Step By Step

One of the readings my students had to complete this week was the introduction to Tonny Krijnen and Sofie Van Bauwel’s Gender and Media: Representing, Producing, Consuming. I assigned this reading served a couple different purposes. For one thing, given that I’m teaching a documentary class, I want them to be thinking about how media works, how it influences culture and is influenced by culture, etc. Additionally, one of the questions that we’re grappling with this semester is “What does it mean to represent?” In any media class that I’m teaching, this would always be a point of interest, but for this particular class, given the documentary’s general presumed status as “authentic,” “true,” and “real,” it’s a question that I want them to really take into consideration.

The other purpose that I had in choosing this reading is also tied to the issue of representation. My section of this course is focused on Crime, Justice, and Power, and as such, the documentaries that we’re viewing are often dealing with pretty heavy issues. As we’re grappling with those issues, I want them to consider who and/or what is being represented, how they’re being represented, what affects those representations, etc. Gender is one of the many spheres in which we’ll be considering these matters. And thus, this reading, which is only about 10 pages long, provided them with an accessible crash course in the theory and history of gender studies with a few relevant examples.

I’m always a little bit wary of how things like this are going to go over, especially in classes that aren’t marked as like CLASS ABOUT GENDER. Despite the trepidation, I’ve been lucky enough to have positive results in most cases, and this time was one of those positive experiences. Along with completing the reading, students also had to turn in what I call “Critical Reading Responses.” They only have to do this for a handful of readings in this class (from a student perspective, I always found it weary and tedious when we had to write a response paper for every single reading, and I do not wish to inflict that upon myself or my students). I pulled from several different response essay assignments that I saw on the internet in creating the assignment. The gist is that they’re reading closely and carefully and then writing a responses that clearly demonstrates their understanding of the text and ability to analyze while including some key components, such as a quote that stood out to them, a new concept that they were introduced to in the reading, etc.

Thus far, they’ve only done this assignment once, so I can’t speak to how well it will always work, but I was really pleased by what they turned in for this reading. They conveyed a willingness to engage with the material in ways that might not always be expected. Additionally, they were very forthcoming about their familiarity (or lack thereof) with the material. Despite what folks might think about the internet making all of these topics common knowledge, I found that many of my students expressed unfamiliarity with the ideas that gender and sex are different, that gender is a continuum, that gender is performative, etc. But even though they were unfamiliar, they were open to learning and intrigued by the prospects. And even when they sometimes expressed disagreement with certain points from the reading, they were still pretty open to the possibilities.

Now I pretty much always think my students are the best students in the world because I’m highkey biased, but I don’t think they’re unicorns. I think that we can bring new and important concepts to students and have them be received. I also think that sometimes these things will fall flat, and we have to know that, to quote Pink, “Sometimes it be’s like that” (shout out to the year 2000). But we keep trying because it’s important, and I don’t think there’s been a day in recent memory that crystallized that more clearly for me than today. As Maya Angelou would advise, I know better, so I’m doing better, and I hope you all are too ✌🏾

(P.S. If you read the title of this entry, and started singing the Step by Step theme song, we should probably be best friends)

Recovering Writing

Today is the fifth day of the new semester, and in a couple of hours, my students and I will be embarking on our third class meeting in which we will be tackling our first documentary (The Thin Blue Line for anybody who happens to be curious). I’m always, always excited to teach, but I’m especially excited to teach on days in which we’re discussing film and/or television shows because that is my jam. That’s what I do in my own work, and I love being able to open that up to students who often don’t know  (like I didn’t know when I was an undergrad) that this is something that has value, something that they can build a life on. In fact, we spent part of class during our second meeting discussing the importance of pop culture in our lives. On the short list of things that I’d like them to take away from this class (ok the list isn’t really that short, but still), I want them to understand how pop culture is intrinsically intertwined with our culture more broadly.

The other significant focus of our second class meeting was discussing writing. Though my class is one that is centered on documentaries, it is also a second year writing course. Throughout the semester, my students will be composing several different writing assignments, and I thought it necessary to both remind them of that component of the class and to see where their heads were at about writing.

When I asked how many people enjoyed writing, the raised hands were unsurprisingly few and far between. I’m not the first to say this (in fact, John Warner was tweeting about this yesterday: https://twitter.com/biblioracle/status/819534603165831168), but I think school often does ruin writing for students. It makes writing something that is wholly unenjoyable and uninspired, which is something that I intend to try to work against in my class. One of my colleagues mentioned a few days ago that one of his students said they had a teacher who dock them for the very particular way the essay was stapled.

For. The. Way. It. Was. Stapled. Y’all.

*Headdesk*

This is why, when I asked my students to write down something that they knew or believed about writing (inspired by this post: https://jcmadams.wordpress.com/2016/02/15/in-class-activity-what-we-know-about-writing/), I wasn’t surprised by answers like “Writing is tedious and time-consuming.” At some point, writing, particularly “academic writing,” all too easily becomes a series of hoops to jump through and requirements to check off without being emphasized as a valuable process, a useful means of expression, a creative outlet (yes, even the academic stuff), etc. So one of my goals this semester? Counter that. Counter it aggressively. Wish me luck, eh?

(And if you have any handy tips or suggestions, feel free to send them my way)

A Fresh Start

On Monday, classes begin again at my university. Winter break is always one of the most confusing times for me in terms of keeping track what day it is, and I’m always a little bit surprised by how the new semester sneaks up on you. That being said, I feel pretty good about my preparation this time around. Generally speaking, I spend a lot of time thinking about what I’m going to do in the classroom, but this time I kicked it into high gear. In addition to getting the syllabus done (huzzah!), I also wrote out lesson plans for each day I’ll be teaching this semester. Some of these plans are more detailed than others, and more info will be added/things may be rearranged as the semester proceeds, but generally speaking, I have a good idea of what I’ll be doing each day.

I did this for a couple different reasons. First, I’ve done it before (though admittedly not as thoroughly as I did it this semester), and I realized that taking some time in the beginning to figure it out will really save me time in the long run (I think all those unit plans I had to do in secondary ed really did a good job of making me think about the long game). The other big reason is that I’m starting my dissertation this semester (well…theoretically), and I have various other writing projects  that I’ll be working on throughout the semester as well. Planning my teaching ahead allows me to spend more time throughout the semester focused on my writing. It also frees up more time for when I need to assess student work. I also went ahead and wrote out all of the assignment prompts. In the past, I’ve typically had some done when the semester started and written others as the we progressed through the semester. But knowing that it usually takes me a while to write the prompts, I just went ahead and got that out of the way as well.

And so, leaning into this new semester, I’m feeling perhaps a little less harried than usual. I’m actually extra excited for next week’s classes because I know what we’ll be doing, and I think they’re going to be awesome days (Is my idealism showing? hmm). I’m teaching a documentary class this semester, and I’m really looking forward to digging into the assortment of films I’ve chosen (talk about your difficult choices…) with my students. Annnnd they’re going to be making their own documentaries this semester, which is the sort of thing that, when I added it to the syllabus, both made me slightly nervous and super happy ¯\_(ツ)_/¯.

At any rate, I’m looking forward to getting started!

Endings

A few weeks ago, the semester wrapped up at my university. Our schedule was often broken up by a variety of holidays in those final class meetings (and at least one wayward fire alarm), but my students persevered, worked extremely hard, and produced some great transmedia projects. On the last day of class, we held a showcase in which I’d invited various people from the department to come check out the projects. And lest one thinks I’m biased about the awesomeness of my students because they’re my students, the feedback was markedly positive. Admittedly, there were definitely moments when I was unsure what the end results of this project might look like, but those kids rose to the occasion, and I’m definitely going to miss them after spending a great semester together talking about television and digital media. For anybody interested in seeing some of their work, you can click here, here, and here (heads up: as is often the case with transmedia, some of these sites include hidden things that you have to find as the user).

As 2016 comes to a bitter (B-I-T-T-E-R) end, and despite having such a great semester, I can’t help but be ready for this year to be over (though I’m not especially optimistic that next year will be any better). That being said, as we barrel toward the rapture end of the year, I’m inclined to reflect on the actual good things that happened this year. So here’s a semi-comprehensive list:

  • I fulfilled some childhood dreams by going to see WWE Raw.
  • I successfully participated in a hot sauce eating contest (LIKE A BOSS).
  • I got to go to Seattle for the first time.
  • I got to meet Aja Monet.
  • I finished course work.
  • My husband and I celebrated 6 years together (2 of which we’ve been married for).
  • I went to Wisconsin for an awesome wedding with some great friends.
  • My life was blessed by getting to see Queen Bey in concert again.
  • My adorable godson was born.
  • I got to watch #BlackGirlMagic run roughshod over the Olympics.
  • I went to Florida for another awesome wedding with some other great friends.
  • An adorable new baby cousin was born.
  • I got better at organization and planning (though this is still a work in progress).
  • Relatedly, I passed my comprehensive exams.
  • I got accepted to present at SCMS next year.
  • I affirmed my commitment to pedagogy.
  • I continued to grow in my understanding and embodiment of both scholarship and activism.
  • I finally got the chance to play video games again (shout out to Mafia 3).
  • Beyonce, Chance the Rapper, Rihanna, the Hamilton Mixtape, and Bruno Mars all gave me music for survival.
  • Movies like Deadpool, Moonlight, Almost Christmas, Loving, Rogue One, Zootopia, Civil War, Ghostbusters, and Moana kept me at the movie theaters semi-regularly.
  • In addition to all the shows that I already loved, new shows like Pitch, Queen Sugar, Greenleaf, Insecure, and Wynonna Earp made me really happy (this part of the list is not comprehensive at all, but I have to stop somewhere lol).
  • I got to eat a LOT of fantastic food.
  • I became closer to some of the relatively newer friends in my life, and let go of some things/people that weren’t enriching my life.

Alright, that’s it for this year (*fingers crossed*). See y’all next year when I’ll be back to talk about the documentary class I’m teaching ✌🏾

Meta Meta Meta

When I last posted, my students were preparing to submit their podcasts. I’m happy to report that they did exceedingly well. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have any concerns going into the assignment. This semester is the first time I’ve taught a digital media class as well as the first time I’ve taught a college level course that isn’t essay based. To that end, I’ve had to recalibrate the ways that I think about assessment in certain ways, which has been useful. I know that sometimes students can be somewhat resistant to doing assignments that are outside the norm, but I haven’t really felt that type of resistance in this class. Perhaps, since it’s specifically labeled as a digital media class, the buy in was there from the start. Though I could also see the projects we’ve worked on in this class being utilized in other non-digital media specific classes, and that’s definitely something I’ll be thinking about in the future.

Honestly, one of the most useful components to our class this semester (at least to me) has been the class blog. Each week, the students are required to write blog posts that reflect on/respond to/analyze the subject matter, class readings, discussions, and their experiences working on their projects. I know that blogs can garner somewhat tepid responses from both students and teachers for a variety of good reasons, but I think the class has grown into the blog for the most part. And I’ve especially enjoyed reading their thoughts about their experiences of composing podcasts. I’m fairly confident that I could never get them to say as much in class as what many of them wrote on the blog, which is fine, but because they did write about those experiences, I have a good sense of what worked well (and what didn’t) with the project as well as what they’re taking of away from it. And I just find that really valuable since it’s not always clear, despite our best intentions and objectives, what students are truly gaining from assignments. I think that I’ll likely tweak the blog assignment in future classes, but it’s definitely a component that I’ve found productive enough to be retained.

This week, we shifted our focus to transmedia and their final projects, which will be digital transmedia extensions. This final project will (ideally) synthesize everything they’ve learned about digital media composing in this class. And I’ve added a public showcase component to give them more presentation experience as well as a more concrete audience. This is my excited face  😛

What’s a Few Weeks Between Blog Posts?

Heyyyyyy so you know how you write things on your agenda, but you keep forgetting to actually do them (like say, “update your blog”)? That’s been me for the past few weeks. This was partially spurred on by going out of town for a wedding and also by the fact that I’m neck deep in reading for my exams, which are coming up in a few weeks (*falls out*). Nevertheless, I have returned from the depths of notetaking despair for an update.

When I last posted, students were exploring the many ways in which Netflix, and streaming in general, have influenced television. This included a deep dive into binge watching, which my students were mostly in favor of (and I found this particularly interesting because while they supported that particular innovation, they were almost entirely not in favor in live tweeting *kanyeshrug*).

Our focus has shifted since then to fandom and participatory culture. In particular, we took up the topic of representation in media and how fan creations often attempt to remedy perceived lacks in representation or poor representations. This conversation produced some of the most spirited interest this semester, which naturally appealed to me given my own scholarly interests in media representations. If we had more class time, I’d definitely want to delve in further (something to think about if I end up teaching this class again).

However, much of our time over the past two weeks has necessarily been devoted to podcasts. This is because my students’ next big project is a short podcast creation of their own. In keeping with our recent fandom theme, the podcasts have to be about television shows. This week has been entirely workshop time, which I think is especially important to have for assignments like this in case students have questions. It’s been interesting to watch (most of) them work solidly for almost 80 full minutes at a time. I’ve had students do in class writing assignments in the past and found it difficult to get them to focus for extended periods of time, but for this project, that hasn’t really been an issue. Speaking from personal experience, I think there’s something about working with audio and video projects that brings out the inner perfectionist (at least for me) and can make a person want to put in more work than what might happen with a writing assignment.

I had been worried that there’d be a significant technological learning curve (even though we did have one in class tutorial day with Audacity), but so far that hasn’t seemed to be the case. In fact, I’d say there were far more questions about using Twitter and Storify earlier in the semester than there have been about this project. They turn in their podcasts next week, and I’m very excited to hear what they’ve produced.

Netflix-y

In class this week, we pivoted from a focus on social media and television to a focus on Netflix and how it has (or hasn’t) changed the television landscape. We’ll be working with Netflix for a few weeks and exploring a variety of areas, such as how Netflix has affected television production, Netflix’s relationship to viewer desires and expectations, and binge watching. This week was primarily just about laying the groundwork and beginning to think about the ways in which Netflix came into such a position of prominence. Amongst the many questions we’re considering is “what makes a show a Netflix show?” To that end, we started our foray by looking at the first episode of Full House and the first episode of Fuller House. To some extent, they are essentially the same show (after all, that’s why people bought into the reboot), but there are ways in which the reboot definitely became Netflix-y that I wanted us to be able to identify. And we’ll be continuing to make such comparisons between broadcast/cable shows and Netflix shows for the next few weeks as we consider how Netflix has affected television production.

Today, we talked a lot about whether Netflix was turning us into puppets and about whether we were comfortable with the amount of data that Netflix is gleaning from us. We talked about data mining previously when we discussed live tweeting, and the students were apt to pick up the connection here. The readings for today’s class presented different perspectives on the issue, and I could tell that many of the students had mixed feelings about how Netflix was using their information.

In order to really dig into the readings, I had them each choose what they believed to be the most significant/important/interesting quote from each reading. Then I had them share their quotes or reasonings in groups. Next, each group had to agree one significant quote from each reading that they would share with the class. And then, as we went through each reading, each group presented their quotes, we discussed them, and I went over additional points from the readings that I wanted to address. If it hasn’t already become obvious, I really enjoy making them talk to each other. It serves a variety of purposes, including but not limited to me not having to talk the entire time and it gives me the opportunity to listen in on what they’re thinking, bearing in mind that when I ask people to speak as large group, some people are uncomfortable doing so. But hearing how they’re thinking through things in their smaller groups helps me to figure out what I need to emphasize in my contributions.

They also had to watch episodes of Chef’s Table and Bojack Horseman for today (so we could deepen our discussion of what makes a show Netflix-y) to which their respective reactions were basically “great” and “weird.” Yeah, basically.