Teaching: M&P1 -- Reflecting "out loud"

With this post I hope to initiate a series of reflections on how I am approaching the Media & Politics course at UNH for the Spring 2016 term.
I am in the midst of putting final touches on my syllabus for my “Media and Politics” (M&P) course at UNH. Time for some reflection on the process….

Unlike lower division introductory courses where there is an implied obligation to cover “the basics”, “upper division” (and graduate) courses such as M&P offer the opportunity to present material on a subject in a more exploratory and idiosyncratic way. I tend to take full advantage of that option.

Textbooks typically reflect the “standard” or conventional approach to any topic, and for some folks who are tasked with teaching a course outside their “specialization” (e.g., my research is on public administration and governance), those books often determine what will be covered in a class — and sometimes how the content is covered. Very early in my academic life I found that approach extremely useful.

(My first faculty appointment, for example, was at a school where all political science courses were taught by two or three faculty, and none of us could be choosy about which course we were assigned. When asked by colleagues from other institutions what I taught, my usual response was “anything they asked me to teach.” With a four course burden each semester that meant teaching American government, political thought, comparative politics and constitutional law — while dealing with oversight of the Model UN folks. In those days I came to rely on — and greatly appreciate — the “textbook approach”.)

I’ve never really shied away from opportunities to teach a course “outside” my specialization, and more often than not those assignments were the result of some last minute emergency or when a recent departure of a colleagues left a gap in our offerings that needed to be filled. The last minute “gigs” were often a disaster, but in the case of M&P I stepped in because the department had gone a couple of years without covering a course with relatively high demand. That being the case, I had time for some immersion into the basic literature, and what I discovered is that I was dealing with a topic in which the standard textbook coverage left much to be desired. And so by the Fall term of 2014 I was prepared to offer a course that integrated the traditional coverage of media and politics courses into a broader framework that took into account the central role that media plays in our lives. As far as I was concerned, it was time to dust off that old copy of McLuhan’s Understanding Media (which I did not really “understand” when first read in the late 1960s) and put that logic to work in the M&P course.

The basic framework I applied in that 2014 course was based on the premise that the traditional political science focus on “mass media” and the role of media technology in political campaigns, etc. would not do in an era when media has come to define our technology saturated lives — and vice versa. What emerged was a course designed around five interrelated views of media:

  • Media as technology
  • Media as economic sector (political economy)
  • Media as civic actor
  • Media as political tool
  • Media as governance

As a first run, the Fall 2014 course came together as a reasonably coherent approach, especially when tied to a basic concept that was just taking hold in the media studies and social theory literatures: mediatization. I did not start out the semester with the idea of using that concept as the pivot point for the course, but once introduced during the first part of the course it became a reference point to which I found myself returning as we tried to make sense of the subject matter that followed. By the end of that semester I am certain that students thought they had taken a course on mediatization rather than mass media and politics. As I started work on this term’s version of M&P, the concept has been front and center.

With this post I hope to initiate a series of reflections on how I am approaching the M&P course. In a sense, I am engaging in the mediatization of the course construction (and implementation) process by committing to using this blog as a means for "thinking out loud” about the content of the course and (as a consequence) the subject matter itself. My intention is not to engage with the few readers who might stumble across these posts; rather it is to use the blog venue as a means for articulating ideas about what I am engaged in as a teacher of media and politics and an amateur social theorist. After all these years (decades actually), what I’ve learned about myself is that I am my most productive and “thoughtful” when I take the time to put my ideas down on paper. If you wish to comment, please do so.
blog comments powered by Disqus