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.

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.

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.

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

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