I emphasize interdisciplinary thinking and interactive media literacy through innovative media use both inside and outside the classroom. While I often use a range of traditional media in my courses, including literature, photography, and film and television, I also create regular opportunities for my students to engage with and produce their own digital content through blogs, course web sites, and, of course, games. While it has become somewhat of a commonplace to characterize students born in recent decades as “digital natives,” my experience teaching courses on the rhetoric of new media has made it clear that we cannot assume that unconscious comfort with computing and networking technologies necessarily translates to reflective practice. My students’ ease with contemporary technology in many cases actually undermined the kinds of critical understandings crucial to informed use and participation—awareness of interface design and human-computer interaction factors, continuing digital divides in terms of access and content production, and the general interplay of technology, society, and culture, including considerations of race, gender, sexuality, class, and environmental impact. Students with otherwise adequate media literacy in textual and visual analysis often expressed uncertainty when asked to examine interactive media objects ranging from their own word-processing software and smartphone applications to their favorite computer- and console-based games. My challenge has been to teach them to apply the same types of nuanced observations and questions that they have learned to generate elsewhere to the new media tools and objects they interact with every day.
One method that has proven particularly useful is what my colleagues and I like to call “close playing,” modeled on the more familiar “close reading” of prose and poetry. I often ask my students to play and then parse examples from the growing genre of sociopolitical games, such as “September 12th,” a deeply ambivalent take on the war on terror, or the satirically anti-corporate “The McDonald’s Game.” These short, web-based games are accessible, intriguing, and deliberately polemical. They make it easy to grasp Ian Bogost’s notion of procedural rhetoric, or the idea that persuasive arguments can be embedded in the design and operation of new media objects. Close playing makes not only for exciting take-home work but also engaging in-class activity. It can energize the classroom while productively defamiliarizing the act of technology use, by taking interactive media consumption out of its normal contexts and allowing for immediate interaction and feedback from a rotating mix of users and spectators.
Close-playing methods need not be limited to games; in fact, they are easily expanded to other forms of digital media use. For writing assignments, I have encouraged students to extend rhetorical analysis to whatever digital media objects have the most direct influence on their lives. Consider this range of actual topics chosen by students: friendship as constrained by social media sites like Facebook, the chic ethos of Apple marketing campaigns, the gender norms implicit in Nintendo’s Cooking Mama games, global positioning systems and the urge to map, and even the ways open-source text editors for computer programmers enable distributed creativity! Discussion on class blogs and comments on course evaluations have revealed that many students appreciated the push to think in new ways about objects that formerly existed outside of any possible ideological or cultural interpretation. “I feel that I can see arguments in forms that I hadn’t considered before,” one student writes; another acknowledges that “I now have a different perspective of new media and technology”; and yet another felt the course helped him to see new media “in a different light where we can evaluate it as part of our daily lives.” For them, most importantly, technology is no longer a neutral and depoliticized realm but one that is as deeply embedded in culture and history as the words and images that surround them.
Finally, just as I encourage students to make connections across disciplines and to view the supposed “newness” of media with an eye to the long history of media revolutions, I also push my students to expand or temporarily abandon their comfort zones by discovering connections that extend beyond the classroom to campus, community, and the world of public discourse. In my “Representing Nature” course, for instance, I directed my entire class to an organic neighborhood farmer’s market during our unit on food politics; during my recent course on sound and a unit specifically on music and mobile listening devices, I arranged for my class to attend a performance atop the university’s 300-foot tall campanile, followed by a discussion with the assistant carillonist regarding the impact of ambient sound on campus life and historical inequalities in carillon distribution.
My teaching will always be a work-in-progress. I’m constantly looking to refine familiar methods or develop new strategies for producing student participation, motivation, and confidence. In sum, I challenge and support my students with the best possible energy and attention. I care whether or not they become careful writers, responsible citizens, and thoughtful human beings. And I try to share my intellectual passions with them in a way that stirs them to joyous learning.
Sample Course Descriptions
Record, Rewind, Play: Theories and Technologies of Sound
Rhetoric R1B | Summer Session A – 2011
TWTh 10-12:30 | 79 Dwinelle
Does your iPod contain more hours of music than you could possibly listen to without devoting months of your life to your headphones? Do you still listen to AM/FM radio, or do you prefer to use Pandora or even mix and play your own tracks? Have you been known to belt out a few Beatles tunes or Nine Inch Nails anthems for a night of Rock Band? If so, you might legitimately wonder why so much of contemporary philosophy, science, and art centers on the human faculty of vision. Beyond text, beyond image, there is always our constant immersion in sound, through speech, music, and ambient noise.
This course takes a broad interdisciplinary approach while using sound technology and theory as a unifying heuristic. We will spend most of our time on music—particularly modern remix culture and the influence of digital methods on analog materials—as well as film and television sound: the soundtrack, the transition from silent to sound film, and the voiceover. But we will also explore sound’s role in areas as diverse as animal research, city planning, politics, and videogame design.
Along the way, we will hearken back to the introduction of the telegraph and phonograph, radio, boomboxes and Walkmen, and the mp3. These objects and their cultural history will help us to think through ideas about silence, encoding, public and private, noise pollution, “liveness,” and high fidelity, and about how sound functions in communication, documentation, data visualization, and the very constitution of space, environment, and the self. Expect to read, listen, watch, and play, including selections from Paul Lansky, John Cage, Claude Shannon, Michel Chion, Mary Ann Doane, Diane Ackerman, Frances Dyson, Friedrich Kittler, Jonathan Sterne, and UC Berkeley’s very own Center for New Music and Audio Technologies (CNMAT).
Rhetoric R1B | Spring 2010
TTh 9:30-11 | 136 Barrows
For some, nature is a kind of place outside of society in which we may turn our thoughts inward. For others, it is a nuisance, a resource to be exploited, a dire threat, or even a chimera. Why do we build such varied relations with nature? What does this say about our own needs and predispositions, both on individual and aggregate levels? Why the continuing tenacity of the nature/culture divide—and is there a good reason to define ourselves both in our relation to and our distinctness from human society?
We will draw on science and technology studies, ecology, animal studies, philosophy, literature, and visual studies to explore this so-called nature/culture divide, as well as the persistence of boundaries between the human and nonhuman, biological and inorganic, and scientific and humanistic thinking. Our objects will include landscapes, species, habitats, climates, and even food, in the form of stories, photographs, essays, nature documentaries, scientific reports, video games, and even taxidermic animals. We will at the same time develop an interest in genres of self-expression and introspection, in particular the forms of creative non-fiction, to ask: how have nature writing, scientific popularization, autobiography, memoir, and essay given us the natural world as mirror, canvas, window, and virtual reality? And how do our perceptions of what counts as nature or the natural ramify through multiple modes of experience and representation—among them literature, film, television, art, and the popular press?
1) Austin, Mary. The Land of Little Rain. New York: Penguin, 1997 .
2) Cronon, William, ed. Uncommon Ground: Rethinking the Human Place in Nature. New York: W.W. Norton, 1996.
Rhetoric 1A | Fall 2009
MWF 9-10 | 109 Dwinelle
Writing is a craft that seems to have fallen out of favor in our ultramodern age. And yet, writing has not so much languished as it has taken on a startling array of new forms, from the blogosphere to haiku-like tweets to writing on Facebook Walls. As a class, we will ponder and practice what it means to be a “good” writer in this day and age; moreover, since writing is inextricably linked with reading, our work will extend to becoming more skillful readers, from identifying and vetting sources to critical analysis of “texts,” broadly conceived.
Throughout the semester, we will also consider the historical, political, and sociocultural impact of new and imagined technologies on our daily lives: their influence on how we consume and produce writing in the modern day (e.g. hypertext, eBooks, word processing software); the role of games, play, and tactical media; theories of the posthuman; and what qualifies as new media, including the relationship, often obscured, between “new” and “old” media. The texts that we will study will include a generous sampling of new media theory and history as well as cyberpunk and science fiction literature, films, web sites, and video games. Our theoretical stance will encompass cultural studies concerns with race, class, gender and sexuality, and globalization, as well as rhetorical analysis of how various media (written, visual, oral/aural, and digital) enact persuasive arguments.
Students will be encouraged to weigh utopian and dystopian visions of new media and to consider diverse new media objects, for example, the World Wide Web, code structures, nanotechnology, license agreements, and networks. While our focus will always return to writing and its many pleasures and pitfalls, students can and should pursue their individual interests within new media for their papers, exploring areas ranging from textuality and inscription to interface studies, legal debates over open source and intellectual property, gaming, and social networks.
1) Galloway, Alexander. Gaming: Essays on Algorithmic Culture. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota, 2006.
2) Montfort, Nick, and Noah Wardrip-Fruin, eds. The New Media Reader. Cambridge: MIT, 2003.
3) Ryman, Geoff. Air (Or, Have Not Have). New York: St. Martin’s Griffin, 2004.