Teaching Media Technology: A Roundup


I have enough distance from the spring semester now to post a lengthy round-up of my experimental course, Media Technology & Cultural Change (link for syllabus and links to all student work). The goal of the course is to understand how every medium offers its own formal elements of communication, specific cultural impacts, and industrial possibilities; the experiment is that much of this learning comes from using new media as means of expression as much as object of analysis. Every project students do is created and distributed in a digital form – blogs, wikis, podcasts, remix videos, machinima, websites – with no paper exchanged throughout the semester.

I’ve taught the course twice before, and both times I would call it a failed experiment. One reason was that I didn’t go far enough previously, with only the final projects creating “meta-media objects” that analyze media through the rhetoric of a medium other than the essay. This time students got sufficiently used to this unorthodox mode of communicating their ideas throughout the semester, leading to stronger projects and a better sense of the goals – halfway through the semester, it felt like another failure, but things started to coalesce in April once students gained comfort in this unconventional mode. But most importantly, I co-taught the course with educational technologist Joe Antolioli, who conducted weekly technology labs, problem-solved with students, and generally served as my partner in crime. Both the focus on learning the tools together in labs and the collaborative support Joe offered made the course work. In this lengthy post, I’d like to share some of the exemplary work from my students, point a bit toward how this mode of teaching might be beneficial to other faculty and disciplines, and invite feedback from others who might have relevant ideas or experiences to share. Watch & explore what sounds interesting, and share links to similar projects and courses if you have any!

One of the less successful experiments I tried was to create a collaborative final exam via a wiki. The idea was that I’d pose a series of identification questions and test a wiki created by the class to harness the collective intelligence of the students, while teaching them about the collaborative processes involved in such web 2.0 practices. It kind of worked, but students (not surprisingly) left the project to the end of the semester, making it a rush job with too much sloppiness and not enough consistency. But still worth exploring, and at times creating nice examples of collectively assembled knowledge.

The first major assignment was to create a remix video, exploring the logic of juxtaposition and recontextualizing footage to say something about media forms, genres, norms, etc. One of the most polished examples (check out the fabulous lipsync!) was Margaux and Paxson’s “Pride and Powerpuff,” answering the age-old question of how Cartoon Network would adapt Jane Austen:

Another video by Scott B. and Mickey tackles an issue we studied a bit more head-on, creating an associative chain of transmedia storytelling (and as an interesting demonstration of the public nature of posting assignments on YouTube, their video was analyzed by Christy Dena on her blog!):

The second assignment was to create a podcast to explore the qualities of audio as medium. Astri highlighted the intimacy of sound, how it locates you spatially, and its ability to capture a relationship:

Luisa uses audio interviews to discuss the role of digital music in the lives of today’s students:

Finally, Aaron gives a more reflexive commentary on podcasting, with a nice combination of critical analysis and goofiness:

The third assignment was to create a machinima video, using their choice of videogame source materials – we studied gaming and set-up a game lab for the course (providing a nice opportunity for me to school my students on Guitar Hero!). Unfortunately the pace of the course was too tight, making the timing quite difficult for most students to complete the machinima project adequately – re-pacing the syllabus is on the agenda for next year. But I did get a couple of nice examples. Scott L. mixed video and Gears of War footage to create an effective critique of contemporary representations and mythologies of war:

Jake embarked on an ambitious project to make a documentary within Second Life, scrutinizing some of the site’s utopian ideals. He made this trailer, and a less polished segment about Second Life sexual commodification – hopefully he’ll pursue this project on his own as he’s quite interested in the Second Life platform and has a lot to say:

The course’s final project was more open-ended, as students could choose whatever medium they wanted to build a project, focusing on any media topic that interested them. Aaron, Andrew, and Neil collaborated on an innovative project called Facebook Life, a multi-forked website simulating Facebook interactions via embedded video. They nicely capture some of the oddities of Facebook’s social relations through the recontextualization and metaphoric displacement of the virtual space into real dormrooms and walls of pictures.

Scott B., Mickey, and Kelly created a machinima-based newscast, drawing footage from a wide range of games to play with the norms of journalism and videogames – my favorite moment is the “archival footage” of the hockey game:

Finally, Luisa and Waylon collaborated on a forking website with a chain of remix videos. The project ran into technical difficulties making the site difficult to navigate, but Luisa’s remix videos are quite impressive and stand-alone outside the website. The two main sources are Chaplin’s The Great Dictator and footage of President Bush – the resonances are quite powerful in these two examples:

To conclude, I was quite happy with the quality of these projects, but more so with the level of engagement and risk-taking displayed by students. I think this model of teaching is quite promising, getting students to express themselves in rhetorical forms that they are familiar with but rarely think about critically as distinct modes of communication. Students have been taught the rhetoric of the analytical essay for years; without displacing this form, our pedagogy can extend the ways we invite our students to communicate and present arguments by exploring these alternative modes and raising their information and media literacy. Working closely with educational technologists is crucial, both to manage the time pressures on faculty to enable the ability to experiment, and to offer a clear site of support for students as they take risks and learn new platforms. Hopefully any readers making it this far will have some suggestions to contribute about my course, comments on these projects, or connections to other courses or pedagogical strategies – thanks in advance!

5 Responses to “Teaching Media Technology: A Roundup”

  1. Jason, I’m still working on a blog post about this, but a quick question: did you see this sf short story, “Eight Episodes,” by Robert Reed? It’s up for this year’s short story Hugo, and is about a tv show. Interesting conceit.
    Here’s a podcast of someone reading it:

  2. thanks for this post! I taught a class (my first) last semester with some similar goals, so it’s very helpful to read your self-assessment (not to mention enjoy your students’ work!). my course was less focused on production skills, but I tried to structure assignments so that experiences with web-based media were part of the process of developing critical thinking and writing skills (mostly they used livejournal — see link).

  3. 3 allangering

    Thanks for info. Others have shown that technology can provide the rich content and learning support that are considered to be critical elements of online learning

  1. 1 links for 2007-06-27 : Tama Leaver dot Net
  2. 2 Media Technology 2008 » Meeting for final projects

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