Highlights of the Semester – Winter 2018

[Delayed posting but better late than never!]

It’s difficult to believe that four months have already passed since I started my new position in the Department of Communication Studies at Concordia University. It’s been a whirlwind semester and it seems like just yesterday that I was putting final touches on syllabi. As much as I was focused on the students’ learning, I have to say that I also learned so much throughout these courses. Every week, I developed lectures and tried out new learning activities – some with more success than others. And students brought their sharp minds to the material, raising questions I had yet to explore, bringing in creative ways of understanding concepts, and connecting topics to their lived experiences. While a single post cannot contain all the semester’s highlights, here are a few from each course and beyond the classroom.

COMS 354 – Youth and Media

Getting into discussions of what major players influence young people’s media practices, Jarrod Walczer (PhD Candidate and Research Associate at the Queensland University of Technology) joined us via Skype to talk about social media platforms’ regulation of kids’ content. We discussed rising concerns over algorithmic production and disturbing content on YouTube Kids as well as Jarrod’s emerging research about unboxing communities.

The students also worked in groups to explore a range of youth-driven media relating to particular causes. We discussed young people’s contributions to participatory cultures and transmedia activism, looking at how selfies, memes, and other forms of media can be pivotal to taking a stance on pressing issues. Students compiled different forms of youth-driven media into “online profiles” that took many different shapes, such as this animal rights Instagram account.

We also had Sam Reusch from Apathy Is Boring speak with us about what it’s like to work for an organization based around youth-driven media. She shared about the way they use multiple forms of media to engage young people in getting involved in Canada’s democratic processes.

COMS 472/521 Communication Technologies and Gender

This class was all about reinventing and reimagining the current gender inequalities that are programmed into technologies and reinforced through technological practices. From day one, we brainstormed these problem areas and what issues needed to be addressed.

We had an intense and edifying guest talk from Lex Gill, Research Fellow at The Citizen Lab, and Tina Salameh, a Concordia Computational Arts alum who fights for digital rights (basically, a digital privacy ninja). Lex ran us through national and international concerns over technology-facilitated violence against women, addressed in a Citizen Lab submission to the United Nations, and Tina gave us an intro to cryptography and metadata.

Students’ final research-creation projects showcased innovative solutions to a range of gender-related problems. They addressed stereotypes and societal pressures relating to women’s digital self-representation (e.g. selfie shaming that coincides with pressure to display oneself as normatively attractive), gender biases programmed into platform technologies – from the games website Steam to websites that sex workers use – and issues in the gaming industry like sexual harassment in virtual reality games and gender binaries in avatar creation. Projects took all shapes, from podcasts to interactive presentations and videos, like a PSA that addressed abstinence-only responses to sexting.

Outside the Classroom

It was inspiring to start making connections around Montreal! I had a great time presenting my research to the Laboratoire de communication médiatisée par ordinateur (LabCMO) at UQAM. As one of their newest members, I’m excited about what collaborations we can cook up!

I also met many fascinating scholars at McGill University’s Queer Research Colloquium, hosted by their Institute for Gender, Sexuality, and Feminist Studies, and bounced around my ideas for a book chapter that’s brewing about queer women’s feelings of scarcity on Tinder.

It was also a great experience to share with students about my research on queer women’s use of social media for the Arts and Science Federation of Associations’ speaker series “Speaking to Power.”

And I found time to binge watch the entire reboot of Queer Eye on Netflix. It inspired me to look at past scholarly critiques of the classic show and see if they still stand (spoiler alert: many do), leading to this Conversation article and several lively chats.

I’m sure a lot more happened but those are some snapshots. I’m grateful for all my colleagues who were kind enough to have coffee with me, give advice, and answer my newbie questions, of which I still have many! There were always exciting things happening around the department and associated spaces, like our rad Feminist Media Studio. It was also an exciting day when my new equipment arrived, alleviating my whirring 2011 Macbook Air from its ongoing pain.

Never a dull moment! Looking forward to what future semesters bring.

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