Digital Media

A Space of Possibility

In the haze of (a) defending my dissertation, (b) getting a job, and (c) graduating, it completely slipped my mind that I’d intended to write a post about my students’ final project assignment from the spring semester. I’m not sure what a person is supposed to do after all of that stuff, but me? I’ve been sleeping.

A baby stretched out and sleeping with a smile on their face

Mood.

That being said, let’s flash back to the last chunk of the semester. As I mentioned previously, I was teaching Digital Media Composing for the second time. I had a lot of fun with that class both times I taught it, for a variety of reasons, but most especially because it’s a class specifically predicated on digital play, inquiry, and composition, all of which I love.

Throughout the semester, my students created various compositions that allowed them to explore many facets of digital communication. They analyzed their own selfies, created visual essays, developed thematic playlists, conducted and edited audio interviews, and lastly, composed digital memoirs. As the final project of the semester, the memoir assignment was meant to pull together strands from the different modes they’d worked with throughout the semester. I got this idea from my pal Dr. Les Hutchinson when she shared this while I was still in the early stages of planning my class. While I didn’t think we’d necessarily pull together something that complex, I knew from previous experience that my students would rise to the challenge if given the opportunity, time, and tools to do so.

The requirements were pretty simple. They had to create a memoir using multiple digital communication modes that we’d worked with. That’s pretty much it in terms of restriction. From there, they had the freedom to play and create as they wished. To do this, you have to be willing to cede a lot of control over what the final outcome will be. There’s no singular right way for this assignment to take shape, which I think is a perk, but I know some folks might also struggle with (both from the teacher and student side). That being said, I also believe there’s so much untapped potential and possibility that we never get to in educational spaces because control takes precedence. There’s real value in loosening the reigns (which btw does not mean you allow the class to become Thunderdome, but it does mean you engage in more collaboration with students about what the class will be and what the work of the class will be).

Ultimately, my students turned in all sorts of digital memoirs, many of which went beyond whatever I could have imagined, but my favorite thing is that I could see their imaginations in their work. This was also my experience the previous time I taught this course. Students come up with all of these ideas for digital compositions, and then they figure how to make them happen in ways that are really amazing. At the end of the semester, they explored each other’s memoirs. When we discussed them after their exploration, many shared how interesting it was to see other people’s stories and to see the many ways that other people conveyed their stories. They were intrigued by all of the possibilities that this assignment offered. All in all, a great ending to one of my favorite classes.

To wrap up here, I’d like to share a few examples of the memoirs so folks can get a sense of what the students created and how awesome they are. Note: I do have permission to share these, and they were all posted online on purpose so that students could more easily have a broader audience in mind.

Paige’s website

Sameer’s video

Maggie’s website

Grace’s video

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Dispatches from the Dissertation (Part 10), the Job Market, and Pedagogical Fun

So I wrote my dissertation Introduction. I purposefully waited until I had the chapters drafted before starting the Intro. I know some people take the opposite approach, and I tend to start with the Intro on shorter pieces of writing. But for my dissertation (Which Is Now Hovering Around The 250 Page Mark OMG What On Earth), I really needed to know what I was saying before I could try to figure out how to introduce it. Out of all of the drafts I’ve written thus far, I think I might feel most confident in the Intro. And that’s not because I’m not also confident in the chapters, but it’s because I think that purely by way of continuous writing practice/feedback/revision in this project, I can see pay offs. The intro draft benefits from all I’ve learned along the way. Plus, the dissertation workshop class I participated in this semester really helped me to get a better sense of how my writing comes across to readers and how I can continue to improve as I make revisions leading up to the defense. If your department and/or university offers a class like this, I would definitely recommend taking it. Admittedly, sending out pieces of your writing to a bunch of people can be stressful, but I think the good outweighs the bad. At least, it did for me. Plus, I got to talk about a topic that I love quite a bit, which was an added bonus.

Lamb Chop, Hush Puppy, and Charlie Horse meme with the Song that Never Ends

I’m working on my Conclusion now, and I find something deeply ironic about crafting an ending to a project about remakes, reboots, etc…

In other news, I’ve also spent most of this semester deeply enmeshed in the academic job market. I’m probably not going to post too many specific details at this juncture, but I can say that I’ve applied to a fair amount of jobs, most of which have their own particular requirements for application. What this means, if you intend to go on the market, is that you’ll need a significant amount of time in order to complete applications. For me, this has meant being even for more intentional about keeping my schedule. It has also meant that I have had to work more often on the weekends. I say all of this to say that dissertating, applying for jobs, and teaching simultaneously is a heavy load that will require increased time management, planning, etc. For me, I think it’s worth it. I’m pretty clear about what I want to do (whether it pans out in reality is TBD). For some though, the whole process might not be worthwhile (for a variety of reasons). And I think that’s totally valid and reasonable! I’ve been happy to see more and more programs and professors discussing futures outside the professoriate this year because I think it’s important and necessary. But there’s still a long way to go on that front.

I got to teach Intro to Pop Culture this semester, which is a class that I’ve wanted to teach for most of my PhD career. The relatively open parameters of the class allowed me to incorporate an assortment of my research interests into the class (the syllabus is accessible on the syllabus tab). By the end, most of my students had noted that while they knew about pop culture when the semester started, they’d never thought about it (and its various tentacles) in as much depth as we did in the class. This is the kind of thing that I love about the material I research. I love taking something that is often interpreted as commonplace or irrelevant or unimportant and really digging into what lies beneath the surface. For the final project of the class, we developed a collaborative alphabet of what the students believed to be the most important/influential figures/people/ideas in pop culture. You can check that out here.

In my upcoming final semester at OSU, I’m scheduled to teach Digital Media Composing for the second time. If you’ve been following along here for a while, you might recall that Digital Media Composing was the class I was teaching when I started this site. It remains one of my favorites out of all of the classes I’ve ever taught, and I’m excited to take another swing at it. In terms of digital media itself, so much of it has changed since Fall 2016, and I can’t wait to jump into it with a new group of students.

Going Analog

So, I like technology in the classroom. Every time the…uh…debates about it come up, I’m definitively on the “for” side for numerous reasons. That doesn’t mean that I don’t see the flaws with using some tech and/or the complications that can arise from having tech in the classroom. I just think the good outweighs the bad.

That being said, I also like to have my students do a lot of things on paper (if possible and accessible) for a variety of reasons. Sometimes it’s just faster. Sometimes I might want them to sketch something in a way that might be more complicated to do on a device. Sometimes I might want them to easily swap an activity with one another. Etc.

Another important reason that comes to mind is that sometimes it can be valuable to have them work out and/or practice something that they’re going to be doing digitally in an analog format first. Because sometimes the very digital-ness of an assignment can become a bit of a distraction to the thinking process. This is something that I’ve been thinking about since last year’s Digital Media and Composition Institute (DMAC). If you’re not familiar with DMAC, it is essentially what the title describes. During the institute, several educators, from across the country, come to OSU to discuss digital media, composition, pedagogy, and issues of access. Additionally, during the institute, participants create their own compositions in a variety of formats. I attended the institute in 2015, and I’ve been lucky enough to be employed by the institute both last year and this year, which has been a fantastic experience.

During last year’s DMAC, one of the things participants composed, as well as discussed using in the classroom, was an infographic. Things we did in that process included talking about infographics, looking at examples, and examining sites that can be used to make them (shout out to Canva and Piktochart). But perhaps one of the key components of the process (at least to me) was having folks make infographics on paper first. Participant Tiffany Mitchell talks about the value of that step here.

As I was retooling my First Year Writing syllabus this semester, I knew that I wanted to make some changes to how my students would first start to think about their research. I wanted them to think more about how to assess the quality of a source (rather than how to find a specific type of source), and I wanted them to think more about the secondary sources in relation to one another. This developed into a 3-step resource chunk in the middle of the semester, which entails: an evaluation of sources they’ve found in their preliminary research, a brief presentation on one of the sources, and a listicle about their research.

I got the idea for that last piece here. I really liked the idea of the listicle because it would get at the synthesis I wanted, and it would also challenge to think about rhetoric a bit differently than what we’ve done in the class thus far. Plus, I’ve been encouraging them to develop their voices this semester, and I try to provide some creative options that allow them to do that more easily. I also knew that it was probably a format that most of them had not written in (explicitly) even though they’ve probably encountered them on the internet (in fact, as we talked about them in class, it became clear to me that some of them had never encountered the word “listicle” even if they had read listicles before).

Earlier this week, I posted a handful of listicles on our class home page and gave them time in class to explore them (some were just text, some were text and pictures, and some were text plus various other forms of media). We then discussed how the listicles function, how the text interacts with the images/gifs/etc, and ways in which they could create listicles. I’ve done a similar process in the past when I’ve had students making podcasts and transmedia extensions. I think it’s really valuable for them to be able to see and analyze several examples of unfamiliar forms before they start creating their own.

Building off of that, today I had the students work in small groups to make analog listicles. I brought in a bunch of materials (poster boards, construction paper, magazines, glue sticks, scissors, and glue sticks) to facilitate the process. The readings that they had for class today were about the intersection of food and technology, so I told them that their listicles needed to, in some way, reflect the impact that technology has had on food. At the end of class, they had to display their listicles in the classroom, and I talked a bit about why I had them do this so that they could make the connection to their upcoming assignment.

It was fun to watch them work on this and listen to how they figured out what to write. At first, some of the students were really baffled by how to start, and I did give some nudges here and there. But for the most part, they figured it out on their own. And they got pretty creative with the available resources. I really liked doing this because it gives them practice, I could see how they were thinking in real time, I could see where I need to do some further explanation next week ahead of the due date for their actual listicle assignment (for example, I think a little bit more clarity about the difference between a listicle and an outline might be useful), and it was honestly just a nice way to break up the standard flow of class. I suppose some folks might think this assignment is a bit too K-12 for college students, but uh, (1) I was a secondary teacher before I started grad school, and I’d say that quite a lot of things that work well with 12 year olds also work well with 20 year olds, and (2) I mean, you’re never too old to color.

So.

Fridays are when they do their minute papers for the week, and here are some of the responses I got at the end of today’s class:

  • Several variations of “I now know/understand what a listicle is”
  • “The most important thing this week was the examples of the listicles. I have never heard of this before, but now I feel more prepared to create one on my own”
  • “The most important thing I learned this week is that listicles are very fun to read and make. Great way to express oneself”

And some questions that I plan to follow up on next week:

  • “Do we cite pictures in the listicle?”
  • “Can we look at more listicle examples next week?”
  • “Are we allowed to hand write our listicle?” (honestly, did not see this one coming, but I’m intrigued)

And finally, some pictures:

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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.