Tagged: Media Technologies

Finals Week Strangers

If you’ve taken a large college class, you’ve likely experienced the situation where your class looks empty for most of the term, but then, all of a sudden, at the final exam, the lecture hall is full again.

Back in December, I kvetched back about how many of my students in Queens College classes fail, and I aimed to take measures to improve the success (failure?) rate. One such measure was to require students to actually attend class. Here is what I was thinking about at the time:

For the new year, I am implementing a few new policies at Queens College to help make clear that attending class and participating in the day-to-day assignments, not just the written ones that count towards their final grade, is essential in succeeding in college and beyond.

One step is to implement two new attendance policies:

  1. Negative reinforcement: Students may not miss more than four weeks of class for any reason.
  2. Positive reinforcement: Students attending more than 12 weeks of class will receive a half-grade bonus to their final grade.

And that is in fact what I did. This past spring semester, in each of my syllabi at Queens College, I wrote:

For in-person classes, regular attendance is required. Attend twelve or more classes and receive five bonus points added to your final grade. Students missing more than four classes will not be permitted to take the final exam.

For hybrid courses, regular attendance is required. Attend seven or more classes and receive five bonus points added to your final grade. Students missing more than three classes will not be permitted to take the final exam.

This policy does not apply to online courses.

It might have worked, at least a little bit. In my Media Technologies class this semester, there was only one absentee student who showed up to take the exam. That student also walked in thirty minutes late to the final, something that the student did for the midterm exam. I directed that student to the written policy from the syllabus, and I did not permit that student to take the exam. Failing that student seemed like the right thing to do as that student’s absenteeism really did warrant retaking the class.

However, the 20% rule that I bemoaned in December emerged in another way. In my Media Criticism class, I added a policy that each student must meet with me—either in person or through an online call—over a two-week period to discuss his/her draft for the two written essays due in that class. Many flaunted the policy, and when it came time for them to submit their final drafts, I alerted them that I would not accept them, as stated in the policy on the syllabus.

Alas, just after the midterm exam, about 20% of the students enrolled in the class dropped because of this policy, suggesting that we as teachers are powerless against the larger social forces that CUNY students face.

My Revised Online Summer Intensive Course

This summer, I’m teaching two online courses at CUNY Queens College.

  1. Media Technologies, between June 4 and June 27
  2. Contemporary Media, between July 2 and July 26

I’m following a similar structure from the past, which I have described before on this site. Each course includes twelve modules, and for each module students will have to complete the following:

  • read an assigned chapter from the textbook
  • watch a video lecture of a narrated slideshow
  • take an online quiz consisting of objective questions

After four modules, students will take an exam consisting of subjective questions that they will have five days to complete.

In the past, I used to release module consisting of a video lecture and a quiz for a course topic and would have them due the following day. But having read a blog post by Anastasia Salter about “Rethinking the Online Summer Intensive,” I rethought my own online summer intensive courses. I didn’t quite go as far as Salter who released all the modules at the beginning of the course. Instead, I wanted to strike a balance between giving students the flexibility of completing work on their own schedule but also provide some structure where students won’t feel overwhelmed.

I kept the daily release schedule but changed the daily deadlines for quizzes to a weekly one. Everyday between Tuesday and Friday, I will post a recorded lecture and a quiz. But instead of making them due the following day, I’m providing students some flexibility and allowing them to submit the four quizzes by Monday night. That gives students at least three days to complete their quizzes. They can either keep apace completing a quiz per day or they can procrastinate and binge the weeks’ material.

And I’m also setting up twice-weekly office hours via Google Meet, which I’ve only used once, but I think is a tremendous improvement over Google Hangouts.

I didn’t implement her other changes, such as the 100-point grading scale for the whole semester. I understand the appeal of a “progress bar,” but how would I account for getting ten quizzes and three exams to add up to 100 points? That would require granting students four points for a quiz of at least ten questions.

Media Technologies, Summer 2016: A Four-Week, Online Course

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As the school year winds down, some students are looking to get a jump on earning some credits over the coming summer.

I will be teaching an online version of Media Technologies at CUNY Queens College this summer. For four weeks in July, between July 5 and July 28. Much like the winter session course I taught in January, this course will be asynchronous and entirely online.

Media Technologies surveys twelve communication technologies. Rather than schedule lectures at a specific time that students watch online, I am emphasizing asynchronous, self-directed study.

For each media technology, students will…

  1. audition a short introductory lecture that explains the topic and emphasizes impacts of that technology on the society that adopted it,
  2. read a chapter from Irving Fang’s textbook Alphabet to Internet and a condensed version of an article from the fifth edition of the anthology Communication in History,
  3. complete a quiz on the material.

After covering four topics, students will be required to take a midterm exam.

Rather than use Blackboard or some similarly bloated learning management system, the syllabus is available on the open web. Anyone is welcome to audit the course, but submitting assignments requires a Queens College login to access Google Apps for Education and Google Classroom.

The winter course was a success, and using prerecorded video lectures has worked well in the spring sections. All the students completed the class: that doesn’t happen in the face-to-face courses where absenteeism is a problem. For the spring semester, I used the prerecorded online lectures to “flip” the classroom, and students have been very receptive and complimentary about the recorded slideshow presentations. For these reasons, I’m largely reproducing what worked in the winter session and spring semester for the summer course.

Finally, if you’re taking this course, you can get cash back on your textbooks. Shop through Ebates and buy your books from QC’s Textbookx.com store to get cash back on your textbook purchases. Not a member of Ebates? Sign up and get a $10 cash bonus.

Visit the course syllabus

My First Online Course with Google Classroom

Earlier this week, I submitted the grades for my first online, winter-session class. As I wrote earlier on this site, this was my first experience with a fully online course, either as a student or as a teacher. Aside from speaking with a couple of students who have taken online classes and colleague who has taught a language class over the Internet, I developed this course in a vacuum. This was both liberating and challenging. I felt free to use whatever tools I wanted, but I was also plagued with the uncertainty of whether I was doing things The Right Way, or what technologists refer to as “best practices.”

Since I have taught this class face-to-face for several semesters, I adopted the course into twelve media technologies. Each media technology constitutes a learning unit. The structure is basically as follows:

  1. Manual to Mechanical Media
    1. Writing
    2. Early Print
    3. Mass Print
    4. Photography
  2. Electromechanical Media
    1. Telegraph
    2. Telephone
    3. Motion Pictures
    4. Sound Recording
  3. Electromagnetic and Digital Media
    1. Radio
    2. Television
    3. Computers
    4. Internet

My colleague, who I’ll refer to as Claudine, suggested that I divide the class into a series learning units, each consisting of objectives, assignments, and assessments. I took her advice and, for each media technology, I assigned students to…

  1. audition a short introductory lecture that explains the media technology and emphasizes impacts of that technology on the society that adopted it,
  2. read a chapter from Irving Fang’s textbook Alphabet to Internet and a condensed version of an article from the fifth edition of the anthology Communication in History,
  3. take a quiz on the material.

After studying four media technologies, I assigned students a midterm exam consisting of essays.

The course was mostly asynchronous. Because the course was online, I wanted to provide students with some flexibility. Nothing about the course was live. They did not have to “tune in” to a lecture. Everything was designed to be completed at his or her own pace. However, because the winter session schedule was so compressed and had to “squeeze in” an entire semester’s work in three weeks, I did require students to complete four learning units per week to keep apace.

Here’s how I set up each learning unit of the course:

Media Technologies, Winter 2016: A Three-Week, Online Course

Today marks two firsts in my teaching: teaching an entirely online course and teaching during the three-week winter session. It’s also novel because I never took a course under either of these conditions as a student.

To better serve its diverse population of non-traditional students, the department of Media Studies at CUNY Queens College has been looking to offer more non-traditional course offerings. Those include more online and hybrid courses and more courses during the three-week winter session. (The department is also offering more courses during the summer sessions.)

My offering during this non-traditional period, Media Technologies, surveys twelve communication technologies. Rather than schedule lectures at a specific time that students watch, I am emphasizing asynchronous, self-directed study.

For each media technology, students will…

  1. audition a short introductory lecture that explains the topic and emphasizes impacts of that technology on the society that adopted it,
  2. read a chapter from Irving Fang’s textbook Alphabet to Internet and a condensed version of an article from the fifth edition of the anthology Communication in History,
  3. take a quiz on the material.

After covering four topics, students will be required to take a weekly midterm exam.

Rather than using Blackboard or some similarly bloated learning management system, the syllabus is available on the open web. Anyone is welcome to audit the course, but submitting assignments requires a Queens College login to access Google Classroom. Office hours, scheduled on Tuesday and Thursday mornings, are conducted via a series of Google Hangouts.

Finally, based on feedback I received from students enrolled in other online classes, I am dispensing with any collaborative requirement. The students I surveyed expresses disappointment and frustration with instructors requiring students to post to blogs, to social networking sites, or an online forum. They indicated that not only was it the most annoying part of the class, but also the least impactful.

The course is currently full. Enrollment is capped at twenty students to allow for personal contact with students registered for the course. This is especially important because we’re not aiming to create a MOOC at the expense of nurturing our undergraduates.

Visit the course syllabus

Gardening Leave Bears Little Fruit

Pardon my silence over the last three weeks. I was asked to take an unpaid gardening leave for two weeks, and I stayed away from the computer as much as I could. And after my digital sabbatical was over, the beginning of the semester loomed on the horizon. Between the two, I stopped posting on this site.

I should have said something about it, but I was surprised as anyone that I would take such an extended leave from posting.

Before starting my leave, I planned to a bunch of awesome things, although tending to a garden was not one of them, including:

  • Visiting my friend Joe in Maine. He works there during the summer, and invited me to spend some time in the summer resort town of Northeast Harbor. Having never been before, it sounded like paradise.
  • Join my friend Steve in Baltimore as he watches a baseball game at a thirtieth different ballpark. Over the last three years, Steve leveraged all the spending his business generates into frequent flyer miles. Those miles allowed him to travel to a bunch of different cities to watch a baseball game at every current major league ballpark. His last stop was on August 17, at Oriole Park at Camden Yards in Baltimore. He’s not sure whether he’s going to do the International League or the Pacific Coast League next…or whether he’ll ever attend another baseball game again.
  • Hit the beach. It’s only in the last few years that I’ve been going to the beaches around here, and it’s pretty easy to bike to many of the beaches around here.
  • Organize my living and working space. Since I switched to the other side of the Newtown Creek, I’ve been uninspired to unpack the boxes I used to carry and hold my possessions. Going on cleaning and organizing binges used to be an embarrassing indulgence.
  • Go to Block Island or somewhere similarly exotic. As well as bikes and trains work together, bikes and ferries work even better. I had considered doing something like riding my bike out to Montauk and then catching the ferry to Block Island. But I could never find a time to do that.

As is the case with most of my grand plans, I did very few of these. Yes, I did go to the beach once, and I did go to Baltimore to watch the Mets play at Citi Field South Camden Yards with Steve and a few friends. But I didn’t visit any new places, such as the northeastern coast of Maine or one of America’s “Last Great Places”. Instead, I did a few familiar bike rides.

  1. Biked to Peekskill. This was a Monday ride that turned into an opportunity to enjoy dollar-oysters at the Peekskill’s Brewery. It however started as a coin-toss ride. My friend Brian and I rode the Westchester and Putnam county trails to Carmel, then rode on NY-301 to the junction with US-9. There we flipped a coin. Heads: we turned right to Beacon; Tails: we turned left to Peekskill. Since neither of us had a coin, I asked Siri to do so. At first, it gave us a smart-ass response: “You’re never going to believe this, but the coin landed on its edge.” We flipped again, Siri said “tails,” and we headed south to Peekskill. I’m considering making this a formal club ride, calling it something like “Heads Beacon, Tails Peekskill.”
  2. Biked to Philadelphia. I am planning to write a dedicated post about this ride. In the meantime, suffice to say that I had planned to ride all the way to Baltimore, over two days, to meet my friend Steve for that game at his thirtieth major-league park. However, after riding 97 miles to Philadelphia in 95°F heat, I decided it would be better to ship my bike back to New York and take a bus to Baltimore. The ride did serve as a testing ground for my canonical route to Philadelphia.
  3. Biked to Amagansett. Like the aborted ride to Baltimore, this was supposed to a Babylon-to-Montauk ride. On the same day as this ride through the Hamptons, our house was hosting a BBQ—a DreBQ as we call it out here. Since I didn’t want to miss the party, I aimed to return to NYC on the 3:30 PM train out of Montauk, which would put me in NYC by 7:00 PM. A couple of mechanical issues delayed our group’s progress so I bailed in Amagansett to catch that Montauk train along its westbound route. Until we had those flats, after the first half of the ride, we were due to finish the whole 92-mile course in about six hours.

And since returning to work, I assembled syllabi for three classes:

  1. Media Technologies at CUNY Queens College
  2. Media Criticism, also at Queens College
  3. Latin American Film, a new class at Pratt Institute

With the long summer break and my own gardening leave behind me and the semester beginning today, I recognize that I didn’t completely “turn off” during the break or do something completely unfamiliar. But I did do things that I enjoy and do pretty well.

And, yes, I’ll resume posting to this site again.

How I Almost Didn’t Obsess Over The Encyclopedie, the Enlightenment, and the French Revolution

This week, teaching classes has yielded more than one introspective moment. Yesterday, I learned that I am an innovator/achiever, according to a very popular psychographic scale that I discussed in class. Today, I had an even deeper moment of reflection. I realized that the French Enlightenment did not, in fact, result in the French Revolution. Well, it did, but things got complicated along the way to the Bastille.

Storming of the Bastille, July 14, 1789.

Storming of the Bastille, July 14, 1789.

In last night’s Media Technologies class, I surveyed some developments of early print and their impact on their cultures. It’s a very broad topic, ranging from different kinds of papers—bamboo, parchment, and cloth—to the spread of literacy and vernacular languages throughout Europe. While we do cover Gutenberg, his movable-type printing press, and his Bible, I was most interested in covering the big revolutions that print enabled, such as:

  1. Protestant Reformation
  2. Renaissance
  3. Scientific Revolution
  4. French Enlightenment and Revolution
  5. American Revolution

Since I am not an expert in eighteenth-century France, I drew on what I remember learning in my high-school history classes and in my first-year Western civilization course at UCSB. In the course of my extended public-school education, I first learned about Denis Diderot’s Encyclopedie. I was fascinated because the writing and publishing of that multivolume encyclopedia represented an early attempt by Europeans to collect the world’s knowledge and was a foundational text in the French Enlightenment.

In the context of a media studies class, the Encyclopedie represents a key example of print media resulting in an intellectual revolution. I connected the French Enlightenment to the French Revolution because that’s what I remember from my public-school education, and it’s not far from the conventional wisdom. For example, the Wikipedia entry on “The Age of Enlightenment” reads, “some of these [Enlightenment] ideals proved influential and decisive in the course of the French Revolution, which began in 1789.” Similarly, Maurice Cranston writes in History Today,” in the unfolding of the Revolution, what was thought, what was said, and what was advocated, was expressed in terms and categories that came from political theorists of the Enlightenment.” Even the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy entry on “Enlightenment” concurs with this common wisdom: “Enlightenment thought culminates historically in the political upheaval of the French Revolution.” Where print helped spread the ideas of the French Enlightenment, those political ideas would in turn spark the French Revolution at the end of the eighteenth century.

To supplement my summary of The Encyclopedie, I recommended that students listen to an episode of the BBC Radio 4 history series, In Our Time, on Denis Diderot’s Encyclopedie.

As I listened to the program after class last night, they discuss the role that the Encyclopedie, specifically, and the Enlightenment, in general, had on the French Revolution. It challenged my thinking about the simple, direct connection between the Enlightenment and the French Revolution.

One of the panelists, Caroline Warman, says:

Certainly, the first stage—the 1789 stage—of the Revolution is the manifestation of Encyclopedie principles. It has to be… but then when it becomes and when it moves into the terror—when it becomes irrational, what will be called irrational—then I think it moves away from what we could ever call the Encyclopedie.

Host Melvyn Bragg then addresses the attack of the Encyclopedie during the Revolution, and Judith Hawley responds that “Diderot and d’Alembert would have been horrified by French Revolution. I don’t think they would have supported it all. They were horrified by violence.”

Even more surprising than learning that the Encyclopedie editors disapproved of The Revolution was how much it had turned against the ideals of the Enlightenment, Warman continues that the Revolution was “against reason. It was anti-intellectual elitism, too.” Warman recounts a story about one Encyclopedie contributor who “witnessed Robespierre’s parade [of terror], and this man reportedly dropped down dead in horror of what happened to Enlightenment ideas.” Not only that, but Warman concludes, “the Revolution killed scientists.”

So, it turns out that I was not completely right in linking the French Revolution to the French Enlightenment. While the early stages of the Revolution were informed by Enlightenment principles, it was, as these things usually are, more complicated than I had initially thought.

Media Technologies, Spring 2014, Syllabus

With Martin Luther King Day behind us, it is the beginning of the spring semester at CUNY. This semester I am teaching only one class there.

Media Technologies

An overview of media technologies, including early writing and the printing press, the rise of mass culture, and the digital revolution.

This is a class that all Media Studies majors have to take, and it really covers a lot of ground. We start with communication before there was writing and survey how print and electronic media emerged after the Enlightenment and Industrialization. Finally, we cover a lot of the innovations of the twentieth century, such as motion pictures, radio, and television. We end with computers and the Internet as the basis for digital communication we know so well.

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p>The course meets on Monday nights, from 6:30 – 9:20 PM, in Kiely Hall.

Media Technologies, Spring 2013, Syllabus

The syllabus for Media Technologies, at CUNY Queens College, is now available on my professional website.

The very brief course description:

An overview of media technologies, including early writing and the printing press, the rise of mass culture, and the digital revolution.

This is the first time I’ve taught this particular course. The biggest challenge was finding a competent textbook. I didn’t quite find what I was looking for, but I did find a fairly good collection of readings about different communication forms. Tim Wu’s The Master Switch, a terrific book on media technologies and those who control them, will supplement the readings.

My Take on Morozov’s Net Delusion

Because of Hurricane Sandy, my New Technologies class had to make up the class in some productive way. I assigned the students the Evgeny Morozov book, Net Delusion: The Dark Side of the Internet. In addition to reading the book, each students had to write a 200-word response to a question I posted about the differences between Morozov’s argument about Internet freedom and what Clay Shirky’s utopianism of the creative possibilities afforded by global digital networks.

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I recorded a twelve-minute summary of the book’s first three chapters, hoping that I would reinforce the students’ perceptions of what they read. I even recorded my summary as a talking-head video, but then I got the idea about editing the video into short segments, along with titles. However, the video was recorded as H.264 HD video, and it was almost impossible to edit on Final Cut Pro. I tried iMovie, but I kept getting import errors so I gave up. Thankfully, I had also set up a USB microphone to record the audio on my computer. I was able to edit this audio very easily, sadly without the visual chapter markers.

If I didn’t have flu and had more time, I would tried harder to edit the video. But then again, it was just a talking-head video. Aside from my sweaty brow and my gaze directed off the screen, what else could you see from the video? After all, didn’t someone say that they preferred radio to television because the pictures were better?

N.B.: I am way out of practice with speaking to a microphone.