Towards a Geek Pedagogy: A Manifesto

Yesterday I published my first Buzzfeed listicle, titled “6 Critical Concepts We Can Learn From Star Wars.” This is a little project I’ve been mulling over for a while, and many of these ideas were first expressed in my classes. Prompted by the new film and the conversation around the series over the Winter break, I thought I’d harness the buzz around this particular bit of fandom to share some of these basic critical concepts.

First things first, I should fly my geek flag. I’m an unabashed fan of the films, to the extent that I have a running joke with my students about satisfying an “obligatory” Star Wars reference in each class session. Also, I find that when explaining some editorial theory concepts with students, I can only get so far with examples of books and poems before their eyes start to glaze over. But bring up George Lucas’ changes to the original Star Wars movies and suddenly a portion of my class perks right up and start expressing opinions, sometimes passionately. (There are a few eye rolls, too, and I’ll get back to that in a bit.) The point is the issues are suddenly relevant to them, because they affect something they are interested in.

This is a wonderful time for fandom, thanks in part to that global communications network we know as the Internet, because it has allowed communities to be built around areas of enthusiasm. Geekiness on any given subject or popular culture phenomenon is welcomed among those who share that interest, and online spaces have encouraged the development of a massive participatory culture.

Too keep my rant from becoming too utopic, let’s not forget those who were rolling their eyes. The problem with geekiness is that there is no universally appealing topic. Which is fine, to each their own. But as I discovered in a blogging assignment for my Digital Writing for the Media course, everyone is a geek about something. That energetic enthusiasm on a topic and a wealth vibrant online communities of interest are untapped pedagogical resources.

Here’s a practical concern. In each class I teach, I have a mix of students drawn to the course by a variety of factors: title and topic, curricular requirements, scheduling preferences, my reputation as a professor, and (let’s face it) availability. I like to thematically focus and advertise my courses to attract interested students, but there are no guarantees, as I discovered in my fan-friendly Cyberpunk Cinema course last semester. In a traditional classroom, it’s challenging to cater to multiple fan interests. But because my pedagogy is hybrid by design– I integrate digital technologies, social media, distant and on-site teaching approaches– I can leverage my students’ varying interests to achieve my pedagogical goals.

Enter Buzzademia, an initiative started by Chris Rodley, Mark Marino, and others to use popular culture and digital genres to present academic concepts to broad audiences in social media. Rodley’s “Poststructuralism Explained with Hipster Beards, Part 1” and his other Buzzfeed listicles are direct inspirations for my own listicle. And Marino’s provocative manifesto “10 Reasons Professors Should Start Writing Buzzfeed Articles” got me thinking about issues of access to scholarship, and reminded me about sharing my expertise with broader audiences something I started 4 years ago with I ♥︎ E-Poetry. The Buzzademia Facebook group is an active community space in which these ideas continue to be explored.

I’ve been working with native digital genres in my classes for a while now. Beyond directly working with and teaching electronic literature, my Digital Humanities Internship, and digitally focused courses, such as Digital Creative Writing and the aforementioned Digital Writing for the Media course, I have also given Buzzademia type assignments to my students, starting with Hamlet Memes two years ago. If current generations are already doing a lot of casual writing in social media spaces, they can benefit from a more rigorously creative and/or academic engagement with the same.

Their reaction, so far?

So this is a kind of personal pedagogical manifesto: in addition to teaching and assigning digital genres familiar to my students, I will seek to nurture their inner geek and find opportunities to build lessons and activities around these interests.

I’ll call it #geekpedagogy.