Position: Teaching Assistant/Grader
Institution/Department: Rutgers University, Communications/Journalism & Media Studies
Term: AY 2011
Student: Undergraduate
No. of Students: 183 (Fall 2011); 364 (Spring 2012)

Full Course Title: Consumer Media Culture
Designed and taught by Prof. Jack Z. Bratich

Course Description (quoted from Dr. Bratich’s syllabus):

The purpose of this course is to provide a critical understanding of advertising’s role in society. We will examine the history of advertising, the commercial and social aspects of the messages conveyed by ads, and the advertising industry’s influence on social relations and institutions, such as journalism. The basic orientation of the course is to study consumer media culture (advertising, public relations, and branded space) as a form unique to modern society.

The course begins with a broad history of modern advertising, and then we learn how to read ads critically as conveyors and creators of social values. We will then focus on advertising’s relationship to a variety of social issues and practices (gender, race, youth, environmentalism, rebellion). Some time will be spent on the recent innovations and experiments in “techniques of persuasion.” We’ll examine these techniques as they inform new modes of interactive and networked communication. Finally, we will examine the recent globalization of advertising, as well as the counterpractices (culture jamming, adbusters, cyberprotests) directed at an increasingly commercialized and branded world.

Learning Objectives (quoted from Dr. Bratich’s syllabus):

To demonstrate an understanding of approaches to and debates surrounding the role of advertising in society; describe the implications of corporate influence on public institutions, including journalism and education; describe the implications of consumer culture on social identities (especially race and gender), youth, and relationships; and analyze print and audio-visual advertisements using semiotic and social semiotic methodologies.

By the end of the course a successful learner will be able to reason critically when discussing advertising; demonstrate and exercise an independence of thought; deploy analytic strategies for interpreting ad texts; and contribute to discussions of consumer culture with a thorough understanding of historical and social contexts.

By the end of the course a successful learner will have acquired and improved their media literacy skills and developed written abilities to express their analytic skills.

What I Learned:

Despite my teaching experience prior to this course, this was the first class for which I served as a teaching assistant as opposed to primary instructor.  I had taught semiotics and ad analysis in the context of Composition & Rhetoric and gender studies, so in that sense the material was not new, but much of the history of advertising and specific advertising techniques were unfamiliar to me.  In that regard, the class was a learning experience.  This was also my first experience with a large lecture course.  Few students sought out during office hours—the opposite of what I’ve come to expect from teaching seminar courses—but during classes I was surprised at the level of engagement the professor was able to elicit from such a large group.  I substitute-taught one course for which the professor was absent, during which I screened a film and held a brief concluding discussion, and came face-to-face for the first time with the drastic difference in leading seminar discussions and lecturing.

My duties consisted primarily of grading and discussing grades with students.  The emphasis fell more on content than on writing quality, and adjusting my instinctive grader’s eye was a more time-consuming process than I thought.  The grading itself, while tedious, was ultimately not as grueling as First-Year Writing commenting, though I did occasionally grit my teeth over rhetorical issues in students’ writing.  I did find that I missed forming relationships with the students, as few of them met with me and I was meant to prioritize my coursework.  The students I did meet with were great, however, and on the whole this experience helped me acclimate to a new campus and a new discipline, as well as introducing me to a new (much larger) mode of teaching.