I have decided to re-post this lesson plan that I originally posted in December of last year. In re-posting it, I am forgoing the doom and gloom I offered in the introduction of the original post. A better attitude is needed. It is our duty as citizens to raise our voices in response to bad policy, so consider this my own humble contribution to the Internet-wide Day of Action to Save Net Neutrality.
In this post I’m going to be mashing together several lesson plans from two very different courses: my Intro to Mass Communication course at DePaul University, and the course “Frames, Claims, and Videogames,” which I’m currently teaching at the School of the Art Institute right now. Despite their different origins, these lessons speak to common themes, and in fact they could be productively combined in the future. At issue in all of them: the US Supreme Court’s shifting views on various media, their potential for socially valuable expression, and their first amendment protections (or lack thereof). We could call it a vernacular legal theory of medium specificity, moments in which those whose job it is to interpret the law dip their toes into defining the specific affordances and dangers of a given medium.
What is our country coming to when a so-called judge can define a medium’s potential as a mode of expression? THE DEFINITIONS OF OUR MEDIA ARE AT STAKE.
Why even post this, then? Will anyone teach a lesson on net neutrality in the future? I don’t see why not. Presumably people still lessons on labor unions, despite the fact that those barely exist anymore. And perhaps, in a perverse way, net neutrality’s death will mean that more people actually will understand what it once was. Once it’s gone, the ISPs’ noise machine will presumably move on to other targets, meaning that perhaps there won’t be quite as thick a slurry of blatant misinformation to fight in the future. (Although I disagree with the political right in this country on most issues, I have to say that I’ve never seen such basic confusion on the other side about what the conversation is actually about than I have around the issue of net neutrality. The points made against it are incoherent, because they often simply pretend it is something it is not. Seriously, outright falsehoods and mirror-universe projections in this area have been endemic.) In any case, it’s still worth fighting the good fight, and keeping students informed of what might have been.
Consider this another addendum, this time to my previous post on teaching the concept of procedural representation. These are two more of my favorite case studies to use for that topic—ones that, however, fall outside the designation of “games about squares.” As with the games outlined in my previous post, I teach these via small group work, assigning students to first play these games, and then present to their classmates on them. For these presentations, I direct students to not simply say “this game is about xtopic,” but instead say things like “when you do y in this game, z happens.” My aim is to get them to specifically lay out how rules shape player behavior, and provide consequences for that behavior, and how this combination of rules/behavior/consequence can make claims about the how the world works.
For three quarters in a row, I used Stanley J. Baran’s Introduction to Mass Communication textbook for my Mass Communication course. However, during that time, I drifted away from assigning Baran’s chapter on media effects. I was very upfront to students about the reasons why: I find it dull, and dry. It provides a thorough historical overview of various theories of media effects, from the Frankfurt School to George Gerbner’s “cultivation analysis,” but it doesn’t provide meaty examples of studies of effects in action. So, instead, I decided to turn my media effects week into a feminism week, and use Susan J. Douglas‘ wonderful observations on popular music and its effect on perceptions of gender roles in her book Where the Girls Are: Growing up Female with the Mass Media. The book’s breezy, first-person style is far removed from the distanced overview of sociological theories found in Baran, and a good model for the types first-person observations and analysis I hope to provoke when teaching this material.
The first time I taught a unit on the concept of procedural representation, it was in my course “The Moving and Interactive Image” at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. The theme I wanted to explore that week was the limits of thinking about games as moving images, at all. Are there some games that get such a large percentage of their meaning from rules and interactions that it is not even productive to think about them as images at all anymore? To this end, I assigned students the chapter “Art” from Ian Bogost‘s book How to Do Things with Videogames, where he lays out the idea of what he calls the “proceduralist style” in art games. Bogost characterizes this style of games in the following way:
In these games, expression arises primarily from the player’s interaction with the game’s mechanics and dynamics, and less so (in some cases almost not at all) in their visual, aural, and textual aspects. These games lay bare the form, allowing meaning to emanate from a model.[i]
I also set up a unit on proceduralist games in my Intro to Mass Communication course at DePaul University, which I taught three times, in the Fall 2015, Winter 2016, and Spring 2016 quarters. As I repeatedly taught this unit, I segued away from using Bogost’s “Art” chapter from How to Do Things with Videogames. (I found that the chapter’s engagement with the tired “are videogames art?” debate was too much of a lure, pulling student attention away from the core issues I wanted to address.) Instead, I subbed in “Procedural Rhetoric,” the first chapter of Persuasive Games, with very heavy excisions. (It really is a shame that, at 64 pages, that chapter is so unreasonably gargantuan. It definitely makes for some headaches when deciding on reading assignments.) And, over time, I gravitated toward some specific games to play in-class: a group of games I affectionately refer to as “games about squares.”
The following is a lesson plan I used for one day on popular music in my “Introduction to Mass Communication” course at DePaul University. I first incorporated it into my syllabus for the winter 2016 quarter, and refined it some for my spring 2016 section of the class.
The overarching theme I try to give the course when I teach it is the relationship between technologies and our use of those technologies. It’s a two-step dance where the two partners frequently get out of synch, and try to adapt to one another in unexpected ways. This week, we examine how specific music format technologies created certain behaviors of listening … which then went on to shape future technologies, and so on and so forth.