Listening to a Train of Thought: Voice Memos as Alternative to Discussion Board Posts
Juan Llamas-Rodriguez / University of Texas at Dallas

Voice Memo App
Voice Recording has become popularized with easy to use Smart Phone Apps.

Among the first things I dispensed with during the tumultuous move to emergency online course delivery was the discussion board post. Back in March 2020, amid the frenzy of figuring out life under lockdown and reading dozens of online teaching how-to guides, I opted to give everyone in my undergraduate course full marks on the discussion board post assignment. This took one weekly stressor off their plate and allowed them to focus on the main projects of the latter half of the course. The students’ comments at the end of the semester revealed that they appreciated this move. All in all, I realized that we had still achieved the learning goals of the course despite forgoing the discussion boards. Maybe it was time to replace that assignment altogether.

Already much maligned by students for seeming like busywork, discussion board assignments are also a significant burden for instructors. If you hope to provide helpful feedback on each student post, reading and responding to dozens of mini-essays every week ends up amounting to twice the number of hours it takes to plan course lessons. By the middle of the semester, students are tired of writing them and professors are tired of reading them. Further, the cumulative work burden and frustration with the assignment leads students to find creative ways to sidestep its core learning objectives. I have observed students rephrasing random passages from an assigned reading, superficially engaging with material by designating everything as “interesting,” or “responding” to their peers simply by agreeing. If these memes are any indication, such strategies are not uncommon across the board.

A former student's tweet (anonymized)
A former student’s joking tweet from 2019 succinctly captured student’s strategies for doing the minimum with the discussion board assignment. I have recreated the tweet to provide anonymity.

I have tried many different ways to spruce up this assignment over the years. Sometimes, I split up the class into groups and assigned alternate weekly posting duties, so only a few students wrote a long post and the rest responded to ideas raised in the long posts. Other times, I would have specific prompts and questions to answer instead of asking generally for “a 500-word response.” These alternative versions worked to various degrees, but the issues mentioned above continued. I briefly considered trying one of the “new approaches to discussion boards” that Inside Higher Ed shared in 2019, but ultimately decided against it. If the scramble to transition courses online offered the opportunity to interrogate old practices, there was no better time to reimagine the discussion board.

The first step to consider is the purpose of the discussion board assignment. If it is to ascertain whether or not students do the required reading for the week, frankly I do not care about this. When students do not do the required reading for any given week, I can assume (a) that their life is busy at the moment with other duties like jobs or personal issues; or (b) that they don’t care. Forcing students to do a graded weekly writing assignment will not alleviate (a) and will certainly not move the needle on (b). A more generous way of articulating this learning objective is to say that the discussion board post aims to assess what and how the students are comprehending the assigned materials, and to help the instructor tailor the class activities and lectures to address any gaps, misunderstandings, and lingering questions. This was the central goal for me, and thus I focused on an alternative that could fulfill this aspect.

Another objective of discussion boards could be to encourage short weekly writing exercises, which demystify the process of writing and may form the building blocks for a final term paper. This aspect of the assignment is key for graduate seminars and certain writing intensive undergraduate courses. In my case, I have piloted the alternative in undergraduate theory-heavy classes: first, in my fall 2020 Networked Identities class, a new media and identity course that revolves around the notion of “the voice” as a sociopolitical construct in various aural media; and then, in my spring 2021 Critical Media Theories class. Previously I had redesigned both these courses to not include a long final term paper and instead feature several shorter writing assignments throughout the term. As such, the alternative assignment needed to function as an opportunity to practice explaining the theory concepts of the week, albeit not necessarily in writing.

Finally, the discussion board post also serves as a starting point for the conversation that will continue during synchronous class sessions. When successful, discussion board threads create a true conversation between course participants. As I mentioned earlier, these conversations can quickly break down when students lack the time or energy to dedicate significant time to the assignment, something I suspected would be intensified during the COVID-19 pandemic. Likewise, for fully online, asynchronous courses, discussion posts fulfill the requirement of having weekly interactions among students and the instructor. Since my classes had a synchronous meeting and featured regular group work activities, I did not need the discussion board alternative to fulfill this goal initially. In subsequent iterations, I hope to re-insert that conversational aspect into the assignment.

Based on the objectives of assessing how students grasped the week’s materials and enabling me to address gaps and lingering questions, I devised an alternative assignment called the Weekly Insight Memo. It consists of short 1-to-2-minute voice memos that students can record on their phone or computer and upload to the learning management system. There should be no direct quotes from the readings, only a summary of the readings’ main ideas in the student’s own words. In order to encourage students to not worry about being wrong in expressing their understanding of (sometimes) complicated material, I grade the assignment as Credit/No Credit, and offer them the opportunity to miss a handful of weeks without a grade penalty.

Description of Weekly Insight Memo from Course Syllabus
Description of the Weekly Insight Memo from my Critical Media Theories Spring 2021 syllabus.

The Weekly Insight Memo has succeeded admirably in its first learning goal. Alleviating the pressure to compose fully articulated thoughts in writing seems to facilitate (sometimes unexpected) connections between the different assigned materials. Some students opt to write down what they are going to say before they say it — I can often tell from their delivery and word choices — but the vast majority seem to press record and let themselves go off for a couple of minutes. As students remind themselves of what they just read, they tend to realize, in real time, the takeaways of those readings.[ ((When I shared on Twitter last fall that I was piloting this assignment, other instructors agreed they have also noticed students become more thoughtful and invigorated in audio essays than they are in writing.))] It is like listening to a train of thought as it begins to gain speed.

Further, after listening to ~30 voice memos before preparing for class (labor time: 1 hour), I quickly notice trends in what caught students’ attention and what did not, which concepts remain unclear, and how often students are building on the material from previous weeks. I make brief notes on particular comments and bring these up in class, both to acknowledge that I have listened to their submissions — that their work was not in vain — and to position these as the start of a longer conversation that the class session intends to extend.

This new format has also granted me unexpected insight into students’ preferences for specific topics and the popular media examples that speak to these topics. Some students remarked their love for the on-air personality of Shereen Marisol Meraji, co-host of the Code Switch podcast, and their surprise at discovering the standup comedy of DJ Demers. The more casual conversational style of the assignment also allows students to incorporate detailed anecdotes about their life that connected to topics in the class. One student in my Networked Identities class would constantly draw from experiences at his full-time job at a hardware store to illustrate how concepts like code-switching and vocal fry helped him make sense of customer interactions. These examples demonstrated to me that he was thinking through these ideas and, by mid-semester, painted a detailed picture of the kinds of characters and situations that frequented that hardware store. The week when we examined autistic forms of expression was particularly notable for how many students brought in their own experiences: talking about a sibling, cousin, or child on the autism spectrum and acknowledging the new vocabulary they possessed to engage critically with various mainstream responses to autism. Overall, these off-the-cuff comments reveal an important aspect of learning: making deep connections between the material and the learner’s life.

I should note that I do offer an alternative to the Weekly Insight Memo. Students who would prefer not to record their voices have the option to submit a 300-word written reflection instead. Although I explain the learning goals of the assignment and why I think it is an effective way to get students to think through the course’s concepts, I introduce the written option as my way of making sure the class remains accessible and responsive to different learning contexts. Students may choose this option for a variety of reasons: anxiety, self-consciousness over accents, concerns over lack of privacy, etc. I do not ask them to justify why they are choosing the alternate option; I merely request that they let me know their preference for it.

Ultimately, the voice memo assignment has functioned as a way to forge closer connections with students despite the forms of separation necessitated by the health crisis. While writing this column, I keep thinking back to Sarah Murray’s work on how podcasts’ specific sonic aesthetics, borrowed from earlier radio practices, build a sense of intimacy.[ ((Sarah Murray, “Coming-of-age in a coming-of-age: the collective individualism of podcasting’s intimate soundwork,” Popular Communication 17.4 (2019): 301-316. doi: 10.1080/15405702.2019.1622117))] In these voice memos, students are addressing a public of one — just me — yet that dynamic of intimacy remains. Teaching in the midst of a pandemic has reminded us of how vital these small yet deep forms of interpersonal connection are, not only for creating an inviting classroom space but also for maintaining our sense of interrelation with the world. Amid the growing sense of isolation during lockdowns, these memos helped me build such interpersonal connections with the people on the other side of the Zoom avatar.

Image Credits:

  1. Voice Recording has become popularized with easy to use Smart Phone Apps.
  2. A former student’s Tweet (recreated to protect the anonymity of the student) (Author’s Screengrab)
  3. Description of the Weekly Insight Memo from my Critical Media Theories Spring 2021 syllabus. (Author’s Screengrab)


Trauma Informed Approaches to Media Studies: Reflections From an Epicenter
Scott Tulloch / City University of New York, Borough of Manhattan Community College

A Man walks past a Covid-19 Mural on Houston Street in NYC
A man walks by a mural on Houston Street in New York City

It happened suddenly, faculty and students’ phones chimed with a string of tweets from the City University of New York.

“There will be no physical classes on campus” @CUNY from March 11, 2020 tweet

The largest urban university system in the United States, consisting of twenty-five New York City campuses serving over 500,000 students, shutdown with the stroke of a keyboard.

No one could anticipate how grave the situation would become. Widely circulated images depicted frantic health care workers on the frontlines and makeshift morgues hastily constructed to accommodate the mounting remains. The pandemic brought instantaneous economic devastation, increased food and housing insecurity to New York City. Images and statistics fail to capture the raw lived experience and tragic consequences of the pandemic. The summer came, offering no relief as civil unrest echoed in streets where generations had come of age under the hands of stop-and frisk and broken windows policing. The lives of students and faculty are in upheaval. Faculty and students were and still are teaching and learning in state of trauma.

Dr. Joseph Ham, Director of the Center for Child Trauma and Resilience and Clinical Assistant Professor of Psychiatry at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, contrasts the learning brain and the survival brain in trauma.

There is no universal definition of trauma. An often cited clinical definition, from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMSHA), labels trauma “an event, series of events, or set of circumstances that is experienced by an individual as physi­cally or emotionally harmful or threatening and that has lasting adverse effects on the in­dividual’s functioning and physical, social, emotional, or spiritual well-being.” Widespread experience of trauma among college students has been well documented. A range of studies suggests that somewhere between 67-83 percent of college students have had potentially traumatic experiences. Now, in the context of the pandemic, it is likely that even more students are learning in trauma.

Students at my institution, which primarily services minority, low-income, and first-generation college students, have been disproportionally impacted by the dual pandemics of racism and COVID. The insecurity and fatigue of my students was observable as the spring semester wore on. Students that had attended classes regularly, in good standing before the pandemic, disappeared. Retained students frequently contacted me to disclose heartbreaking experiences of sick or deceased relatives, unemployment in their families, being confined to small apartments, caring for young or elderly relatives, and enduring hours in lines at food pantries.

After multiple waves of COVID, no part of the country has been untouched by the pandemic. Trauma-informed approaches, which assume students have a trauma history that impacts their learning, are critical as the social, economic, and health consequences of the pandemic will linger for years to come. I offer some lessons, from an early epicenter of the pandemic, on how to integrate knowledge about trauma into media studies and general course design.

Tea for Teaching, episode 131, a discussion on trauma-informed pedagogy with Karen Costa

Scholars have begun to describe a significant connection between media and contemporary conceptions of trauma. According to Amit Pinchevski, psychiatric recognition of the possibility of trauma through the media is gaining traction and recasts understanding of media effects, by shifting “the location of violence from direct to indirect, and the immediate to the mediated [ . . . ] the impact is no longer symbolic but literal, and the damage suffered is not only emotional but clinical.”[ ((Amit Pinchevski, “Screen Trauma: Visual Media and Post-traumatic Stress Disorder,” Theory, Culture, & Society 33, no. 4 (2016), 52-53.))] For example, research has found that exposure to media coverage following traumatic events, such as the Boston Marathon bombing, spreads acute stress among individuals outside the directly affected community. Another study revealed that repeated exposure to mediated representations of traumatic events, such as terrorist attacks or school shootings, resulted in symptoms consistent with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Beyond effects at the individual-level, as catastrophic events are consumed and experienced globally through digital media technologies, scholars have started to theorize forms of collective trauma and “trauma culture.” [ ((E. Ann Kaplan, Trauma Culture: The Politics of Terror and Loss in Media and Literature. New Brunswick, New Jersey: Rutgers University Press, 2005.))] Trauma-informed approaches to media studies highlight the ways media functions as a record and surface for the representation of trauma. Furthermore, media becomes a site of vicarious trauma where individuals and publics can be (re)traumatized. Perennial issues in media studies can be reengaged from a trauma-informed perspective. For example, hegemonic representations of race or gender would be viewed differently from a trauma-informed perspective, particularly when considered in terms of generational trauma.

The extent that instructors engage trauma in media studies courses requires sensitivity.  On one hand, media studies courses can provide a space for students to work through trauma. Prolonged and virtual reality exposure therapy have become common forms of treatment for PTSD, suggesting media can also be a tool for survivors to learn to gradually cope with and reduce trauma-related memories and feelings. Attention to trauma in media studies may provide an opportunity for students to acknowledge, normalize, and discuss feelings and responses to trauma. On the other hand, individuals’ cultures affect perceptions of and responses to trauma. Some students don’t want to talk about trauma. Instructors should acknowledge other students might be overwhelmed by discussions about trauma. Instructors may provide content warnings to allow students to opt out and avoid potential (re)traumatization. In some instances it might be best to offer students an escape to more comfortable spaces of the contemporary media landscape, their favorite YouTube rabbit holes or a new Netflix series they’ve been binge-watching. Direct engagement or the avoidance of trauma in media studies courses must be driven by a conscious effort to promote resilience and prevent further harm.

Here are some basic strategies to incorporate trauma-informed practices into general course design, based on guiding principles from SAMSHA and the Center for Disease Control (CDC).  

Core principles of a trauma-informed approach
Core principles of a trauma-informed approach

Traumatic events bring about a whirlwind of emotions. Students in trauma often feel unsafe, anxious, and fearful. A trauma-informed approach recognizes this emotional uncertainty and works to cultivate a sense of safety, trust, and transparency by providing structure and stability for students. Create class routines and rituals. Post announcements, assignments, and grades on a reliable, reoccurring schedule.  Structure class meetings in a predictable pattern. I start each Zoom class meeting with an open share, student updates of good news or otherwise, before moving into course concepts and materials. Design and user interface decisions on learning platforms, such as Blackboard or Canvas, can also help create a consistent and repeatable structure providing further stability for students. Minimize uncertainty by creating a structure that helps students get into the rhythm of learning.

Students in trauma often feel out of control, powerless, and lack a sense of agency. A trauma-informed approach seeks to empower students to have a voice and choice in their own learning. Taking a cue from Universal Design for Learning (UDL), I provide multiple avenues for student engagement, represent course content in a variety of forms, and provide a range of possibilities for studies to express their learning. Let students decide whether they want to read a chapter or short article, watch a video, explore websites, or listen to a podcast. Students often have a preference and will select representations of course content most useful for their learning style and context. Students can also represent their learning in a variety of ways. I’ve traditionally assigned term papers in media studies courses, but during the pandemic I’ve given students more options. Some students submitted final projects in the form a paper, while others created presentations, delivered and posted on YouTube. Other students produced and recorded audio presentations in the form of a podcast. During the pandemic syllabi should be drafted in pencil, flexible and ready to be revised. Students can be brought into the process of course design by inviting them to collaborate on revisions of policies and assignments. My students, in semesters since the start of the pandemic, have frequently created and voted on amendments to the syllabus. Flexibility by design empowers students to become active agents in their learning, while creating a space for collaboration and mutuality.  

Students in trauma often feel isolated. A trauma-informed approach aims to produce a sense of support and connection. Remind students you are there for them. Check in with students that have gone missing in action. Sometimes a quick hello and simply asking students how they are doing via email, with no comments about missing assignments or pending grades, is enough to get them back on track. Follow up with these students if they continue to struggle and, when appropriate, refer them to campus resources. For many students, simply the perception of support, availability, and confidence that you are there for them, is reassuring enough. Finally, when you can, be optimistic and positive. Positive emotions can be in short supply during traumatic situations. Remind your students they are resilient, will overcome and succeed.  

Awareness of trauma makes better learning environments by urging educators to approach students with radical empathy and care. A trauma-informed approach requires change beyond the classroom, at all levels of an institution, and this systemic change is even more challenging to achieve. The real work of creating a more compassionate version of higher education is just beginning.

Image Credits:

  1. A man walks by a mural on Houston Street in New York City
  2. “There will be no physical classes on campus” @CUNY from March 11, 2020 tweet
  3. Dr. Joseph Ham contrasts the learning brain and the survival brain in trauma
  4. Tea for Teaching, episode 131, a discussion on trauma-informed pedagogy with Karen Costa
  5. Core principles of a trauma-informed approach


A Meta-Media Studies Approach to Digital Pedagogy
Victoria Grace Walden / University of Sussex

Overhead shot of students studying at a large table with tech devices strewn about
Teaching and learning are increasingly reliant on computers and tech devices. Victoria Grace Walden suggests a ‘meta-media studies’ approach to critically examine the ways we use technologies to teach with and about media. Photo by Marvin Meyer from Unsplash.

I currently have two roles at my
institution: I am a senior lecturer in media studies and a Director of Student
Experience. In the former role, I am currently teaching about (mostly digital)
media through digital media (or ‘edtech’) and in the latter role, I am
complicit in using the institution’s digital platforms to monitor attendance.
Of course, there are valid reasons for such surveillance related to student
well-being, however the amount of data I can see on any individual student’s
engagement with our Canvas site (our VLE) and the duration of their time in a
Zoom session feels invasive, particularly when we know many students are in
complex and sometimes unsafe living environments. Furthermore, there are legal
ramifications for those on Tier 4 Visas, whose attendance we have to report to
the Home Office.

The friction that emerged between my two positions drew attention to a need to heighten our students’ critical digital faculties. That is not to say that they simply need digital literacies training. As David Buckingham[ (( Buckingham has written about the tension between ‘digital literacy’ and ‘media education’ in many contexts. Three examples include: , and his most recent book The Media Education Manifesto.))] has well highlighted, ‘media literacy’ can become a neo-liberal tool which puts the responsibility on the individual and is often pushed by Governments who simultaneously try to attack ‘media studies’ (which, he argues, is a far better way to develop people’s understanding of the media).

Inspired by the work of Critical Digital Pedagogy[ (( For those interested, the Hybrid Pedagogy Journal is a good place to start exploring ‘Critical Digital Pedagogy’:], I went into this term with a critical perspective to the digital technologies I adopted in my teaching. Nonetheless, it seemed to me that whilst Critical Digital Pedagogy is heavily influenced by important Cultural Studies thinkers, notably bell hooks; there is less involvement in the field by media studies specialists. I call the approach I have trialled this term ‘Meta-Media Studies’. In this short commentary, I discuss two lessons in which simultaneously thinking and teaching critically with and about edtech opened up learning opportunities in which the technology we use in educational spaces became foregrounded as media we can and should study. The first is the use of Google’s 360 Tour platform for a Globalisation lecture with foundation year students. The second is the discussion of Canvas and Zoom in a MA seminar on Foucault and Surveillance Culture.

Globalisation on Google’s Terms: No
Image of that Part of the World is Available, Please Select A Different

I started the term with my foundation year students by taking them on a ‘world tour’ in order to explore issues related to globalisation. In many ways, Google’s 360 Tour platform offered a great alternative to ‘death by PowerPoint’ because it allowed me to simply drop slides or images onto locations throughout the world. Several students remarked in the chat that this was the most travelling they had done in ages (I presented the tour through Zoom, so students could hear me speaking live and we could converse simultaneously). As I dropped my pin on the Google Map, however, I had to select which of Google’s photogrammetry representations of any particular location I wanted to use as my backdrop. I started on campus, highlighting the office and teaching spaces that I dearly missed. However, already I realised I was emphasising particular assumptions about where learning happens—the institution of the University.

Some of the places I selected for the tour had personal meaning to me. I selected Marrakech, for example, to speak about the cultural differences in McDonalds’ menus across the world because it was one of the last places that I had seen a McDonalds beyond my own neighbourhood. At this point, a student started sharing in the chat their experience of growing up in the Moroccan city and a multitude of examples of cultural blending there. One of the examples that I wanted to discuss, however, was the power dynamics related to image-making in the former French West African colonies and the participatory practices of Jean Rouch. I had decided to ‘take the students’ to Niger, where Rouch had worked extensively. However, every time I tried to drop my map pin, it would not reveal an image. I soon realised that a large swathe of Northern and Central Africa was greyed out—unavailable for representation on this platform. So, I reluctantly chose the nearest country and location I could get a map pin to drop on, which happened to be a forest dirt track in Ghana.

image description

Screenshot of closest alternate location from Google Tour
Two images from Google Tour: The first illustrating what happens when I tried to drop my map pin near cities in Niger. The second is the nearest place I was able to drop my pin.

This became a teachable moment and a space
for discussion: what sites did Google consider worthy of capturing? To what
extent is it really a 360 platform if it cannot capture the full 360 degrees of
the world? I was able to go under the sea (to discuss the materiality of
Internet cables), but I could not go to a widely inhabited area of the African
continent. In the chat, this ignited decolonisation discussions in ways I had
not previously experienced in week 1 of a foundation year programme. The edtech
platform through which I was teaching became our case study for doing media

You Don’t Need Your Camera OnI Can Still ‘See’ You: Surveilled Students

One of the topics of an MA core module on which I teach called ‘Media, Communication and Culture’ is Surveillance Culture. In this week, we introduce students to Foucault, but also explore a multitude of more contemporary academic texts particularly related to digital surveillance. Coincidently, we explored this topic in the same week as we were doing a major attendance review. Taking registers during remote teaching is challenging. Some students cannot join synchronously, so it would be unfair to simply take Zoom attendance as the only data. Therefore, there was a policy to check Canvas engagement too—how long did a student stay on the site? What did they click on? The debates we were having as teaching teams about ‘what constitutes student engagement?’ for me echoed the long-standing discussions in media studies about ‘what constitutes interactivity/participation?’ which have been at the forefront of questioning the extent to which so-called ‘new media’ is really new.

We had already discussed recommendation algorithms on the module; thus, it was no surprise that the students quickly turned to this example to consider the power dynamics at play in surveillance cultures. However, as is often the case, they were initially stuck in the dichotomy of ‘big bad corporations’ versus ‘unknowing, innocent users’. I was trying to get them to think about their own complicity in acts of surveillance, but my suggestive questions were not working. So, I asked them to what extent my role as their tutor involved surveillance. They acknowledged that I could see them on Zoom (as most of the class had their cameras on) but did not record it so they could speak freely in the seminar space. I then realised how little they were aware of Mark Andrejevic’s notion of passive interactivity[ (( Andrejevic, M. (2016) ‘The Pacification of Interactivity’. In: D. Barney et al. (eds) The Participatory Condition in the Digital Age, pp. 187-206. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. For more sources related to interactivity/ participatory cultures debates in media studies, see my reading list:] and introduced this term whilst listing the durations that some students had spent in a different Zoom session (anonymised of course!). Then I went on Canvas and identified how many times different students had clicked on a specific resource. The students arose in outrage: they were not aware of how much their online movements could be monitored. I highlighted that the University policy was available to them on the home page of our internal website via a hyperlink (of course, few knew this was there). We had an hour discussion about datafication, biopolitics, participation, surveillance, and power, through this case study.

image description
An extract of the types of data Canvas collects on individual students. Student names are listed below in rows, and I can ‘click’ on each student to investigate further.

These experiences emphasised to me that we do not interrogate the technologies—digital or otherwise—that we use to encourage students’ learning enough, during preparation or in class. Thus, we continue to be complicit and non-transparent about the power dynamics at play in educational culture whilst paradoxically critiquing those elsewhere. A Meta-Media Studies approach to digital pedagogy insists on being a proactive yet critical adopter of edtech. We cannot really understand the power dynamics of these technologies and platforms if we do not use them; nevertheless, in bringing them into our teaching we must be critical at every stage: from researching the platforms we use, to planning our pedagogy through them and how we introduce them to students.[ (( Some of the issues raised in this piece were part of my presentation at the international online conference I organised on February 13th 2021: ‘Teachers Talking: What Could Media Studies Be? Media Education from Primary to Higher Education’. The conference recordings are available here: The conference was designed as a conversation starter, any reader interested in joining a network dedicated to debate and action related to Media Education Futures is invited to contact the author at]  

Image Credits:

  1. Teaching and learning are increasingly reliant on computers and tech devices. Victoria Grace Walden suggests a ‘meta-media studies’ approach to critically examine the ways we use technologies to teach with and about media. Photo by Marvin Meyer from Unsplash.
  2. Two images from Google Tour: The first illustrating what happens when I tried to drop my map pin near cities in Niger. The second is the nearest place I was able to drop my pin. (Both images are the author’s screenshots)
  3. An extract of the types of data Canvas collects on individual students. Student names are listed below in rows, and I can ‘click’ on each student to investigate further. (Author’s screenshot)


Embodied Teaching and the Precarious Labor of Social Justice Media
Meera Govindasamy and Jonathan Petrychyn / Ryerson University

Promotional Image for Speaker Series
Promotion for Ryerson University’s Studio for Media Activism and Critical Thought (SMACT)’s Speaker Series [Designed by Calla Evans]

We knew that adapting an experiential, hands-on activist media course for online delivery would be a challenge. In the Winter 2021 term we were hired as contract lecturers at Ryerson University to teach Social Justice Media, a senior undergraduate/graduate seminar that encourages students to produce activist media and understand its context in Canada. The central feature of the course is a public-facing speakers series organized by the Studio for Media Activism and Critical Thought (SMACT) — a social justice research centre at Ryerson University. Students are required to participate in the three-part series and work collaboratively with activists to produce their own forms of social justice media. In previous years, students would respond to these speakers series events with short videos, toolkits, VR experiences, and other creative activist media outputs. The course was predicated on group work and on the ability to gather in person to create media that affects change. This group work became an impossibility in the COVID-19 pandemic. With access to technical equipment limited, a stay-at-home-order in place, and the possibility that some of our students would be taking the course in different time zones, we could not practically or ethically ask our students to create projects initially designed for in-person instruction.

As two people who have been involved with SMACT and the design of Social Justice Media both officially and unofficially over the years, we saw the course’s core strength as its ability to centre what Elspeth Probyn (2004) calls “teaching bodies,” or the practical lived experience of teaching as an embodied practice. In previous years, students enrolled in Social Justice Media experienced the contagious affect of speaker series events held in queer bookshops and theatre spaces, and they created affective pieces of media that often reflected their embodied experiences of identity. With this in mind, rather than recreate the in-person experience online, we redesigned the course as a meta-commentary on the process of teaching bodies and producing social justice media in an online space. In working through this problem of adapting an experiential course for online delivery, we were struck by how much the course itself is its own form of social justice media. In this way, Social Justice Media became a reflexive course about the challenges of developing accessible online activist media and learning experiences during a pandemic.

Adapting the course content to engage with activist media pedagogy posed its own challenges, particularly around our own commitments to the principles of Universal Design for Learning (UDL) and our rights and responsibilities as contract instructors at our university. While UDL advocates for the multi-modal delivery of course material, a labor rights perspective recognizes how this expectation creates more work for contract instructors without more compensation. Though they may be contradictory, considering both UDL and teaching labor brings bodies to the forefront of online learning. Bodies are implicated when instructors consider the needs of students as well as our own bodies as sites of precarious labor.

By considering the diverse needs of students in our Social Justice Media course using the principles of UDL, we have aimed to create opportunities for embodied learning within our virtual classroom. The central tenet of UDL is that rather than viewing students with diverse learning needs as a problem, curriculum ought to be flexible enough to accommodate students with varied learning styles, disabilities, and cultural and socioeconomic backgrounds. A curriculum designed with UDL in mind seeks to provide all students with multiple ways of learning and demonstrating their knowledge, instead of focusing on accommodating learners on an individual basis (Rogers-Shaw et. al., 2017).

In the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, the principles of UDL have become a useful framework for creating learning environments that can accommodate the needs of students whose circumstances as learners are more disparate. In addition to factors like disability that affect student learning, students are now located all over the world, learning in vastly different home environments, and have unequal access to the internet and technology.

With the ideas of UDL in mind, and in an effort to engage with students’ embodied experiences of ability and disability, we adapted Social Justice Media to be flexible to the needs of diverse learners. We post our slides and notes on the course shell after lecture, and present ideas and information through readings, lecture material, class discussion, film, and audio podcasts. After realizing how often students were struggling with their internet connections, we started recording lectures to share with students in the event of technological mishaps. We decided not to post the recordings more publicly to the entire class in an effort to be mindful of everyone’s privacy in a participatory course that sometimes engages with personal subject matter. We also aimed to make opportunities for assessment as flexible as possible by allowing students to meet the participation requirement through engagement out loud, in the Zoom chat, or during breakout room discussions.

The Studio for Media Activism presents our first speaker series of the semester: “We Got This”

Beyond the formal mechanics of course delivery, we also adapted course content to engage with the dynamics of embodied learning during the pandemic. Bearing in mind the embodied learning needs of students facing the stress of a pandemic, the first speakers series event of the course focused on themes of care, boundaries, and community organizing. Our aim in this event was to assemble a group of artists, activists, and academics who could speak to the ways they are presently supporting their community’s activism and wellbeing. In addition to hearing more traditional panel presentations about online activism and organizing, the event featured a musical performance from Holly Clausius, a Toronto-based artist, as well as a guided meditation exercise with Chloe Kirlew, also known as The ReiQueer. In these instances, even over Zoom, students were engaged on an embodied and affective level. Throughout the musical performance, students commented in the chat with excitement and others bobbed their heads. During the guided meditation, the group turned off their cameras and had the opportunity to experience a collective sense of care for their bodies and overall well-being. Even without sharing physical space, by acknowledging our students’ need for rest, we were able to teach bodies. Probyn (2004: 35) suggests that “‘theory’ is routinely imposed as a way of precisely dampening the potential affect” within our classrooms. Our hope is that this opportunity for embodied, rather than strictly theoretical, learning was both a break for students who need it and an accessible means of engaging with theory.

Chloe Kirlew, also known as The ReiQueer
Chloe Kirlew, also known as the ReiQueer, leads a guided meditation exercise during our first speakers series session.

As precariously employed contract lecturers, the extra teaching labor required to produce creative and accessible online learning is not lost on us. Retaining the speakers series as a core feature of the course, allowing for multiple forms of engagement and assessment, and adapting experiential learning strategies to an online environment requires a significant amount of labor that normally goes uncompensated as contract lecturers. As the Precarious Labor Organization of the Society for Cinema and Media Studies argues in their manifesto, “Contingent laborers cannot afford to perform the unpaid labor demanded of academics such as this” (Brasell et al. 2020). Very few of us have the time and economic privilege to develop the innovative, experiential courses that departments have come to expect. Indeed, our ability to continue including the speakers series as a central feature of this course is because we have received the support of SMACT, which is co-directed (alongside Meera) by Cheryl Thompson, a tenure-track professor at Ryerson University. That kind of institutional support has allowed Social Justice Media to retain its most unique and experiential features in its shift to online learning.

In an effort to directly address this conversation around the labor of online teaching in our classroom, we asked students to read about the principles of UDL and put them in conversation with Rebecca Barrett-Fox’s (2020) widely circulated blog post “Do a bad job of putting your courses online.” For Barrett-Fox, online teaching should start from an understanding that students and educators have more important things to deal with during a pandemic than online learning. As such, keeping online learning simple makes the experience more manageable for all. From a pedagogical perspective, we want students to confront their own expectations about online learning and draw their attention to the debates that have framed the form and content of their online learning environment over the past year. Decisions made about how to approach online learning are political and are informed by the economic positions of their instructors.

It is from these perspectives — accessible learning and labor rights — that we want students to understand this course as a form of social justice media. At the time of writing, we are a third of the way through the course. We have found this reflexive approach to the course online has, so far, proven successful in retaining the course’s experiential “teaching bodies” ethos. By making transparent the structures and limitations of adapting a social justice media course for online learning, and by recognizing that even online we are still teaching material, flesh and blood bodies we have found an affective solidarity with our students. The course itself has become an experiment in the affective longings that structure social justice media production in moments of crisis.

Image Credits:

  1. Promo Material from Speakers Series [Credit: Calla Evans]
  2. YouTube video of speakers series event [Credit: The Studio for Media Activism and Critical Thought]
  3. Chloe Kirlew, also known as the ReiQueer, leads a guided meditation exercise during our first speakers series session. [Credit: The Studio for Media Activism and Critical Thought]


Barrett-Fox, Rebecca. 2020. “Please Do a Bad Job of Putting Your Courses Online.” March 12, 2020.

Brasell, Bruce, Joseph Clark, Beth Corzo-Duchardt, Rebecca M. Gordon, Jamie Ann Rogers, Sharon Shahaf, and members of the Precarious Labor Organization. 2020. “Organizing Precarious Labor in Film and Media Studies: A Manifesto.” JCMS: Journal of Cinema and Media Studies 59 (4): 1–7.

Probyn, Elspeth. 2004. “Teaching Bodies: Affects in the Classroom.” Body & Society 10 (4): 21–43.

Rogers-Shaw, Carol, Davin J. Carr-Chellman, and Jinhee Choi. 2018. “Universal Design for Learning: Guidelines for Accessible Online Instruction.” Adult Learning 29 (1): 20–31.

How To Use Keynote to Create Better Video Essays
Matthew Hale / Austin Peay State University

We’re so excited to include the video essay below as part of our special issue, “Essentials, Dilemmas, and ProTips: Teaching Media Studies.” Since the urgent need to shift in-person course instruction to online modalities at the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, educators have been exploring, learning, and sharing strategies that work best for their pedagogical goals. The video essay included here doubles as an example of the form’s effectiveness as a teaching tool, and practical walkthrough of the author’s process to create these videos. Specifically, this video essay provides detailed information about how to add voice overs and basic motion graphics, as well as recording/exporting completed lectures directly from Keynote (an Apple application). You can find more of Dr. Matthew Hale’s work at Digital Pedagogy.

Using Media to Teach Media: How the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning Slayed the Online Scene
Sharon Lauricella / Ontario Tech University

One Does Not Simply Meme: One Does Not Simply
The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (Jackson, 2001) Meme

In the “before times,” classroom sounds included the snap and fizz of soda cans, students greeting one another with hand slaps and side hugs, and the shuffle of winter boots or hopeful springtime flip-flops. Now, the preamble to class is a playlist I made on Spotify, funny avatars on Zoom, and a lively flurry of silent but enthusiastic “good morning!” greetings in the chat. The in-class activity has shifted from f2f to the digital realm, but how do instructors even learn how to facilitate this? Now that we are shifting from “emergency remote teaching” to legit “online teaching and learning,” how do we get—and stay—on top of this ever-changing landscape?

When the pandemic shuttered f2f classrooms and opened Zoom rooms, campus Teaching and Learning centers scrambled to send helpful resources or guides for best online teaching practices. However, emailed instructions and remote consultations arguably weren’t where it was at for instructors of communication and digital media. Most of us already used Zoom or at very least had social media accounts. But we were still faced with an unprecedented challenge: within days, all undergraduate courses needed to be shifted to online delivery due to isolation requirements of the COVID-19 pandemic. The design, plan, and rollout of an online course can take months, if not years, and we needed answers. And we needed them… now.

image description
Magikarp Guy meme, 2015. Learn more about the meme’s history here.

I argue that the real hero of the shift to online teaching was social media. There simply wasn’t time—no matter our level of comfort with technology—to dither around and find the perfect tools for the nauseatingly-termed “pivot” to online/remote/emergency teaching. The issues at stake weren’t just practical tasks such as how to adjust our profile pictures in GoogleMeet or Zoom: they were deeper pedagogical queries such as how to deal with grades when assignments had to be revamped (Morris, 2020) and how to embody trauma-informed teaching (Carello, 2020). Should we all read published monographs on educational technology? Ain’t nobody got time for that in March, 2020. We could wade through journal articles on best practices? Still nah, too much chasing around. Most scholars had just a weekend to turn everything literally inside out and backwards.

And that’s why we needed social media. This online venue offers immediate answers, and even the likelihood of immediate interaction. The contemporary nature of online posts, hashtag searches, and presence of trusted advisors won the day. More specifically, Twitter is where the #AcademicTwitter fam hangs out. While Insta-baddies have had their time and Facebook has newfound vacancies, Twitter is the place where all things academic come to work and play.

When we all retreated to our makeshift desks
at home, the #AcademicTwitter community rallied together to share #EdTech tips
and suggestions for #onlineteaching. Through the use of hashtags, promotion of
helpful advice, and online Q&A sessions in the form of Tweet chats, higher
education instructors were able to engage immediately and get timely advice on
how to shift online in 2020. Further, we’ve learned how to stay online in 2021.

image description
Author screenshot of Twitter’s #onlineteaching hashtag.

For example, a search for #onlineteaching brings up top (i.e., the most “liked” or retweeted) posts, the latest (or most recent) ones, and the top people tweeting about #onlineteaching. A hashtag search brings up popular accounts to follow, relevant tweets, and even threads on any hashtagged topic anyone feels like searching. Want to know more about educational technologies? Search for #edtech and find suggestions from #edtech leaders, learn about new apps suitable for teaching at any level and topic, or see examples of #edtech in action.

image description
Author screenshot of Twitter’s #edtech hashtag.

One of the more contemporary uses of Twitter is the use of threads, which offered notable assistance at the start and throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. A thread is constructed when a user posts a series of linked, serialized tweets on a specific topic or to tell a story. When the pandemic forced us to flee campus, tweet threads covered descriptions of panic, frustrations, and general academic anxiety. But arguably there were just as many #AcademicTwitter heroes who responded with advice and support. For example, @flowerdarby, an educational designer, had recently published Small Teaching Online (Darby & Lang, 2019), and was quick to offer advice for making small but meaningful changes to take courses online. As @AcademicBatgirl, I also responded with encouragement for faculty wanting to connect with students, and offered advice on modeling flexibility, patience, and adaptation to a new environment.

image description
Screenshot Tweet from author’s account, @AcademicBatgirl.

Further, tweet chats became an increasingly
popular method of support and communication throughout the pandemic. While most
users tweet without expectation of immediate response or discussion, and are
thus asynchronous, tweet chats occur when users posting about a specific topic
join the Twitterverse for a scheduled, synchronous conversation, usually for an
hour. Many such tweet chats had roots before the pandemic, but gained
popularity as life moved increasingly online. For example, the #edtechchat
hashtag had been around since 2013, but its scheduled Monday 8PM EST time slot
gained traction during the pandemic.

It is important to note the difference between using social media for teaching and using social media to learn about teaching. Examples of using social media or technology in teaching, many of which are addressed in this forum, include Discord, podcasts, Telegram, and even oldies but goodies such as YouTube. Such tools may not have been designed for education but have found a home in our classrooms. However, it is essential to recognize that technology can be used to learn about teaching and pedagogy – not just as a teaching tool. Instructors are constantly urged to adopt technologies in and out of the classroom, but I suggest that an examination of how we find out how to use these tools is just as important to recognize.

As media scholars, we have a responsibility
(read: obligation) to incorporate media into our teaching. We need to walk the
talk of doing media rather than simply talking about it. To that
end, I argue that recognizing how faculty have utilized social media and online
technologies to find support, tips, instructions, and ideas is essential. Doing
so demonstrates that faculty model for students qualities such as resourcefulness,
currency, and creativity. It is simply not enough to boast about using a new
tool or app. It is good and right to be transparent about how and why we as
faculty learn and grow.

University and college faculty, as producers, consumers, and instructors of media, have increasingly consulted social media as a means of professional development. In particular, Twitter came to the rescue for many instructors throughout this [gestures wildly] pandemic. However, unlike emails with tips about changing an avatar or how to expense a Zoom account to a professional development fund, scholars sought one another on social media and found the right place to connect. Twitter has hosted a space for higher ed instructors to share best practices and make connections, and is firmly established as a go-to venue for teaching information. Instructors, while active consumers and producers of social media, ensure that we not only stay online but also define what “contemporary media” means.

Image Credits:

  1. The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (Jackson, 2001) Meme
  2. Magikarp Guy meme, 2015. Learn more about the meme’s history here.
  3. Author screenshot of Twitter’s #onlineteaching hashtag.
  4. Author screenshot of Twitter’s #edtech hashtag.
  5. Screenshot Tweet from author’s account, @AcademicBatgirl.


Carello, J. (2020, April 6). Trauma-informed teaching and learning
in times of crisis. [YouTube video]. Retrieved from

Darby, F. & Lang, J. (2019). Small Teaching Online. San Francisco,
CA: Wiley.

Morris, S. M. (2020, December 9). Critical digital pedagogy after
COVID-19. [Blog post]. Retrieved from