Teaching TV, Twitter, and my Textbook

10Sep09

The semester launched this week at Middlebury. Due to a little enrollment shuffling, I’m only teaching one course this semester: Television and American Culture. (I’ll certainly be sufficiently busy reading the hundreds of job applicants and actively working on the college website makeover project!) This is the first time through using my textbook, Television and American Culture, in published form, so it’s quite exciting to see people reading it around campus. I’ve heard from a few other folks who are teaching with the book this fall, but if you are and have a link to your syllabus, please share it here!

One of the new wrinkles I’m trying in the class this semester is to use Twitter as a discussion stream – I’ve squatted on the hashtag #tvamcult for things related to the class, and certainly invite other people using the book to join that conversation. I was inspired to do this after hearing a presentation by Eric Gordon and David Bogen about attention in the classroom – essentially, they argued that instead of fighting to eliminate distractions and split focus, try to channel other media back toward the class content and dynamic. So I plan on having a second projected screen of the Twitstream running beside the main screen with my slides and videos, allowing a backchannel conversation to emerge publicly as the lectures proceed, as well as extending beyond.

The permeable boundaries of Twitter conversations emerged today in an interesting way. Last night, we watched the Homicide episode “Subway,” and this morning I offered a prompt for students to share their thoughts about the show. Of course, that was seen by not only my class but by anyone who follows me on Twitter or searches for terms of interest. So far, more people outside of the class have replied to my prompt than actual students! One of the responses was from Shawn Ryan, who besides being a Middlebury alum and a friend to our department, is a very successful television writer/producer (The Shield, The Unit, Lie to Me). So while I have no idea how successful the Twitter conversation will be as a pedagogical tool, it’s already surpassed the threshhold of “how cool is that?” to have a major producer drop by the class like that!

I’d love to hear from anyone else who has channeled Twitter into their courses for any tips for managing the conversation and/or encouraging participation – as well as anybody using the book this fall.



4 Responses to “Teaching TV, Twitter, and my Textbook”

  1. I’m glad you are blogging about the class tweeting because I was going to ask about how the students are taking to it. My casual impression is that many undergrads these days think Twitter is kind of, well, stupid. Maybe this will change their minds? A year ago I would have seen your integration of Twitter as meeting the students where they are. Now it seems, with the “teens don’t tweet” data we have seen lately, that you are inviting them to our middle-aged corner of the web. I also wonder, are all of your students using computers or smartphones in class? Are you encouraging them to do so if they weren’t already?

  2. When I asked students on the first day how many use Twitter, around 10 of 55 raised their hands. So far, 6 of them have posted. It turn out to be a failed experiment, but I figured it was worth a shot…

    As for in-class screen use, I let them do it (except during screenings, where the light is distracting), but encourage them to serve more as “google jockeys” to look up relevant facts (on Thursday, the question was “which studio produces CSI?”). As someone myself who always has my laptop open at a meeting or conference, I can’t in good conscience tell students to unplug.

  3. 3 Joel Burges

    You might be interested in some of the new research coming out of Stanford about multitasking, media, and performance. Users who employ multiple media sources at once tend to negatively impact their ability to remember things, to have a kind of deep memory; media multitaskers aso tend to think they are performing incredibly well, when they are not–or rather, they perform well at media mulitasking, but not at the various tasks they are pursuing while skimming various streams of information. I’m curious to know more about what this means about having laptops at all in class. Distraction and boredom seem like they are part of learning, so how do we situation a behavior like media multitasking within our pedagogy productively? Can it be situated so (and here I mean especially during class time itself)?

  4. Congrats on your new textbook. Although the use of Twitter may not seem to be catching on in some of your classrooms I believe it is still possible to get students to participate. Perhaps use the persuasion of contest or extra credit through your Twitter page and only those that add you will be able to view these special contests or perks. Just an idea….hope this helps.


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