NOTE: All students in this course have agreed to share their digital likenesses per our course agreements. I promise. =)
LUBBOCK, TX — Although the “official” portion of our Fulbright program was cut drastically short due to the (still prevalent) COVID-19 outbreak in the United States, I’ve been thrilled to continue my relationship with the National Chengchi University in Taipei.
Across 14 hour, 6000 miles, and several languages (with NCCU’s College of Communication), myself and Dr. Jih-Hsuan Tammy Lin have been trading lectures, sharing research and ideas, and engaging each others’ students as part of a “Digital Games and Society” course. On so many dimensions, holding to the core of the Fulbright Act:
“… promotion of international good will through the exchange of students in the fields of education, culture and science.”From the Fulbright Act of 1945.
A full-semester course was hosted by Dr. Lin for her graduate students at NCCU. For my part? I led a parallel discussion seminar here in Lubbock with myself and about a dozen or so Tech students, graduate research assistants, and even a few of campus librarians.
Every few weeks this Fall, we’d take a break from COVID-19 concerns, pour some coffee or brew some tea, and talk video games and virtual reality. Throughout the course, we shared our own experiences:
- What is it like to feel a sense of “being there” in a digital world?
- When did the first video game “moral panics” start?
- What happens when we can extend lives through virtual reality?
With permission from the students and those participating in our chats, we’ve archived all six sessions. Each recording is about 2:30 long (that’s HH:MM) with nearly 13 hours of total footage.
Below? The view from the faculty seat. The middle screen is the live view, with mission control in the bottom-left, course syllabus in the top-left, various web content for sharing in the top-right, and our class and guest roster in the bottom-right. The black box? That’s my batter’s eye.
The video chats were only a small part of the course, and in some ways were meant to kick off the more robust conversations online. Through NCCU’s e-learning platform, students could engage in thematic discussion forums: each tied to the videos above. The basic flow?
- I’d meet synchronously with Texas Tech students and guests, and we’d work through a set of assigned readings (usually, two to four).
- The videos are stored and shared with our NCCU colleagues, where Dr. Lin passes the videos and the readings on to her students.
- Those students would watch the videos and post their initial thoughts online.
- Myself and the rest of our Texas Tech student and guests would engage those discussions.
- Rise, repeat, and game on. =)
Whew. It’s quite a bit to manage, as from a teaching perspective you’ve got to think both about the live audience and the curated audience — a bit ironic, given that Tammy and I have written about this with respect to our shared research in video game streaming. Not to mention balancing these conversations into the usual teaching line-up: three other on-campus courses and my usual set of brilliant BA, MA, and PhD advisees. Moreover, our students here in Lubbock are struggling mightily with COVID-19 — Lubbock has made national news for all the wrong reasons — and of course there’s the regular teaching, research, and service responsibilities that come along with any semester. Without question, this was one of the busiest teaching semesters of my career.
It was also the most rewarding semester of my career. Fielding questions and engaging perspectives from students on two sides of the globe, there was a remarkable sense of reflection and exchange in every single conversation. For the most part, video games and virtual reality were common touchstones for all students. Less common? The cultural and experiential lenses by which our students broke these experiences down: from French students in Taiwan exploring the aesthetics of digital avatars to West Texas natives contemplating the moral realities of Red Dead Redemption II, and just about every other viewpoint you can imagine. In all, no less than 120 individual threads to show for the semester.
It’s been a pleasure to keep one foot in Taipei and one foot in Tech. It’s been good for the soul and good for my own perspective, and I’d do it again in a heartbeat. My official Fulbright tenure may have ended, but the cultural exchanges has only just begun.
Post-script: A few people asked, and I can assure you that my claw machine winnings have a prominent place in the home office.
Post-post script: Okay, so this is too cool. One of the students enrolled at NCCU? A native of St. Louis, Missouri. Truly, #314 is best.