Monday, February 27, 2012

Thoughts on teaching a pedagogically oriented media history grad seminar

Life got very hectic, and thus it has been quite some time since I posted here. Now that it is my spring break (and I am bored by the Oscars), I FINALLY have a moment to discuss a course I taught last semester.

Better late than never, right?

Last fall, for the first time, I taught a Media History grad seminar (the full syllabus can be found here). This was my first time teaching the course, and I decided to teach it differently than I had taught previous grad seminars. In short, I decided to make the class focused on exploring with the students (half MA, half PhD) how to teach media history.

My logic for taking a pedagogically oriented approach was three-fold:

  • First, we offer a doctoral-level Media Historiography course in our program (Moving Image Studies at Georgia State University). Thus, the material covered in my course needed to be more content based and less explicitly focused on methodological and theoretical questions (though of course, these are fine distinctions when teaching historically oriented courses). 
  •  Second, several of the students had not yet learned much about media history. In many cases, students had learned the history of one medium (usually film, though in a few cases, television) but few had explored multiple media histories or considered different media in relationship to each other. Thus this class offered a crash course in the histories of a variety of different media, including film, television, advertising, radio, newspapers and games. After some preliminary readings that posed larger historiographical questions, we relied primarily on textbooks from different fields to learn these histories. This focus, in itself, led to interesting discussions about "what matters" in constructing - and teaching - history. 
  • The third reason that I took this approach is because many of our grad students (typically the doctoral students) teach history related courses during their time in our program. In the past, most have taught film history courses (usually an intro-level History of Film course). Starting next year, however, my area of the department will be instituting a requirement that all undergrads take an introductory course on the history of radio, TV and new media. (How "new media" fits in here was the subject of much conversation and debate, as you might suspect.) It is likely that several of our grad students will be teaching this course at some time, and thus this class served as a laboratory of sorts where we could discuss how such a class might be taught and what could reasonably be covered during a semester. Our discussions addressed such issues as "How much do we focus on texts? aesthetics?," "how do we fit in gaming? and should we?" and "What MUST students learn if this is the only course they take on radio/TV?" Much discussion also ensued around the issue of compartmentalizing film as one intro-level course and "all other media" as another intro-level course.
 [Note: Our students take a separate pedagogy course before they teach for the first time. However, many students had yet to take that course. Also, that particular course is focused on a broader range of pedagogically oriented topics and is less field-specific.]

I'd like to say this class was all of my own devising, but in fact, my colleague, Kathy Fuller-Seeley, had previously taught a similar course. I adapted much of what she developed for my own course. For example, when Kathy taught the course, she had the students assemble syllabi for three different courses, as well as accompanying lectures, sample exams, in-class activities, etc. I added in an additional digital component to the course. That material is what I am most interested in sharing here.

This seminar was among the most challenging - and fulfilling - that I have taught thus far. Because of the pedagogical orientation of the course, I felt compelled to "let go" and not be as structured as I usually am in my grad courses. I let the diverse knowledge bases and interests of the students shape the course to a greater extent than has been typical for me with past grad courses. The results were worthwhile--pushing me to think about how I teach, how graduate students are learning to teach, and what undergraduates might - or should be expected to - learn.

There were several different digital components to the course. I hope that sharing this information might prove helpful to others thinking about teaching this type of seminar. I also hope that you will share any thoughts, suggestions, or ideas in the comments below.

Among the main ways we used digital technologies:

  • Sharing portfolios digitally: All students were required to create three courses and share them via Dropbox. The courses the class developed included a lower-division general education course, History of Film (canonical, well-established); a lower-division, major requirement, History of Radio, TV and New Media (brand new, though an upper-division version of this has been taught for some time by several people, including me); and an upper-division media history course of the students' own choosing. The full assignment can be found here (midterm assignment is here).
  •  Develop websites:  Students were required to create a website featuring (at a minimum) a CV and their syllabi. My hope was that this would encourage them to build a web presence early in their graduate careers, rather than waiting until they went on the job market. (Links to their individual websites are provided below--as you can see, the sites varied tremendously.)
  • Crowdsourcing ideas:  We used Google Docs to brainstorm ideas. Most significantly, we created a spreadsheet in which students were asked to assess which platforms might work best for websites and for class sharing. Should you be interested in looking at the range of input provided, click this link. (Again, additional suggestions welcome!)
Building on their individual interests, the class developed a fascinating range of history courses. Below, I've noted the Special Topics courses each developed, as those are the most distinctive aspects for each. For many enrolled in the seminar, this was their first time thinking about teaching; others had more extensive experience -- the syllabi provided reflect this breadth of knowledge and experience.

(All students have granted permission for viewing of their sites.)

Anton: Mediated Warfare
Charlotte: History of American Television Genres
Erik: History of the Detective Film in American Cinema
Jessica: American Film History, 1967-present
Jing: History of American Horrors
Katherine: History of Race and Representation in TV
Maria: History of American Popular Music
Munib: Chinese Film History
Neal: Critical History of Video Games
P.E.: Trash Media Culture from 1919 to Class of 1984
Safiya: History of African American Film
Taylor: History of Film Noir

1 comment:

  1. Outstanding idea for a graduate class. This would have been fantastic back when we were getting our MAs and PhDs. This foregrounding of pedagogy is critically important these days. I only wish our MA program was large enough to support this; we only ever have about 2 students in each cohort.