Revisiting Black Mirror in Composition + Special Issue of Supernatural Studies

A few folks emailed me in the past couple of weeks asking for more information around my Black Mirror-themed composition course, so I thought I’d post a few revisions and tweaks I’m working on as I prepare for the next iteration of this class. I focused on Get Out in the fall, but will come back to Black Mirror in both Composition I and our Liberal Arts capstone in the spring. I’ll post in the next week or so on the capstone class.

In case you are looking for additional resources on Black Mirror — both scholarly articles and/or reflections on teaching — I’d suggest you also check out the special issue of Supernatural Studies (4.2) devoted to Black Mirror that I edited. It’s Open Access, it’s got great articles: Shastri Akella’s “‘We are Not in Control Anymore’: Technological Possessions Facilitated by Simulacrums in the Posthuman Reality of ‘Hated in the Nation’”; Sarah Hildebrand’s “Grain Ethics: Voyeurism, Violence, and Traumatic Memory in ‘The Entire History of You'”; Kenn Watt’s “Wired: ‘Men Against Fire’ and the Revolution in Military Affairs”; and Chris Campanioni’s “How Do I Look?: Data’s Death Drive & Our Black Mirrored Reflections.” There are teaching notes from professors who have taught Black Mirror in a variety of settings, courses, and disciplines, including Minerva Ahumada, myself, Rebekah Johnson, Christine Marks, Claudia Moreno Parsons, and Leah Richards. You can read the journal issue here.

The Composition Class

Big changes: When I last taught Black Mirror in composition, I realized the unit I did around free will and determinism was pretty rough. We watched Minority Report, read a couple related pieces, and then screened “White Bear” to discuss punishment in the criminal justice system. I just crammed in too much: students got it, by and large, but it was rushed, and we didn’t get to “sit” with these big ideas for long enough. This time, I’ve gone back to one of my favorites, “Be Right Back,” and prepared us for the screening with readings I usually use with the liberal arts capstone students.

In addition (and I will detail more on this in a later post), I’ve folded what I’m calling a “revision lab” into my composition courses. We have 28 students in our Comp I classes (of course, the ADE recommends 15 or fewer). I give them rubrics and comments and send them off from class, hoping they will know how to tackle revision. Some do, and some don’t: and it’s not their fault, when they don’t. And because there are 28 of them, I’m often trying to chase too many students down to see how the revisions are coming along, and it’s really not effective. If revision is a central component of writing — as anyone who writes will tell you, and some will of course say that writing is revision — then why shouldn’t I provide a time and space for guided revisions to happen (outside of just hoping they’ll come to my office hours, or go to the Writing Center)?

So here’s my new policy, taken from my syllabus (still under development):

Revision labs are an opportunity for you to work closely with the professor, and revise and resubmit any paper. If you got an A or B on the first draft of any paper, you are not required to attend revision lab; you will not be counted as absent for the day. You should, of course, feel free to attend the revision lab if you got an A or a B, and want to fix anything or talk to your professor one-on-one about revisions. If you get a C or below on the first draft of any paper, you are required to attend the revision lab; if you do not attend, you will be counted as absent, and will not be allowed to revise and resubmit your work — the initial grade, whatever it is, will stand. Any and all revisions are due exactly one week from the professor’s announcement that grades are available: revisions submitted past the deadline will not be accepted. Writing is a cumulative process, you cannot save all your revisions for the last week of classes. You should be revising your writing constantly along the way, to make yourself a better writer overall.

I don’t mean this to be a punitive thing, but I want to emphasize how crucial it is to revise. I also had “revision labs” that were voluntary in the past semester, and students who desperately should have attended did not. Of course, I will make alternate arrangements if a student cannot attend due to unforeseen circumstances, but I hope that by making this during class time and by building in this time and space within the schedule, revisions will happen when they actually need to in the writing process.

The assignments (with links to the docs): 

  • Their first paper will focus on “Nosedive,” summarizing the conversation between Sherry Turkle and her detractors, and answering whether or not the world in “Nosedive” seems realistic based on these readings.
  • The second paper/midterm will have them consider the ethics of life extension after we’ve read some articles/screened some talks and watched “Be Right Back” (email me for the prompt).
  • The final project proposal and guide helps students draft their papers in a scaffolded way: I provide a series of questions they answer and reflect on, and they build it out into a working document that they can then draw on when drafting the final paper itself.
  • The final project (as with the last iteration of the class) asks students to choose an episode of Black Mirror that they deem important to watch, and choose readings to help make their case about why this episode is important.

Here’s the syllabus (still under construction):

 

My teaching plans are still not totally filled out (we don’t start again until March), but you can see whatever I’ve got thus far here.

Feel free to email me or comment below for prompts or with suggestions.

 

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