I always tell my students that all media are shaped by intersecting social interests and human labor; thus, are infused with values and power. My teaching emphasizes the historical and sociocultural perspectives of viewing media that are, at once, texts, technologies, and institutions. In my courses, students hone their skills in critical thinking, advanced composition, oral communication, and group work that are crucial for fostering their professional growth after graduation.
In Introduction to Media Studies, students examine the key concepts from assigned readings and personalize them in their real and/or imagined experiences with media. In response to Vicki Mayer’s Below the Line and a clip from the Game of Thrones’ making film, The Last Watch, students discuss questions such as: Why is the production side of media often overlooked and made invisible? What is the flipside of the accounts that focus on a few creative geniuses for the entire production process? After class, students continue their reflections in their writing assignments where they envision themselves as a production staff and explore the structural conditions that marginalize their labor. A student in computer science who imagined his role as a special effect technician researched the Avengers franchise budget size, production pipeline, and promotion strategy and assessed the challenges he would face in that work environment from an individual, organizational, and institutional standpoint. By following the sequence that combines the macro and the micro aspect of each subject area, students learn to incorporate their personal experience in understanding conceptual frameworks such as political economy, audience commodification, and structure/agency, which otherwise might seem abstract and impersonal.
The ability to plan and execute a long-term project and present their ideas within a group setting are highly valued by employers. Therefore, all my courses require students to collaborate as a team and present their work either in small groups or to the entire class. As an example, in Introduction to Popular TV and Movies, each student participates in a group video project with four or five other students. They learn to streamline a long-term project from initial stages of brainstorming, writing scripts and storyboarding to scouting locations, shooting, and editing, while also presenting their progress to the other groups each week. In the context of online class, students continue their group work through online channels (e.g. Slack) and learn to coordinate the project from coming up with research questions, executing the research plan, writing, peer-reviewing, and revising the final paper, while using digital documentation tools such as Google Doc, Evernote, and Zotero. In writing final papers, students are asked to reflect on the collaboration process and self-evaluate their individual contribution to the project. Students occasionally report a minor conflict regarding the distribution of labor within groups. In these situations, I tell them to log each member’s input more specifically and ensure that the experiences of managing such conflicts will help them in their future careers.
Commitment to diversity influences my teaching both within and outside the classroom. For instance, I have used Sut Jhally’s documentary, Reel Bad Arabs, to teach how media cultivate and reinforce racist stereotypes. Thus far, most students realized they were able to recall very few positive depictions of Arabs in the US media. With these, students discuss in groups how consistent misrepresentations of minorities in mainstream media affect real-world political debates about topics such as immigration, incarceration, surveillance, and national borders. The immediacy of the question allows students to bring their personal experience to their work, as they critique degrading stereotypes attributed to black women, Muslims, and Chinese students, for example. Students leave my class having mastered the key concepts of Media Studies, which will have a lasting impact on their future approaches to media. The critical thinking skills they obtained in class will serve as groundings upon which they can orient themselves in the rapidly changing contemporary mediascape and their professional work life.