21L.015 Introduction to Media Studies: Syllabus | Classes | Labs | Papers | Resources
HASS-D, Category 4
Fall Semester 1998
Shari Goldin, email@example.com
Introduction to Media Studies is a new MIT subject developed through our curriculum committee (David Thorburn, Henry Jenkins, Martin Roberts, Chris Appy, and Janet Murray) with the goal of more accurately reflecting our program's expanded course offerings in the area of media studies. The course operates alongside a more traditional introduction to film studies.
We designed the subject to meet the needs of a new generation of computer-literate and web-surfing students and to respond to the powerful changes that have occurred in our global media environment. The convergence of media technologies and the horizontal integration of media industries suggests the need for a more horizontally-integrated conception of media studies as a discipline, one which moves away from medium-specific approaches and towards a comparative media approach that looks at the full range of communications technologies at place at a particular historical juncture. This approach required us to broaden the historical scope of many media studies subjects to deal with earlier forms of communications, including the oral bards of Ancient Greece, the manuscript culture of the middle ages, the early history of the book, Shakespearian theatre, early photography, and so forth. This course assumes that comparative and historical perspectives are essential to understand any specific medium of communication. The history of cinema needs to build upon the history of photography, theatre, and modern art traditions. The history of digital medium necessitates a grasp of the history of print culture. The history of television needs to be built upon a history of radio and theatre.
In order to cover this expanded field, the course calls on the expertise of a range of colleagues from diverse disciplinary backgrounds, including historians, literary scholars, anthropologists, art historians, musicologists, theatre scholars and practitioners, foreign language specialists, and others. One of the benefits of the course is that it creates a common framework for thinking about the work of our wide-ranging media studies faculty and allows students to sample the kinds of courses we offer at an intermediate and advanced level. The course aims to prepare students to take more focussed courses in film history and aesthetics, broadcasting and television, theoretical approaches to media, and the design and development of new media.
The course is structured around four basic units:
Given the range of media examined, the course has pushed us beyond traditional film screenings to offer a range of different student activities during the Lab section of the course, including field trips to the local science museum to experience IMAX, exercises conducted exclusively through the net, demonstrations of emerging media technologies and applications, acting workshops which got students performing Shakespearian scenes, as well as programs of selected materials from radio, television, film and experimental video.
Another significant innovation of the course centered around its use of the net and the web as an instructional platform. The first time it was taught we produced no paper syllabus, depending on students to regularly check our website for new information. The website, which was designed and maintained by my co-teacher Martin Roberts, provided students with access to paper topics, updates on lab plans, and other related information. On most days, faculty provided additional information and links to related websites so that students might further explore a particular topic. Many of the faculty used the web during their presentation as a interactive blackboard, which might outline key ideas, provide illustrative images, or allow quick access to quicktime videos or relevant websites. Students early in the course were asked to create their own links to a relevant website, so that we have built up a wonderful nexus of media-related sites you are encouraged to explore. Students were also encouraged to post relevant notices to a discussion group attached to the course website.
The course is now in its second year and is still evolving to reflect both shifts in faculty resources and changing issues in contemporary media. The course is providing to be an important testing ground for approaches and materials which may spin-off to form new courses within our curriculum. It is also providing an important recruitment tool, an alternative point of entry into our intermediate courses, and has already been credited with increasing our enrollments.
Writing continues to be a central element in the course, with students producing a series of six short essays in the first part of the term and then revising one of them into a ten page paper for the culminating exercise. We developed new instructions for student writers this term which has resulted in a dramatic improvement in the quality of student work for the course. Frankly, I have never taught a course where the level of writing has been, across the board, this high, where students were consistently developing arguments with cohesive thesis and supports, and where they were making such effective use of both secondary materials and original insights/experience.
We have also been trying to rethink the role of discussion in the course. We have moved the discussion segment to follow the Monday evening labs, which means students have something concrete to respond to and that there is an immediacy to the discussion that was previously lacking. We have also restructured the lecture sections to incorporate more chance for student questions and discussions with our guest lecturers.
One question posed by the HASS-D committee at the time this course was first proposed was whether we would be able to provide sufficient integration across the many different topics and speakers in the course. There was, frankly, some difficulty in doing so the first term, but as I have gotten a better sense of what the speakers will discuss and reorganized some of the elements in the course, we have provided a more cohesive framework. Student writing shows that they are able to make links across topics and to think comparatively about different media. We reference those links in discussion sections. My own role as lecturer enables me to make those connections more explicit at key points in the term. And, in practice, the fit between the various lecturers is astonishingly strong given the range of disciplinary backgrounds we are bringing together. Students consistently cite the diversity of speakers as one of the key strengths of the course.
For additional information about the subject, please contact Henry Jenkins at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Course Materials from the Spring 1997 Introduction to Media Studies Course are also available on this site.