Posts Tagged ‘pedagogy’

ARG Course: Professor, Puppet Master, or Project Manager?

17/01

I’m really excited to launch my spring course at Occidental College next week, as it represents a series of firsts: my first opportunity to teach within Oxy’s Media Studies department, the department’s first course offering in gaming and play, and the first gaming course I’ve taught that has an extensive design project attached to it.  If you’d like to learn more about the course, ArtM 348 Topics in Digital Culture: Games, Play, and ARGs, you can download the syllabus, or visit our course blog (which will begin to be populated in the coming weeks with play journals and other posts, the bulk of the game design update will begin appearing in late March).

I taught two iterations of an Introduction to Video Game Studies course at UC Santa Cruz in 2010 and 2011, but both of these courses were limited by departmental context (hence an emphasis on representations of games, both fictional narratives and video documentation of live gameplay), resources (I had to rely on students’ gaming systems and library resources, so a “lab” component was out), and my own position as a commuting lecturer, which meant I wasn’t in a space to radically reinvent the aforementioned issues.

 In the same way that players use “This is not a game” or “TINAG” as shorthand to differentiate between the experiential play of ARGs and other game genres, I feel compelled to preface the description below by noting that “TINAC”…or, rather, this is not just a class.  This course, in part, is designed as an exercise in collective intelligence in the classroom.  Occidental College is beginning to think about what a campus-wide pervasive game to develop digital media fluencies might look like, and this course is one of the first steps in that process.  Thus, students will be designing a pervasive game both as an exercise in applying and exhibiting mastery of course concepts (as they would in any media studies course), but they will also be bringing their experiences as Oxy students, their spatial understanding of the campus and surrounding neighborhood, and knowledge about their peer’s use of mobile technologies, to bear on the design process.

Because TINAC (or not just a class), I’m also grappling with being not just the instructor, a role I’m exceedingly comfortable with.  The course’s intensive game design/praxis component means that I will be wear the respective hats of Professor, Puppet Master, and Project Manager simultaneously once we move into the design unit.  As a professor, we never enjoy it when our students hand in assignments late, but as the de facto Project Manager, who knows that missed deadlines might have a horrific domino effect on the design project as a whole, I need to think through more structured modes of tracking assignments.  Do I use Basecamp?  Our CMS, Moodle, because they’ll be familiar with it?  Do I model the sort of agency players experience in ARGs and let the students collectively take ownership over these decisions?  Where will what they create ultimately “live,” and how do we archive experience?  These sorts of internal questions and debates have been invigorating, not just because they’re different from the normal minutiae of finalizing syllabi, but because they’re helping me re-think what it means to teach (digital) media studies.  Based on my own research interests in participatory culture, I have long embraced the benefits of a more participatory pedagogical model, but this project will realize (and potentially complicate) these values in ways I can’t yet predict.

Though the “three P’s” here evoke a certain amount of authority or control, we all know that in ARGs, the players are anything but “puppets,” and shape the gameplay to a large degree.  They aren’t “servants” to the game or their puppet “masters.”  Likewise, students in this class are still students (they still need to complete work that will be graded), they will have unprecedented agency to shape the course, and its outcomes.  The also have an opportunity to shape the pervasive game that Occidental ultimately develops.  My position as a Mellon Digital Scholarship Postdoc has only made me more committed to using these moments to open up conversations about collaborative labor and credit on large scale, or iterative, digital projects, and this course will afford an interesting opportunity to raise these concerns with students.

You’ll be able to follow along via our course blog over the coming months, and I encourage you to weigh in on the students’ narrative design ideas, engagement strategies, and artifacts as they emerge.  I’m especially interested to hear from those who have designed similar project-based game design courses, or participated in these courses on what’s worked and and hasn’t.

SCMS 2012 Workshops

13/04

This year, I participated at two teaching workshops at the annual Society for Cinema and Media Studies Conference (still catching up from the week away, but wanted to share my prezis and some quick reflections):

– The Undergraduate Television Paper [Wednesday, 3/21 from 2-3:45pm]

Participants: Ethan Thompson, Suzanne Scott, Daniel Marcus, Derek Kompare, and Ben Aslinger

The wonderful Christine Becker was nice enough to write up this workshop, along with other teaching workshops she attended (which, one among many who constantly complains about programming conflicts, I was grateful for, along with the other coverage by SCMS bloggers this year!).  It was a small group, due to last minute room changes, losing a few panelists, and general Wednesday-ness, but a lively conversation.  In particular, I appreciated the emphasis from Derek Kompare and others about the benefits of autobiographical assignments.  We also had an interesting exchange (I believe at Heather Hendershot’s prompting) about which essays we assign students that model good writing.  Notably, in many cases this wasn’t academic/scholarly writing, and my own 2 cents on this is that I frequently create thematic pairs of thoughtful blog posts/magazine articles and scholarly journal articles to have students reflect on both forum and form, and how effective each is in conveying their argument.

My sample assignment that I shared with the group was the take-home midterm from my freshman writing class at Occidental this past fall (themed around fandom and participatory culture).  Though it wasn’t explicitly assigned as a “flow” assignment, I would certainly assign something similar in an introductory television studies class.  I wanted to pick a show we hadn’t watched in class, procedural series with an network of ancillary content surrounding it, and settled on Castle (ABC).  I had made a decision at the beginning of the semester to design the paper assignment around an episode that aired within a week of students beginning to write, both in terms of accessibility (available on Hulu and network website), and so that they would be engaging with the rhythms and temporalities of broadcasting and the release of ancillary web content alongside other fans of the show.

For those not familiar with the show, Castle is a police procedural focused on a male mystery writer shadowing a female detective, and this particular episode was focused on a masked vigilante who had taken on the identity of a comic book hero, Lone Vengeance.  There were two primary approaches to take with this assignment, which broadly asked them to analyze the intertextual intersections between the episode and various examples of ancillary web content, and then consider fan engagement, or what this ancillary content offered fans:

  • First, they could examine what this content said about shifts within the television industry, in terms of transmedia branding and horizontal integration.  Most of my students framed this analysis around the Derrick Storm Graphic Novel (Disney/ABC/Marvel ownership), and its not-so-subtle appearance in the episode.  Also, timed to the release of the episode, selections of the graphic novel were released on the official Castle site, and the full graphic novel was released 2 days after this episode aired.
  •  Second approach to this assignment was to consider how television text and paratext inform each other, and what function this relationship serves for audiences through an examination of the blog written by the series’ title character

Though it appears that this is veering into a paper about webcomics, or transmedia storytelling more broadly and abandoning a discussion of television as a result, I think it’s useful to consider the slippages between series and serialized television, and consider what these ancillary texts have to tell us about the valuation of television fans within convergence culture.  These digital extensions also tell us a great deal about shifts within the television industry.

My presentation/provocation was meant to suggest how we might incorporate these new forms of multiplatform flow into our conversations with students about television form history, industry, and audiences.

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– Teaching Comics Studies [Friday, 3/23 from 12:15-2pm]

Participants: Drew Morton, Scott Bukatman, Suzanne Scott, Greg Smith, James Thompson, and Matt Yockey

I have to say, I was thrilled with how this workshop went, and honored to be part of such a rich panel.  Having met with the newly-formed Comic Studies SIG the night before, I was thrilled to see a packed house for this panel.  Clearly, comics are being taught across disciplines, and with different emphases, and I thoroughly enjoyed swapping experiences with both the panelists and participants from the audience.

My own contribution to this conversation was to suggest theory/praxis assignments for students, offering some impressive examples created by students in my Comic Book Culture class at UC Santa Cruz (including a comic created to accompany a term paper focusing on the representation of women in comics, and a short film attempting to replicate with comic book aesthetics), sample assignments by other scholars that I would incorporate into future comic classes (with attribution, naturally!), and tools that might help students create their own comics with limited artistic experience.

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So, enjoy, and feel free to ask me more detailed questions about either of these workshops, or the ideas contained in these prezi presentations.

On Autoethnography and Acafandom

15/11

No blogging for me for the past couple of months, as I’ve been teaching my freshman core course on Fandom and Participatory Culture at Occidental College, and generally getting settled in my new corner of #alt-ac in the Center for Digital Learning + Research.  I’ve returned with some interesting tales from that class’ first assignment, and to shamelessly promote my contribution to the Acafandom and Beyond series that’s currently running on Henry Jenkins’ blog (our conversation is continued here).  In a nice moment of blogging synchronicity, both have encouraged me to think about transparency when it comes to how we (and our students) mobilize our fan identities in our scholarly work.

For the first assignment in my class, I asked my students to record a short, auteoethnographic audio file documenting their first fandom, and how that “fandom” was embodied and performed.  I required them to manipulate their audio file in Audacity, in part to maintain their anonymity on our course blog and encourage them to speak candidly, but also to have them consider if a fannish identity is still something to hide, or be ashamed of, in our contemporary participatory culture.  My students’ autoethnographies are archived here, and I’d strongly encourage you to go check a few of them out.  I think they’re really fascinating, both in terms of form and content (e.g. a student sounding like Andre the Giant while discussing a love of The Spice Girls).  The second part of the assignment was a written reflection on their audio file, through an address of the continued relevance (or not) of Joli Jensen’s 1992 essay “Fandom as Pathology: The Consequences of Characterization.”

I created this assignment with a number of goals in mind:

  • To get a better sense of if/how my students self-identify as fans
  • To see how they negotiated, contextualized, and performed those identities
  • To get the class thinking about the culturally and socially constructed lines between “normal” and “excessive” fandom, how they’re maintained or dismantled, and the (often gendered) power dynamics that underpin those distinctions

The written responses were incredibly revealing about evolving understandings of (un)acceptable fan identities.  Many grounded their fan identity in their families, framing media texts as something they coalesced around with parents or siblings to deepen (or in some cases, establish) those relationships.  Some noted that they played down their fannish affect for a particular property in their authoethnography.  Conversely, others exaggerated their fan identity.  In both cases, the knowledge that their peers would be consuming their autoethnography impacted its content.  As a lifelong tomboy who spent her first few weeks at NYU channelling Cordelia on Buffy the Vampire Slayer (hey, it was 1997…I sort of considered it identity cosplay), I completely understand the flexible moment that the first few weeks of college represent, and concerns about codifying one’s identity when people are scrambling to make new friends and suss each other out.  What I had hoped would be a confessional assignment in many cases became an implicit commentary on how we perform our taste for others, and how we deploy our fan identities as a way of sculpting and reinforcing our identities more broadly.

Reading Will Brooker’s provocation in our Acafandom conversation, I couldn’t help but think about my students, and their responses to the autoethnography assignment, specifically what prompts us “shut up.”  I am a huge fan of Will and his work, but as I noted in my response I was put off by some of his remarks, in particular what I felt was an (implicitly gendered) dismissal of the “baby talk and sleepover squealing” quality of some fannish jargon that makes frequently its way into our work (squee, squick, et. al.).

In retrospect, my kneejerk response says a great deal about both my fannish and scholarly identities.  The response itself (which admittedly struck a much larger nerve surrounding the trend towards heralding fanboyish pursuits while devaluing fangirls or, worse yet, remarginalizing them within fan studies as we shift our focus to industrially sanctioned fan practices) was a defensive reflex, but it’s always felt a little performative to me.  As I noted in my response to Will, writing a chapter of my dissertation on Twilight anti-fandom forced me to confront my own biases about certain segments of fan culture that I don’t approve of as viable representatives.  I get Will’s point.  I don’t like being lumped in with the “squealers,” and I distance myself from them even as I defend them.  This is equally rooted in my fan identity (which has always occupied something of a conflicted position between the “fanboy” and “fangirl” camps, as they’re broadly defined), and my scholarly identity (which remains preoccupied with retaining the feminist underpinnings of the first wave of fan studies, and championing female consumers and scholars, even as we engage with fans’ new positions of power within convergence culture).

Not unlike my students, I’m still establishing my professional identity, and perhaps that has led to a heightened awareness of how I frame and present that identity.  My choice to focus on the job market in my provocation about acafandom was, in part, a response to the fact that many of the scholars who have called for the discontinuation of the term (or those, like Will, who make the personal and completely understandable decision to “shut up” about it) tend to be more established scholars.  Louisa Stein eloquently captured most of my feelings on the significance of the term “aca-fan” on her blog, but within my current work at Occidental’s Center for Digital Learning + Research, I see new evidence every single day that this isn’t just a debate within a small corner of media studies over the continued relevance of a term, but one facet of a much broader debate about the growing hybridity and interdisciplinarity that academia now demands.

I’d be curious to hear from others teaching courses on fan studies, media audiences, and/or social media if you’re asking your students to do similar self-reflections.  And, if you broach the topic of acafandom, how do you frame that identity (how it shapes your approach to pedagogy, or your own scholarship, or in terms of framing the articles they read in class)?

Critical Creativity in the Classroom: A Call for Advice

15/07

I’m currently in the process of translating my fandom/geek culture syllabus into a syllabus for one of Oxy’s freshman Core writing seminars this fall.  This is a pretty fun prospect, because in addition to now being on a semester system (which allows me to bring back designated weeks on vidding and wizard rock that I had to drop for the quarter system at UCSC), my new position at the CDLR is actively encouraging (nay, insisting!) that I rethink what a “critical writing assignment” looks like.

As pitched to me, these core freshman writing seminars are centrally concerned with helping students learn how to craft a scholarly argument.  Now, I get to think about all the different ways, and on all the different platforms, that “crafting” might occur.  Added bonus that the class is on fandom and participatory culture, thereby presenting a truly symbiotic pedagogical exercise.  How better to teach about the many ways in which fans craft arguments about, and speak back to, media texts than to ask my students to use some of those same forms to analyze and speak back to the issues and literature we will encounter in class?

I have typically included theory/praxis options for students for their final projects, which has led to some truly wonderful student-created vids, comic books, fanfic, and short films, but logistics, class sizes and other factors prohibited me from building these components directly into the syllabus.  Now that I will have an abundance of resources and support encouraging me to do just that, and only 16 students, it’s a whole new quidditch match, as the kids say.  (Okay, maybe not ALL the kids…)

To give you a sense of the weekly topics and readings...gee, I wonder when class meets...

For some excellent examples of the sort of course design and assignments I’m thinking about, see these excellent examples from courses taught by Julie Levin Russo and Melanie Kohnen.

Early thoughts on these assignments include:

– Autoethnographic video blogs discussing their fan identity/modes of participation

– Weekly, informal writing assignment to post to our course wordpress blog, currently being constructed

– Vid or fanfiction analysis (this would be a more conventional response paper…gotta throw a few in there)

– Some sort of visual essay (via tumblr?  flickr?  Have them create vids? Still beginning to think about this) coupled with a written analysis, most likely as a group project

And for the final project…

– Peer review of first essay drafts in google docs

– Multimodal presentations of their central argument in class

– Accompanied by a more standard term paper

I’m clearly just beginning to think about this, and so I pose question for both professors and students (or anyone else who wants to weigh in on the topic): What works?  What doesn’t?  What do we stand to gain or lose by retaining conventional academic writing assignments or moving towards digital or multimodal alternatives?  Students, which digital tools do you think would be most useful to you in crafting alternative forms of argument?  Would you prefer to submit work and get comments back by google doc or email, or is my lovely penmanship something all future students should experience on hard copies of their work?

All thoughts on this are greatly appreciated, and obviously as soon as the syllabus is locked in I’ll be posting it here.

Taking fandom out of the box

07/07

For the past two years I taught a course on Fandom and Geek Culture in the Film and Digital Media department at UC Santa Cruz.  You can check out the syllabus above, but generally the class was designed to grapple with many of the tensions outlined in my dissertation, which focuses on the demographic, representational, and authorial “revenge” of the fanboy within convergence culture, and the marginalizing effect this potentially has on fangirls.  Centrally, the course is designed to offer some context for the evolving field of fan studies, and get students thinking about the politics of participation in our contemporary mediascape.  We begin the course reading Joli Jensen’s 1992 essay “Fandom as Pathology: The Consequences of Characterization,” and discussing which modes of fan participation have been incorporated, and which remain stigmatized.  Throughout the quarter, I came back to this quote from Francesca Coppa, which is worth repeating here, as it eloquently summarizes many of the course concerns:

“What’s been striking to me over the course of this debate is the extent to which the gender issues reflect general problems of convergence culture–that is, the mainstreaming of fannish practice as well as the as growing respectability of ‘fandom studies’. Fandom is a subculture well on its way to becoming culture, and while that has many benefits, it also raises the risk of re-marginalizing the groups that the subculture once represented.  I worry about women becoming, yet again, a minority voice in a mixed gender fannish culture in which the makers of Chad Vader get a movie deal and the makers of the K/S vid Closer flee the internet when their vids go viral. The media–especially the genre media which has been the center of so much fannish activity–has typically courted a male demographic, despite (or perhaps because of) their female-dominated audiences. And female fans have typically made lemonade from these lemons; it’s no accident that so much ‘remix’ culture happens in the context of minority communities: women, blacks, and the disabled. But in the end, my lovingly crafted fanwork is not your marketing team’s ‘user-generated content.'”

In our final class of the term, while discussing Matt Hills’ conception of “new hegemonic fandom,” my students got into a rousing debate around which modes of fandom are more/less stigmatized today, and where certain fan practices might be placed on a subculture-culture continuum.  Below is a picture of the end result, hastily scribbled by yours truly, and a few thoughts on what this might tell us about the state of the fandom (as seen through the eyes of about 40 college students, in March 2011):

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