Graduate School Meditations · Professional Development

Self and Society Through Film: TA Reflections

This course, which I joined as a Teaching Assistant, presented students with a set of texts and concepts that urged them to think critically about the relationships of self and society with our particular media culture in mind.  The course moved thorough key texts in existential philosophy, popular texts that present arguments about media technology,  as well as a series of films that complemented the concepts and demonstrated new ways to think about them.

I especially appreciated the way that the instructor scaffolded the course texts and concepts.  This was a particular challenge as this was a Summer Session, which condenses an already abrupt ten-week quarter into a five-week session.  The course started by reading philosopher Albert Camus’ The Myth of Sisyphus, probably the most challenging test of the course.  This was paired with the films Run Lola Run and Mr. Nobody.  This provided students with a way to think about the concepts of free-will and determinism.  It then turned to think about how media forms shape discourse and language.  The film The Arrival and a TED Talk by Leta Boroditsky helped found this discussion.

This allowed us to move into discussion of big data and social media through films like Snowden and documentaries on how data has shaped contemporary politics.  While discussions about privacy and the surveillance that undergirds much of our social media and internet usage were productive and thoughtful, there was much irony regarding our discussions about addiction to social media and new media devices as some students could not seem to keep themselves off devices during class time.  Especially as we concluded the class by thinking about what changes might be made to our lives to combat potentially pernicious effects of new media.  Our final film, Captain Fantastic, was a springboard to consider how lives might be lived in the face of this strange cultural climate.

Things to Remember

  1.  Course structure.  Though this class started with a really challenging text, it was expertly poised to ground larger discussion that connected to the rest of the course work.  I might have eased them in with something more accessible, but folks rise to the occasion.
  2. Office hours.  Something I have discussed in other posts is how to encourage students to utilize office hours.  I used a google doc sign-up sheet.  I emailed the link to them, put it on canvas, and emailed it to them again once the registration dust had settled.  I had way more students meet with me than before, so I will continue with that practice.
  3. You miss 100% of the shots that you do not take.  Cliche, I know.  Landing a TAship over the Summer Session is tricky within my department, for lack of available positions and because the positions go to students who are further along.  Getting paid is also kind of super important, especially a paid opportunity that will contribute to my professional development–and my outrageous “bay area” rent.  I threw my application materials into an unrelated call for TA applicants, knowing I likely could not accept that earlier position on account of prior commitments.  Well, I applied anyway and was not selected, but when a second call came in our graduate coordinator sent along all the files from the first position.  And, I was selected to work for this course!  I consider myself incredibly fortunate to have found academic work for both summers of grad school so far.