This is my second semester teaching a senior seminar on Web culture here at Lehigh. This semester’s JOUR 325 The Culture of the Internet is (I hope) an improvement on previous semesters. One thing I tried last time that worked OK but could have been better was the creation of an “unclass” format. I got the idea at an Online News Association convention session two years ago. Similar to an unconference, the unclass is built around a central topic but has no agenda. The students start the semester by determining the direction of the class. They suggest topics and then pick or vote on ones they want to learn about the most. What we decide in that first week becomes the class syllabus

I do have three books and a semester project that leads to a paper, but for the most part the unclass format drives the weekly units and discussion. This type of class structure really only works well if you’re versed in the topic because it requires an agile professor. I went into the semester without a plan for each week, and it is terrifying and wonderful all at the same time. Fortunately I feel like I really know this area and can adjust as needed.

There are two parts of this class subject to the unclass format. The first is student-led discussion days, and the second is days where I’m facilitating the discussion. In either case, there are web readings assigned beforehand that are the basis for the discussion. The students pick their own readings or videos to watch for their day.

Each student has to lead one class session’s discussion on an Internet culture topic that interests them. Here are the ones they picked.

  • The Internet’s Black Market
  • Online Dating
  • Digital Activism
  • Social Media and Narcissism
  • Sex Crimes Online
  • Sports and Social Media
  • Silicon Valley Culture (Bros and Entrepreneurs)
  • Cyberbullying
  • Net Neutrality
  • “Internet Famous” and the 15 Minutes of Fame
  • Cyberwarfare
  • The Internet and the Future of Language

Some others we’ll be covering via my facilitation

  • Internet History
  • Memes
  • Reddit, 4Chan and Anonymity
  • Trolls
  • Journalism and the Future of Authority
  • Enter the Clickbaiters
  • Women, #Gamergate, and Sexism in Online Spaces
  • Marriage and Family in the Age of Social Media

I was really impressed by the quality of the topics my students wanted to cover. Nothing as broad as “social media”- there were specific outcomes or behaviors they wanted to explore. The sessions I’m leading buttress some of their topics by filling in some cultural gaps. We’re spending a lot of time on online communities and the libertarian culture of the web early on in order to make that a backbone to the rest of the discussion.

We had limited success with this the first time I tried it, but I think this will be a better evolution. It starts with buy-in from the students, and that they’re suggesting interesting topics up front is a great sign. Not that last year’s group was bad; it was a new format and I think it’s harder to grasp what the unclass is when the professor hasn’t tried it themselves. I explained it a bit better upfront, I think, and I hope that help.

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My “unclass” on Internet culture

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