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Long ago, in a land far, far away… Wait, no, that’s not right. [ahem, trying again…]

Last month (yet nearly two full months ago now), the 2017 Teachers, Teaching, and Media Conference was held at Wake Forest University, on March 2-4, and brought together approximately 100 education, communication, and media studies scholars, as well as public educators and graduate students, from across the U.S. for a series of panels, papers, workshops, and even a documentary film premiere! Spearheaded by Dr. Mary Dalton, Professor of Communication, and a long-time faculty friend of ZSR, the conference afforded four ZSR employees–Kyle Denlinger, Ben Ellentuck, Molly Keener, and Hu Womack–the opportunity to present about their collaborations with two of Mary’s courses. Below are their experiences of the conference, from overall experiences to deep dives into one of their panels.


I had the pleasure to attend the keynote Thursday night by Robert C. Bulman of St. Mary’s College. Bulman’s presentation was titled “Hollywood STILL Goes to High School: How Films About Schooling Reveal American Cultural Beliefs About Inequality”. Additionally, I attended several workshops on Friday, including “Online Education, Then and Now”, “Social Media as a Tool”, and finally “Culture and the Sitcom: Using Media and Technology to Connect Scholarship and Teaching”, this excellent and informative panel included Molly Keener, Kyle Denlinger, and Ben Ellentuck from ZSR and Brenda Knox from the Teaching and Learning Center. Finally, on Saturday morning, I had the good fortune to sit on a panel with Molly Keener, led by Mary Dalton, where we discussed the process and purpose of her Critical Media Studies project where studies write and publish an edited volume over the course of the semester. As the liaison to the Communication Department, I found this to be an interesting and engaging conference, and I’m always happy to have an opportunity to work with Molly and Mary Dalton.


I jumped all in on this conference, in part because Mary Dalton asked me to—and she is hard to say no to!—and in part because I wanted to hear from faculty and educators in the field about the technical and rights issues they were encountering in their teaching and scholarship. While I didn’t hear as much about those issues as I’d hoped, I did come away with several key points to ponder, from the opening and closing keynotes, the documentary film, and the various sessions:

  • Films don’t reflect reality, but rather reflect our perception of reality, reinforcing cultural beliefs that are already there
  • Protest only so long as it is good for you/your soul, because it won’t change politicians’ point of view
  • Folks have been providing OERs long before there was a name for them
  • Humans are fundamentally narrative beings
  • Fully literate students need to think, comprehend, consume, and produce, beyond traditional textual literacy
  • Because we’ve all been students, we think we know what teachers do
  • Institutions must create rewards in addition to space to fail—and innovate
  • In times of uncertainty, the best way forward is through experimentation


I was thrilled to present with such kind and entertaining collaborators as Molly, Kyle, and Brenda. In addition, I attended an informative “Technology: Implication and Effects” panel at the conference. In this panel, professors from Regis College, UNC Chapel Hill, and Indiana State University spoke, respectively, on the importance of socioculturally progressive pedagogy, interdisciplinary collaboration, and community engagement to their students’ learning outcomes. One takeaway in particular, from Lori Henson of Indiana State’s “Teaching Community Journalism in the Age of Social Media,” is that the blogging platform Medium can be an effective means for students to sustain engagement with local communities, and comes with a relatively low barrier to entry. Certainly worth considering as a class blogging platform for an engaged humanities course!


My panel presentation with Molly, Ben, and Brenda Knox in Online Education was the culmination of more than a year’s worth of work with Mary Dalton on her fully online version of COM318, “History and the Sitcom.” In her traditional face-to-face sections of the course, Mary would screen numerous episodes of sitcoms throughout the genre’s history, especially those that illustrated shifts in social norms and structural inequalities. It’s one of those courses I would’ve loved to have taken in college.

Anyhow, Mary wanted to develop her class into a fully online version, so we had to figure out a way to get this sitcom content to her students in a way that was convenient for students but also within the bounds of copyright law. Course Reserves was out–we couldn’t guarantee that students would actually be on campus, let alone successfully fight for a single copy of a DVD. Netflix et al. were out–none of them had all of the content we needed, not all students have accounts, and nothing there is guaranteed to be there in the long term. So, after countless discussions with Legal Counsel and a few Very Brave Decisions, we came to a conclusion: we’d exercise our fair use rights and digitally stream whichever episodes we could, ourselves. This involved a number of steps:

  • seeking out which episodes were commercially available for individual purchase (for $1.99 on iTunes, for example), which students were asked to purchase as a course materials cost;
  • acquiring legal copies of DVDs for those episodes that were not commercially available;
  • assessing each episode for fair use and ripping those individual episodes from the DVDs;
  • uploading the episodes to a private Google Drive folder and working with advanced Google Drive sharing features to share the folder with students in a way that restricted downloads and provided time-limited access, in order to comply with copyright law.

It was a big, challenging project that required lots of close attention (and a lot of copyright expertise–thanks, Molly!), but it worked beautifully. This success led to a larger discussion with Mary about how she creates and shares her own course content. She had worked with the Office of Online Education to create a series of instructional videos for her course. Not wanting this terrific content live out its life in relative obscurity, I was able to convince Mary to share her videos with a Creative Commons license so others teaching similar courses could freely adapt and reuse them. Later, Ben Ellentuck and Clinton Moyer in Online Education worked together to create an amazing Open Educational Resource website that houses the videos and their transcripts. We’re calling it a “version 1.0” for now, but we hope to continue developing this as Mary and her colleagues create more content in the future.