Advies voor Eerstejaars Studenten

[in Dutch] Graag commentaar en feedback op het volgende... Dit wil ik opnemen in mijn eerstejaars-syllabus. Een en ander is geïnspireerd door filosoof Keith Parsons' essay "Message to My Freshman Students" op Huffington Post.

Binnenkort begint het collegejaar weer. Voor veel studenten is dit de eerste kennismaking met het studeren aan een universiteit na de middelbare school. De ervaring van een universitaire studie is in veel opzichten radicaal anders. Daarom hiereen paar opmerkingen over zaken die belangrijk zijn voor het succes van een student aan de universiteit:

• Op de universiteit werken geen leraren, maar (universitair) docenten en hoogleraren. Het is niet hun taak studenten te vertellen wat ze precies moeten doen om een voldoende te halen, wel om je te helpen kritische vaardigheden te ontwikkelen om zelf aan de slag te gaan met kennis, onderzoek en analyses.

• Een academische docent is er om je te begeleiden op weg naar het ontdekken en je eigen maken van kennis en inzichten. Vaak wordt je daarbij geconfronteerd met verschillende en tegenstrijdige visies op hetzelfde onderwerp of thema. Verwacht niet dat je uitsluitsel krijgt over de enige ‘juiste’ opvatting – want die bestaat niet.

• Het doel van een universitaire studie is dat je, aan het eind van de rit (dat kan een vak zijn, een module of een diploma) in staat bent zelfstandige analyses te ontwikkelen op basis van gedegen literatuurkennis en eigen onderzoek.

• Wat je zelf doet bepaalt in grote mate je succes op de universiteit. Het staat je helemaal vrij colleges te gebruiken om bij te slapen, je tijd te besteden aan chatten en texten met vrienden of te surfen naar sociale media. Sterker nog: je hoeft helemaal niet op te dagen. Punt is: jij bent als enige verantwoordelijk voor je succes op de universiteit. Zorg voor structuur in de manier waarop je met je studie om gaat en aarzel niet om hulp te vragen (van tutoren, docenten en mede-studenten) als dit lastig voor je is.

• Op school was je onderdeel van een min of meer hechte gemeenschap die je elke dag weer tegen kwam. De universiteit is daarentegen een nogal anonieme en soms zelfs nogal kille leeromgeving, waarin je makkelijk kunt verdwijnen of verzuipen. De beste manier om daarmee om te gaan is om actief mensen te leren kennen: de studenten om je heen tijdens colleges, de docenten die het onderwijs verzorgen, en de tutoren die er zijn om je studievoortgang met je te bespreken. Maak afspraken, vertel wat je bezig houdt en stel vragen. Word lid van een studievereniging of richt er zelf een op. Als je Mediastudies doet, zoek studenten op waarmee je samen media kunt maken - dat is de beste en snelste manier om te leren wat zo bijzonder en mooi aan media is.

• Een paar handige tips voor hoorcolleges, waarvan je er veel zult meemaken de komende jaren (ook al beweren talloze experts dat het tijdperk van het hoorcollege voorbij is): lees je in voordat je gaat; maak kritische notities en stel vragen; doe mee aan groepsdiscussies; ga naar het spreekuur van de docent, ook als je denkt dat alles gesmeerd loopt; praat over wat je hoort en leert met je vrienden; en voor alles: stel nog meer vragen.

• Tot slot: kiezen voor een studierichting die lijkt te leiden tot een snel diploma en een goed verdienende baan lijkt logisch, maar werkt in de prakijk niet. De economie is wispelturig, de banenmarkt grillig; de universiteit is daarentegen ouderwets traditioneel. Studeer niet wat je denkt te moeten leren voor een baan, studeer niet wat je ouders zeggen dat je moet leren – studeer iets waarvan je enthousiast, blij en gelukkig wordt. Dan zijn alle opmerkingen hiervoor overbodig.

Media Life: Open University Course in Amsterdam

In the Fall of 2014 The Institute for Interdisciplinary Studies hosts my Media Life course. The course is open to students from any level (Bachelor, Master, PhD) and is free for students and faculty/staff registered or working at all Dutch universities.

Beyond this, the course is also open to the public! The University of Amsterdam charges 70 Euros per study point (ECTS), and the course is ranked at six points (total cost: 420 Euros). As I have tooled the course to be of particular interest to media and communication professionals who want some new inspiration for engaging with digital culture, I am really hopeful folks working in the media - journalists, film and television makers and producers, game developers, advertising creatives, spokespeople (for companies, government agencies, and NGOs), marketing communicators, public relations officers and any other makers, producers and communicators to sign up!

Information on the course (including how to sign up and register) can be found on the site of the IIS. Class sessions are once a week on Wednesday evening in a comfortable venue close to Amsterdam Amstel station, easily accessible from anywhere. Language: English. For reading we will use my Media Life book (Polity Press, 2012).

More info and updates can be found on the course Facebook page and official Twitter channel. The content of the course is best represented by this awesome movie trailer designed and produced by Austin Guevara:

Media Life - Official Trailer [HD] from Austin Guevara on Vimeo.

Let me be clear: this is not a course rehashing the tired debate between public and private life online, about whether online video games are good or bad for your kids, or what is wrong with Facebook's privacy policies... This is a course intended to break through those debates, expose the assumptions, values and idea(l)s behind them, moving forward to discuss not what is or what should be, but what we can do and what can be done.

Finally: please share, forward, and recommend this course to your friends, colleagues, and family - the more the merrier! I promise it will be quite a ride...

Media Life Course Review

The Fall semester (of 2009) is drawing to a close - so is this semester's version of our media life course at Indiana University. Below the slideshow of the course review, which also functions as a rough outline of the media life book I will start writing on January 1st (to be published in 2011 by Polity Press). It is exciting to see how the narrative comes closer into focus with every semester I have the privilege of teaching this course.

The End of the University (or a New Beginning)

after reading about the current protests across the University of California system, and the ongoing commercialization and corporatization of higher education (as exemplified by top-down hierarchical decision-making practices focused on the "bottom-line" and the domination of managerial speak in bureaucratic rhetoric on education, such as: "efficiency", "results", "return on investment", and so on) - and considering my own research on the precarity of work in contemporary liquid modernity (especially in the creative industries, but evidently across all industry sectors), I'd like to share a few thoughts on the end or possibly a new beginning of the university.

as mentioned, the inspiration for these concerns comes from recent publications documenting the transformation of the university around the world, as exemplified in the US by:

- a gradual decline in the number of tenure-track jobs (and an increase of adjunct, parttime, visiting, and otherwise contingent positions);

- the ongoing marketization/commodification of knowledge and innovation produced by universities exclusive to companies, including closed-access corporate publishers (as opposed to actually making that knowledge available to all people, which the university increasingly does not do);

- increasing investments in e-learning (in effect "virtualizing" teachers), financial markets (making budgets of universities contingent on market fluctuations, see for example the endowment problems at all US universities that manage such funds), and sports facilities (intended to boost revenues from ticket sales, merchandising, and corporate sponsorships);

- a shift in thinking about education from teaching critical thinking to offering industry-driven or "work-ready" skills (preparing students for a labor market that is increasingly precarious, contingent, atypical, and uncertain).

although my university - Indiana University - has a long and proud tradition of protecting the faculty and students against much of these influences, recent years have seen an acceleration of the aforementioned trends: huge building projects (of up to $ 1 billion dollars), tenure-track hiring freezes (but plenty of openings for adjunct and visiting lines), and increasing pressure on us to provide students with e-learning facilities and "practical" skills that help them in the "real world" (where what is "real" is defined by mainstream segments of industry).

all of these trends boost the corporate and commercial orientation of the university (which trend in turn gets reinforced as one-third of US college presidents in fact serve on the boards of corporations).

i do not consider the role of corporations or commerce a problem per se (one could argue that the current proliferation of academic knowledge mainly through and perhaps due to the internet is encouraging), but if that orientation does not come with specific caveats, protections, checks and balances, the university as we know it becomes just another factory workplace - not a place for independent and critical reflection; a place that teaches people to make up their own minds.

now let me assure you: i am not a socialist or communist, nor a fascist or capitalist (if anything, i am radically opposed to anything that comes even close to TINA-thinking).

i am, however, concerned about the growing threats to the foundational values of the university - especially academic freedom and faculty governance - that compelled me to come to the US to work there in the first place.

optimist as I am, I'm looking for evidence for a new beginning...

some further links that offer food for thought:

Workplace: A Journal for Academic Labor

essay on Digital Labor and education by Michelle Glaros (Dakota State University)

EduFactory

Teaching to the Digital Generation

While working on the forthcoming Media Life book, I've been tweaking the approach to teaching new media and society in our Department's overview course, T101 Media Life. An essay about the background and philosophy (which sounds grander than it is, of course) is now posted on our website. It includes samples of students' creative work and a course review slideshow.

Tentative title of the essay: Teaching To The Digital Generation: T101 Media Life. As always, any thoughts and comments are much appreciated!

Media Life Course Grade Distribution

[UPDATED: October 2009] Every semester and academic year, students are scrambling to move in and about campus, enroll in courses, plan their time ahead... It is a hectic and at times confusing time for all.

Of course there are plenty of commercial services out there that help students (esp. in the US) select courses - for example through sites like RateMyProfessors.

However, one of many things that are public in the US that are private elsewhere can be an indicator of a course or professor, especially in the case of large lecture courses: the grade distribution in such courses in the past.

Almost every semester I offer the university-wide T101 Media Life (formerly known as: Living in the Information Age) for about 400+ students per semester. I'm excited about it - and I hope the students too. It generally is a wild ride.

For those students who want to know how their friends fared in the past, I compiled this report on Section GPA averages for the times I taught this course:

Fall 2005 T101 Living in the Information Age
122 Students, Section GPA: 2.810
Spring 2006 T101 Living in the Information Age
116 Students, Section GPA: 2.993
Fall 2006 T 101 Living in the Information Age
115 Students, Section GPA: 3.127
Spring 2008 T 101 Media Life
388 Students, Section GPA: 3.174
Fall 2008 T 101 Media Life
385 Students, Section GPA: 3.374
Spring 2009 T 101 Media Life
391 Students, Section GPA: 3.187
Fall 2009 T 101 Media Life
418 Students, Section GPA: TBA

Another indicator of how students do in this course is by looking at the average grade of the entire class for midterms and final exams:

Fall 2005 T101 Living in the Information Age
122 Students, Midterm: 75; Final: 77
Spring 2006 T101 Living in the Information Age
116 Students, Midterm: 80; Final: 82
Fall 2006 T 101 Living in the Information Age
115 Students, Midterm: 79; Final: 76
Spring 2008 T 101 Media Life
388 Students, Midterm: 77; Final: 80
Fall 2008 T 101 Media Life
388 Students, Midterm: 82; Final: 83
Spring 2009 T 101 Media Life
388 Students, Midterm: 77; Final: 83
Fall 2009 T 101 Media Life
415 Students, Midterm: 78; Final: TBA.