Saturday, April 30, 2016

Media Studies 101: First Day Assignment

Here's an idea I just had for an assignment to be given to freshman media studies on the first day of class. Its point should be self-explanatory. Comments are welcome.

Here are the instructions, which should be given one at a time, in order. (Don't make a slide with all the instructions at once.) This should all be able to fit into a 45-minute class.

1. Turn off/put away all your electronic devices. [There may be objections to this, but remind them that this is a media studies class and you are asking them to have the experience of being cut off momentarily from media.]
2. (Hand out a sheet of self-copying paper to each student.)
3. Write your name in the top right hand corner.
4. Write the name of a person you've never met that you developed a very negative of opinion of because of media coverage sometime between six months and one year ago. [This is important. Don't let them pick someone who is currently in the news. Or at least not someone they've only just heard something bad about.]
5. In two or three words, state your negative opinion. That is, what do you think is wrong with this person, or what do you think they did wrong. Add these words to the name so as to make a complete but simple declarative sentence. E.g., "NN is a racist", "NN is a fraud," "NN is traitor", etc. (It's a sentence about what NN is, not what NN did.)
6. Without talking or consulting the web, explain what NN did to deserve this negative judgment. Write a short paragraph telling the story as well as you can, from memory.
7. Tear off the top sheet of the copy paper and pass it to the front. Make sure you hold on to your copy.

You now hold a short lecture (about 20 minutes) about a case in which the media egregiously misrepresented a person. (E.g., the Tim Hunt case. Just make sure it's one you know well.) You present examples of the original reports, some of the fall-out, and then "what really happened", seen in retrospect.

Before you let the students go, ask them to write a short essay for next class:

1. Do some research into NN and the news story that caused you to form a negative opinion.
2. Write a short essay (max 1000 words) about the story.
3. Include: how the story broke and what the initial claims were. How the story developed. Whether the story turned out to be true or false, or partially true or false.
4. What the current consensus about NN is (as far as you can tell from subsequent media reports).
5. Make sure you provide sources for all the claims you make.
6. Read your recollected account from the start of class. Write a brief reflection about how accurate you think your opinion was before doing the research (max 200 words).

Like I say, the point of this exercise should be pretty clear. And the students will probably already have "gotten it" even before they do their research. Still, I think it is worth it, and might set a critical tone for the remainder of the course.

What do you think?