Tagged: Queens College

Twenty-Percent Rule

A few moments ago at a Starbucks in Sylmar, California, after grading a set of take-home exams and posting grades to CUNYFirst, I finished another teaching semester at Queens College. I now get about a week off before starting anew with an online, winter session course that I will be conducting from my childhood bedroom at my parents’ house. This shortens my winter break a bit, but the online course allows me to extend my stay here in California until mid-January. New York is always so cold, sad, and boring in early January, and I am not the least bit bereft about missing out on whatever winter dreariness there is back east.

While I should be excited about finishing another semester and again submitting grades on time, allowing me a peaceful Christmas break, that enthusiasm is tempered because just over 20% of students in my Media Criticism course didn’t receive a passing grade. Nine out of forty-five students outright failed, and one student just stopped attending but still submitted a take-home final exam. In all but two cases, the students just stopped attending class.

Sadly, this is a common occurence at Queens College. I was shocked to see that, in the first class I taught there years ago, about a third of the class failed. Up to that point, I had only limited teaching experiences: as a TA at UCSB and NYU, and teaching one introductory film course at Marymount Manhattan College. In those situations, there was always one or two students who didn’t complete the course, usually because of an extraordinary circumstance, but having ten students fail a single course was a terrible surprise. In my second semester at Queens College, I alerted my students to this fact, imploring them to not repeat this same, terrible feat. For whatever reason, in that second semester, the failure rate was much lower, but since then it has crept back up.

I don’t have a single explanation for why so many Queens College students fail these courses compared to similar courses at other colleges. However, a few factors, however, come to mind:

  • Some students have challenging socioeconomic circumstances.
  • Some students have demanding family obligations, either raising their own children or tending for other needy relatives.
  • Some students work full-time and are taking courses in their scant spare time.
  • Some students’ commutes make it hard to attend class.1
  • Some students are returning to school after an absence and are having a difficult time readjusting to school and/or learning how to “do” college.
  • Some students come from NYC or other urban public schools, where they largely excelled because they stayed out of trouble, not necessarily because they were academically proficient.
  • Some students are stuck in “K-12 mode,” treat the classroom as a battleground between student and teacher, and are consumed by what they “get away with” in class, with assignments, and on exams.

These are some pretty significant obstacles to overcome, and it’s not unreasonable to see how students facing these would have trouble in a college class, especially where I really push the students beyond procedural learning into more conceptual terrain. In other words, my courses are hard because I expect a lot of students, and I haven’t yet come to terms with dumbing down courses for more favorable reviews or a higher passing rate.

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.
These two seem a lot more consequential than factoring their attendance as a percentage of their final grade.

I’m also instituting a second policy in my Media Criticism course: require students to present on assigned readings. This worked really well in the New Technologies class that I taught years ago but never got to do again. The class relied a lot on readings and developing conceptual frameworks for understanding media. It also spared them from having me lecture, pontificate, and yammer for a three-hour (!) class period.

I hope these policies keep students engaged and invested, not just for my Media Criticism courses, but for all their other courses at the college. We owe it to our students to push them into realizing their greatness, especially in the face of the formidable circumstances many of them face. Allowing them to pass, by doing subpar work or missing many class sessions, is a disservice to what they should expect from us and why they enrolled in the first place.


  1. My eight-mile commute from Brooklyn to Queens College is a lethargic agony. I can bike there in less than an hour, but it’s through some pretty bike-unfriendly terrain. Alternatively, I can take public transportation, which will take about an hour-and-forty minutes to travel those eight miles, via a mix of subway lines and busses. 

Forward Nation Radio

One of my former students at Queens College has been producing something really valuable lately. Forward Nation Radio launched in March as a videocast and podcast that the producer refers to as a “progressive show with ‘bite.'” The program arose as a response to what I would call the “fake news” echo chamber. This is where the commercial press publishes something critical about the president and then he and his surrogates cry “fake news.” The commercial press responds with “no, you’re fake news!” And on it goes…

The latest episode starts with a skit of a childlike Donald Trump character inviting his pal Sergey, presumably Sergey Kislyak, to come over to his White House for play. He entices him with a few secrets that he wants to tell him. It reminded me of what Harry Shearer does on Le Show, voicing several characters in humorous but chilling skits about current political topics.

The episode continues with a news summary, responding to listener feedback, and interjecting a healthy dose of political opinion. The host, David Leventhal, is undoubtedly a political progressive but offers well-reasoned and critical counter arguments to what you normally hear on commercial print and television media. And it is certainly a lot more thoughtful and educated what you get on right-wing propaganda outlets.

Leventhal’s finest moment in the episode came when he responded to an op-ed about the “lack of diversity” on campus, apparently written by one of Leventhal’s colleagues at Queens College. (Departmental infighting, anyone?) He immediately deconstructs the questions, noting that it is not referring to ethnic, gender, religious, or even income diversity. He quick identifies that the question is referring to ideological diversity: a balance between liberals and conservatives on campus. Leventhal draws on his professional experience to debunk this question: this was “bullshit” and “propaganda” thirty years ago, and it is “bullshit” and “propaganda” today, he says.

Leventhal take a long view about the purpose of labelling college campuses as liberal havens to undermine the value of education. He correctly identifies that what passes as conservative media is actually propaganda. The only way to counter propaganda is through education, he says. When quote-unquote conservative media rally against liberal bias in the media and in education, they are really trying to undermine the professional investigative methods of journalism to uncover truth and, at the same time, undermine the research methods and expertise of academics. In other words, quote-unquote conservatives aren’t represented on campus because those quote-unquote conservatives are actually propagandists who spread “alternate facts,” and Leventhal concludes, those “alternate facts…are not what should be peddled on college campuses.”

Of course, this is an extremely partisan series, but honestly, it was refreshing to listen someone use a balance of fact, reason, and emotion to argue against the attacks on journalism, academia, democracy, and even our own government that the right-wing is seeking to dismantle.

Textbooks for 2017 Winter and Spring Courses

Are you enrolled in one of my courses for Winter 2017 or Spring 2017?

Here are the textbooks required for your class. Most of these titles are available in print and as ebooks and are also available for sale or rental. Buy early to ensure your best pricing options.

Please note that the course websites are still not live, but I’m linking to them now for when they are ready.

Contemporary Media

A survey of contemporary media institutions and their economic, social, political and cultural implications.

Media Technologies

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

Film History

An historical survey of film from the advent of commercial motion pictures in the 1890s, the proliferation of national cinema movements throughout the 20th century, and the influence of each in the formation of a global film culture at the beginning of the twenty-first century.

History of Broadcasting

The history of radio and television broadcasting from the 1920s to the present. Using an interdisciplinary approach, the course focuses on broadcasting institutions, issues, research trends, and program format analysis.

The above links to Amazon are affiliate links. Shopping through those links will kick back a referral fee to me. Thanks for your support!

Office 365 for Students at CUNY Queens College, but Not Faculty or Staff

Earlier this week, I attended a group session about Microsoft’s Office 365, the productivity software and services subscription. Of the four colleges where I have taught, the suite has been offered at only one: CUNY Queens College. However, as far as I know, Office 365 is only available to currently enrolled students and, strangely, not available to faculty or staff.

In today’s session, the session coordinator and a number of participants, including many who also teach at CUNY, insisted that faculty and staff have access to Office 365. I was a little embarrassed to have been corrected in a semi-public setting like that.

After searching various help documents on the Queens College website, it appears that I was right and everyone else was wrong. Office 365 is not available to faculty or staff at CUNY Queens College, only currently enrolled students.

A response from the IT Help Desk at Queens College also confirms this as much:

The Office 365 is for attending students only. Faulty and staff do however have the Office suite on their campus computers. They can also download a copy of Office 2016 through the CUNYPortal e-mall for home use. https://cunyportal.cuny.edu/cuny_eMall/

This I knew. I have a local version of Office 2016 for Home and Business on my Mac, but I am most interested in the Office 365 cloud functions and its apps for mobile devices.

I suspect that the participants in today’s session can’t distinguish between Office 365 as a subscription service and Office 2016 as the downloadable software that comes with Office 365. However, because the participants seem very clear on what Adobe Creative Cloud is, I suspect that it’s partly Microsoft’s problem with explaining the Office 365 product and distinguishing it from the venerable desktop apps, like Word, Excel, and Powerpoint.

But I am still puzzled as to why faculty can’t get Office 365 like the students. My sense it that has to do with students use one email system while faculty/staff are another. Students use Office 365 accounts with qmail.cuny.edu addresses, while faculty and staff use Outlook and are “grandfathered” with the older qc.cuny.edu addresses. Authorizing the site license might only allow a single domain associated with each organization.

On the other hand, both groups have access to Google Apps for Education, even if QC students, faculty, or staff are unable to use Gmail.

Cash Back on Textbooks through Ebates

Starting Summer 2016, CUNY Queens College moved from eFollett.com to Textbookx as the textbook supplier for the college. After the college announced the new textbook supplier, I noticed that Textbookx is an Ebates store, which earns shoppers cash back for qualifying purchases. I’ve used this since last year and earned some cash through my various online shopping trips.

By shopping on Textbookx through Ebates, students can earn cash back, currently 2.5%, on course textbook purchases. Since I imagine that students would be interested in learning how to earn cash back on textbooks, I made a screencast.


Here’s how to earn cash back on textbooks purchased on Textbookx through Ebates.

  1. Go to Ebates.com.

    Sign in to your account. If you don’t have an account, join through this link and buy something: we’ll each get a $10 bonus.

  2. Find the Textbookx shopping portal.

    Search for ‘textbookx.com’ on Ebates.

  3. Start a Ebates shopping trip on Textbookx.

    Follow the “Shop Now” button to start a shopping trip on Textbookx.

  4. Find the School page for Queens College.

    Follow the “Schools” link and search for ‘Queens College’

  5. Find your classes

    Search for your classes or log in to CUNYFirst to list all of your courses.

  6. Buy your textbooks

    You should receive cash back credit to your Ebates account within a few days. Make sure you add your Paypal account to your Ebates account so you can receive your cash back as soon as possible.

Of course, you’re welcome to buy your textbooks through any source, but since Queens College selected Textbookx as the official textbook supplier, you may as well save some additional cash through Ebates.

Get started on Ebates

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

The Unappreciated Architecture of the New York’s World’s Fairs at the Godwin-Ternbach Museum

Wax_sm

Last year marked the fiftieth and seventy-fifth anniversaries, respectively, of the 1939 and 1964 World’s Fair in New York City. I wrote about these two fairs with regards to the 1939 introduction of television by RCA and the 1964 New York State Pavilion, designed by celebrated modern architect Phillip Johnson.

Starting today, June 29, the Godwin-Ternbach Museum at Queens College is hosting a photographic exhibit on the “ignored” and “ridiculed” architecture of the World’s Fairs. The exhibition, Persuasive Images: Architecture of the 1939–40 & 1964–65 New York World’s Fairs, will run until July 27, and there’s an opening reception on July 9, two weeks after the exhibit opens.

Persuasive Images: Architecture of the 1939–40 & 1964–65 New York World’s Fairs

  • June 29 – July 27, 2015
  • Museum open Monday–Saturdays,
  • Godwin-Ternbach Museum, 65-30 Kissena Blvd, 405 Klapper Hall, Queens, NY 11367
  • Free

My Spring 2015 Classes at Queens College

The spring semester started yesterday at CUNY, and as luck would have it, it came just after a historic significant snowfall that receded in time for the first day of instruction. Also, as luck would have it, I teach two classes on Wednesday this semester at Queens College. This is a welcome relief from the past three semesters: I’ve either taught only one class or have had to make an hour-long, ten-mile slog on multiple days, at rush hour, and in peak-travel direction. It will be much more pleasant to have to only travel one day a week and at midday.

With the semester officially underway, I’m lifting my self-imposed embargo on publicizing the syllabi for my two Queens College classes.

Media Technologies

For the last five semesters, I’ve taught the evening section of this introductory course on the development of communications technologies. In it, we cover the technologies of writing and print, mass culture in the industrial age, electronic broadcast media, and, of course, digital media.

This semester, I changed the textbook from Crowley and Heyer’s Communication in History (retail price: $154.00) to Irving Fang’s Alphabet to Internet (retail price: $60). While the students should appreciate the economic relief, there is a significant trade-off in adopting the Fang textbook. Whereas the Crowley and Heyer book anthology is an collection of condensed writings on communication technologies, Fang writes a more traditional textbook. I usually prefer the former and to read a variety of different writings on a topic especially because it fascinates me how greatly scholarship can vary despite each author writing on the very same subject.

However, I sensed that most students weren’t reading the articles I assigned. With students enrolled in an evening section of an introductory course, almost all of whom are coming from day jobs and have pressing family responsibilities, it’s remarkable to me that they manage to attend class in the first place. Consequently, I have decided to lighten the weekly reading load by adopting a more condensed textbook, and I’ll use our class session to elaborate on each topic.

Media Criticism

To be honest, I always dreaded teaching this class. It used to be a 300-level class, and when I started teaching it, I upped the difficulty to meet my expectations for graduating students. I curated a collection of long, challenging readings; I assigned several writing assignments with a capstone; and I gave in-class exams with difficult essay questions. But after the first few weeks, I realized that I needed to do a lot of remedial work. Instead of having passionate in-class discussions about each reading, I had to teach students some fundamentals, such as how to outline an argument, how to compose a thesis statement, and the importance of opening each paragraph with a topic sentence. One semester, I even taught some research methods, such as searching catalogs and electronic journals, and I spent a whole week on citations and bibliographies. But I stopped doing that after one peer reviewer censured me for teaching so many nuts-and-bolts. After that critical evaluation, I became frustrated and gave up on figuring out how to teach this class. Thankfully, I was not asked to teach it again.

A few years have passed since I last taught the class, and both the class and I have changed in that time. Media Criticism has been reclassified as a 200-level class, presumably due to Pathways reform, and I am more experienced with teaching seminar-style courses, where I can let students talk. I’m now ready to retry teaching it as introductory media theory course: a course where we “criticize media criticism,” as I explained in class yesterday. This semester, instead of “curating” an overly ambitious collection of readings, I had the students buy one textbook, we’re comparing three or so readings each week based on themes that the anthology’s editor, Laurie Ouellette, presumably organized them and based on my own interests in media and cultural studies.

One of the reasons I chose Ouellette’s edited collection is because gender and race aren’t put into a “topical ghetto.” Instead, those are addressed in almost every reading throughout the book. When I explained to my students yesterday about the importance of “studying (or criticizing) media criticism,” I offered the following diatribe:

A few weeks ago, the Academy Awards nominated ten film actors and ten film actresses for best of the year. Not one of them is black, Latino, Asian, or any other American ethnic minority. Are you telling me that there’s not one such actor who was among the best last year, or was it that those in charge of making movies didn’t offer some one “different” an opportunity? Either way, as a country, we have failed when our most visible cultural form disregards our own people…those that make up this country.

It was a rare moment of seriousness for me, and I probably prattled on a bit longer than I should have. But I wanted to make a point about why it’s important for budding creative professionals to study theory. I attribute the representational failures of the commercial film and television industries, as evidenced by 2014’s films and the attendant nominations, to its anti-intellectualism. A little reading and critical thinking could do everyone some good.