New column: when movies make people want to read comics

In my latest “World in Panels”, posted earlier this week, I have some advice for guiding people who want to read comics after, or to catch up for, movies like The Avengers:

For these kinds of superhero films, the problem of moving from page to screen and back again is that there’s no authoritative text for the writer to reference or for would-be readers to access. These movies are better thought of as character adaptations than adaptations of specific books. When seen that way, one thing that becomes clear is that the characters are already transmedia creations.

Read the column.

Storify in the classroom update

At the end of Winter 2011, I began experimenting with using Storify as a way to supplement class material and discussions. My thought was that, compared to use of course blogs, this would be a more efficient and visually appealing way to share content with students. My last update on this practice is from July of last year.

Here are thoughts and observations from this year.

  • The one class in which I consistently use Storify is GEOG 107, which is introductory cultural geography. I “reset” the timeline each term, meaning I strip the content out and rebuild it each quarter depending on what class discussion is like. I’ve noticed that with some sections I end up with a lengthy timeline and for others I only make a few additions. What’s interesting is that this does not seem to correlate with how often students seem to reference or read the narrative, or even, to how active and engaged a class is otherwise. For example, my current group of students includes a number of individuals who went to Storify from the class blog to read the faculty page for our textbook author, but, despite that early interest, I haven’t added anything new, and class discussions are, lively and interesting.
  • I suspect that my choice to use the service here is more dependent on what students are interested in than if they are. Some topics lend themselves better to further exploration and discussion online than others. I’ve noticed, for example, that I am most likely to use Storify in my intro course for follow-up to discussions about youth culture and the body, both of which are visually-oriented, at least in the way I teach them in this course. With other topics, whether I add material to Storify or not seems more dependent on what kinds of questions students ask or where I end up with loose ends than it does on the topic itself or levels of student engagement.
  • In Fall I taught a course on using digital video in the social sciences and made extensive use of Storify to share resources on filmmaking, but, based on class questions and use of the course blog, I’m not sure that very many students made use of that timeline, despite needing the help. I do see that I have 68 views of that page, which suggests that it got some use, but maybe not of the right kind. It did not seem as if students got into the habit of using that page as a reference for problem solving. It could be that the “timeline” format is not conducive to providing a ready reference for guidance, even though it does allow me to be responsive to questions as they arise in class. Or maybe students just preferred to be told what to do as opposed to working through problems themselves. I’m sure that someone in the class must have found those resources useful and I don’t know about it because they were successful on their own. In the future, I should think about asking students directly about their use of the site.
  • This term I am looking for supplemental material on a regular basis for my upper-division course in political geography, but I am relying on Pinterest (I even started two new boards to support the class, Geography graphics & Geopolitics) rather than Storify. This is something I noticed the other day, and have only begun to think about. I think one reason for this habit might be that I do not have a primary text assigned and, therefore, a less obvious “narrative spine” for the class on which to build a Storify page. It may also be that, for whatever reason, the convenience of “pinning” has made more sense for me when I have begun to look for material for this class than has working from my page on Storify.

Whether Storify or Pinterest, these resources have been valuable ways for me to share, especially, images, graphics, and videos with students, and are far preferable, and less time-consuming, than building Power Point slides or constantly embedding content on a blog.

Tension in the classroom

This week in learning assessments, there seem to be some odd tensions roiling under the surface of one of my classes, with students expressing frustration with:

  • Students who don’t show up to class.
  • Students who don’t contribute to class.
  • Students who contribute too much in class.
  • Students who show up not having done the reading.

In the case of the third point, at least one student noted my efforts to elicit participation from others as something they found helpful.

In the past, I have opened discussion of these kinds of issues on the class blog, but I think that the second week is too early for that. For now, I’ll wait-and-see how the culture of the class develops. These frustrations do suggest that I have a number students who feel invested in the course, and that is a good thing, but these kinds of expressions also seem to represent feelings that could turn toxic if not managed well.

Distanced

One thing I do in my classes on a regular basis is administer short “learning assessments”, which sometimes focus on content, along the lines of a “one-minute essay”, and at other times on process.

I routinely get fascinating data from this question from Stephen Brookfield’s “Critical Incident Questionnaire” (pdf):

“At what moment in class this week did you feel most distanced from what was happening?”

Students admit to all kinds of things in answering this question, from not having gotten enough to sleep to not having done the reading or being distracted by their phones. One intent of a question like this is to encourage students to reflect on how they learn and to make adjustments that would, for example, lead to feeling less distanced in class.

This past week in reading over some of my assessments something clicked that I had been puzzled by before, which is the way in which students will often write that they felt most distanced when we talked about something that they found to be alien or uncomfortable or that they don’t like talking about.

Previously, for some reason, maybe in response to how students articulate their answers to this question, or maybe from being unable to get out of my own frames of reference, I thought that students who wrote about feeling distanced by discomfiting or unfamiliar material were just being incurious or were unsure about the question.

As I thought about one of the assessments I got back this week, I realized that most of the students who gave that kind of answer were likely addressing the question directly and understood it quite well.

From my perspective, one of the points of getting an education, of going to college, is to encounter the unfamiliar and to be made uncomfortable by what I don’t know or understand or have not yet experienced. This would (and did) make me feel less distanced as a student.

Of course, and I have known this for awhile, many of the students I have in my classes don’t look at their educations that way. If one wants an education to be credentialed or to affirm ideas and choices already made or already learned, then it makes sense, now at least, that unfamiliar or uncanny material would lead one to feel distanced by what was happening in the classroom.

Here’s thing I am left with: this looks like it should be an opportunity, not a barrier to learning. It seems unlikely that students who express feelings of being distanced in this way aren’t also learning at the same time (and, in fact, that could be part of why they feel distanced; if they were simply resistant, then whatever was bothering them about class would be just as likely to be deflected or written off as nonsense as to be getting under their skin).

However, I’m not sure how to turn this kind of data to my advantage. I should, maybe, start keeping track of what students say makes them feel distanced and see if I can notice any clusters around certain topics or activities. Or maybe I am seeing how some students natively process new or unfamiliar material or ways of learning, and I should re-interpret some of these answers as positive indications of what’s happening in class and not as problems to be solved.

In any case, it’s gratifying when these exercises seem to produce actual insight or meaningful results (as opposed to, say, our institutional evaluations. Ha! I kid because I care).