subjects and assessment
MEDIA AND COMMUNICATION FUTURES is the closest thing to what you could describe as a traditional ‘theory’ subject. While it’s content is not set, it will always investigate relatively abstract and complex ideas. There is no set curriculum in terms of content for this subject. The content will be defined by who teaches it each year, and it will reflect their specific expertise, interest, and research. It is highly likely that who ever teaches this will use this subject to help develop their own research, simply because one of the best ways to develop your research is to teach to the questions you are investigating. By leaving the content more or less open we are explicitly inviting interesting ideas, but also acknowledging that in honours, at this level, you can learn important things by concentrating on something in detail. For example (and this is just an example), someone might be interested in the idea of what is known as technological determination, which is basically to what extent technologies determine their uses (and so behaviours) and to what extent they are culturally determined – ie technologies define culture versus cultures define technologies. Such a subject could offer a survey of key work, beginning perhaps with the Canadian media theorists (Marshall McLuhan, Harold Innis, even perhaps Walter J. Ong), and ending up somewhere like Shaviro’s 2003 “Connected, or What it Means to Live in the Network Society”. Or it could just try to figure out McLuhan. Just sayin’.
Assessment is not quite clear for Media and Comm Futures, but I’m pretty confident it will be two pieces of work, and if they were to be essays the first would be around 2,000 words, the second somewhere between 4 and 5,000, and ideally the first would lead into and become part of the second. As with all other subjects other appropriate artefacts may be produced (but you must be prepared to argue for and defend their relevance) but you would still have to write an accompanying essay which indicates how the artefact (imagine a soundscape) demonstrates or makes the necessary claims, propositions and argument, what they are, and how this is realised in and through the artefact.
RESEARCH STRATEGIES is a subject that is always present in honours, though sometimes it might get called research methods. Regardless of the name, its purpose is the same, which is to introduce you to the idea that there are different ways you can do research. These ways might vary depending on what your discipline is, what you are studying, and how you want to study and present your research. It is always in honours because, inspite of all the different disciplines that do honours, its ‘purpose’ is to provide what you can think of ‘research education’. So honours is not just more of what you did in your undergraduate discipline, and if your undergraduate degree trained you in a particular discipline (eg media studies, journalism, communication design) then honours trains you in ‘research’.
This subject has traditionally been what you might describe as a ‘survey’ subject, where you work your way through some of the key research methods that are available. This usually works quite well because such subjects are generally for students who are similar enough academically, working in similar enough disciplines, for the survey to be relevant. The main distinction between quantitative and qualitative research, and some of the key methods in each. For this honours this is a problem. Firstly because there are so many possible disciplines involved that there is potentially a very broad set of methods that would need to be taught. Secondly, we do not know from year to year what the disciplinary mix of students will be, which makes planning in advance what methods might matter difficult. Finally, this subject happens at the beginning of honours. It is necessary, but the idea that research is a method – that is an applied practice – really only makes sense after honours, that is after you have started to become a researcher.
This subject will then offer a different avenue to think about research strategies, beginning from some important preliminary questions (perhaps “what is research?”, “what does knowledge look like in your discipline?” “how is it made?” “how is it tested?” “what counts as knowledge?” and “why?”) to then try to get a sense of the variety of methods, but also that methods frame particular ways of doing, thinking, and understanding, and that research is perhaps less about following a specific ‘method’ than being able to situate what you do in a broader disciplinary context. From this the aim is for you to be able to have a sense of how you need to go about your research, what will count as research, and what the steps need to be. You will be aware of key people, arguments, and approaches, and you will develop this through doing research.
Assessment in research strategies will consist of three elements. The first is the development of your research question (or problem), which will follow a reasonably strict structure. This will focus your year, but is not set in stone (it will evolve). The second is a 2,000 word essay that will be your first effort at answering, writing out, your research question. This will then form the basis of a more complex, 4,000 word essay where you will continue to try to answer your research question. In doing this will you need to be able to situate it in relation to your discipline, and other relevant work. You will have to explain how you will go about doing it (or more simply just do it), and why you are doing it that way, and what you think the outcomes of this will be. What it is, how you will do it, why you will do it that way, and why it matters.
RESEARCH PRACTICE (which is sort of a silly name but since you do enrol in it it does need some sort of a name) is not a class with classes. Or a teacher. It is an allocation of credit points which you ‘spend’ on your research project. This is our way of saying that in honours a lot of your time needs to be dedicated to, and on, your research project. So this gets an allocation in terms of subjects and credit points. We could make you sit in class for it, but we don’t.
The RESEARCH LABS run throughout the academic year, and the theme you do in semester one continues on into semester two. The labs provide the theme for your research, and a big site of expertise in relation to the content of the theme – what it is about, how to understand it, and so on. These labs are the key to honours, so they get their own page…
In semester one it is likely that each of the labs will be content focussed. A key idea is to realise that when things are defined what matters is not so much what they are, but at what point something is not. A prosaic example, we sort of know what day is, and night, but the in between times, when does one become the other, that’s where the action is. Think about that. Day, night. Then we have special words for the morning part of it (morning, dawn, sunrise, daybreak, first light), and the evening part of it (evening, sunset, dusk, sundown, gloaming, twilight). So many words, so much ambiguity – or poetry. It is the blurred points between one term and another that define things, and where the arguments are found. So when is slow fast? Non fiction fiction? Social advocacy patronising?
As the semester is 12 weeks long there is a nice, liminal elegance to spending 4 weeks on what the theme is, 4 weeks on what its significance is, and 4 weeks on how it connects to other things (eg your own project and discipline). So you might summarise that as ‘what is it?’, then ‘why it matters’ and then ‘how it intersects’. You could also summarise it as ‘itself’, ‘its relation to others’, ‘how others relate to it’. Assessment will be made up of a research project folio (think a schedule, a supervisor for semester two, your research question from over there in research strategies, and a visualisation of your abilities), and there will be two presentations during the course of the semester. The first will be limited to 3 minutes where you will take a position about why the theme matters in relation to your discipline. What or how is it relevant? The second will be limited to 5 minutes and you will demonstrate how your research problem (think project or thesis or argument) relates to the lab theme and your discipline. In both presentations you will need to make claims, which will require evidence from the work that you do in the labs. These are focussing exercises, teaching you to identify what matters, what is the substance, of your research problem, and helping make what you do relevant to your overall research outcome.