As I prepare to teach a course in the spring called “Media Ecologies and Cultural Politics,” I’m weighing out the benefits and risks of opening the course to an online audience.

This would involve sharing the syllabus online (though not the readings themselves, which would have to be purchased or “found” elsewhere) and moving some of our discussions to a public blog, as opposed to using the password-protected, registered-students-only Blackboard software (which many courses at this university now use).

It’s not an online course, and much of the class would still take place in a formal classroom setting. But my hope is that the public dimension could enrich class discussions both by allowing others (around the world) to participate to some extent, and by making our public conversation more accountable and potentially more meaningful. Seems to me that a commitment to open-access education calls for this sort of thing.

The University of Vermont may be a public university (though, technically, it’s a bit of a public-private hybrid) but it is far from being an open university — in fact, it’s quite expensive to attend — and I’m sure that my own little effort at making it a bit more open may carry risks I haven’t yet anticipated.

One that I have anticipated is that public speech carries responsibility: thoughts shared online have a way of coming back to haunt us, and students could learn that the hard way if they don’t internalize it at the outset. (Of course we could all use pseudonyms — except for me, that is.)

I’m curious to know about other experiments in university courses going public. If anyone has thoughts on this sort of thing, let me know.

The brief course description reads as follows:


Media Ecologies and Cultural Politics

This course presents an advanced introduction to media studies in the context of social, political, and environmental movements that make use of, and in the process transform, the new media environments in which social and political life increasingly takes place.

We will study debates in “media ecology” and the cultural politics of new media, from Marshall McLuhan’s notion of media as sensory extensions of humanity to theories of “media convergence” and of new media as open, dynamic, and complex socio-techno-ecological systems.

We will draw on these theories to study and assess media use in such social movements as the anti-corporate globalization movement, the Occupy movement, Wikileaks, the “Arab Spring,” backlash to the “Innocence of Muslims” film trailer, the climate change and climate justice movements, “tactical media” interventions such as “culture jamming” and “hacktivism,” and various forms of “ecomedia” and “biomedia” activism.

In addition to readings, discussions, and writing exercises, students will be expected to carry out, individually or in teams, (i) an in-depth critical analysis of some media form, product, or text, and (ii) an applied media production project. One goal of the course may be to contribute to the development of an open-access, online Ecomedia Research Network.



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