College of Humanities and Social Sciences
College of Humanities and Social Sciences

Your Homework Tonight is to IM and YouTube

by Emma Epstein and Brooke Braun


In today’s age where even presidential campaigns fall flat without a nifty video on YouTube, students taking Char Miller’s section of Government 490 have a leg up, gaining hands-on experience linking government studies with the mastery of new media.

In this seminar, which focuses on technology and subjectivity, Miller requires more from students than the completion of traditional assignments such as tests and papers. Homework may include sending instant messages, compiling CD playlists, reviewing books on, and making YouTube videos. Provided with the necessary cameras and software, but no formal film-making training, groups of students cooperatively experimented with filming short YouTube-style video clips which they present at the end of the class. The only classroom direction offered for the clips is that they are loosely focused on automobiles – a central theme of the course.

Why cars? Miller explains, “Cars can be viewed as human creations that cuts across the private and public spheres by changing how we experience motion. They divide us from one another in spaces from which we view speed, space, and distance; they also have initiated massive environmental changes and countless human deaths.”

A quick visit to YouTube shows the range of creativity in which the students embraced the assignment. The videos run the gamut from campy reconstructions of public service announcements to animated shorts. Besides the practical training of creating the videos, students gain a deeper understanding of how communications mediums can shape opinions about the world. “Academically speaking, my interests lay with getting them to pay attention to media as a part of language and not just as a conduit,” Miller said in an emailed statement. “I want them to think about how media constructs our ideas, especially in light of some of the political theory that we read in class, particularly William Connolly's Neuropolitics, which explores the ways that film can heighten and transform our powers of perception and the political consequences of such transformations.”

Students used a variety of approaches to explore the theme. “On the last day of class we watched and critiqued all the movies as a class. I got the sense that they actually had a lot of fun and did a pretty decent job thinking about why they did [the projects],” Miller wrote.

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