Thursday, November 29, 2007

Just found out this week that two special new course proposals of mine have been accepted at the college (Letters & Science) level. Both of them deal with information technology in social context, both are open to undergraduates, and both have earned guaranteed funding (above and beyond normal department course funding) under various "new course initiative" competitions. I'm excited about both courses, and wanted to give folks a preview here.

The first one is a summer course, planned for the first 4-week session in June-July 2008, entitled "Video games and mass communication," taught through the School of Journalism & Mass Communication. It's open to both undergraduates and graduate students since it's at the 600 level. Here's the blurb:
J 676 "Video games and mass communication" (3 credits)
breadth requirement Z (humanities / social science)
4-week summer session
limit 80 students

Far from the days of "Pac Man Fever," video, computer, and internet games are now a significant mass communication industry -- a $6 billion/year market involving the largest of computer and media companies, from Microsoft to Sony. Today's games are enmeshed in controversial claims over their contributions to violence and stereotyping, lawlessness and addiction. But they are just as often hailed as tools for education and moral choices, community-building and artistic production. And even consumers who never play a video game are subject to a gaming aesthetic that permeates not only television advertising and cinematic entertainment, but even the nightly news of war and politics. In this course, students critically examine the history, theory, and political economy of video, computer, and internet gaming in mass communication. The course involves both traditional lecture and discussion, reading and writing, as well as plenty of hands-on experimentation and even a little game playing itself. Students will be expected to read about six articles per week, write four short papers over the course of the term, contribute regularly to both a class weblog and a class wiki, and perform four hands-on game-related assignments. 3 credits.

The idea for the course came from the enthusiastic response of my Spring 2007 J201 students to a new lecture on video games that I put together. (Plus I keep getting asked to be on dissertation committees and invited to academic conferences dealing with gaming, "play," and virtual worlds, so I figured, go with the flow.) I'm hoping it will be successful enough to eventually earn a place in the normal J-School course rotation.

The second course will be taught through the School of Library & Information Studies -- a first for this department, as their normal focus is on graduate students studying to be librarians and information specialists. Here's the info:
LIS 201 "The information society" (4 credits)
Comm-B (research, writing, and speaking skills)
Breadth requirement Z (humanities / social science)

Today, in an environment of web-enhanced workplaces, schools, and shopping malls, we routinely speak of living in an "information society". But what does this term mean and where did it come from? How has information -- in oral, print, broadcast, and now digital/networked forms -- been tied to notions of democracy, capitalism, social justice, and "progress" in American history? And if we really are living in a "postindustrial," "global," and "informational" economy today, what does such a world mean for our understandings of our fragmented selves, our cultural affiliations, and our social responsibilities to each other? Through both lecture and discussion, both readings and films, and both offline and online experiences, this course will guide students in interrogating the information society. As a Comm-B course, students will both experiment with new personal publishing tools like text weblogs and audio podcasts, and hone more traditional skills of academic argument and presentation.

LECTURE: one 50-minute in-person lecture and one asynchronous virtual lecture per week
DISCUSSION: one 50-minute in-person section and additional asynchronous online work per week

READINGS: two articles/week (from a custom course reader available in both print and electronic form)
ASSIGNMENTS: four written assignments (with revisions) and two oral assignments of increasing length and complexity; peer reviews of student writing and oral presentation; participate in collaborative course weblog and wiki; attend at least one individual, in-person writing conference with TA
EXAMS: one written midterm exam and one written final exam

If the structure of this course sounds a lot like that of J201, "Introduction to mass communication," well, that's on purpose. My goal was to translate that model to the field of information studies and design a course that could potentially become the core of a future "Information and Society" undergraduate certificate. LIS 201 will enroll 200 students and employ 5 TAs each fall, and is guaranteed to be funded for the next five years -- starting in Fall 2008, if all goes well (meaning, if all the proper committees approve it). I will even be able to employ a graduate project assistant in Spring 2008 to help me design the course details (and stress-test the course technology).

So please keep an eye out for both of these courses, and until then, I'll see you back in the classroom for J201 and LIS 569 (library history!) in January 2008.