Category: pedagogy

  • Empathy is an Ideology: Or, Who is culturally pathologized by the ideology we call empathy?

    I made a sort of zine-ish thing that are some draft thoughts on Empathy as an ideology. You can read it online here or download it with the link below to print out yourself. If you print it, it needs to be double sided, flip on the short edge, for every page after the first page (the first page is the cover and should be printed alone). With the double sided print you get a short little booklet one you fold the cover and interior pages in half. Details on making your own zine-ish thing and how it can help support course material can be found at the end of the post.

    How To Make Something Like This

    I’ve been exploring the flexibility of Google Slides recently. I’ve created a couple of infographics for work that I can’t publicly share, helped a few people design syllabi, etc etc. So when I decided I wanted to play around with the visual language of a zine using digital tools, I knew there HAD to be something out there. I found it at STL’s Zine Library – Resources & Support. There is a link to a Google Slides Template that you just copy to your google slides and then you are ready to go.

    In order to do this digitally but still get the look and feel I was going for I used a combination of royalty free photographs and clip art that I edited in Photoshop, the Paper App for iPad to create the illustrations and some of the text. As I knew what I wanted to do and had a sense of the copy I was able to get this done over a weekend.

    I do projects like this to help me untangle my thoughts, and I think in certain courses working with different formats is good for students too. If you are a google slides campus (my current institution is), it is an easy way to take advantage of the affordance of the platform. And if students don’t have and iPad and apple pencil, all of this can be done on paper, photographed with cell phones, and then added to the slide deck. If it is done in a course this would be a candidate for a collaborative project/concept study guide where groups put together a very short digital “zine” on an assigned concept that can then be shared with the whole course.

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  • Draft Thoughts on The Temptation of Empathy and Oppression in Pedagogy

    I do not believe that there is such a thing as radical empathy, clearly. I believe empathy always already dooms itself to fail. That said, there are still occasions when radical empathy might be valid, namely, when a person holds power over the life and livelihood of another I am inclined to not say empathy is bad. That being said, I maintain that it is evil, even in this situation. The most prescient example of this for me remains how easily Pedagogy of the Oppressed becomes a dowsing rod for good pedagogy for so many without critically engaging all the levels of erasure that happen in this situation.

    [An Aside: I have a whole other rant about men who, in their quest to be Good Feminist who empathize with women have taken up referring to students, when speaking in general as only she, and how that positions girls and women as always in the process of becoming whole and receiving knowledge]

    Pedagogy of the Oppressed and Empathy

    To empathize there needs to be a reference model created. While yes, education in many ways reifies existing power structures the classroom is a space of potential.

    To see students as the oppressed and the role of the teacher/professor as the one to make students aware of their oppression, or to engage with students with the blindfold of oppression coloring who they are is to deny them of their innate human potential. It falls back on that missionary model inherent in this form of empathy where a person, assumed to be more complete because they hold power, needs to open themself to feel the suffering of the Other. To understand the Other through their oppression is the only way to enable meaningful interaction, work, and discussion because without it there is no connection. Based on my limited observations as someone who tends to listen more than I tend to speak I think it is fair to say that humans are naturally curious. We seek out things that pique or interest and are often drawn to tantalizing experiences. Formalized learning is one of those rare experiences that contains varying degrees of pleasure while at the same very quickly becomes a space in the service of reinforcing the status quo. When students are the oppressed and the teacher represents power and the teacher has to fix the dynamic it robs the students of their own agency and forces student into a very narrow role. “The oppressed” is the dehumanized by another name. When a person can clearly identify those who “the oppressed” are, the identifier is oppressed by the idea that the oppressed have to exist in that space. Teaching then becomes about feeling, connecting with the oppressed. Empathizing with the oppressed, the students, is a perverted form of understanding that just as easily could be captured by acknowledging that everyone in the classroom, the teacher and the students, are human.  It also ignores that even when a person has an existence that might be defined by many forms of structural oppression, they are still capable of making and having meaning, joy, happiness, curiosity, and dreams. It forecloses the joy of learning and lights the path forward in a particular way.

    There is an essay in Roland Barthes’ Image, Music, Text that changed the way I understand teaching, “Writers, Intellectuals, Teachers”. In the essay the reader is shown how the classroom is like the couch of the psychoanalyst. The problem is we usually have it backwards. We assume that it is the teacher/professor analyzing the students. In reality, it is the person at the front who is speaking, sharing, shaping the space as though they are on the couch of the psychoanalyst. Those observing, the real analysts, are the students. Acknowledging that when I am in the front of the room people will learn more about me than they will about the subject opens me up to not trying to “understand” the people learning from me, or “figure out where they are coming from” so I can instill some deep knowledge or meaning into their life. Instead, I open up the space of ownership by stepping away from the seat of power so that we are in a dialogic space, me with them and more importantly them with each other.  The classroom is a space of becoming, for everyone. Teacher, student, listener, observer. We all occupy those roles. To enter the space as a place to save the oppressed, and to react to stories of teachers lack of compassion towards their students with calls of empathy is to foreclose the potential for radical ways of becoming that are only possible in the experimental space of the classroom.

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  • The Myth of the “Stupid Student”

    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:

    1. 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.
    2. 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.
    3. 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.

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  • Creating a (almost) fail proof Final Project or Paper

    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.



    (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


    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.


    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 their idea/interest, why that is their topic, and how they plan to explore it.

    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:

    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.


    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.


    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.

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  • On the joys of playing and making: Drone Edition

    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:

    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.

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  • Media, Popular Culture, and Teaching #Ferguson

    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.

    * * *

  • An experiment in trolling: a teaching moment #FutureEd

    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.

    * * *

  • For the love of critical making & doing

    because to me it is part of critical pedagogy… or something. (Is critical pedagogy a thing?)

    I think everyone is entitled to their own opinion and their own style of pedagogy. So here is a part of mine. I’m about to embark on a new teaching trajectory where I get to put making before theory as much as I want (and based on the syllabus I think I might be failing a little but we’ll see how it plays out), and I am looking forward to it. The reason is, I have an immense amount of faith in my students to take what is given to them and surprise me with what they teach me. Every semester I am amazed at what they teach me with their unique ways of seeing the world. I know that if I just gave them papers to do though, I wouldn’t get to know how inspiring every student I’ve had to date is. And I’m not just saying that to say that.

    I am lucky to be in graduate school in the department where I am for one reason above all others. That reason is the freedom my department gives me when it comes to teaching. I’ve TAed for Communication and Gender, and been able to teach in performance studies and media studies. My teaching is reflects my diverse interests, and for that I am thankful. My heart is with media studies though. It is where I have the most fun. That being said, I am greatly informed by my performance studies training in as much as I think that there are multiple ways to express deep thought and reflection, and those ways are valid, encouraged and should be submittable for grades. I love that people are getting into critical making because I think it is an “in” for people who might not have a performance background to begin exploring other ways of learning, assessing, and thinking through problems and theory… (I’m still not sold on the 3D printer thing though).

    As I’ve been thinking through why the reactions people are having to critical making on the interwebs bothered me so much I started kept coming back to a performance studies classes I taught. I consider performance to be a form of critical doing or making, just not with circuit boards and code. To highlight why I was thinking of this I will tell the story of how the class went through four students.

    Student 1: Probably a genius or some kind of savant. Best writer I’ve read in a long time. Performances were amazing. Got theory right away. Self motivated, but didn’t have to work hard. Contributions to class discussions were always unexpected and spot on.

    Student 2: An amazing motivated student. Extremely intelligent, but had to work hard at it. Performances were good. Writing was exceptional but not near the level of Student 1. Eagerly participated in class discussions and helped other students walk through the process to get them to understand. Asked great questions.

    Student 3: Had a learning disability. Had trouble with traditional assignments. Came alive when performing and able to express understanding and openness without restraint or fear. Performing allowed the class to meet an entirely different, expressive, hyper-intelligent, super-confident, stellar human being.

    Student 4: Writing assignments showed lack of depth. Had a hard time communicating the connections that were being made during class discussions. Final performance was absolutely breath taking and brought many people in the class to tears. Absolutely nailed everything we did in the class from beginning to end in a snippet that we were all able to experience together. produced something that was probably a once in a life time experience for everyone in the class that day. In fact, writing this now I can go back to that moment and I still tear up a little bit.

    The reason I think these four are so important is because if I hadn’t had a critical making or doing I would not have been assessing these students for what they really understood, synthesized, and learned from the course, especially student 4. Student 1 and 2 would have been fine no matter what. I can’t imagine though, not knowing students 3 and 4 the way that I know them simply because I didn’t allow them a different means of expressing their thought processes.

    While I realize not every class can allow a space for some type of doing or making (can I just simplify and call it “faire”?), the ability to incorporate faire into my teaching repertoire has been a net positive for everyone. There are students that exist in the space between student 2 and 3 who were able to explore new ways of thinking and determine what they enjoyed doing more, and as a result, they were able to make decisions about future classes and… I say this having spoken to students in the 2.5 area… future types of jobs, because they had a better idea of what different types of work feel like.

    I see so much critique happening of people doing things like “critical making” without thinking of big questions, but for me, a big part of critical pedagogy is allowing a space of exploration so that the class has a life of its own, and so that as many students as possible have a chance to succeed and to show the connections they are making. I don’t expect everyone to have the big questions when they teach, or to think through all the layers of power dynamics we all exists and teach in, not everyone has to (thank goodness for them). But that doesn’t mean that their students will not. And that doesn’t mean that trying to do something different, something that might allow student 3 and 4 to shine when normally they might just give in to the idea that they won’t do well, should be critiqued for being shallow or pointless. It just makes me… sad. Especially when I see this coming from people who are against essays too. I’m just not sure what to think.

    * * *

  • On My Course Design for Theory/Culture Based Classes

    For all of the woe is me grad life things that happen to me and every grad student in the world, I can say there is one thing I am 100% grateful for in my department. They allow me to teach and give me enough freedom to ensure that I never have to bring a course into being that I wouldn’t want to take myself. This is important to me. Whenever I am planning a syllabus, I try to plan it around things I will be happy to grade, talk about, read about, write about, discuss, tear apart, and all those other fun things that happen in class. A few years ago I was in probably a classroom situation with Cathy Davidson and we were talking about grading. Something was said that made everything make sense to me. I can’t remember the direct quote, but the takeaway was what I now say when I explain my classes. You can either grade on retention and application or on learning outcomes. If you are grading on the latter, most people should be able to get an A. I do the latter. Rather than explain all of this I thought I would dissect components of a recent syllabus of mine for a Media & Popular Culture 400 level class with Cultural Studies bent.

    Basics to help this make a bit more sense. It isn’t a secret that I am a black female, of unknown age, who lets the class know that I am both heterosexual and a mother because I think it is important to acknowledge that we all have unintentional biases. I am not the normal person they see at the front of the classroom so it is something that we confront very close to the beginning. The class was separated in the following sections:

    Part 1: Current Media Landscape

    Part 2: Gender and Sexuality

    Part 3: Race and Racism

    Part 4: Theory, Theory, Theory

    I places Part 2 and 3 before Part 4 because I consider them to be the excesses of theory in that while theory can help us understand them, everyone in the class has a lived experience that means they confront gender and sexuality, race and racism etc on a daily basis at different levels of awareness. My body at the front of the room makes them more aware of that experience than if I were a cisgender white male… and that is fine. It leads to amazing discussions early in the class.


    Just so people know what they are getting into and what I hope will happen in the class, I have four standard objectives that get modified slightly depending on the course topic. They are generally the following though. And #4 will never go away!

    Course Objectives

    1. to read scholarly and popular texts critically; 2. to practice constructing and shaping arguments; 3. to find a voice in writing and presenting media; 4. to creatively experiment


    The class works through 100 points for Participation (in Class & Online), a Media Presentation, a Mid-Semester Check-In (aka a midterm with a less stressful name), and a Final Project.

    1.1 In Class Participation


    1.2 Online Participation


    2.0 Media Presentation


    3.0 Mid-Semester Check-In


    4.0 Final Project*





    1. Participation

    1.1 In Class Participation

    For a 400 level class I decided to not to do a grade for attendance, but there was an in class participation grade. This meant that while people were not required to be there, it was in their best interest to be as it was the easiest way to earn those points. Points then went up depending on how much the student engaged or help guide the class. Basically this was my way of saying this would be a discussion based class more than a lecture based class.

    1.2 Online Participation (posts for points not grades)

    Rather than having essays due throughout the course students were required to write blog posts throughout the semester on various weeks.  The idea behind how these posts were designed, and why they were grade for points and not necessarily content is because the class blog was a private space where students were allowed to be unsure, share things that might not be a “normal” thing to be shared in a classroom space, or, just a place to have a conversation. The timing of posts and limits on when they can be posted encourages students to plan ahead of time. Because they are due in separate weeks and at different times (in relation to the material the students are talking about), they serve as a tool for me to see how students are understanding and thinking about course material. The posts helped steer class discussion as well. I should not that this is the assignment the students had the hardest time committing to. Those who did all of their posts all ended up with really high grades overall, even on the objectively graded materials. There is a very clear link between grade outcomes on all assignments and completion of the blog posts.

    1.2Online Participation: Blog Posts (8 Total, done in separate weeks) 

    Media Object (2) For these posts you will find a popular media object and provide a brief commentary (150-300 words) linking it to concepts and discussion from the class. These posts should also include 1-2 discussion questions. Due anytime before Nov 22nd.

    Reading Reflection/Reaction Posts (3) These posts need to be made BEFORE we discuss a reading in class and show an engagement with the text. The purpose of these posts is to highlight areas you find interesting, or confusing. These can be thought of as thought experiments in 200-400 words. Due no later than 11am the day reading is discussed.

     Discussion Reflection/Reaction Posts (3) These are due no later than 1 week after a class discussion. These posts should continue threads from the conversation in class, engaging the conversation in a larger cultural context. These posts can also address questions or concerns brought up in class that did not have an adequate answer, linking it to concepts from readings in 250-450 words. Due no later than 11am one week after a reading is initially discussed in class.


    You will need to make a blog post for 9 of 12 weeks. There will be no make up blog posts, and only 1 post/week will count towards your final grade. Nov. 22 is the last day to post to the blog for credit.

    Potential Extra Credit (up to 5%)

    If you regularly contribute to the blog over the semester, in the form of engaging comments/discussion on other people’s blog posts primarily, and/or additional posts you can earn extra credit. This requires engagement throughout the semester though. Bursts of activity at the end of the semester will not count towards these points.


    For this course students were required to put together media objects to share and discuss with the class. In all honesty, they over thought this assignment and had a very hard time sharing. Instead they more often than not tried to teach. I imagine this has a lot to do with not having a sharing presentation modeled well, and that is something I’ll continue to work on in my pedagogy. Because this was one of the competency assignments, a rubric was distributed to explain point distribution.

    2.0 Media Presentation

    Media Object/Cultural Artifact: Theoretical Engagement Presentation, and Discussion Leadership

    In groups of 2-3, you will produce a 15-20 minute presentation that relates a popular culture artifact to the concepts examined in the lectures and readings. You might choose to screen a music video, online role-playing game, silent film, news report, or podcast. You might opt to circulate a print artifact or some other physical cultural object around the class, or address some current or past cultural trend through slides or a performance. This activity is designed to help us frame the week! At the beginning of the week your group will be responsible for bringing in a media object such as a television episodes, a series of songs (no fewer than 3, no more than 5), a music video, part of a film, a website, etc. that will help us frame the discussion for the week through a common cultural object.

    Following a brief exposition of the artifact or phenomenon in question, you should be prepared to elaborate your perspective critically:

    What are some of the forces underlying its production and consumption?

    How do class concepts help us to understand its existence and circulation?

    Public controversies surrounding the artifact are often useful here, to draw out its position in culture.

    Presentation Grading Rubric

    Points Item Details Point Breakdown
    8 pts Follows general guidelines as outlined in the syllabus
    • Show engagement with the course and course readings, especially from the presentation week.
    • Successfully begin to frame the week.
    • Presentation fits within the time requirements.
    4 pts Discussion questions/Leadership
    • Prepare two discussion questions, as a pair/group, directly related to the readings.
    • Meaningfully engage discussion questions with the class.
    3 pts Creative engagement with Media Object/Cultural Artifact
    • Display of reflexivity in thoughtfulness in media object/cultural artifact
    • Successful use of object to aid in understanding of course material
    • General Preparedness.




    Midterm (Boo!)

    I was teaching an introduction to media history, theory and criticism course, and the students were super stressed out on the day of the midterm. We’d been going over semiotics and I asked if it would be better if I called it something else. We decided to rename it the mid-semester check in. It is a take home assignment with short, medium, and long answers. The students have to answer all the short answers, and one medium and one long answer. I try to come up with questions that allow the students to reflect on their thinking rather than showing a lot of citations.

    3.0 Mid-Semester Check-In (Formerly know as “The Midterm”)

    This will be a take home assignment designed for me to assess your level of understanding of core concepts in the class. It is a chance for you to show me what you’ve learned, and for me to make sure we are all on the same page, so to speak.  You will be provided with a document that has directions and a series of prompts to respond to on DUE DATE.

    Here are two of the questions that produced some really wonderful responses.

    Mid-Semester Check In Example Prompts

    Short Answer (30 pts, 10 pts Each)
    Understanding Media & Popular Culture
    Respond to the following in half a page or less3. In this course “Gender & Sexuality”, and “Race, Racism, and Representation” were discussed as spaces that are beyond our theoretical frames as they are grounded in lived experience and reproduced as stereotypes in popular media. Identify another area of cultural excess and discuss how it is portrayed in media and how this reflects or highlights larger cultural attitudes or norms.

    Medium Answer (20 pts)

    Reading/Watching Media: Textual Analysis

    Respond to one of the following prompts in 1-1.5 pages.

    5. Read the lyrics to the song “I Don’t Need a Reason” by Dizzee Rascal

    Watch the video:


    Explain difference in meaning that can be inferred from the lyrics and the video and place them in a larger cultural context (It is okay to write from a US perspective on this!) and/or the media ecology the song exists in.

    Long Answer (50 pts)

    Respond to one of the prompts below using theories, concepts, and discussions from the course, in a 1.5-3 page essay.

    6. Gender and Sexuality

    We all consume the same media, yet certain media are targeted towards certain genders. We’ve read and discussed romance novels and sports this semester. If the content of these items stayed the same,

    Option A: how would targeting males instead of females as the intended audience of romance novels and erotica change our cultural understanding and discussion of these media objects?


    Option B: how would targeting females instead of males as the intended audience of prime time sports change about the ways these sports are culturally discussed, understood, and sold/commodified?

    The long answer was graded on a rubric, but it is a bit long.  I might upload it later.   Students did well (some of them even said they really enjoyed answering the questions!). They were put in a strange position though that did require some discussion. A lot of them were convinced they didn’t have any biases and/or weren’t influenced by the media they were consuming. They found that when they had to do the switch they were falling into stereotypical thinking and that was surprising for them, but awesome for classroom discussion. The answers to the medium questions were beautiful. I loved seeing the connections my students were making. Just… really lovely. And the short answer was my way of saying “I know we’ve spent a lot of time on gender and race stuff, but there are more things that are treated similarly in media”. There were lots of great responses, like romantic relationships, citizenship, body size and shape, beauty, ability, etc. Which made me glad, because my biggest fear is that students feel locked in by what we have time to cover in the class and don’t feel they have the freedom to think outside the syllabus.


    I am required to have a final. i teach media classes though, and I think one of the better ways to make the theory part of the class make sense is to have students put theory into practice through creative engagement or media making.  To encourage experimentation the points for this are placed in to various components, some of which are Pass/Fail for full or no credit. I’ll mark those with a **

    4.0 Final Project (35%)

    Option 1: Traditional Project (Theory into practice) & Presentation Group work encouraged. Requirements to be determined by instructor and student.

    Option 2: Traditional or Experimental Paper (Theoretical exploration) & Presentation 10-12pp, double spaced, times new roman, 12pt font. Must be done individually.

    *Important Dates (and % of final grade):

    Oct .14: Final Project Proposal Due (10%)**

    Nov. 11: Final Project Workshop (5%)**

    Dec. 04: Final Project Object Due (15%)

    Dec. 06: Final Project Presentation (5%)**

    Most of the project was points/no points to limit the stress. As long as students followed the directions (most of which were negotiated and agreed upon in class) for the assignments, they received the points. By taking out the qualitative measure, and reminding students that they were encouraged to experiment, students were able to propose things they hadn’t done before. It is always awesome to see the work of a first time DIY film maker or webmaker. Seriously. It makes it worth it. I’m ahead of myself though. Once I received the proposal and knew the type of projects students were thinking about doing, the ways they were considering executing them, and how they thought they were seeing them in relation to class content, I was able to make sure as we went through the theory section of the class I did my best to make it relevant to the topics proposed. I created a Final Project Guidelines (PDF) document. And distributed it to the students. The requirements were discussed in a class session after the first workshop before this was created and distributed.

    Workshop days  are days where students get to talk to their audience members. One of the most important things for me with the final is that they know they have to present it to the class, and so they should get feedback to see how the class, their biggest audience is reacting and what input they might have. I usually create worksheets for them to fill out for these to turn in at the end of class so I can see where they are. The worksheets let me know if there are any red flags or project issues that are individual are universal that need to be addressed. The biggest universal issue is usually project scope.

    The last part, the presentation, is what we do during the time slot our final is slated for. What I think is awesome about how this all comes together is, the diversity of the students and what they are interested in means that in the 2-3 hours we meet, have baked goods and soda together and listen to everyone talk about what hey worked on/thought about  for 4-6 weeks we end up with this really kick ass course review because people are interested in different things and make different connections and tend to bring them together in some really amazing and innovate ways.


    So that’s that. A lot of the points are based on showing up and attempting the assignment. Grade breakdowns seem to indicate that students will end up with a grade I would have given them had I been grading on retention/knowledge acquisition based on their in class participation/attendance patterns, familiarity with the course literature, and effort put in to what they put out. I just shared bits of 1 class, but I’ve taught 8 classes now with this format I think. Inevitably every semester I have 1 disgruntled student that is used to doing minimal effort, no attendance and passing with an exam and a paper who ends up with a C or a D that tried to get points for the credit no credit assignment. Hardline though so it doesn’t happen. For that one student though, there are maybe 2 who apologize to me for not doing the work and getting a bad grade. They want me to know that it isn’t a reflection on me or my teaching and they can do better/be better students. So far I’ve had 4 of those students take another class with me. They all went up at least a letter grade. I’m proud of them.

    * * *

  • #Duke21C, McLuhan, AFK, & Life Before the www.

    I am in a McLuhan-esque mood, which I imagine has something to do with the fact that I am auditing a class on Media History & Theory and week 1 is McLuhan week. I’m also teaching a course on introduction one Media History, Theory, & Criticism and the end of the first week of readings is “The Medium is the Message”. This makes me insanely happy. I am looking forward to speaking about it because I saw the trailer for the Pirate Bay movie (above) and it sort of changed my life, or the way I was thinking about life. Then I went to the #Duke21C class yesterday and Cathy Davidson said something that changed my life, or the way I was thinking about life again. She reminded us that most of our students have never been alive in a world without the internet/world wide web. Whoooooooooosh!

    So. I am old, relatively, in that I lived in an ancient world. I understand that it is the result of the last information age and the amount of things that changed with it. I am thankful to have gone through it, and to have the frame of reference that allows me to speak to my students about a time when everyone had to use a calling card or make a collect call at some point. And use a pay phone. And not have social media in the way we think of social media today [side note, when I asked them to rank the most important forms of media from 1-2, most of them had only 1. The Internet, 2. Social Media. In the past news always came out on top.]

    I think that, for the people of my generation, the transitional generation (home internet really took off when I was in middle school, so I had the landline version of a social network before I had my award winning geocities site in the 90s), the adjustment of seeing the computer as more than an extension of our hands took a lot of time. We have memories of a life outside of the screen. I am making a guess here, but I am feeling like the thing that made the TPBAFK trailer so “whoa” for me was that they said that the stuff that happens in the computer is real life, so they say they know each other AFK (Away from Keyboard) instead of IRL (In Real Life). They already know each other IRL through the screen! This means, and really this explains so much, that the screen, especially for say, my students who have always had these kind of screens, is no longer a window to an imaginary world. Screens are, instead, just an extension of the whole body/world. Things that happen there are real! It seems we haven’t readily acknowledged this culturally completely just yet.

    I mean, I joke about the idea of relationships being “facebook official”, even as I watch relationships develop, evolve, and devolve through facebook status updates. I come across editorial stories from other people weekly that speak about the brother or sister who found out their brother or sister was pregnant or had a baby through a mass social media post, mass texting or a blog post instead of calling on the telephone and how confusing/upsetting the situation was for the receiver of the news. I think it is funny though, that most of us, even those of us old enough to remember a time before the internet, upon receiving good news often post it somewhere rather than individually emailing and calling. It is simply more efficient, and it is where most of our interactions with friends, family, and colleagues are happening anyway. It might not be physical, but it is our world. I think that is where we are with the screens. We are not IRL and online anymore. We’re either At Keyboard or away from keyboard… but even then, we usually have a keyboard in our pockets at this point.

    And a lot of times, even when we are in the same room, something that happened in #Duke21C yesterday, we are still At Keyboard, having conversations in the backchannels of our worlds with the people in the room as well as those in the open world of the web.

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  • MOOCs & Performance Studies: an Introduction #DukeHP

    While looking at MOOCs could start with an analysis through media, even when I do that, I go somewhere else.  The media I frame I find most helpful to begin thinking through things, the McLuhan’s “The Medium is the Message”, even takes me immediately out of media.  In MOOCs the medium seems to be performance more than anything else I can pinpoint.  While yes, there is a screened device between the individuals, the second I begin thinking about what is actually happening, and how it can be useful, I end up right back in Performance theory.  When I look at what happened in Twitter vs Zombies, that connection is even clearer.  Rather than go to a whole lot of sources, I will name one that covers all the bases around MOOCs: The Sage Handbook of Performance Studies.

    I know, I know. A text book! But it talks about everything and it is a fantastic primer for those outside of Performance Studies and those new to Performance Studies.

    In Della Pollock’s chapter, part of the “Performing History: A Politics of Location”  “Memory, Remembering, and Histories of Change: A Performance Praxis” the “not not me” and you being “not not you” seems to be central to the performance of MOOCs.  When a student or professor enters the MOOC world, they are re-presenting a version of themselves that, if taken in conversation with the whole, can never be completely representative of who they are.  When we put our bodies/beings in conversation with others on the in MOOCs, we open ourselves up to a certain type of interpretation that is us, but not us.

    I should stop. I won’t give you a blow by blow of the book and how I think it relates to MOOCs because I think half the fun is discovering the connections we can make on our own and then entering into conversation.  I would like to point out the two main areas though that, in my opinion, absolutely need to be incorporated into our conversations about MOOCs.  The first is Critical/Performance Ethnography.  The introduction to this section in the Sage Handbook of Performance Studies states the following:

    “Performance ethnography embraces the muddiness of multiple perspectives, idiosyncrasy, and competing truths, and pushes everyone present into an immediate confrontation with our beliefs and behavior. Body-to-body, we are less able to retreat into the privacy of our own limited self-serving thinking, our stereotypes and biases. We have to acknowledge the validity of another viewpoint, because it is living right there in front of us. In this way the embodiment and action that is inherent in performance ethnography makes this a methodology that reflects, in Conquergood’s visionary phrasing, a “critical genealogy” that can be “traced from performance as mimesis, to poesis, to kinesis, performance as imitation, construction, dynamism” (1992, p. 84).” — Part V: Introduction: Performance and Ethnography, Performing Ethnography, Performance Ethnography, Olorisa Omi Osun Olomo (Joni L. Jones)


    I also shared a Conquergood Essay that appears in the handbook via twitter yesterday in PDF format, “Rethinking Ethnography: Towards a Critical Cultural Politics”.   I think one of the most important things we need to do as we pull students into these experiences and environments is provide them with a toolkit to help analyze and understand what is going on, what their role in all of it is, what everyone’s role is, and, most importantly, what the stakes are in terms of the class and the world outside of the classroom.

    The second area that I think is so important for us to examine, especially as MOOCs are a model that sees student-as-teacher to a degree, is Performance and Pedagogy. My offering to all of this is, rather than trying to create a new framework about how people are “performing” in these environments, instead of looking for ways to analyze the co-performance that is taking place, locate political stakes, etc, why not just go to the place where it has been going on for a while now, Performance Studies?  There is even a whole area that specifically speaks to Performance and Pedagogy.

    “[A] performative epistemology makes us responsible for how we inhabit the world. There is no recourse to foundational claims. The world, here, is always-already pedagogical, always being articulated and rearticulated. How we choose to enter this back-and-forth is the key to the ethical dimension of performance. In particular, the performative decenters our taken-for-granted assumptions about pedagogy—where it happens and with what texts.” (Dimitriadis, Pedagogy on the Move: New Intersections in (Between) the Educative and the Performative)

    Even more in line with some of the things that were said yesterday around the purpose of MOOCs is the following:

    “Many performance studies classes involve performance as a way of knowing; they further the objective “to understand performance as a method of inquiry” (Pelias, 2001, p.1). While some performance scholars focus on performances as a subject of study, others view performance as epistemological. “ (Stucky, Fieldwork in the Performance Studies Classroom: Learning Objectives and the Activist Curriculum)

    And finally, the big giant quote”

    “Performance as pedagogical discourse signals students to engage both their critical and creative skills as well as their enfleshed knowledge in order to display and present their understanding of complex concepts grounded in social, cultural, and political issues through the body—and maybe more importantly through their experience. Their performances serve as products that evidence their understanding and their resistance. These performances also serve as demonstrations of how they came to their understanding, as well as critical dialogic engagements with those who witness the performance. In constructing the notion of performance as a pedagogical discourse, I am suggesting that it offers the opportunity for a critical engagement of issues that go beyond pedestrian notions of experiential learning to a form of critical performative pedagogy.


    A critical performative pedagogy also offers teachers and other students in the class (the audience), the opportunity to see themselves again through the performances of others; performance as a barometer of truth or reality. The performance can serve as critical reflexive lens in order for teachers and students to see and realize their own resistances, stereotypic assumptions, habituated responses, and experiences relative to particular issues related to the theoretical arguments that frame the assignment and the person in performance. This is especially important when teachers and students explore the complex intersections of race, sex, class, gender, and privilege; and how the politics of these embodied practices blend and bleed the borders between school and society.”
    Introduction: Performance and Pedagogy, Bryant Keith Alexander

    Hamera, Judith, and D. Soyini Madison. The Sage handbook of performance studies. Sage Publications, Incorporated, 2005.

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