Live Blogging Mass Media and Democracy


This post was originally published on Teaching Out Loud on April 2, 2016.

I’m live blogging the fourth meeting of Mass Media and Democracy (FILM 7) from the Berry Innovation Classroom. I walked in a couple of minutes late to find ten students sitting in a semicircle of tables and six joining me in the “second row” behind them at the team stations.

My position in “the back” with several other students might be a commentary on the democracy playing out in this classroom. The moment I walked in, students were voting on which posters they want to print with Amos Kennedy in the Book Arts workshop next week. Yes, even people in “the back,” including me were given a vote.

Next is some administrative business such as “giving credit for work when you build or borrow” and preparing to lead Friday discussion sessions. There is a pep talk that goes something like this – “Go get em tiger. You will do fine. Even if you bomb, you’ll do fine. You’ll work through it together and you’ll do fine.” We should all get that pep talk from our teachers.

Most students have a laptop open, yet most are not taking notes. Should they be? Is it because a discussion happened already in Canvas and can be retrieved at any time? Is it because there are no slides on the screen? Actually, all screens are lit up with the wireless login screen. What do these communicate? Potential for video display at any moment, or are the slides missing?

Students are not distracted by their screens; most browsers are resting on the Canvas page or a course reading. I’m arguably the most distracting person in the room with my blog typing.

The class is discussing “History and Theory of Democracy” by Andrew Perrin. Terminology enters the lecture, and I can’t help but bring a learning design meta narrative to my unpacking.

Epistemic democracy, the idea that as long as we include the most people with the most diverse ideas, we’ll have the best outcome. Is that true for learning design? Should we have the most people with the most diverse ideas involved with designing learning spaces, curricula, and courses?

Modernity, one thing is moving, all others are fixed, and post-modernity, all things are moving. My mind flashes to our learning spaces on campus: lecture halls with bolted-down seats and this room, with wheels on everything.

Unified media to fragmented media. This is an easy one, one projector or seven projectors. More on that when we get to the Great Game.

Students are asked to read Do College Admissions by Lottery and asked “Would switching to a lottery system be a more democratic system for Dartmouth?” This is timely considering that the class of 2020 just received their offer letters from Dartmouth yesterday. Students dig in, challenge the claims that this would free high schoolers to pursue their dreams rather than admissions check boxes. One student points out that it already is a lottery, but the tickets are issued at birth.

The final activity of the class is the Great Game and goes like this: Students divide into four groups of four and each group occupies a station equipped with a projector. Students receive a brief introduction to the tech in the room, including the capability of sharing their screen with other screens or pulling other screens to their projector. Key information includes how to retake control of your own station. Then, the game begins.

Each team is given a sheet of paper with their challenge for the game. I’m sitting on the edge, observing, but the Yellow team invites me over to join them. I wonder if my knowledge of the tech in the room will be an advantage for our team, and whether I would share special knowledge if it meant we could win. As it turns out, my knowledge makes no difference.

Our challenge is to pull up a webpage and display it on two screens – at all times. Another team is challenged with pulling up a webpage and displaying it on four screens simultaneously. Here is the conflict. We battle over control of our screens for the entirety of the game. One of my teammates wonders if this is all a test and we are supposed to work collaboratively to win, but the obsession to keep control of our screens draws our entire attention.

After five minutes or so, we debrief the game. What sort of democracy is this? Agonistic democracy or conflict sabotage? Is deliberative democracy at work? How would you grade this exercise? Participation, where everyone wins? Or outcome: percentage of goals achieved – 2 pts if you show up, 2 pts to achieve each goal? What advantages did some teams have? Did better knowledge of how the system worked make you better at the game?

Thanks to the Film 7 students who allowed me to stop in on their live action democracy Great Game, and especially to team yellow who invited me to join in the battle to control the screens. This is experiential learning design.

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