Media Koans

 Here are some examples of an assignment style I try with my grade 7/8 students.  Their responses typically run 1.5-2 pages and I give about 12 a year.  I have unfortunately left some of my favourites off this post because they had a lot of images, and I am finding uploading and embedding images here a little awkward.  If anyone is interested in the complete set, I’ll send the Word File if you tell me where to send it.  I have purposefully left out “look fors”/success criteria/specifics because I negotiate them with my class and I don’t have a definitive guide.  I would also love suggestions for more of the same.  I know that this post is a bit long, but I wanted to give as much of the resources as possible so you could choose the good ones /ones that are good for you; I don’t think they are all equally as valuable (some are also becoming a little outdated). 

Media Koan

A Koan is a story, dialogue, question, or statement in the history and lore of Zen Buddhism, generally containing aspects that are inaccessible to rational understanding, yet may be accessible to intuition.  Koans are said to reflect the enlightened or awakened state of such persons, and sometimes said to confound the habit of discursive thought or shock the mind into awareness (Wikipedia.org).

In our media instruction this year, we will confront a variety of puzzling situations which will be called Media Koans.  Each media Koan will be assigned on Monday and be discussed through the week.  Students have until Friday to hear the thoughts of others and to assemble thoughts of their own.  All relevant questions should be expressed to peers or to the teacher throughout the week.  By Friday night, students should be able to work independently and successfully in responding to each week’s assignment.  Each response should be about 1-2 pages in length, unless otherwise stated on an ad hoc basis

 

Imagine aliens have come to earth because they have observed that we are in the middle of a recession (negative growth over 2 or more quarters- currently about 3%) or what the news calls “a Global Economic Meltdown”, and they want to help.  They offer us a quick efficient mode of transportation that will fuel our economic growth for at least 100 years.  It will allow our cities to prosper and level out the differences in quality of life between rural and urban.  The technology can be used to increase the quality of life in all countries.  In exchange, the Aliens only ask for the sacrifice of 30 000 – 40 000 young people every year.  Do we take the deal?

Now consider the automobile.  It was invented around 100 years ago.  It offers us a quick efficient mode of transportation that has fuelled our economic growth for the last 100 years.  It has allowed our cities to prosper and level out the differences in quality of life between rural and urban.  The technology has been used to increase the quality of life in all countries.  All it demanded was the sacrifice of 30,000 – 40,000 young North Americans every year…

More Americans have died in car accidents then in all the wars they have fought in…

Why are we (society, me, you) not horrified by the costs of being a car dependent society?  What social position does the car occupy in our culture?

How is that position evident?  How is that position maintained?

1.3  evaluate the effectiveness of the presentation and treatment of ideas, information, themes, opinions, issues, and/or experiences in media texts Seldom uses critical/ creative thinking processes to  express ideas Inconsistently uses critical/ creative thinking processes to  express ideas Uses critical/ creative thinking processes to  express  ideas Always uses critical/ creative thinking processes to  express ideas

 Koan -Music

As I was driving through the country, I had exhausted my extensive 3 CD collection and wanted to listen to music.  I set the radio to scan; except for the monotone CBC talk radio I found 4 other channels each playing some type of country music (I don’t know if it was new country, classic country, retro, blue grass, alternative country, close harmony, or the other styles…).  But it made me think…hmmmm…..why is country music so popular in the country?  Why is urban punk only popular in cities?  Why is classical music popular with senior citizens?  And the most troubling to you students: why as you get older, will more and more of you prefer the Beatles or classic rock to the hmmm….music that you are listening to now? 

2.1  explain how individual elements of various media forms combine to create, reinforce, and/or enhance meaning Attempts an explanation Provides a partial explanation Provides a clear explanation Provides a thorough explanation

 Koan – Sure and Secret 

Here is a seemingly trivial issue to think abou; however, it is important to be aware that basic and trivial are often confused:

“Secret” and “Sure” are two deodorants produced by the same company.  Both deodorants are made using exactly the same formula.   Why doesn’t the company just make one?  Why are they making the marketplace more competitive? 

2.1  explain how individual elements of various media forms combine to create, reinforce, and/or enhance meaning Attempts an explanation Provides a partial explanation Provides a clear explanation Provides a thorough explanation
2.2  identify the conventions and techniques used in a variety of media forms and explain how they help convey meaning Has difficulty identifying and explaining the use of conventions and techniques Sometimes identifies and explains the use of conventions and techniques Explains and identifies the use of conventions and techniques Confidently explains and identifies the use of conventions and techniques

 Koan – Air Miles 

The Canadian AIR MILES Reward Program is Canada’s largest loyalty program— AIR MILES reward miles can be earned at more than 100 participating sponsor companies in Canada. According to Alliance Data (the US parent of the Canadian company that launched the program in 1992 and continues to operate it), approximately two-thirds of Canadian households actively participate in the Program.  Air Miles collectors can redeem their reward miles for travel, entertainment and merchandise rewards. 

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Air_miles 

Many Canadians participate in this program with the belief that they are getting free rewards.  They feel that they are getting something for nothing and never stop to wonder how AIR MILES makes money.  It is not like other loyalty programs where you get stamped each time and then they give you the 10th coffee free.  You are not loyal to AIR MILES, you aren’t purchasing from them.  In that case, how can Air Miles afford to give stuff away just for using their card? How does the company make money?

For some reason, their privacy statement has been included for you to examine…

Bonus: Do you think their “frequently asked questions” are really frequently asked? 

THE AIR MILES® Privacy Pledge

Protecting the privacy and confidentiality of your Personal Information has always been a fundamental principle in our relationship with you, our Sponsors and Suppliers. This Privacy Pledge tells you how we will ensure the confidentiality and privacy of the information that you entrust us with.

  1. The AIR MILES Reward Program collects Personal Information for the following purposes:
  1. To administer the AIR MILES Reward Program and Affiliated Businesses, including the management of Collector Accounts to accurately record and update reward mile balances;
  2. To market, manage, and process Collector redemptions, including the issuance of reward tickets, vouchers, products and services;
  3. To invoice Collector, Sponsor and Supplier accounts as appropriate;
  4. To communicate information and offers to Collectors, Sponsors and Suppliers;
  5. To understand and analyze Collectors’ responses, needs and preferences;
  6. To develop, enhance, market and/or provide products and services to meet those needs; and
  7. To enable Collectors to participate in marketing promotions and contests.

From time to time, you may be asked to provide additional Personal Information.
If you choose not to provide this information, it will not affect your ability to collect or redeem AIR MILES reward miles.

  1. The AIR MILES Reward Program will use this information from time to time to promote additional products, services, rewards and special offers from the AIR MILES® Reward Program and/or its Sponsors and Suppliers.
  2. Collector information is processed and stored in secure, dedicated and confidential databases in Toronto, Ontario and Dallas, Texas.
  3. The AIR MILES®Reward Program does not give, rent or sell Collector lists to any organization or individual other than its Affiliated Businesses, Sponsors, Suppliers and companies contracted to process and manage Collector transactions, redemption requests, research, analysis and communications and in all cases, only to fulfill the specified purposes.In addition, a Collector’s specific transaction information from one AIR MILES Sponsor is not disclosed to another AIR MILES Sponsor.
  4. The AIR MILES ® Reward Program respects the privacy of Collectors when promoting products and services.
    AIR MILES Collectors can opt out of receiving marketing and promotional communications in electronic, printed or verbal format, other than Collector Summaries, by writing to us at:

AIR MILES Customer Care
P.O. Box 602, Station A
Scarborough, Ontario
M1K 5K7

by email to privacyoffice@airmiles.ca,

or by calling us at 1-888-AIRMILES (1-888-247-6453, inTorontocall 416-226-5171). 

1.2  interpret increasingly complex or difficult media texts, using overt and implied messages as evidence for their interpretations Applies limited interpretation and/or is beginning to provide evidence Applies a partial interpretation and provides some evidence Applies a full interpretation and provides evidence Applies thorough interpretation and provides extensive evidence

Koan – Cell contracts

Way back in the dark ages of the 1980’s, cell phones were called car phones.  This was because the unit was so big it only made sense to transport it in your car.  It also required a lot of power and rechargeable power packs, which are a dividend of NASA, and the space program, were still a few years away from the average consumer.  My uncle had one and it was pretty terrible.  The reception was lousy (compared to today); you had to yell to be heard; and it only worked in downtown Toronto.  This was cutting edge technology at the time and had a few clichés but his car phone lasted 7 years and was still working ‘perfectly well’ when he decided to retire and no longer needed one.  I got my first cell phone in 2003 and have had 3 since.  I don’t know of anyone who has kept a cell phone or had their phone in good working order 3 years after they bought it.  Assuming that my experience is typical, why are cell phone contracts 3 years long?

Hint: Don’t expect a level 3 or 4 without referring to planned obsolescence.

Expectations Level 1 Level 2 Level 3 Level 4
1.1  explain how various media texts address their intended purpose and audience Attempts an explanation Provides a partial or incomplete explanation Provides a clear explanation Provides a thorough explanation

 Koan – commercials

Many years ago, as you were taking your first breaths, car commercials used to talk about the characteristics of the car (e.g. fuel composition, acceleration, handling, leg room, etc).  Now it seems many car commercials sell the style or the image of the car.  The cars go “zoom, zoom,” or are constructed entirely of contortionists.  Do you think that this is a successful strategy? Why (discuss and jot some notes to share)?

 

Recently I saw a commercial where a laptop was placed into a manila envelope.  The entire commercial seemed geared towards highlighting how thin the laptop is.  Assuming that this commercial is successful (i.e. it induces people to buy this computer), what does this say about us as consumers?

Bonus: (in this Koan both e.g. and ie have been used…have they been used correctly?  Is there a difference between the 2?)

Expectations Level 1 Level 2 Level 3 Level 4
1.1  explain how various media texts address their intended purpose and audience Attempts an explanation Provides a partial or incomplete explanation Provides a clear explanation Provides a thorough explanation
1.2  interpret increasingly complex or difficult media texts, using overt and implied messages as evidence for their interpretations Applies limited interpretation and/or is beginning to provide evidence Applies a partial interpretation and provides some evidence Applies a full interpretation and provides evidence Applies thorough interpretation and provides extensive evidence

 Koan – Energy Drinks 

“Red Bull is a popular carbonated energy drink sold by Red Bull GmbH. In 2006, more than 3 billion cans were sold in over 130 countries (Wikipedia.org).”  The can of this company is a central part of their marketing strategy.  It is so successful that other brands are near identical (e.g. Red Rain).  Using a can or picture respond to the following:

  1. After a quick examination, how does Red Bull appear to market itself?
  2. What features on the can lead you to that conclusion?
  3. Are there any characteristics of the can that seem suspect?
  4. Do you think that the Red Bull can successfully brand itself as identified in question 1?
1.1  explain how various media texts address their intended purpose and audience Attempts an explanation Provides a partial or incomplete explanation Provides a clear explanation Provides a thorough explanation
2.1  explain how individual elements of various media forms combine to create, reinforce, and/or enhance meaning Attempts an explanation Provides a partial explanation Provides a clear explanation Provides a thorough explanation

 Koan – Pricing

Both Red Bull and Starbucks price their beverages above market average (the average price for comparable products). Is this a marketing strategy or a reflection of higher production costs?  If so, why?

2.1  explain how individual elements of various media forms combine to create, reinforce, and/or enhance meaning Attempts an explanation Provides a partial explanation Provides a clear explanation Provides a thorough explanation

 Koan – Engendering Gender 

Recently at the mall, my son started laughing at a hat in a store window.  He said, “That hat is funny; they made it for a girl.  Girls don’t wear hats; that’s silly.”  We have always told him that boys wear hats outside (Ms. Tucker doesn’t like hats, I do…but we both want my son to wear a hat for protection…telling him that boys wear hats was the most effective way to get him to wear a hat even if his mother doesn’t).  What made me curious was not that he thought girls didn’t wear hats, it was that even in spite of that belief, he recognised that the hat had been engendered, and that it was a “girl hat.”  How do marketers brand objects with gender?  Make a list (brainstorm) of techniques marketers might use (even ones my son won’t recognise) to engender a product.  Then choose a specific product and analyze how that particular product is engendered (expectation 1.2).  Why do marketers do that (expectation 1.1)?

Expectations Level 1 Level 2 Level 3 Level 4
1.1  explain how various media texts address their intended purpose and audience Attempts an explanation Provides a partial or incomplete explanation Provides a clear explanation Provides a thorough explanation
1.2  interpret increasingly complex or difficult media texts, using overt and implied messages as evidence for their interpretations Applies limited interpretation and/or is beginning to provide evidence Applies a partial interpretation and provides some evidence Applies a full interpretation and provides evidence Applies thorough interpretation and provides extensive evidence

 Koan – “Chilean Sea Bass”

The Patagonian toothfish (Dissostichus eleginoides) is a fish found in the cold, temperate waters (between depths of 45 to 3850 m) of the Southern Atlantic, Southern Pacific, Indian, and Southern Oceans on seamounts and continental shelves around most sub‐Antarctic islands.

A commercial fishery exists for Patagonian toothfish; the meat is sold under the trade names “Chilean sea bass” in the USA; “merluza negra” in Chile, Argentina, and Uruguay where it is relatively cheap; and “mero” in Japan where it is sold at high prices.

A close relative, the Antarctic toothfish (Dissostichus mawsoni), is found farther south around the edges of the Antarctic shelf; it also lives in the Ross Sea.

The average weight of a commercially caught Patagonian toothfish is 9 to 10 kilograms (20 to 22 pounds) with large adults occasionally exceeding 200 kilograms (441 pounds). They are thought to live up to fifty years and to reach a length up to 2.3 metres (7.5 feet).

What is interesting about the above?  What meaning has been constructed?

How has it been constructed? 

Definition:  A trade name, also known as a trading name or a business name, is the name which a business trades under for commercial purposes, although its registered, legal name, used for contracts and other formal situations, may be another. Pharmaceuticals also have trade names (e.g. “Aspirin“), often dissimilar to their chemical names (“acetylsalicylic acid“).

Trading names are sometimes registered as trademarks or are regarded as brands.

2.2  identify the conventions and techniques used in a variety of media forms and explain how they help convey meaning Has difficulty identifying and explaining the use of conventions and techniques Sometimes identifies and explains the use of conventions and techniques Explains and identifies the use of conventions and techniques Confidently explains and identifies the use of conventions and techniques

 Koan – Spokesperson

 As a middle-aged male, I identify with neither Britney Spears nor Oprah Winfrey more so than with any other person (in fact, a great deal less then most).  Nevertheless, one of them is a much better spokesperson to try to induce me to drink Pepsi (especially 5 years ago).  1) Who is it and why?  2) Can you think of anyone better to use in Pepsi advertising for me?  For you?  3) Now make a list of 10 items that Britney Spears can sell more effectively than Oprah Winfrey to me.  4) Make another list of 10 things that Oprah Winfrey can sell more effectively than Britney Spears to me.

2.1  explain how individual elements of various media forms combine to create, reinforce, and/or enhance meaning Attempts an explanation Provides a partial explanation Provides a clear explanation Provides a thorough explanation

 Koan Oxi-Clean

There is a wonderful commercial that talks about the cleaning power of oxygen.  Oxi-clean is presented as an innovative product and implies that it uniquely utilises the cleaning power of oxygen and that this is desirable.   Is that a good slogan?  Is it meaningful?  Is it effective?

2.1  explain how individual elements of various media forms combine to create, reinforce, and/or enhance meaning Attempts an explanation Provides a partial explanation Provides a clear explanation Provides a thorough explanation
2.2  identify the conventions and techniques used in a variety of media forms and explain how they help convey meaning Has difficulty identifying and explaining the use of conventions and techniques Sometimes identifies and explains the use of conventions and techniques Explains and identifies the use of conventions and techniques Confidently explains and identifies the use of conventions and techniques

 Koan – Tiger Woods 

Consider:

In 2002, Woods was involved in every aspect of the launch of Buick‘s Rendezvous SUV. A company spokesman stated that Buick is happy with the value of Woods’ endorsement, pointing out that more than 130,000 Rendezvous vehicles were sold in 2002 and 2003. “That exceeded our forecasts,” he was quoted as saying, “It has to be in recognition of Tiger.” In February 2004, Buick renewed Woods’ endorsement contract for another five years, in a deal reportedly worth $40 million.

Woods collaborated closely with TAG Heuer to develop the world’s first professional golf watch, released in April 2005.  The lightweight, titanium-construction watch, designed to be worn while playing the game, incorporates numerous innovative design features to accommodate golf play. It is capable of absorbing up to 5,000 Gs of shock, far in excess of the forces generated by a normal golf swing.  In 2006, the TAG Heuer Professional Golf Watch won the prestigious iF product design award in the Leisure/Lifestyle category.

Woods also endorses the Tiger Woods PGA Tour series of video games; he has done so since 1999. In 2006, he signed a six-year contract with Electronic Arts, the series’ publisher.

In February 2007, along with Roger Federer and Thierry Henry, Woods became an ambassador for the “Gillette Champions” marketing campaign. Gillette did not disclose financial terms, though an expert estimated the deal could total between $10 million and $20 million.

In October 2007, Gatorade announced that Woods would have his own brand of sports drink starting in March 2008. “Gatorade Tiger” was his first U.S. deal with a beverage company and his first licensing agreement. Although no figures were officially disclosed, Golfweek magazine reported that it was for five years and could pay him as much as $100 million. The company decided in early fall 2009 to discontinue the drink due to weak sales.

On December 8, 2009, Nielsen indicated that advertisers had tentatively suspended TV ads featuring Woods after news of extramarital affairs emerged. Major sponsors initially pledged support and to retain Woods, but he was suspended by Gillette on December 11, and completely dropped by Accenture on December 13. On December 18, TAG Heuer dropped Woods “for the foreseeable future” from its advertising campaigns, only to then change their home page by December 23 to the statement that “Tag Heuer stands with Tiger Woods”.  On January 1, 2010, AT&T announced the end of its sponsorship of Woods…stating that the golfer was “no longer the right representative.”

A December 2009 study by Christopher R. Knittel and Victor Stango, economics professors at the University of California at Davis, estimated that the shareholder loss caused by Woods’ alleged extramarital affairs to be between $5 billion and $12 billion.

Why was Tiger woods chosen for these endorsements?   Why is he being dropped (Hint: if there isn’t consistency in your answers, then you are wrong!).

2.1  explain how individual elements of various media forms combine to create, reinforce, and/or enhance meaning Attempts an explanation Provides a partial explanation Provides a clear explanation Provides a thorough explanation

 Koan –Control part 1

“Visibility is a trap (Foucault, Discipline & Punish p.196).” 

Find ways in which Foucault’s ‘a’ typical sentence is manifested in your lives.  How has visibility been encoded into your space by parents, teachers, society, etc.  Make a list.  It is important that your list be relevant to you (as a specific example, no general content lists).  Feel free to organise it by type (either by person encoding or by arena of you life).

Notes:

How else has force been encoded into space to exert pressure on you to coerce your behaviour?

Notes:

 

2.1  explain how individual elements of various media forms combine to create, reinforce, and/or enhance meaning Attempts an explanation Provides a partial explanation Provides a clear explanation Provides a thorough explanation

Koan – Control Part 2 (remember that visibility is a trap but that it isn’t the only way to control behaviour)

Teachers often set up their classrooms to help control their students’ behaviour.  This involves more than controlling outbursts.  Make a list with a partner of 10 behaviours a teacher may wish to control / cultivate (not all are bad…).

  •  No talking during instruction
  •  Doing all homework
  •  
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  •  
  •  
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With a partner, think of some of the techniques you might have observed throughout your school career that teachers have used when contrasting or manipulating the physical environment (try not to be resentful, it’s for your own good):

  • Agenda in Lang.
  • Sitting in rows
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  

 

  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
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Independently, imagine that money is no object.  Choose 3 behaviours from your list and design the best possible classroom (from the teacher’s point of view) to control / develop those behaviours.  Draw a labelled diagram and explain in writing how the features work to control behaviour (a writing mark will be issued, so write well).

2.1  explain how individual elements of various media forms combine to create, reinforce, and/or enhance meaning Attempts an explanation Provides a partial explanation Provides a clear explanation Provides a thorough explanation

Koan – Tattoos 

Today on the bus, I saw a girl (perhaps 18) with a tattoo on her ankle and leg.  It started as a field of flowers and grew into a vine as it went up her leg.  The motif changed from nature to fantasy (dragons and such), and finally to images of an after life.  It was big, bold, colourful and impossible to miss.  I thought that it looked O.K – nice, not startling.  What if a five year old had that tattoo?  What would my impression be if I saw her 60 years from now? Would her tattoo look a little more out of place when she is almost 80?  Does your grandmother have a tattoo?  Our aesthetic impressions often change as someone ages.  Why (this is similar to the country music question) is it O.K. for an 18 year old to have a tattoo (to most people) but not a 5 or 80 year old?

2.1  explain how individual elements of various media forms combine to create, reinforce, and/or enhance meaning Attempts an explanation Provides a partial explanation Provides a clear explanation Provides a thorough explanation

 Koan – “the clothes make the man” 

Mr. Tucker was once told that if he dressed more professionally, students would respect him more and he would have less discipline problems.  He argued the opposite, citing modelling theory. He argued that as a model, his ability to ‘reach’ his students was in part due to their ability to relate to him.  If he were to dress in such a way as to create difference between them, he argued, they would not learn as much from him because they would be less able to identify with him.  Who is correct?  Is the same true for principals?  How about for politicians? would Stephen Harper lose votes if he showed up to a news conference in Hawaiian shorts?

1.1  explain how various media texts address their intended purpose and audience Attempts an explanation Provides a partial or incomplete explanation Provides a clear explanation Provides a thorough explanation
1.2  interpret increasingly complex or difficult media texts, using overt and implied messages as evidence for their interpretations Applies limited interpretation and/or is beginning to provide evidence Applies a partial interpretation and provides some evidence Applies a full interpretation and provides evidence Applies thorough interpretation and provides extensive evidence
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