SAMPLE course assignment | LEARN by doing
IN MEDI 211, UNDERSTANDING TELEVISION, WE MOVED FROM TALKING ABOUT TELEVISION TO APPLYING WHAT WE KNOW ABOUT THE BUSINESS, PRACTICE AND CONCEPT OF TELEVISION INTO A COMBINED TV PITCH ASSIGNMENT.
Teaching about television is not what it used to be. Today, you have to ask ‘how many of you watch television.’ Not only was that never a question before, but it wasn’t one that would result in almost no raised hands. That said, once we discussed the idea that television can be thought of as a physical medium, a type of content orientation, and as a social force things start to click.
Still, it is hard to get students heads around how the television as a ‘foreign object’ can be understood as both a type of content and as a social actor all within a context of an industrial entertainment-political-economy.
What I did to tie this altogether and strengthen and extend what we considered about television was a fairly simple proposition.
On top of watching a show over the course of several weeks (on a regular broadcast schedule and/or by staggered or binge streaming), and recording a log of what they saw that progressed as we added new lenses to consider television, students were asked to think proactively and productively – to pitch a show of their very own.
The idea: Working with a group, students were to come up with an idea for a show, reflect all of the cultural and industrial practices we considered in the class, and create a pitch that could convince the production committee (the class) and the Network Executives (me) that the show made sense, fit the platform of delivery they intended and would reach a specified audience.
The twist: Each group had to get the class to green light their pitch before moving on to developing a small pilot of their show. That is, in order to get access to the final 10% (in this case) of the course grade, students had to demonstrate an understanding and application of all of the ideas that we were learning and convince the rest of the class – who asked many, many questions, that they knew their stuff.
The class/production committee asked many more and much better questions than were emerging from class discussions alone.
The quality of the show ideas varied but the quality of the considerations accounted for in the show pitches presented a far deeper understanding of the course material than in the past.
Students described the activity of learning by doing to be incredibly valuable – even in a more typically ‘academic’ rather than ‘applied’ course. They said that thinking about the ideas in the abstract made their ability to critique television effective, but that having to consider all of the layers of detail necessary to produce an idea and consider how to make it come to life was a much richer and deeper way to really have the material become more meaningful.
SAMPLE LESSON PLAN | EXPERIENTIAL LEARNING
GROUP BUILDING OF PAPER CRANES USING DIFFERENT COMMUNICATION MODALITIES
LEARN ABOUT THEORY THROUGH PRACTICE HAROLD INNIS on ‘COMMUNICATION BIAS’:
ORAL, LITERATE & ELECTRONIC SOCIETIES
It can be difficult to understand the social and material impacts of shifts in dominating modes of communication in a society different than our own. To highlight these differences, working with others to build a paper crane using different forms of communication systes can make the theory come to life.
Divide the class into 3 different ‘societies’: ORAL, LITERATE, and ELECTRONIC. Give all groups the task of recreating an oragami paper crane. The ORAL society may only use the physical example and ‘reverse engineer’ it as a group before trying to re-build it. The LITERATE society gets paper based instructions and may work on their own or as a group. The ELECTRONIC society may only go online and may only interact electronically to determine how it’s done. All groups are asked to focus BOTH on building the crane(s) AND on what it’s like to work within the communication framework of their respective society-type.
Students make (or not) paper cranes individually within their groups.
Often frustrated by crane making, students de-brief what the use different types of communication practices on the social level (interacting), the material level (making), and on the paradigmatic level (thinking) based on their process of making. They come away with a lived experience of different society types.
This exercise links well to understanding the nature and organziational impact of different types of communication societies. This helps them make sense of historical realities often quite different than their own.
SAMPLE LESSON PLAN | REFLEXIVE PRACTICE
UNDERSTANDING THE CONCEPT OF HOME AS OUR BASIS OF LOOKING OUT AT THE WORLD
It can be a challenge for students to appreciate how our perceptions of how the world ought to work acts as a filter against which all things that seem ‘different’ are measured. I start many classes with a brief ‘self-reflexive’ writing exercise that asks students to introduce themselves to me, and to help them think about where their thinking about our subjects comes from. This example is taken from a ‘Studies in Global Media’ class where students were asked to consider a sense of ‘home’ as a filter through which they viewed the material we encountered.
This is a writing activity done either as a traditional essay, a personal letter, or as a hybrid annotated ‘scrapbook’ that includes pictures.
Students are asked to take a broad view on their sense of ‘home.’ This should include a sense of what things look like, who ‘belongs,’ what has ‘value,’ and what gives comfort.
Most students choose to write a traditional essay that analyzes a ‘theory of home.’ These students get the surface value of the exercise – a sense of the filter-effect. Those students who take the spirit of the assignment to heart and write a personal account of their sense of home often produce one of the alternate forms of writing.
Starting from the position of ‘home’ when looking out on the world has an always already comparative effect; students tend to compare and contrast what they encounter against a register of what they are used to already. For many students this is a helpful exericse.
Some students get the elevated value of thinking about how the different experiences from around the globe could impact a sense of ‘home’ for people living in places different from their own.
SAMPLE LESSON PLAN | CONTEXT BASED LEARNING
UNDERSTANDING THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN MEANING AND CONTEXT
MEANING-DRIVEN MEDIA PRODUCTION
Many students who enter into production-oriented courses have a desire to learn how to do something rather from the perspective of having a meaning that they wish to convey through a practice of production. I start production courses by explaining that every medium presents a particular set of encumbrances/challenges, but that meaning must always come first. In order to focus on meaning, this exercise links abstract constructs with acts of production to highlight how meaning makes production decisions more impactful than starting from a pre-fabricated template and plugging in generic values.
Students are asked to pick an IDEA, an OBJECT, or EXPERIENCE that helps them interpret the PLACE in which they are (either the school, the city, or the area).
After a discussion of the basics of semiotics (denotation and connotation) and the constructs of ‘space & place,’ they are asked to write down whatever they ‘know’ about their chosen focal object, elaborate on how it helps them transform the spaces we share into a special kind of place that is unique to them. They are discouraged from doing outside research at this stage, instead focusing on the meanings that are unique to themselves.
They write this information as an essay and/or as the basis of a production plan that will be used to create a website (the media production activity).
Students write up a sketch of the meaning they intend to convey. Students use this focus on meaning to inform all of their production decisions ranging from language use to colours, images, and structures.
Focusing on an ‘abstract’ relationships is hard. Many struggle with defining meaning in advance but generally benefit from the paradigm of meaning-driven production. This method helps students make production decisions more effectively, and in a more time effective manner, often enriching their final products.
SAMPLE LESSON PLAN | EQUITY THROUGH SHARING
PHOTO CIRCLES: CAPTURING THE WORLD VISUALLY AS INDIVIDUALS WITHIN GROUPS
EXPLORING MULTIPLE WAYS OF SEEING
A lot of student learning happens individually. When group work is involved, it tends to be so that a larger task can be accomplished with ‘many hands.’ What this exercise does is two-fold. In many of my classes I get students to keep a ‘journal’ that captures different points of learning. Here students take individual guided ‘definitional’ pictures using whatever camera equipment is most convenient and then the images are discussed in groups to explore how different people arrive at different interpretations of the same constructs. It’s about sharing.
The class is divided into recurring ‘photo-cirlce’ groups at the start of the semester. The course is structured around weekly discussions of various social constructs such as POWER, CLASS, SELF & OTHER, GENDER, ENVIRONMENT, etc. At the start of each class we discuss a reading related to a social construct, break into groups and ‘tell stories’ about our lived experiences of the construct in practice, and then students go in parallel with their photo-circles on group photography sessions. At the end of each session, students share the images they capture and discuss how their images relate to the construct and to each others images.
Students create a semester long ‘photo-log’ of various social constructs and learn the processes of using visual objects as data sources. Students learn the process of ‘photo-elicitation’ and create captioned photo-essays linking how ways of seeing can be linked to various types of knowledge production.
Having used this exercise in two slightly different formats, once entirely individually and once as a group process, I found that students learned more from the group than the individual practice. When students see how their peers capture the same social constructs, often in the same way, sometimes differently, they become more receptive to the use of the visual as data, and they are intrigued by the relationship of ideological naturalization and notions of equity.