Anand Pandian, assistant Professor at Johns Hopkins, shared the site for his Fall Semester undergrad course on The Anthropology of Media. The syllabus is comprehensive and tight. Students were asked to do a semester project on some aspect of the media, and the range of projects runs the gamut from the predictable (facebook) to the intriguing (Industrial Mix Tape: Baltimore’s Diverse Music Scene) to the kitchy (The Indian Chuck Norris).
I asked him why the projects look the way they do (I was thinking, what’s up with the 1990s web vernacular aesthetic?). The answer is illuminating, because it reflects how challenging it is to do a class like this and make students focus on the anthropology and not on the media. I don’t believe that this generation is any more digitally equipped than the last, and I hate it when journalists assume that it is (as they frequently do, given the number of requests I get to do interviews about how new media are causing children to evolve into large-thumbed, ADHD-addled, hacker-loving codemonkeys). In reality, some students have mad skillz, others have none. Focusing a class (of 50+ students) on the issues and asking them to produce a “new media” project that does not automatically activate different creative skills is challenging, so I was surprised by what Pandian’s class web site looked like. Of course, some students wanted to break out of the constraints (which results in some internal-link bizareness in some cases) I think it’s a measure of success, and it demonstrates one way to produce comparability in this medium.
Of course, one way to really get students thinking about the effects of media is to have them explore all the challenges, ins and outs of media production, but then the trade-off is that you risk running a course in web-production, rather than one in anthropology. In any case, an excellent case of experimentation.