“I want to look at X, what theory shall I use?” is a question I’ve not been faced with before. I’ve only been teaching since New Year, you know. Web design and web aesthetics is wrapped up, and what with all the nice things the students said yesterday, I’m really happy with it. Next time I need to be clearer about learning goals and structure and deadlines and what I expect – this time round I only worked that stuff out midway through the semester. There were some other problems, too, but lots and lots of things went really well.
This short little New Media Theory course I’m teaching into the MA in Screenwriting is a different kettle of fish. There are only five lectures (which is why I said yes), but half the students are distance students in South America, which is hard to deal with, and they’re all supposed to write essays. Also, a lot of the students find new media rather dull (“How is this ever going to engage a mass audience? It’s so boring and you have to work so hard and I don’t understand it or want to understand it.”) and would prefer to be making cinematic documentaries. I know heaps about online art and narrative, and about weblogs and communication and games, but these people want documentary and ask questions like “Can you call this a documentary when it’s interactive?” in the way narratologists ask whether hypertext can ever be narrative. It’s enlightening because the question seems so boring and irrelevant for someone who hadn’t realised that defining documentary is important to some people. (An admission: I’ve wasted lots of time on the “is this narrative” thing.)
So they’re supposed to write essays and need to get my advice before the weekend because I’m going to be away after that, so they ask me which theory to use to look at X, and I keep looking over my shoulder to be sure they’re actually asking me. I want to scream: I haven’t a clue, do I look like an expert? but I suspect that’s not quite the way to do it. I’m frantically trying to remember whether my lecturers and advisors ever told me what theory to use. I suspect they didn’t. Perhaps they too were looking over their shoulders, wishing someone else would answer.
I need to practice a line for this. Perhaps Eliza’s would work just fine: “Why do you think you need a theory in order to write about X? Tell me more about your theory. Does theory frighten you?”
If only they’d write essays about things I actually know lots about. “New media” is a horribly broad field.