Presentation Title

Superheroes in the Classroom, or “With Great Pedagogical Power and Responsibility:” An Autoethnographic Account of a Critical Media Pedagogy in a Transmedial Genre-Based University Writing Course

Biographical Sketch

Christopher Jeansonne is a PhD candidate in the Department of Arts Administration, Education and Policy (AAEP), with a Graduate Interdisciplinary Specialization in Film Studies.He also holds a Master of Fine Arts in Film from Ohio University. He currently teaches courses for both the AAEP department and for the Film Studies Program.

His research focuses on critical media pedagogy at the intersection of scholarship and creative practice. His approach to both teaching and research involves reflective investigations into our ‘media selves,’ exploring how individual, group, and cultural identities are established within, and articulated through, media.

Type of Presentation

Individual presentation

Brief Description of Presentation

A teacher/action researcher gives an autoethnographic account of using the currently ubiquitous superhero genre as the transmedial focus of a critical media pedagogy class. Incorporating a negotiated syllabus, student-led learning strategies, and arts-based pedagogy methods, the goal was to engender a classroom of ‘student-heroes.’ The project is rich with examples of students’ creative work and critical writings, and incorporates students’ personal reactions to, and reflections on, the critical pedagogy techniques used in the class.

Abstract of Proposal

The popularity and cultural influence of the superhero genre is undeniable. Despite the rise of the more ‘literary’ graphic novel, the superhero genre still dominates American comics readership and has assumed a commanding presence in motion pictures and video games. Even among those unfamiliar with the narratives, superheroes have become ubiquitous through icons and products. As a narrative form that has thrived in multiple cultural contexts and on a variety of industrial scales, the genre serves as an effective locus for discussions of representation, and of literal as well as metaphorical diversification of empowerment. Academic scholarship on superheroes has grown recently, including edited anthologies such as What is a Superhero? (Rosenberg and Cooogan, 2016) and The Superhero Reader (Hatfield, Heer and Worcester, 2013) and focused monographs such as Superwomen: Gender, Power and Representation (Cocca, 2016), The New Mutants: Superheroes and the Radical Imagination of American Comics (Fawaz, 2016). However, while popular interest has grown and academic scholarship has matured, pedagogical approaches to the genre have largely been based on traditional models.

This research project is an autoethnographic account of the use of a critical pedagogy in a genre-based, transmedial, university-level writing course. ‘Autoethnography’ is here defined as “an approach to doing and representing social research that uses personal (‘auto’) experience to create a representation (‘graphy’) of cultural (‘ethno’) experiences, social expectations, and shared beliefs” (Adams and Jones, 2017). In this case, the project was also an educational action research project, in that I (the teacher/researcher) collaborated with the students/co-researchers in the investigation of a pedagogical concern, namely the relative benefits of student-centered versus teacher-centered learning techniques in a writing course with a popular cultural focus. The resulting research document tells the story of our investigative process, and is a multi-faceted account of wrestling with concepts related to educational theory, grounded in personal narrative(s) of learning in our unique pedagogical situation. We explored the superhero genre’s evolving representations of diversity and empowerment across various media formats—in comics, radio, motion pictures, video games, visual art, literature, and in cosplay and material culture—looking at both recent examples and those from the past. Its broad appeal made the superhero genre an ideal topic through which to engender a sense of critical media engagement in a diverse community of university students.

Critical media pedagogy methods included a negotiated syllabus, student-designed and led learning units, and arts-based pedagogical methods with a kinship to critical pedagogies. Although taught under the auspices of a rhetorical writing course, the class undertook expressive and critical tasks in various media; this array of activities expanded students’ understandings of transmedial compositional principles, and helped to bridge the gap between creative/expressive/analytical practices. The project is rich with examples of students’ creative work and critical writings, and incorporates students’ personal reactions to, and reflections on, the critical pedagogy techniques used in the class.

This research points towards ways that educators can better engender a sense of critical media engagement and awareness in a diverse student body through contextual understandings of the balance of authority between students and teachers. In engendering an authentic sense of agency, I would argue that it is not simply a question of whether students or teachers hold a greater ‘share’ of authority in pedagogical relationships, but whether everyone involved in the educational process has a transparent understanding of the situated and nuanced nature of authoritative relationships.

Work Cited:

Adams, T. & Jones, S. H. (2017). The art of autoethnography. In Handbook of arts-based research. Patricia Leavy, Ed. New York: Guilford Publications.

Cocca, C. (2016). Superwomen: gender, power, and representation. New York: Bloomsbury Academic.

Fawaz, R. (2016). The New mutants: superheroes and the radical imagination of american comics. New York, NY: New York University Press.

Hatfield, C., Heer, J. & Worcester, K. (2013). The Superhero reader. Mississippi: The University of Mississippi Press.

Rosenberg, R. & Coogan, P. (2013). What is a superhero? New York, NY: Oxford University Press.

Start Date

2-24-2018 8:10 AM

End Date

2-24-2018 9:40 AM

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Feb 24th, 8:10 AM Feb 24th, 9:40 AM

Superheroes in the Classroom, or “With Great Pedagogical Power and Responsibility:” An Autoethnographic Account of a Critical Media Pedagogy in a Transmedial Genre-Based University Writing Course

The popularity and cultural influence of the superhero genre is undeniable. Despite the rise of the more ‘literary’ graphic novel, the superhero genre still dominates American comics readership and has assumed a commanding presence in motion pictures and video games. Even among those unfamiliar with the narratives, superheroes have become ubiquitous through icons and products. As a narrative form that has thrived in multiple cultural contexts and on a variety of industrial scales, the genre serves as an effective locus for discussions of representation, and of literal as well as metaphorical diversification of empowerment. Academic scholarship on superheroes has grown recently, including edited anthologies such as What is a Superhero? (Rosenberg and Cooogan, 2016) and The Superhero Reader (Hatfield, Heer and Worcester, 2013) and focused monographs such as Superwomen: Gender, Power and Representation (Cocca, 2016), The New Mutants: Superheroes and the Radical Imagination of American Comics (Fawaz, 2016). However, while popular interest has grown and academic scholarship has matured, pedagogical approaches to the genre have largely been based on traditional models.

This research project is an autoethnographic account of the use of a critical pedagogy in a genre-based, transmedial, university-level writing course. ‘Autoethnography’ is here defined as “an approach to doing and representing social research that uses personal (‘auto’) experience to create a representation (‘graphy’) of cultural (‘ethno’) experiences, social expectations, and shared beliefs” (Adams and Jones, 2017). In this case, the project was also an educational action research project, in that I (the teacher/researcher) collaborated with the students/co-researchers in the investigation of a pedagogical concern, namely the relative benefits of student-centered versus teacher-centered learning techniques in a writing course with a popular cultural focus. The resulting research document tells the story of our investigative process, and is a multi-faceted account of wrestling with concepts related to educational theory, grounded in personal narrative(s) of learning in our unique pedagogical situation. We explored the superhero genre’s evolving representations of diversity and empowerment across various media formats—in comics, radio, motion pictures, video games, visual art, literature, and in cosplay and material culture—looking at both recent examples and those from the past. Its broad appeal made the superhero genre an ideal topic through which to engender a sense of critical media engagement in a diverse community of university students.

Critical media pedagogy methods included a negotiated syllabus, student-designed and led learning units, and arts-based pedagogical methods with a kinship to critical pedagogies. Although taught under the auspices of a rhetorical writing course, the class undertook expressive and critical tasks in various media; this array of activities expanded students’ understandings of transmedial compositional principles, and helped to bridge the gap between creative/expressive/analytical practices. The project is rich with examples of students’ creative work and critical writings, and incorporates students’ personal reactions to, and reflections on, the critical pedagogy techniques used in the class.

This research points towards ways that educators can better engender a sense of critical media engagement and awareness in a diverse student body through contextual understandings of the balance of authority between students and teachers. In engendering an authentic sense of agency, I would argue that it is not simply a question of whether students or teachers hold a greater ‘share’ of authority in pedagogical relationships, but whether everyone involved in the educational process has a transparent understanding of the situated and nuanced nature of authoritative relationships.

Work Cited:

Adams, T. & Jones, S. H. (2017). The art of autoethnography. In Handbook of arts-based research. Patricia Leavy, Ed. New York: Guilford Publications.

Cocca, C. (2016). Superwomen: gender, power, and representation. New York: Bloomsbury Academic.

Fawaz, R. (2016). The New mutants: superheroes and the radical imagination of american comics. New York, NY: New York University Press.

Hatfield, C., Heer, J. & Worcester, K. (2013). The Superhero reader. Mississippi: The University of Mississippi Press.

Rosenberg, R. & Coogan, P. (2013). What is a superhero? New York, NY: Oxford University Press.