Sunday, November 12, 2006

Assignment suggestions?

In my intro class in American studies, we're moving into a unit about food and culture. I've decided to give my TAs a break and have the students work in small groups, which means, of course, fewer essays to grade.

However, I think I've scared the shit out of my TAs by declaring that the students will write their essays on wikis, find the subject matter for their assignments online, and be required to include images with their wiki-essays.


UPDATED to add: Why a wiki? Because then the TAs and I can track how much each student contributed to the writing and editing of the essay. Making the division of work transparent has always been a problem of mine, as I find the students don't self-report particularly well, even when asked to report on their group members' contributions to a project.

Anyhow, here's the draft of assignment's core:

Perform a cultural analysis of one of the following:
  • a series of food commercials or print advertisements from the same corporation/organization (e.g. Carl’s Jr. or the Dairy Board), from the same time period and on a similar theme (e.g. 1980s coffee ads), or advertising the same kind of product (e.g. fast-food chicken). You should cover three or four commercials or advertisements.
  • a series of advertisements (print, web, and TV, for example) for a single non-food product (e.g. SUVs or pharmaceutical products) that incorporates food literally or as a metaphor. Again, you should use three or four ads or commercials.
Where can you find commercials? On corporate web sites, on TV (tape or digitally record them yourself), on YouTube, and elsewhere. For example, here are a couple I found on YouTube. They’re both from Carl’s Jr., are recent, feature celebrities, and raise similar issues:

If you go the YouTube route, be sure you are using real commercials, not parodies or remixes.

Here's the tricky part, oh bloggy academicians: We won't be reading any articles that deal with analyzing ads, and the students did a pretty lousy job of analyzing that damn movie in their first paper. I could require them to do a traditional, albeit lightweight, research paper based on some of the course readings on food-n-culture, but I'm afraid that's asking for trouble, too--and it might mean a LOT more work for the TAs, as of these 100 students, I'm guessing maybe 7-10 have any facility in the library (and that's being generous).

So: What would you do to help the students make the bridge between food-n-culture readings that discuss race, ethnicity, class, and gender (and more) and advertisements that may use race, class, and gender (and a bunch of other things) to sell food or other products?

I'll perform a sample analysis for them, but in the past I've found that students stick a little too closely to the template I provide--that is, if I talk about the way an ad uses sex appeal or Americans' desires for higher class status, they'll all write about sex and status.

Any tips?

As always, many thanks for all your fabulous help. Your advice to me on the TA situation has helped me better think through it.


skookumchick said...

I have no "guiding" suggestions - I'm just shocked at the ads. And I can't even get my brain to fire up to say something clever. Still shocked. Of course, Mr. S and I pretty much only watch PBS... perhaps this is a reason why.

Anonymous said...

I assume you're teaching undergrads? Wish I could help. (Now, if you needed advice about 3rd graders or 7th graders, I could help you, but alas . . . .)

As for the whole facility in the library bit, Christ I wish someone would just teach a course on _that_. As a social science MA student with a BA outside of the social sciences, I'm making it up as I go along. (I didn't even know about JStor until one of my friends happened to make reference to it in casual conversation and I had to ask him to describe it and give me the web address.)

How the hell do you learn this stuff if you're a new grad student and nobody tells you shit? (Being in a 1-year program doesn't help. I'm sure I'll figure it all out right after I take my quals.)

Anonymous said...

So, maybe this is stupid, but what exactly is Carl Jrs? It looks like Hardees (burgers, chicken sandwiches, etc...). Is it only a California thing?

Leslie M-B said...

Carl's Jr. and Hardees are owned by the same company. The company started Carl's Jr. in the 1940s and acquired Hardees in the 1990s. The company also owns La Salsa and Green Burrito.

Anonymous said...

oooh... I'm getting flashbacks of reading "Promotional Culture" by Wernick and writing about how cars symbolize sex and power. So I am pretty sure I didn't manage to come up with any creative analyses myself...

Anonymous said...

maybe an article to read that is a review of visual methodologies and discourse analysis? so they get ideas of the different kinds, maybe some examples, and then go from there??

Kate C. said...

I'm not sure if this would work is such a big class, but, instead of you performing a sample analysis, you would work with them on an analysis or 2 in class--asking leading questions, letting them know these are the kind of questions they should be trying to answer. I've had (some) success with that type of interactive modeling--but in classes with closer to 25 students.