Critical Media Pedagogy

Visiting Speaker: Dr. Lauren Berliner, Associate Professor, University of Washington Bothell, School of Interdisciplinary Arts & Sciences (IAS)
October 3, 2019 (3 p.m. - 4:30 p.m.)

Academic programs have historically fallen into the trap of reifying traditional divisions between theory and practice and analysis and craft. A 2016 "state of the field” study delivered by the Society for Cinema and Media Studies indicates that these tensions remain common amongst faculty in the field. Yet, as universities increasingly lean on assumed student interest and skill sets in production to help solidify their identities as technologically oriented, nimble, and innovative, production across media-related courses has become the zeitgeist of curricular change. This appears to be occurring even when technological and human resources prove to be sparse. In our particular moment of increased austerity, the ubiquity of inexpensive consumer digital media production technologies has become a convenient locus for pedagogical energy. Underlying a move towards the integration of production into the classroom is an assumption that students possess the necessary skills and access to media technologies to successfully complete and benefit from coursework and that teachers are equally equipped to structure and evaluate production-based assignments. Indeed, the myth that this generation of students is comprised of “digital natives" who most naturally experience the world through their everyday media production experiences has infused institutional approaches to media pedagogy and notions of media literacy.

The now-pervasive sentiment that “anyone with a smart phone” can make (or teach) media production in their courses seems to reflect a radical pedagogy, but in application has the potential to sink a syllabus. Elizabeth Losh urges pedagogues to be skeptical about gadgets and mass distribution as a means of liberation. At risk is an over-emphasis on student and teacher capacity to execute successful assignments, with limited resources or attention to metacognition, in short periods of time.

So how do we proceed with integrating production in classes that aren't necessarily designated as production courses? As a scholar/practitioner situated in a Media and Communication Studies major within an interdisciplinary program, I have found that the most effective way is by implementing through low-skills, low-tech, low-stakes assignments that adhere to three general principles. First, the teaching method and use of production technologies must be in line with the desired learning outcomes. Second, students must be given the instructional handles and technological access to fully participate, and third, assessment must require students to be simultaneously reflective about form and content in their work. This talk illuminates these proposed best practices, with examples drawn from my classes and research on critical media pedagogy.

Lauren Berliner is a scholar and media maker working in the area of critical media practice. Her research engages ongoing transformations in everyday and amateur media production, intervening in academic, intrapersonal, community, commercial, and activist contexts. In her community-based research and teaching, she seeks to blur distinctions between theory and practice, using collaboration as a way to understand the contemporary use of digital audiovisual technologies in pedagogical and social contexts. She is particularly interested in studying discourses of media empowerment in relation to the institutional structures and intersubjective dynamics that are shaping the contemporary media production of people at the margins.

Her first book, Producing Queer Youth: The Paradox of Digital Media Empowerment, combines participatory action research with queer youth media makers in San Diego along with textual analysis of youth-produced videos to examine how queer youth media producers negotiate the structural conditions of funding and publicity and incorporate digital self-representations into practices of identity management. This research emerges out of her involvement with teen video producers in two programs that she has directed: Girls Empowered to Make Movies (sponsored by The Girl Scouts of America) and Changing Reels, a media workshop for San Diego queer youth. She has also co-edited a volume with Ron Krabill called Feminist Interventions in Participatory Media: Pedagogy, Publics, Practice, which provides theoretical, creative, and practical strategies for integrating technology, social change, media activism, and/or praxis into teaching or community work.

Her latest project is a collaboration with medical anthropologist Nora Kenworthy on a project that has been funded by the Simpson Center for the Humanities and the Royalty Research Fund called Producing a Worthy Illness: The Visual, Moral, and Financial Economies of Crowdfunding for Health Crises. This research brings health studies, visual culture studies, and the digital humanities into closer conversation in an innovative, interdisciplinary, multi-staged research study that investigates how in the face of a broken healthcare system, Americans are engaging with participatory media in order to solicit new forms of care and support.

An important facet of her public scholarship is her role as co-curator of Los Angeles Film forum's Festival of (In)Appropriation, an international traveling showcase of contemporary, short audiovisual works that appropriate existing film, video, or other media and repurpose it in "inappropriate” and inventive ways. She continues to screen her own work in classrooms and festivals and have been enjoying creating programs for the classroom and the community through Seattle's Northwest Film Forum.