rom-coms, romance novels, and attitudes toward relationships were already in discussion).
Above is the Speed Dating thematic. I am sharing it because the first time I tried to do this, I failed at figuring out what to do after the first circle formation finished talking. We start with two circles, an outer and an inner circle and then move to two smaller circles. In the background a YouTube playlist of all the favorite songs of the participants played in the background (these were collected at the beginning of the course). The playlist and the note cards are “icebreakers” so if someone is shy they have their list and something other than the project to talk about for a moment. The music videos also help change the “feel” of the classroom space. The participants are asked to take their note cards and spend 2-3 minutes with each person (depending on time in the course). In these 2-3 minutes they each need to:
- introduce Themselves (if they haven’t previously)
- share their topic and why they are interested in it
- explain how they plan to *do* their final project and why
These descriptions are brief. Once the time is up the people in the outer circle move counter-clockwise one space until they spoken with everyone. What is really great is by the end of the first circle, they’ve gotten down their description, why they’re interested in it, and what they want to do and why. They then move to the second circle (the people who were in the outer or inner circle with them), so they can speak to everyone in the course. Throughout this experience they record the names of people who have similar projects, or projects they might like to work on.
After everyone has had a chance to speak with everyone else, they are given 5-10Minutes to free mingle with people they might be interested in forming groups with. After speed dating they should have a good sense of what their topic is and how they hope to execute it. They should also have a group if they want to do a group project (papers have to be done individually), and a topic group of people they can check in with, in the event they are doing an individual project.
In addition to helping them define their projects, the speed dating serves a secondary purpose. Throughout the semester students give group presentations. One of the reasons I want them to speak to each other is, as we move to the more theoretical parts of the course, knowing what everyone is doing and/or is interested in allows them to bring illustrative examples for their presentations that are helpful and interesting for people in the course. They never have to approach the dense theory without a good sense of the types of things people might be thinking through it with because everyone has a general view of the landscape of interests/projects of course participants.
Once the students have had a chance to speak with everyone in the course, determined groups, etc, they have four days to a week to create a proposal (depending on the course schedule). The parts of the proposal are as follows:
- Media/Experimental Project or Traditional Paper & Justification
- Project Summary
- Why are you doing this project?
- What will you be doing?
- How will you be doing it?
- What is the working thesis?
- Timeline (that incorporates workshop days, and draft project due date)
- Potential roadblocks or questions you would like more guidance on
In my experience the proposals tend to be written with a scope bigger than what can be completed in 6 or so weeks given other work required for the course and the overall course load. The proposal gives me a chance to see the parts that need to be better refined, rethought, or repositioned. I usually end up telling students to think smaller and deeper, and let them know I will help them with this during the workshops.
These are done in groups so the students can meet with their group members and speak with other people in the course about what they are doing to get outside perspectives and feedback. They workshops are designed to mirror things related to the overall topic of the course, like all the activities, so we make mini-media projects (but you need not be limited to this! things like surveys, interviews, posters, pamphlets, or whatever your disciplines norms or topics of study are can be used too).
From the beginning of the course, at least two days are devoted to in class workshops. The first one happens after I’ve had a chance to go over proposals and give feedback. Once they’ve had a day to process feedback the first workshop is designed to help them refine their topic. This year I had them create an advertisement with a pithy catch phrase that restates their thesis statement, and a bit of explanatory text, and an iconic image. This allowed the students to think about the production process of advertisements. It was also a chance for them to make their projects exciting for external audiences.
The second workshop happens towards the end of the semester. The purpose of this workshop is to link the final project to concepts from the course. They are given a worksheet with a concept bank and asked to link their particular project to at least half of the concepts with a brief explanation.
While students are working on their workshop projects, I go around the class and meet with each group or student to check in and see where they are with their projects, to find out if they have any questions or concerns, and to make sure they are on track with the timeline they provided. I do this in class because not everyone can make it to office hours and I want to make sure everyone is on track. I also want to check in to make sure that they are able to link their projects to the course in a meaningful way that pushes their thinking. I give them challenges too, to make their projects a better learning experience that makes them push a bit harder than they might on their own against the concepts and format of their project or paper.
Depending on the course, there might be one or two additional workshops just to make sure people are able to “network” with people in the course to learn things they might need for their projects. If the class is mainly individual projects or papers, I try to add additional workshops so they have a chance to speak through their projects with other people enrolled in the course. I always remind them that their audience for these things shouldn’t be me, but rather, making sense of what they are doing and why to their classmates, because the final audience they will be presenting their work to is each other, and I am just one person.
FINAL PRESENTATION / THE FINAL
By the time we reach the final presentation, they should have spoken with me at least two times and gotten feedback from me 3 (proposal, advertisement, course concepts). If the final is very early in the final schedule, the project or paper is due BEFORE the day of the final presentation. If it is toward the end, they can turn in an option draft for feedback with specific questions before the final exam period starts. This is done to ensure that, as the students are stressed out about their finals, the course isn’t a big stressor at this point. Generally, since we’ve checked in throughout, they hopefully shouldn’t be procrastinating for the most part (though there are always a few). At the very least, even if they are waiting until the last minute, they know what they are doing and why, and how what they are doing is related to the course.
When we meet for the final the students share their projects or papers (one of the rules for projects is that the project has to be a stand alone piece that makes sense without explanation. It forces the student to edit it like they would a paper). However, since we are together for the final, they need to explain some of the connections between their projects or papers course concepts. By the time we make it to the final, they have their position down. It is reflected in their projects and papers. And it is wonderful. What ends up happening on the last day is, rather than them cramming to take in all the concepts and references for the course, we meet and they show each other what the course was about. It ends up being a really big student led review of the course. Student work and effort are centered. And, instead of cramming a bunch of information for an exam and forgetting it, they leave with something they can put in a portfolio, or a new skill (like video or audio editing, etc.), and an experience that makes the concepts “real” in a way a paper exam cannot. And, because the projects tend to be really fantastic, they will also remember their favorite project from another person or group, again, reinforcing learning so that it can remain meaningful.
The last thing done as a student in the course is optional. If someone’s online participation (blog posts) grade is low because they haven’t done all their posts, or if they need/want extra credit, they are able to write a response post to projects from the final presentations. These allow them to give feedback to each other after they’ve had some time to think. The posts give me a chance to check in one last time to see how the students understood the course.
DOES IT WORK?
So far it hasn’t failed. If a student doesn’t pass their final project, it is generally because they simply did not participate or didn’t complete the project. Because we spend so much time in class working on the projects, this is extremely rare. In terms of how the students perceive it, after the presentations on the final day I’ve students tell me how helpful the process of the course was in helping them with their other courses that were more theory focused. I take that to be a good thing. One of the other things the students remark on, especially in the blog posts, is how, despite being so different in terms of execution and topics, the themes that we covered in course are evident in everyones work, usually in really fun and interesting ways the student hadn’t thought of (they of course explain what the new and interesting ways are and how they are different from how they were thinking about things).
And then, I get permission from the students who did their work on public platforms to share their work more widely. I give them the option to opt out. Every end of semester on twitter I share their work, and, I say genuinely at the end of every semester, I really love giving finals. I learn so much from my students. Just like their classmates, each year my students show me new ways to understand and see theory, and they give me a glimpse of what was happening in their mind as we went through the course.
I have to accept certain things about myself. I tend to think more theoretically, and/or more towards the future than many people. I’m not a deductive thinker. I am an inductive thinker. I’m really good at seeing different parts of complex things and how they work together to make “predictions”… that to me are just observations. All this to say, what my experiences in Higher Education have taught me is that I do not think like most people. As a co-learner and as a teacher, that means I have to come up with ways to make the things that are “obvious” to me visible to others. I have to also create openings for people to critique, expand, or disagree with those things I think are obvious. Because I do not know everything. In fact, I maintain that I know very little. I just exist in a perpetual state of confusion and curiosity (great mindsets for learning and exploring imho). So, what’s a girl to do???
Playing and Making
I’ve always been drawn to playing and making. And I didn’t get why until I started my drone tests to see which one I would attempt to get for my class next semester… and which ones I would get for us at the Duke PhD Lab (all the grad students there are super into the idea of playing with drone, from the classics people to the digital humanities people). What I think I determined, which is one of those things that was probably obvious to everyone else, is that when we play or make, we immediate go to the more theoretical imaginary space. We make towards a potential thing, and playing is all about that which isn’t there but could be or is only symbolically.
I cashed in all my store credits and discounts to put together a little fleet of drones. I have a small rolling FPV that is just very intuitive and really fun to play around with. A mini-qudrocopter drone that films excessively grainy HD video onto a microsd card. It has the biggest learning curve to fly too. There is a very stable quadrocopter that is fun, has a small learning curve, but only takes photos from directly below where it is flying. And finally, I have a low-midrange bigger quadrocopter that takes really nice video (the first flight video is above). I’ve done my first few flights with a series of drones and my brain is whirring (I imagine that word came to mind because of the whirring of the propellers).
I think when I was originally planning on possibly teaching with drones I assumed, naturally, that the primary thing I’d be working with and against is surveillance culture. That is a part of it. The second part was about creating world perspectives. I was thinking about literature and film, and how one would go about writing what can be seen through a drown, or creating new aesthetic practices in film that go beyond the panning scenery. I was really excited when I saw this Ok Go video because it took advantage of the mobility and perspectives of drone filming:
(There’s an interactive version of the video here: http://iwontletyoudown.com/)
But, after playing with the drones, and their different interfaces, I’m thinking a lot about how we imagine the body with technology. Like a broken record, I am thinking about how useful McLuhan’s idea of technology as an extension, and ultimately, amputation of the body, is when we try to conceptualize what are relationship to technology is when it becomes the only thing we can see through… I don’t think I’ve ever been so scared for a piece of technology as I was when I saw on the screen that the bigger drone was going above the trees and it was a speck and I wasn’t sure if I could keep control.
I am having lots of thoughts about public space, and how we imagine technology being in these places. When I made it to the park where I did my test flight, there was a group playing competitive boomerang (yes I live in that type of place). When they saw me go to another part grass near the field with my flying thing, they moved where they were playing to a neighboring baseball field without saying a word to me, sort of handing it off. Additionally, as we pulled in to the community park, I reflected on drones being banned in National Parks. There was a story this weekend, too, about an emergency helicopter pilot who had to avoid a drone while flying. I’m also trying to figure out where I can go with my students so they can film with a drone without others feeling like there is an invasion of privacy, and, where this is no risk of them hurting someone by dropping technologic object with spinning blades, as they learn to fly. So, lots of things I didn’t think I’d be thinking about until the technology was in hand.
And, of course, I always wonder about the implications of having all of these technologies that are designed so specifically for a visual experience and not really much else. It isn’t a bad thing. It’s just… curious.
I imagine as I play around a bit more, and as I play with more people with these things I’ll have lots of other thoughts, and they will too. I am just grateful to have another fun bridge to help break down some of the thought barriers into something other than language. And I’m happy to have more toys to play with. I’ve let my little ones play with all the drones (except for the big one… it was too windy) it’s been interesting to see how intuitive some are versus others.
Today was the first day of class for me. I’m teaching Media & Popular Culture. One of my favorite classes to teach. I generally like to start the course with something fun, but things are… complicated right now. I couldn’t imagine starting the class without talking about this thing that is happening right now. At the same time, me being me, I didn’t want to isolate the class before it started. So, I started with a Dizzee Rascal’s “Love this Town”. It is similar enough and other enough to allow for students to recognize their own reactions to the video. And their reactions are a perfect starting point to start discussing what is happening. After we watched the video I asked why I wanted to start with this video in particular. A few students immediately said Ferguson. Only two students didn’t know about it. I asked if a student felt they had a good handle on what was going on. A student raised his hand and I had him share what he knew. Other people in the class what they’ve been hearing and how they’ve been learning about everything that is happening. Naturally some students were more versed than others, but I think together we did a good job of laying the foundation. A funny thing that the student said was he didn’t understand why people were making a big deal about the college thing. We talked through that, the idea of making the scary human, which is what happens in the video above.
The talking points that I went into a bit more were:
- social media versus mainstream media
- (western) international media and false censorship in the US (built into the system because of limited number of providers and concentration of sources)
- cultural and historical factors that complicate this situation
- police state, and the media ecology of prison (and how as students at UNC they have a direct connection to prison’s in the state)
- surveillance state
- the media ecology of tear gas (from US to Gaza, to Egypt, etc)
- vilification of black males in media (especially when they are killed this way)
- the problem we have with language
None of these students took the pre-requisite course with me (the first time in years this has happened), so they didn’t get my thing that I always want them to think about. They got that today. We have a language problem. When I think of media, the basic medium we have to communicate our thoughts and feelings to each other culturally is language. I feel like we don’t have the right language to talk about this situation, and that is a problem. I told them, if I had come in screaming racism, supremacy, and black power, we would get no where. But things are more complicated than that, and their experience of the event might not be those things. And I need that to be okay, and I need them to be willing to interrogate that. So, the assignment they have as this goes on is to spend at least 5 minutes before we meet for class either going over twitter or reading 1-2 international press pieces on the situation.
Here is a list of some of the options I remembered of the top of my head:
They asked me if I could name some people they should follow on twitter. I told them to use the hashtags. I told them to do this because each person, including me, is biased, so getting news from a single stream or resources will be biased as well. And this is bigger than that. I’d rather they see both the bad and the good, the protestors, the racist trolls, the people who “need more facts”, etc to understand what it means to see Ferguson for what it is. Complicated. Especially since it is happening right now, something the students noted immediately.
We’ll keep having discussions as long as this thing is going, and I imagine for a while after. No one seemed too put off so if anyone drops, I don’t think that will be the reason. I’m hoping that as we continue our discussions together we can figure out the language that lets us talk about this in a meaningful way.
In #FutureEd there has been much talk about trolling. The exact quote is “no sympathy for the trolls”. Trolling will not be tolerated. When you are working with a group of over 10,000 people, that is understandable. Still, I think there is a place to play with trolling in new spaces of learning. It is afterall a big part of our digital culture. Given that we tend to think through things through our theoretical foundation, I find that I am fascinated by the performance of trolling.
My Classroom Experiment
The second week of class there were three Jade’s (me, and two anonymous students), one of whom loved the D. I blame Robin Thicke for this.
I was teaching media and popular culture. Blurred Lines was constantly on the radio and the feminist backlash against the video had just started. It’s use of hashtags, representation of women, issues with race and sexuality, the bizarre stuff with animals, the nudity, everything made it the perfect place to start the class. We’d be going over all the components. Plus, the part where in the background where the video says “Robin Thicke has a big Dick” really needed to be discussed because… c’mon! So the introduction to the course on the first day was a series of technological fails with a screening of the video and a brief discussion of the video. We would come back to it for the next two weeks.
One of the first assignments the students had to do was keep a media & technology diary chronicling their consumption and engagement with media over a 24 hour period so we could discuss it in class. Rather than having them say things out loud and writing them on the board I created an etherpad document that was projected on the screen behind me. Etherpad is an anonymous collaborative document tool that allows many people to write together in real time. It has a chat bar in the side box too. (I’ve created an active document here in case anyone wants to see what it looks like.). The students were asked to write down the main media they were consuming so we had a working list to talk through. They immediately found the chat box. And realized they could make their names whatever they wanted. And that I wouldn’t be able to tell who was who… and it would all be projected behind me.
The first thing people started doing was making their name “Jade”, “Real Jade”. The Jade’s were like some grand internal monologue as I could talk while Jade was saying things in the chat like. “I don’t really mean that.” or “I hate you all”. At one point the class gasped and started laughing though. Given the conversation from the week before, “the D” was in circulation in the classroom space. The person I started referring to as “Fake Jade” (going by the screen name “Jade”). Posted “I love the D!”. It was… interesting. Which is what I told the class, and I thanked Fake Jade for sharing his or her love of the D. There was only one instance of someone saying something offhanded to a student comment, and I shut it down right away. I told them for the class period it was fine if they wanted to troll me, but they weren’t allowed to do that to each other.
The Classroom Discussion When we met for class the next time I started with a discussion about what happened in the Etherpad, but I needed to address the issue of loving the D. The first question I asked them was if they thought something like that would have happened if I were male? What would change if they had said that and I were male? or if I were a different type of female? We then had a good conversation about trolling and power dynamics and classroom trolling dynamics. I explained that anytime I’ve opened up an etherpad in a classroom the same thing happens. There is trolling. We turned that into a discussion of why anonymity in digital environments might invite trolling. I think a lot of it has to do with power. The students sit in a classroom where they are supposed to take in everything that person in the front says without questioning it. Worse, a lot of the students think that all I wanted was for them to agree with me. The trolling gave them a chance to start the class with shifting power dynamics. I am okay making myself vulnerable in that way, because after the discuss I tell them they have to be vulnerable too. I know that all of them are coming in with biases, lived experiences, prejudices, and strong beliefs. They are allowed to leave the class with those, but inside of the class my only request is that they consider what is being said, and ask the questions or make the statements they’d be scared to ask or make in other place, because the classroom is the space where they are allowed to be wrong with minimal real life consequences. I then forbid trolling sort of. I tell them the only one who gets to troll the class is me. I didn’t ask and didn’t care who Fake Jade was. He or she provided a great teaching moment.
Post trollpocalypse class dynamics Any time I’ve opened up the etherpad the classroom dynamics have changed after. Students are more open with each other and with me because I “play” with them in the chat. We have really great conversations after about what happened. I don’t ignore any of the bad stuff. In fact, I focus on it because I find it fascinating on a personal level. Plus, I’m snarky. I get to be snarky about what they are doing. They, in turn, open themselves up and realize I am serious when I say it is fine to ask or say just about anything you want in this class, chances are it is relevant to the topic. You just have to be okay with use dissecting it after. This openness has been invaluable when teaching sections on race, gender, and sexuality. I’m positive I get questions and comments that most people don’t (I’ve talked to lots of people about them and they are usually shocked), but it is because in addition to making the classroom a space of thought experimentation, I assure them that it will be a judgement free zone. By allowing them to have that moment of ultimate power through anonymity and control of the screen immediately behind me, and not holding it against them, they seem to trust me when I tell them that.
This is how I troll
At the end of the semester we started going over some global dynamics of popular media. While lots of places see the US stuff, we tend to not watch the external stuff. YouTube’s first video awards saw Girl’s Generation win best video of the year though, and Big Bang’s T.O.P. was voted one of the sexiest male musicians in the world. Only, I really like d-dragon. So, we watched some Korean pop videos. I told the class about T.O.P.s success, and then played the video above claiming it was T.O.P. when he was younger (really I just wanted to hear the song because I prefer G-dragon). A few people questioned because the title said something else, and half-way through a student said they thought they saw something that said 2013… but I told them they were wrong. And they went with it. When we met next time I told them I’d lied to them about something and they’d get extra credit if they could tell me what the lie was. It took about 5 minutes but they figured it out. And then we had a discussion about all the things they’d told themselves to make it so they could believe I wasn’t lying to them. We used this conversation to have a bigger discussion about access to information (they could have easily confirmed I was wrong by looking it up on a computer or smart phone). We used the moment too, to discuss their built in programming that makes it so they automatically believe the person at the front has to be telling the truth, and how that can be dangerous at times. We then did a recap of class discussions where I knew my personal beliefs were way out in leftfield (we had an animated discussion on marriage proposals. I am against them 110%), and I would never want them to think they had to think like me. It is a reminder that at the end of the day they have to decide what they will incorporate into their lives from their classroom experiences.
How I killed trolling When I opened up an etherpad in my current class, Intro to New Media, I let them know that it usually makes students troll and we talked about it before we used it because trolling is a part of the social/digital media ecology. There were no trolls that day. Well. There was one, but the student was trying to be a “good troll”. She or he just gave lots of anonymous compliments and used the screen name good troll.
The role of privilege I am not a code switcher. I’m just Jade. And Jade happened to be raised in upper middle class mostly white suburbs when she wasn’t living in Hawaii, a upper middle class area of Chicago, or Chelsea in NYC. I am non-threatening. I am somewhat ethnically ambiguous in as much as people tend to think I’m mixed with everything and I code as neutral. I have a fairly thick skin and have very strong beliefs on the classroom being a space of suspended reality. This means I can troll freely. I have a good idea of the types of things people will say, and I’m not afraid to give it back. I would never, ever, ever encourage this activity for everyone. In addition to it being a risk for me, it is a risk for the students as well… and all of these things, personal positions, societal perceptions, power dynamics, number of people involved, etc need to be taken into consideration. It could go wrong very easily. I know that I am privileged to be able to use this activity, but it is my social privilege that makes it work.