Like many of us working on our PhDs, we’re not just working on our dissertation: we’re teaching, too. As college instructors, we’re often teaching intro courses. Regardless of the field in which we’re teaching, these courses often target students coming out of a range of academic disciplines, from electrical engineering to art history. I’ve been teaching “History and Theory of Digital Media” for three semesters now, and one pedagogical issue I’ve been working through is how to create a baseline for course content and assignments; the technology backgrounds of my students have varied from “I’ve been in hackathons” to “Technology? I can’t even.” Where even to begin?
For one, we, as PhDs can begin by sharing our experiences with course development. One project I developed in the fall semester, simply titled the “Emoji Project,” was constructed with the aim of producing a hands-on assignment for students with various levels of technical skill.
The “Emoji Project” let students work on submissions to the Unicode Consortium for new emoji. From a pedagogical standpoint, my big-picture goals for the project were for students to understand that emoji are more than images, as they come out of numeric and text-based structures; to understand that anyone can propose new emoji, or provide feedback on those already in existence; and to find out how organizations regulate which emoji get a chance to exist in the world. In sum, it’s a project that gives students a behind-the-scenes look at images they use everyday, served with a dose of media activism.
Alongside the need to create a project for undergraduates of various majors, another material reality of teaching that informed this project was its relative affordability. We’re PhDs, starting off our teaching careers with high hopes. I wish that I could provide students with a workshop space full of digital-media resources. A VR lab would be great, or a Game Boy for every student to play with or hack! But PhDs are left to depend on teaching stipends and our own, not-so deep pockets in order to develop innovative—or at the very least, interesting—curricula. Knowing my students at a state university, they’re overwhelmed by cost, too. I can’t rationalize having them spend hundreds of dollars on textbooks and materials for the course. (The result of the student proposals culminated in a classwide vote on the best student projects, so I did spend some money on trophies for the “student-picks.”)
I’ve included a PDF of the lesson plan from an instructor point of view. It’s a lot of text, but it should cover all the nuts-and-bolts of the project's scale, from the length of time necessary to complete the project to the types of issues that you may encounter in the classroom. Feel free to share or tweak for your own lesson plans.