Field Notes: Teaching Nostalgia & the Future in New Media

06 Aug, 2015

Field Notes: Teaching Nostalgia & the Future in New Media

Chris Goetz (Film & Media) taught BCNM's first R1B this summer. Here, he offers a thoughtful discussion on the opportunity summer teaching afforded, along with the successes of the course and the difficulties imposed by the timing constraints. Thanks, Chris, for your incredible work!

Teaching a BCNM summer class was an awesome opportunity to design a brand new syllabus unlike anything else offered on campus. I had the helpful experience of proposing the very first New Meida R1B this summer, and really enjoyed the feedback from the committee that approves R&C courses. And I felt especially liberated in the course design because of the Center's multi-disciplinary nature. The topic was nostalgia and the future of new media, or how nostalgic attachments to media in our daily lives might serve as a lens for thinking about technological change.

Successes — I asked the students to create "nostalgia biographies," in which they discussed nostalgic attachments from their past (present, or future). This is something I do in my videogame classes to get a sense of the sorts of games students are familiar with. Typically, students turn in a bullet-point list of items. For this class, I asked for a brief narrative of the most significant memory, and was blown away by the sensitivity and clarity of the writing. Reading my students' responses — which were much stronger in terms of writing than standard essay work — transported me to summer cabins just beyond the purview of adult supervision, lost loved ones, guilty forays into a parent's dresser, even a nostalgia for the "pollution in China." I was struck by their openness, by my own capacity to feel a kind of empathetic nostalgia for their own memories, and by the fact that media objects (technological mediation) were almost entirely absent from the list.

Difficulties — The class' great ambition, being a "New Media" R1B was to allow students to engage a variety of media, from films and games to smartwatches and websites. However, given that coursework had to be condensed into six weeks — and really fewer than three solid weeks before students have to decide on a final research project — I found there was not actually time to provide an adequate foundation for formal analysis in more than two different media, while also covering the Writing Analytically textbook and the topics on nostalgia. As a result, the course had to focus on film and games, and even beyond that I strongly encouraged students to write about film, since I believe writing about games in an R1B is a challenge for undergraduates, even when it is the focus of the entire class. I feel that the focus on film in our screenings and discussions of formal analysis, while helpful in generating some keen close readings and successful papers, was not quite commensurate with the conceptual breadth of the course.

If you are a BCNM New Media graduate student and would like to teach in Summer 2016, remember, applications are now open!