Tagged: Queens College

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.

Alternatives to CUNYFirst

Remember how CUNYFirst, the maligned all-in-one information management system at the City University of New York, tends to fail at the worst possible times, such as the beginning of the semester? For example, last August, CUNYFirst was down as the fall semester was starting and made it difficult for students to access their course schedules and for faculty to access course rosters.

Outages at peak usage times suggest deep-seeded technical problems. Although I don’t have any information on the specific causes of last fall’s outage, I suspect that the hardware powering CUNYFirst, either the database, the web server, or both, were simply overwhelmed by the activity from students, faculty, and administrative staff.

Today, I learned of two alternative access points to CUNYFirst data.

  1. CUNYFirst MyInfo. This access point, requiring CUNY Portal login, allows faculty to view our teaching schedules and student rosters. Instead of requiring a live connection to the CUNYFirst database, which could potentially crash the system, this appears to use a cached data: MyInfo pulls data from CUNYFirst once a day, presumably in the middle of the night. While it might not be live enrollment data, once a day is “good enough.”
  2. QC Courses. This is specific to Queens College and allows anyone to quickly access basic course information without having to login.1 Since the system is essentially public, it does not contain student rosters, but it does list the enrollment count, the catalog and section numbers, and the time and location for each course.

I welcome these solutions because it spares CUNY from having to “glue jets on a bus“, and it spares me from having to use CUNYFirst for looking up course information. With these alternative access points in place, most of us won’t have to bother with CUNYFirst during peak usage time at the beginning of the semester. And I personally won’t have to use CUNYFirst until I need to report attendance in the second or third week of the semester and until I need to report grades in late May. These alternative access points will make the launching this semester significantly less painful than the previous one.


  1. I should note that, after talking to a few colleagues at other CUNY sites, the information management and registration functions at Queens College appear to run smoother than at some other colleges in the system. 

Three Things to Tell Students on Day One

With the spring semester having already started this week, it was an opportune time to consider what to tell students on the first day of class. Many teachers use the first meeting to pitch the course to students and explain to them what to expect throughout the semester. Each instructor will enforce a different set of policies, require a different set of books, and assign their own assignments. As Fordham students take about four to five courses each semester, it can be an overwhelming amount of information to process this early in the term.

In the past year, I’ve simplified what I tell my students on the first day of class. Instead of reviewing the syllabus, which can be quite long, I try to answer the three most pressing questions students might have about the course. Based on my observations as a teacher and my own experience as a student, I have found that students are most interested in three things on day one:

  1. They want to know what books they need to buy. They are interested in where to get them, and how much it is going to cost them. I tell them to use their Internet skills to find the books. I don’t care if they get ebook versions, although I warn them against the Coursesmart titles because those are functionally terrible and are far too expensive. I also don’t care if they get the books from somewhere other than the campus bookstore because those are usually run by awful companies.
  2. They want to know what topics we will be covering. I usually start with a one-sentence version of the course description and then list a few major themes we will be covering. For example, this semester’s electronic media course covers three media: radio, television, and digital. I then summarize the course schedule and show how we will cover each media and, ultimately, how they converge.
  3. They want to know about the assignments and the exams. How intense is the workload for this course? Will there be weekly assignments or just a few big ones? How many papers will there be and how long are those papers? To address their concerns about the exams, I usually give students sample questions from the final exam.

In addition to review these three topics on the first day of class, I also format the main navigation area of each course website, such as this one to include the books, the weekly topics, and the assignments and exams. It hopefully keeps things simple and also helps students decide whether my course is for them.

Heating Season Begins at Queens College

Not quite three years ago, I complained about the unbearable heat in a classroom at Queens College. Our union, PSC-CUNY, came across my blog post, which they interviewed me about. Although I can’t find the article with my interview, the incident has since become a rallying cry for our labor representatives.

Yesterday, the unbearable temperature returned to my large lecture hall at Kiely 264. At the beginning of class, I announced that the intense heat was due to it being October 1, and that university always turns on the heat in October, whether it is necessary or not. I didn’t have a thermometer to measure the heat, but it was enough for cause students to complain endlessly throughout the class. My guess is that it was well over 80° in the room.

Today, we received an email broadcast from the university. It looks like I was right: the cooling season ended in September. However, the heat was apparently turned on prematurely. Heating season is not scheduled to begin for another two weeks:

New York City Department of Citywide Administrative Services guidelines mandate the end of the 2014 cooling season on September 30. Per the NYC guidelines, which our department and staff are committed to adhering to, we have ceased air conditioning functions across the campus and are in the process of taking most of our air conditioning equipment off-line in order to start preparations for the heating season which officially begins on October 15.

The communication also offers some “helpful tips” for maintaining “personal comfort.”

At this time of year there may be unseasonably cool or warm days, but as the systems are being transitioned from cooling to heating, we will not be able to provide all areas with temperatures that will be comfortable (depending on the status of the building’s system). We will help to provide thermal comfort as much as we can by bringing in the maximum amount of outside air, but we recommend dressing in light layers to assist in maintaining your personal comfort.

My students were not prepared for the intense heat and despite shedding sweatshirts and jackets (it was about 60° and rainy the entire day), they were still very uncomfortable. During our class break, I asked the media tech staff what I could do. They suggested that I call security and explain that I am a professor and that my classroom was unbearably hot. I did that, and it appears that they did power down the boiler, which helped some.

However, the students were still distracted by the heat and could not concentrate on our class material. Neither could I, despite being glutton for hot temperatures. I adjourned our class early in hopes we can reconvene when the temperature is more conducive to learning.

Queens College Gets a Shuttle

After some kvetching on my part and a long-running petition drive, CUNY Queens College has launched a shuttle from Jamaica and Flushing. It will run on a pilot basis from from August 25 to 28. After August 28, students will ride for free, and faculty and staff can buy a sticker to ride the shuttle.

Routes and Schedule

The shuttle service operates weekdays 7 am-11 pm and weekends 7 am-7 pm, covering two routes.

From Jamaica

Starting at 7 am, buses will pick up riders every 20 minutes, and transport them to Queens Hall and the Student Union. Travel time to or from Jamaica is approximately 25-30 minutes.

From Flushing

Starting at 7 am, buses will pick up riders every 20 minutes, and will transport them to the Student Union and Queens Hall. Travel time to or from Flushing is approximately 15 minutes.

Cross campus – between Queens Hall and Student Union

Every 20 minutes, riders may go from Queens Hall to the Student Union by taking the Jamaica bus across campus; those who wish to go from the Student Union to Queens Hall may take the Flushing bus.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t help me all that much since I take the E or F train from Forest Hills and then ride the Q64. But because I am not sure where I will end up living in the next few weeks, this might be of some benefit if I have to go to Jamaica or Flushing. For example, if I end up staying in downtown Brooklyn, it might make sense to take the LIRR from Jamaica towards Atlantic Ave. But who knows what my life will be like in the next few weeks.

At least, I can start encouraging students to leave their cars at home and take mass transit to campus.