Courses I Teach

INF2320 Remix Culture
(Previously taught in Winter 2014 and Winter 2016)
Remix culture can be defined as a set of activities, practices, and artistic movements centered around the creative use, re-use, juxtaposing and innovative (re)combining of existing media and information. Within contemporary contexts, the term remix is most often associated with its digital iterations—including video mash-ups and the use of music sampling in hip hop. However, the cultural and philosophical origins of remix culture pre-date the digital revolution, and its basic principles and practices have a long and important history as tools of political resistance, critique and subversion. Interest in—and engagement with—remix culture is growing, and can now be found across a wide range of academic and institutional contexts, from public libraries and classrooms, to courtrooms and museums. Youth programs, such as the Chicago Public Library’s Youmedia project, increasingly incorporate remixing as a key skill set for entering into participatory culture and developing digital literacies. Meanwhile, the social, political, ethical and legal implications of remix culture, which draws heavily if not primarily on existing (i.e. published and copyrighted) content, are frequently at the center of broader debates about the nature and value of digital culture, cultural ownership, citizenship and authority in the information age.

In this course, we will approach remix culture from many perspectives: as a genre, as an aesthetic, as an analytic framework, as a set of existing practices, and as a sort of cultural movement. We will examine core concepts and practices involved in remix culture(s), focusing on the ways in which these practices implicate issues and questions that are central to developing a better understanding of the information society: from the alleged rise of piracy and plagiarism in the digital age, to growing concerns about the enclosure of the commons, to enduring hopes about the potential democratization of cultural production and distribution. We will examine some of the theories and academic discussions that have now emerged around remixing, many of which make important contributions to theories of postmodernity and the significance of pastiche and bricolage within late capitalism, not only within the contexts of art, self-expression and identity, but also within political movements, counter-hegemonic actions and technological innovations. We will explore arguments by key critics and champions of remix culture, and discuss its impact on traditional concepts of authorship, ownership, creativity and originality—concepts that hitherto have provided much of the foundation upon which popular conceptualizations of “mass culture” (and a significant amount of cultural policy) often rest.

Undergraduate course, Book and Media Studies, St. Michael's College. 
(Previously taught as Winter 2012 (as SMC300) and Winter 2013 (as SMC300), Winter 2014 and Winter 2016)
In this course students explore the embeddedness of information technologies in our everyday practices from the perspective of interpersonal networks. We consider social media beyond superficial understandings of software use to engage in debates regarding the consequences of new media for our sociality. Students gain an understanding of 'social media' that goes beyond Facebook - instead through active participation and a reading of theory students engage with the facets of new media that have the potential to both support and hinder sociality. Using a variety of online social media simultaneously, and drawing upon theoretical literature in a variety of disciplines, this course delves into discourse about technology and sociality across disciplines.

INF2141H: Children's Cultural Texts and Artifacts
(Previously taught in Winter 2011 (as INF2304H), Fall 2011, Fall 2012, Fall 2015)

This course will provide students with a forum for engaging in historically grounded explorations of the centrality of cultural texts and artifacts within contemporary childhood. From toys to fairy tales, books to videogames, this course adopts a multi-disciplinary approach to examine how texts and artifacts not only play a crucial role within children’s culture, but furthermore reflect and reproduce dominant (and oftentimes conflicting) ideologies, traditions, controversies and social values.

Students will examine the complex interplay between children’s texts and artifacts, particularly as it relates to the concurrent rise of transmedia intertextuality and commercialization within children’s culture. They will learn about the key issues, institutions and “cultural gatekeepers” (including librarians) involved in the production, circulation and management of adult-produced texts and artifacts for children, and the ways in which children in turn engage with these texts and artifacts as part of a deeply meaningful shared cultural experience.

A variety of examples and case studies will be examined, through in-class analysis and discussion of foundational children’s books, films, television series, toys, video games and digital applications. Recurring motifs, narrative themes and genres will be addressed. Special emphasis will be placed on understanding the continuities and discontinuities that exist between new and traditional cultural forms. Students will also be invited to consider the unique set of opportunities and challenges associated with digital technologies, and how they are currently (re)shaping children’s culture in potentially significant ways. 

Required Text: Jenkins, Henry (Ed.) 1998. The Children's Culture Reader. NYU Press. ISBN: 0814742327/978-0814742327.

INF1240H: Research Methods
(Previously taught in Fall 2010, Fall 2011 and Fall 2012)

This course introduces students to a number of research methods useful for academic and professional investigations of information practices, texts and technologies. By examining the applications, strengths and major criticisms of methodologies drawn from both the qualitative and quantitative traditions, this course permits an understanding of the various decisions and steps involved in crafting (and executing) a research methodology, as well as a critically informed assessment of published research. In addition to reviewing core human research methods such as interviews, ethnographies, surveys and experiments, we will explore methods used in critical analysis of texts and technologies (discourse/content/design analysis, historical case studies), with an emphasis on the digital (e.g., virtual worlds, videogames, and online ethnographies). We will also discuss mixed method approaches, case studies, participatory and user-centered research, as well as research involving minors.

The course offers an overview of the different approaches, considerations and challenges involved in social research. The objectives of the course are to provide students with the tools and skills required to understand research terminology and assess published research, identify the types of methods best suited for investigating different types of problems and questions, develop research questions that are based on and build upon a critical appraisal of existing research, design a research proposal, and begin initial preparations for embarking on a new research project.

Required Texts: Luker, Kristin. 2010. Salsa Dancing Into the Social Sciences. Harvard University Press.  ISBN 9780674048218 Link. AND Knight, Peter T. 2002. Small-Scale Research. Sage Publications. ISBN-10: 0761968628 / ISBN-13:978-0761968627 Link.

INF1005/1006: Information Workshop: Children's Digital Games
(Previously taught in Winter 2011, Winter 2012, Winter 2013)
Among children, few information technologies are as popular or ubiquitous as digital games. Not only do the vast majority of North American children play digital games, but an increasing proportion of their everyday lives is now spent engaging in various types of digital gameplay. This workshop will explore children’s digital games from multiple perspectives. We will look at some of the major controversies and paradigms that have come to shape the roles and functions of digital games within contemporary childhood. We will discuss the ongoing integration of digital gaming in schools and libraries, leisure and home life, and the emerging notion of "gaming literacy." Moreover, we will explore how these issues become amplified and potentially problematized by the shift from player to producer that is currently taking place within gaming culture, particularly within the context of user-generated content (UGC) games (games that enable players to create and distribute their own levels and designs). Through discussion and hands-on interaction, we will consider the unique social, political, economic and ethical issues associated with this shift, and how it connects to (or even disrupts) broader social trends.

As this is a workshop course, students will engage in a significant amount of firsthand exploration of digital games, including screenings, gameplay and game design. These activities will be grounded in and contextualized by weekly readings and seminars. Students will complete two group assignments over the course of the workshop, which will require them to collaborate in the production of a new game "design,” as well as create a critically and theoretically informed play list of recommended or “essential” children’s game titles.

Please note that participation in this course does not require any previous programming or design skills, or even a prior familiarity with digital games – the majority (though not all) of the games and programs we’ll be using are made for children, and are therefore highly accessible and user-friendly.

Teaching Philosophy

My feelings about teaching have been heavily influenced by my own memories of being a student, and by the distinctly rewarding experience of taking courses with professors who truly loved to teach. Their lectures were more stimulating, their feedback was more meaningful, and their support was more inspiring. In many ways, my early exposure to this particular breed of professor is what led to my decision to become an academic. They are the ones who awakened my intellectual curiosity, who encouraged me to pursue original lines of inquiry, and who gave me the confidence to take risks with my essay topics and, ultimately, with my academic research. Their example is one that I hope to emulate over the course of my career.

My main goals as a teacher are to train students to think critically, to enable them to approach issues from a variety of different perspectives, and to help them translate the theoretical knowledge they acquire at school into “real world” applications. I have a strong commitment to training my students in core theories and research methods, but I also want them to find ways to apply these concepts and approaches to their own examples and cultures of practice. Media and information studies professors have a unique and extremely important role in society, as we are often the ones responsible for teaching the media professionals and cultural gatekeepers of tomorrow the larger political, economic and ethical implications of the cultural texts and institutions they will eventually help to (re)produce. For this reason, I believe that lessons in theory need to be accompanied by contemporary examples that are relevant to students’ own experience, as well as practical applications that allow them to explore abstract concepts first hand. This approach helps me to situate course materials within students’ everyday lives, as well as bridge the at times wide gap between media theory and media practice.

I have a flexible and open mind about course assignments, and a keen interest in allowing students to make sense of theoretical concepts in new and innovative ways, including multimedia production, community partnerships, and interdisciplinary approaches. I use various media texts to oscillate between theoretical concepts and “real world” examples in my lectures and seminars, including film screenings, television ads, graphic novels, digital games, and user-generated content. I extend this multi-modal approach to course assignments and readings by including digital games, virtual world design, cross-media analysis, and field studies as part of students’ required coursework.

Previous Courses Taught (Archive)
Here are some brief descriptions and links for previous courses that I taught at SFU. For additional information, course materials and assignments (as well as outlines for courses I have designed but not taught), please visit my page at Academia.edu.

cmns324: Media, Sports and Popular Culture
Spring 2009 and Fall 2009; Spring 2010 co-taught with Danielle Deveau
Screenshot of NCAA Football 10, via Ballhype.com 2009

The objective of this course is to critically examine the changing relationship between sports and the media within western popular cultures. We will begin with an historical overview of the sport and media industries, and an introduction to some of the key themes and concepts that will be explored over the course of the semester. During the second section, strong emphasis will be placed on the political economic dimensions of sports media, including production, marketing and commodity flows; the commodification of youth sports and "lifestyle" sports; labour issues and athletes’ rights. In section three, we will examine media, sport and the politics of “identities”, including national identities and globalization; sports subcultures; the representation of gender, race and ethnicity within sports media; and popular depictions of sports and athletes. The final section will explore the social, cultural and political meanings of the sporting “spectacle”, as well as the impact of media technologies (both old and new) on sports performance and spectatorship. Discussions will touch upon a wide range of issues and theoretical approaches, with examples drawn from a variety of sports and sporting practices.

Required Text: David Rowe (Ed.) Critical Readings: Sport, Culture and the Media, Open University Press, 2004. + Supplemental weekly (required) readings, which will be accessible through the course website and through WebCT.

cmns455: Women + New Information Technologies
Fall 2009
Image courtesy of The Escapist Forums (2009)

Since the 1970s, technological change has come under the scrutiny of a wide range of interest groups. Research concerned with women and technological change documented that women were affected differently by technology than men, and that in general women occupy different positions in the technological change process than men. As interest in women and technological change has grown in the last 30 years, the benefits of focusing on gender as a variable of study have extended beyond making women’s (still often overlooked) experiences visible. Focusing on gender also raises a number of interesting and important questions about the role and implications of technology in contemporary society: How do we define technologies? Are some technologies ‘masculine’ and others ‘feminine’? Do technologies help to define identity? Are new technologies truly opening up new opportunities or are they reproducing traditional power relations? This seminar will explore the impact of gender on technologies, the impact of technology on society, and of society on technology. The course is designed to allow students interested in new communication and information technologies (from media and computer systems, to social networking and digital games), to explore some of the theoretical, social and political issues that arise through an in-depth consideration of women's experiences of technological change. We will use both historical and current examples to look at how technology constructs women and conversely, how preconceived notions about gender shape technological design and discourse. Course materials and discussions focus on several related themes:
  • Feminist contributions to theories of science, technology and society
  • Women and information technology, in the workplace, in schools and in the home
  • The role(s) of new information technologies in the construction and contestation of gender, and within women’s increasingly digitized labour practices, cultures and communities of interest.

Required Texts: Wajcman, Judy. (2004). TechnoFeminism. Cambridge, MA: Polity. Kafai, Yasmin et al. (2008) Beyond Barbie and Mortal Kombat. Cambridge: MIT Press. + Other required readings will be made available through the course website and WebCT.