Tomorrow I start to teach a new course at the University of Malta, focusing on production, content, participation, meaning and power in social media and 21st century communications.
I teach because it is the scariest thing I know. I teach so I am out of my comfort zone and have no choice other than to learn, un-learn, re-learn and co-learn. The more social media gets hegemonised by the few and the powerful; the more mainstream media communications become ‘social’ – the greater the obligation to nurture critical approaches to so-called new and social media. Particularly for those of us old enough to have fallen in love with the Internet reading Perry Barlow, and have since had to endure meetings in shiny offices in Mountain View with people advocating the power of their social media algorithm like some sugar-coated pill.
For me, teaching is always a roller-coaster. Good sessions, less-inspiring sessions. Moments when ideas ‘spark’ and your students morph from tuning-forks to creatives; others when you can sense the restlessness or the sheer exhaustion – and you dig in deep to try and reach the couple of people fiddling with their phones or staring into space. Or risk irrelevance.
Teaching is part discipline and drive; part stand-up comedy. Much is inevitably dependent on the cohort of students you have and your energy levels on the day. Till now, I’ve been blessed whenever I’ve taught in formal academic contexts – the vast majority of my students have been prepared to start to think sideways. Despite the challenges of the ‘formal’ learning structures and environment, rows of lecture-style chairs I cannot dismantle and the shadow of grading and assessments and dissertations to write.
The ‘teaching material’ is assembled from academic and non-academic sources, watching what’s hubbing in new and old media, learning from what my masters are up to. With whatever time we will have together, my students co-learn via a mix of reading and praxis.
Earlier this year, I developed another course on digital literacies for students pursuing studies in digital arts. The video below was created by one of my students, Michelle Trapani, to present her course project. Tomorrow afternoon, I will run this for my new students, in the hope it is the start of an equally valuable co-learning journey, for all of us.