Emerging college courses analyze celebrities, selfies, and even ‘wasting time on the Internet’ to draw insights on pop culture and media
Universities realize how important it is to be cutting edge- educational institutions around the world are adopting new technologies and strategies in order to stay relevant and maintain their credibility. But adopting online curricula and Internet-based communications is just a starting point. Course content itself is beginning to adapt to the times, as classes on pop culture, selfies, binge watching, and Internet browsing are taking college campuses by Twitter storm.
In the UK, City Lit College is exploring the social and artistic aspects of selfies. The course, “The art of self portraiture” approaches selfies as more than just a social media fad, and aims to provide students a “platform to develop ideas towards the creation of a coherent body of work.” For about $200, students take a critical look at selfies as a social phenomenon and further develop their photographic skills – building upon their knowledge of aperture and shutter speed.
The Department of English at the University of Pennsylvania is also taking a look at digital social phenomena with a course called “Wasting Time on the Internet.” Instead of banning technology from the classroom, which many schools and professors still do, this course leverages aimless Internet browsing as a new means of artistic creation.
In this class, “distraction, multi-tasking, and aimless drifting” are requirements. The course description:
What if these activities — clicking, SMSing, status-updating, and random surfing — were used as raw material for creating compelling and emotional works of literature? Using our laptops and a wifi connection as our only materials, this class will focus on the alchemical recuperation of aimless surfing into substantial works of literature.
Schools are finally embracing social media and pop culture as a source of information for new insights on the societies we live in. But there may be a point when this embrace becomes excessive.
Some schools are going as far as to develop courses that study Michael Jackson, Beyonce, and P-Diddy to better understand their roads to success. Icon Paul McCartney has denounced such programs as “ridiculous.” He states:
It wasn’t a case of ‘studying’ it. I think for us, we’d have felt it would have ruined it to study it.
If this is the case, then are there certain situations when studying pop icons might be insightful?
“The Sociology of Miley Cyrus: Race, Class, Gender, & Media” may be such an example, as this Skidmore class examines ideas like “transitions to adulthood”, “allies and appropriation,” and “gender stratification and the hyper-commodification of childhood” as they relate to the would-be punk rocker.
In addition to technology and pop icons, TV shows are being analyzed for their rich narratives and character arcs. Medical students at Rutgers-Robert Wood Johnson Medical School are watching Seinfeld to understand psychological disorders, and a Saginaw Valley State University class is using Orange is the New Black as its main ‘textbook.’
Assistant Professor Kim Lacey explains that in this new-age English class:
The lessons don’t focus on plotlines but rather on the deeper themes the series explores: how different forms of discrimination and oppression intersect, for example, or why certain advantages are afforded to some characters and not others.
But even though pop culture, social media tools, and technological innovations have become ingrained in our societies, educational institutions still lack the norms needed to regulate their functioning on campus. Progressive universities are beginning to accept change and cater to the digital natives that are flooding their campuses, but others are staying loyal to traditional curricula and classroom settings.
Regardless of whether pop culture classes are merely a fad or are here to stay, universities are experiencing a period of change that is sure to impact the design and technological integration of future classrooms.