MACS 320 – Fall 2015, Fall 2017, Spring 2018
Drawing on media studies, cultural studies, and critical theory, this upper-level course of 25-45 students sought to give students tools which to better understand the media and culture they consume every day. The course centers on foundational critical theory and cultural studies texts, including critiques, updates and popular applications of theory. Because the department requires no pre-reqs to sign up, my biggest challenge in designing and teaching the course is making sure I’m adequately serving the needs of students within the College of Media who have taken introductory courses and students from across the university who have never taken a media studies or cultural theory course before. I do this by honestly explaining to students in the first week of what is expected of them in an upper-level media theory class, offering extra help and resources for those students who might need to do background reading on their own, and pairing more experienced students with those less familiar with the field together for in-class activities, discussion groups, and group presentations.
The first time I taught this course, I was originally designated as the teaching assistant, but had to take over as the instructor at the last minute. Thus, the course was supposed to have discussion sections in addition to meeting twice a week. Instead, I had to cut discussion sections and fit all of our material into two class meetings a week to make the course manageable and to redesign the syllabus two weeks before classes started.
In the Fall of 2017, I thus had more class time to work with. I also integrated more student buy-in throughout the course, creating “working groups” during the first week of the class tasked with researching, discussing, and offering recommendations on different sets of classroom policies including media use in class, reading checks, and group work. I also redesigned the final paper to scaffold more chances for written feedback, editing, peer review and revision throughout the semester. Instead of requiring 4-5 short writing assignments throughout the semester as I usually do, students will conducted research and wrote drafts of 4-5 sections of their final paper throughout the semester and then heavily revised them as their final project. In Spring of 2018, I instead had students do a final group podcast in which they wrote individual final essays about the same pop culture text and drew on their papers in a recorded roundtable discussion.
Finally, I build relationships with my students early by having them meet with me individually in office hours the first few weeks of class. I’ve found this leads to more empathy and understanding between the students and I; they tend to trust me more, and more frequently come to me with problems and critiques about the class knowing I will listen to their feedback. I also have found it makes me a more empathetic instructor and helps me work with students to improve their work and the course.
Student Evaluations: Fall 2015 – 4.3 / 4.4
As my evaluations tend to improve each time I teach a course, I am hoping to raise these scores this semester after a course redesign and after taking teaching workshops on leading discussion, informal early feedback, and designing writing assignments.
Sample Student Comments:
“Hands down the best course I’ve take in four years of college.”
“Passionate, interesting, approachable, and made the course fun and exciting!”
Student Evaluations: Fall 2017 – 4.5 / 4.5
Student Evaluations: Spring 2018 – 4.5 / 4.5
My redesign of the class and maturation as an upper-level instructor led to higher evaluation scores and more positive and frequent comments from students on their forms. Students responded well to the paper structure, to the frequency and specificity of written and in-person feedback on their projects, and to the community we built as a class.
Sample Student Comments:
“You are so helpful with feedback and very understanding. I’ve been recommending this class to all my friends!”
“The constant feedback and comments on all of my work was so helpful”
“I think the most beneficial aspects were the short drafts of each paper that has allowed us to research one topic all semester.”
“Stephanie did an excellent job with creating relationships with her students and helping them to understand the way we consume culture at a much higher level.”
“She created personal bonds with all of us, something a lot of profs don’t do.”