Wednesday, May 21, 2014

No laptop policy as an educational innovation

While many of educational innovations focus on incorporating variety of new media in learning environment for good reasons (e.g., flexible management of distance and time in one’s learning ; flexible learning , incorporation of supplemental learning tools for enhancement students’ learning; blended learning), no laptop policy, implemented throughout 2012-2013 under professor Shawnika Hull and Chris Wells’ instruction, seemed to have brought positive effect in learning and teaching for students and instructors, when it comes to a traditional, large-lecture setting with discussion sections, a learning environment which many courses at UW and other institutions are still in. 

Although situated in a different context of one-on-one writing session, the article written by Leah Misemer on her experience as a TA coordinator of the Online Writing Center at UW-Madison, illustrates some of the anxieties the author had during her appointments when working with students who work on a laptop. Working on a draft on a laptop together, the author says, creates a “power imbalance” between the student and TA; students are compelled to make immediate and micro-level changes to portions of their writing laid in front of their screens and passively type the TA’s comments on their laptops. While the major reason behind the implementation of no laptop policies seems to be high level of distraction (e.g., using laptops for other purposes than the lecture), the policy seemed to have a bigger effect as described by Misemer in her article, even in lecture-hall settings, discussion sections, and not to mention, one-on-one appointments with students. 

The ‘power imbalance’ seemed to be present during lectures; students taking notes on the laptops seemed compelled to type every word spoken or written by the professor while those with a note pad did not seem to be writing as much. This seemed to be more pronounced in undergraduate lectures where there are relatively more morsels of information conveyed and thought to be mechanically taken in compared to graduate seminars, which further contributes to the ‘power imbalance’ between the professor and students. Students seemed more compelled to feel they need to get all the pieces information down, rather than digesting, critically interpreting, or making sense of them as they take part in (mostly unidirectional, but) a good lecture on the topic at hand. Also, an article by Reeder (TA assistant director of the Writing Center of UW-Madison) describes the power of visualization; nothing fancier than her ‘inscrutable Venn diagrams, circled and re-circled symbols’ on the back of her blue sheet. The author highlights how valuable visual way of thinking and learning can be, all of which can be done better with a pen and a notepad. This also implies how students in lectures could be taking more active stance in making sense of the material being conveyed during a lecture. While those without laptops may be as passively listening or doing as many things unrelated to the course as those with laptops, taking part in J201 with and without the policy led me to give a second-thought on merits of allowing laptops for students. 

Laptops in discussion sections had more visible effect than in lectures obviously. Discussion leaders using laptops during a discussion were more frequently asked to rephrase their questions by their peers than those without, made less eye-contact, follow-up and re-questions, and acknowledgements and comments on their peers’ opinions. And my personal experience in one-on-one appointment with students with laptops were pretty much in line with Misemer’s experience.

No laptop policy, which first came to me as just another small class rule, loomed as something more than that, ‘specially in media-entrenched class environments. And in the course where new media is one of the biggest topics of course, no laptop policy made more sense as it would be a ‘new media experience’ for students of younger generation.

Syllabi Comparison

With my major research interest grounded in political communication, I chose three different political communication courses for the syllabus comparison; two offered in SJMC and Political Science Department at University of Wisconsin-Madison and one from Korea University. Although the first two courses are cross-listed between SJMC and Political Science Department, comparing how two different disciplines could shape the same course differently seemed intriguing.

JMCO715 Political Communication (Korea University, Journalism and Mass Communication) (*The reading list is in a separate file, please request if interested)

Course Description/Purpose

While J829 set out from the description that the course will focus on socio-psychological approach to media consumption and its effect on and relationship with individual’s psychologies, PS829 addresses it takes an expansive definition of political communication to emphasize topics as political conversation and deliberation, as well as those related to mass media. JMCO715 seems similar to J829 in that it also sets out to review the relationships among the media, democracy, and citizenship, putting relatively stronger emphasis on mass media and individuals’ psychologies.

Course Topics 

Looking at how weekly course topics were organized, there were interesting differences between the three courses. While sharing some of the basic concepts and theories in the field (e.g., framing, agenda-setting, priming effects of mass media on political attitudes or social evaluations, relationship between news and political knowledge, cues in news), the most apparent difference was in that many more weeks were devoted to the topic of interpersonal and inter-group political communication (or conversation) and the theory of deliberation in PS829 than J829 and JMCO715. In dealing with this topic, PS 829 also began with the concept of public sphere and deliberation (Jurgen Habermas), which was missing in other two courses. 

The second biggest difference was how PS 829 did not have any topics regarding possible effects of new media (internet or journalism 2.0) on political attitude and knowledge formation. 
These differences were somewhat expected, since political communication course offered in journalism, mass communication, or media studies disciplines, would be putting relatively more emphasis on how political communication may differ in relation to different types of media and their contents, while political science’s focus would be on questions regarding politics and communication in general.

Course Readings 

Course readings were pretty similar across all courses, ‘specially for classic concerns which both political scientists and scholars from communication field have long been grappling with (e.g., regarding media’s effect in formation of political knowledge, media effects on political judgement such as priming, framing, agenda-setting). However, the major difference was in how PS 829’s readings included more classic readings that introduces the conception of theories and points of larger debate from critical perspectives (e.g., Calhoun (1992)’s Introduction: Habermas and the Public Sphere, Sanders (1997)’s Against Deliberation), JMCO715 and J829 readings include more of recent empirical studies that seems to engage in debates in more micro and individual-level (e.g., Mutz (2006)’s hearing the other side, Huckfeld et al (1995)’s Political environments, cohesive social groups and the communication of public opinion). 

Friday, May 16, 2014

Syllabi Comparison -- Media and Minorities

Given my interest in teaching and research on race and ethnicity, I decided to compare syllabi for courses that are related to the study of media and minorities. Although I found a number of courses on the topic, I narrowed it down to three. They are all upper level undergraduate courses at different U.S. universities, including the University of Wisconsin-Madison (UW-Madison), University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC), and University of South Carolina (USC). Links to the syllabi are below:

1) J662: Mass Media and Minorities (UW-Madison), Spring 2014 (Please contact for copy of syllabus.)

(3) Communication 429: Minorities, Women and the Media (USC), Spring 2011

Learning Objectives
Each course asked students to engage with stereotypes in the media so they could critically read mass media representations of minorities, including women. They all emphasized the role the media plays in perpetuating stereotypes and their potential effects.

However, Comm 429 at UIUC did not explicitly spell out learning objectives. The course was designed to provide an overview of the topic, whereas J662 at UW-Madison and Journ 311 at USC seemed to be geared toward gaining historical context and allowing people to develop the skills to critically analyze media based on communication theories and/or theories related to race and ethnicity.

Reviewing these syllabi confirmed the importance of setting out explicit learning goals at the beginning of the course so that students can make connections to what they are reading/discussing, and the knowledge they are amassing through this process.

Course Topics
Although all of the courses are grounded in some sort of theory, the courses differed on how they conceptualized learning about mass media and minorities. For instance, J662 and Journ 311 took the trajectory of first establishing a theoretical foundation, then focusing on special topics (e.g. specific minority groups and the media). On the other hand, Comm 429 was more focused on the current social science literature on media content and media effects in relation to minorities. Therefore, there was less of a focus on theory in that particular course and more emphasis on topic-based knowledge.

However, the theory-based approach also had its differences: J662 was mainly concerned with the theoretical basis and concepts related to “race” and “ethnicity,” whereas Journ 311 focused on communication theories (e.g. cultivation theory, agenda setting). J662 did the most to delve into the actual conceptualization of race and difference, and why that matters to the study of race in media. It provided a framework for understanding media in context by drawing attention to the U.S. as a multicultural society.

Course Readings
The readings reflected the emphasis of each course. Each syllabus had a fair share of popular media readings, but also included a variety of journal articles, chapters from books, etc. Not many of the readings overlapped, which is probably reflective of the different approaches each course took in tackling the topic. Comm 429 focused on empirical research, mainly journal articles that studied the content and effects of minority representations. Journ 311’s reading list was mainly made up of popular media that supplemented the two required books. The J662 reading list seemed to be the most extensive, in terms of combining excerpts from books with some popular media readings. The readings seemed to generally reflect the goals each syllabus outlined for the class.

Course Assignments
All of the courses compared here used a combination of exams, papers, and/or projects to assess student learning. The assignments required students to critically engage with the material and often matched up with their learning objectives. For example, the papers in Journ 311 asked students to explicitly use mass communication theories. In J662, the writing assignments asked students to engage critically with the concepts and theorizations of race (e.g. white privilege, color-blind racism). Comm 429’s main writing assignment asks students to critique a stereotyped media portrayal and consider its effects. Therefore, each of the courses uses the assignments to bolster the goals they have set forth for the course.

Blended Learning

This summer, I will serve as a teaching assistant for an online course offered through SJMC. The course, J162: Mass Media in Multicultural America, is designed to provide first or second year college students with a cultural and historical overview of minority experiences in the United States, and allow them to investigate how these minorities are portrayed in mainstream mass media. Students will be able to take this course from anywhere in the world, as it is self-paced and wholly online. Speaking with Dr. Hemant Shah about the online version of this course has provided insight into some of its benefits for student learning, such as the time for students to self-reflect on an important and often difficult topic. In fact, Dr. Shah pointed out that student writing over the summer is usually excellent and thoughtful.

In terms of teaching benefits, the online course offers professors the opportunity to convert lecture notes into readable e-text. Although the process of conversion can be onerous and time-consuming, once it is completed, the text can then be used repeatedly with minor tweaks. This is a great way to ensure that the knowledge amassed over the years in the form of handwritten notes and personal musings is now legible to a wider audience.

One of my own concerns for e-learning is its self-paced nature. Remembering my own experiences as an undergraduate, I know it is difficult to feel compelled to complete readings when there are no designated class times and no need to prepare for in-person discussions. Particularly when engaging with a potentially difficult topic such as race, it seems that in-person interaction may provide important opportunities for students to hear different perspectives that are humanized because of face-to-face interactions. 

That is why I am excited for the blended learning, or hybrid, version of the course offered this coming fall. The blended learning approach means the bulk of the course will be offered online, but will be supplemented by several in-person sessions, including an orientation session, office hours with the professor and TAs before papers are due, and potentially, a final exam session. The fall course differs from the summer, because all students will be present on UW-Madison’s campus. This geographical proximity offers interesting teaching opportunities – meeting with students one-on-one during office hours to grapple with difficult concepts and the potential for students to meet with one another face-to-face, which means online discussions could carry over to offline interactions. 

Based on a cursory search for blended learning at UW-Madison, the engineering school seems to embrace the blended approach. This makes sense, because there is often a lot of hands-on group work involved in engineering education. However, a similar approach in the humanities and social sciences may provide students with the same kinds of benefits: more opportunities for student engagement because it is easy to track participation in online discussions. In addition, faculty engagement with the course may also increase, as they have more time to read and reflect on students’ writing. It seems that the blended learning approach provides opportunities to enhance both teaching and learning. I look forward to engaging with this approach in the fall!           

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Flipped classroom

Teaching innovation: a flipped classroom model

PoliticalScience 553: Intro to Stat Computing, a course given by Professor Sellars that I took this semester, followed a flipped classroom model. Basically, this model inverts the traditional pedagogic order that goes from classroom to homework. Within the flipped classroom framework, course materials and assignments are sent to students days prior to class, so that they can learn on their own paces. In class, the teacher guide student discussions or collaborations, or answer questions. Since the course objective of PS553 is to familiarize students with the basics of statistical computing, application is the key, which means that students need to apply the methods to manipulate and analyze data. Such a course with a heavy emphasis on practice lends itself to the flipped classroom model. Professor Sellars tweaked this model a little bit to fit the course content. Course slides and problem sets were shared on Learn@UW two days in advance to class day. We worked on the problems after reading the slides. On the day we met, we continued playing around with the data to solve problems, and raised questions along the way. Professor Sellars would answer those questions on a one-on-one basis. 

Never taking such a course before, I felt excited about it. I found it fulfilling to work out a problem on my own after reading the slides. Of course, obstacles arose, and sometimes it was frustrating being stuck on a problem that just wouldn’t be fixed. However, when Professor Sellars helped me to figure out the issue, the sense of relief was just as good. Another aspect of this model that I felt benefiting is that it stimulates more learning than the traditional teaching model. I usually found myself clicking on those supplemental links provided at the end of the slides, either out of curiosity or necessity. For example, when I couldn’t find out how to work out a problem based on the materials given, I would go to those links. Sometimes, I also searched for solutions on the Internet on my own.

However, in the second half of the semester when slides stopped coming in because the focus shifted to our own course project and all sorts of other assignments piled up and needed my time investment, the learning momentum screeched to a stop and I almost completely ignored this course. 

After personally experiencing the flipped classroom setting, I think that the success of such a teaching model hinges on students’ own initiatives, as the center of the teaching switches from teacher to students. Therefore, it becomes critical to stimulate students’ interest and incentivize their self-learning. If they are not interested in the course content, it is hard for them to sit themselves down and study course materials on their own, let alone completing homework. Rewarding classroom interactions, where students and teacher exchange ideas, discuss and even debate the issues, could be one important incentive. If students, who enter the classroom with sufficient prerequisite knowledge and preparation, participate in class activities, showcase their learning outcomes, and get their problems solved, they will be further motivated to study and even yearn for more. As a result, a virtuous cycle is formed, immensely improving the learning outcomes. 


Friday, May 9, 2014


Folks, thanks for your attendance and engagement this semester with our teaching colloquium.  I hope our guests have helped you in your own process of rethinking your teaching strategies in the classroom (and your own learning strategies as well).  Our educational mission is crucial to our existence as a public research university, so thank you for taking the time to help steward that mission.  Best wishes for a safe and productive summer!

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Syllabi Comparisons - Digital Democracy

Inspired by Professor Young Mie Kim's course, Politics in the Age of Digital Media, I decided to look for courses that covered the broad topics of politics, democracy and digital media in some combination. I found several that seemed to fit and I chose five: 

Course Titles and Institutions
(UW School of Journalism and Mass Communication) J880 Special Topics: Politics in the Age of Digital Media -- no online version. 
(U. Illinois-Chicago Department of Communication) COMM594 Adv. Special Topics: Democracy in a Digital Age
(U. Florida Department of Journalism) MMC6612: New Media and a Democratic Society - 2010
(U. Florida Department of Journalism) MMC6612: New Media and a Democratic Society - 2013

When the Courses Were Offered
I was fortunate to find syllabi for two different years for the course from U. Florida and I paid special attention to the differences between the first, taught in Fall 2010, and the second, taught in Fall 2013. The Tufts course is useful because it was taught much earlier than the others (2008) and seemed to be part of a non-traditional course program, offered by the Experimental College (which houses the media/ communication courses). Based on the types of assignments (no research paper or similar original work), it seems that the Florida and Tufts courses were offered to undergraduates, whereas the Wisconsin and Illinois-Chicago courses were each offered as graduate-level special topics courses in Spring 2014 and Fall 2010, respectively.

Learning Objectives and Course Descriptions
The 2010 Florida course promises to address "social networks" and "RFID chips and other surveillance technologies," whereas the newer course adjusted these to "social media" and dropped the specific reference to RFID chips and discussed general "surveillance technologies." Both of them mention blogging, YouTube, copyright, mobile Internet and crowdsourcing, however. The instructor wisely uses the phrase "newer communication technologies" rather than "new communication technologies," escaping the potential pitfalls when making a grand claim about an object's "newness." 

The graduate courses (Wisconsin and UIC) promise to introduce various theories and methods that students can apply toward the study of digital technologies and democracy. The course at UIC uses the phrase "technological developments" rather than Wisconsin's "digital media" perhaps to point toward a course that is grounded in process rather than objects. Wisconsin's course makes special mention of the course contributing to "an understanding of the issues for the research community as well as the general public," while UIC uses the much more vague term of "practicing democracy." 

The Tufts course seems to be constructed around the development of a social networking tool called YouthMap that the instructors expect will be used in "a variety of civic projects throughout Boston." 

What we have with all five is a mixture of goals oriented around a case study, around the advancing and understanding academic knowledge, and around bringing the community into the conversation about changing forms and ideas of democracy. 

Course Readings
The biggest change in the Florida syllabi is the current edition is guided by more case studies (Twitter, Wikileaks, Edward Snowden, Arab Spring)  while the earlier version has broad concepts like hate speech, open vs. closed systems, social trust and civil society, and participatory media culture. 

Tufts' course advertises topics like global democracy, media and democracy, digital democracy, digital activism, digital resistance, bloggers rights and, unique amongst all five courses, a week dedicated to human rights, "Human Rights 2.0 and Democracy." None of the topics, however, speak precisely to the course title's mention of mobile phones. 

Wisconsin and UIC have some conceptual overlap, and major scholars in digital democracy literature like Bruce Bimber, Lance Bennett and Peter Dahlgren each make appearances on both, though the exact works are different. Both wrestle with the idea of the distinction between the public and the private, citizenship, and paradigms. The last topic for each course is a question, in Wisconsin's case it is "Transformation of Democracy?" with readings from Bimber's Information and American Democracy, and UIC asks "What is Democracy?" though the readings are not available on the syllabus. 

Each syllabus followed the generic, useful layout and as such it was easy to determine similarities and differences across the courses. I have good models for how to write a syllabus and good ideas for topics to choose when I am able to design my own courses.