Prepping to Teach New Tech: When Media Literacy Grandparents Get on Snapchat

Freshly invigorated from the very inspiring 12th Northeast Media Literacy Conference, I tried today to turn my mind towards Snapchat.

I attended an enjoyable and informative workshop taught by Prof. Adam Chiara on the ins and outs of using Snapchat to teach news media literacy. As Chiara advocated for its potential as teaching tool, I found myself inspired, as I’m currently advising a team of teaching artists who are implementing a program called Media Magic: Real vs. Fake News* and one of our client’s requests is to create daily short videos containing snippets of informational/digital literacy tips, insights, and illustrations (if you’re asking “why would a media education program be working for  a client?”then you should read this). Chiaro was very convincing in telling us all that educators stand to benefit from embracing, learning to navigate, and even teaching with Snapchat, since it functions as a news source for so many young people. As I took in the wisdom of his words, I began to daydream about what it would look like to for the Media Magic teens to be distributing these daily videos via Snapchat.

Specifically, I want to know how to use it myself. I wanted to experience it as a vehicle for creation. I wanted to dig deep into its functions and rhythms, to embrace the technology’s particular potential for creativity and storytelling–immediacy and ephemerality, the ultimate in-the-moment mode of messaging, launched by the generation who coined the phrase FOMO.

If I sound a bit romantic about it, it’s because I’m covering for the sheer panic I felt when trying it out for the first time and having NO idea what to do with it.

I’d heard people say “Snapchat is nothing like Facebook and Twitter” but I was still unprepared for the mental confusion I experienced when I downloaded the app, clicked the ghost in the little yellow box, and found my eyes swimming in unfamiliar shapes and colors that, surprise surprise, looked nothing like Twitter or Facebook.On both those platforms, as you likely know, you log in, you see a top-to-bottom (more or less) chronological feed from fellow users, you see a text box beckoning your own contributions –“What’s on your mind? it asks, inviting”– which proudly crowns the ever-updating pile of posts.

But signing into Snapchat, I didn’t know which buttons did what. I wasn’t seeing a feed, things weren’t where I thought they’d be, I couldn’t get a grasp of which swipe movements accomplished which actions. I stumbled and clunked as I tried to navigate it. I grumbled in frustration. I had some admittedly farcical thoughts about those dang kids and their new-fangled technology.

Which is funny, really, because just a few days ago, the Northeast Media Literacy Conference (NMLC) opened with a session entitled “Media Literacy Grandparents.” The sharp and eloquent Renee Hobbes moderated a discussion amongst emerging Media Studies scholars, each of whom described their roots in the subject and named some metaphorical “grandparents;” folks whose work had a heavy impact at an early age, whose media work shaped their own passions and talents. Some panelists named mentors or advisors they knew personally, and others named famous scholars like Marshall McLuhan, Paulo Freire, Adorno, Kristeva, Mulvey, etc.. The audience was then asked to write down their media literacy grandparents on sheets of paper provided, and tack them to a large “wall of inspiration.”


One of my teaching artists wrote down my name, and while I felt joy in realizing how much he had learned from me, I was also amused at the thought of being in any category with “grandparent” in the title (I’m only 33, for pete’s sake). I do work with a team of mostly 20-somethings, though, so if they look up to me I’m all for it. The honor in being named is the worthier part of the puzzle for sure, so I took the compliment.

I thought back to my “grandparent” status when using Snapchat.  My fingers were uselessly swiping at the screen, and it occurred to me that I must look to others right now the way my mom looked to me when she first got a cellphone–completely confounded, utterly helpless, pitiable, even. Grandma on Snapchat, indeed. I recalled that Chiara said Snapchat is intentionally counter-intuitive and user-UNfriendly. Its users want it to be a secret world that’s hard to access. Allow me to tell them, they are succeeding on that front.

I’m still playing with it, and I’m beginning to get some of it. Mostly what I’m getting is how different the production process is when it comes to Snapchat. Typically, at Spark Media Project, when we teach the production process, we’re using a camera/lights/sound set-up, the kind of production where you set up a shot and shoot it, then remove the SD card, plug it into a computer, organize the files, drag them over into an Adobe Premiere project to edit them… the process takes awhile.

Yet if I’m asking students to produce via Snapchat, what I’m asking them to do is envision a visual scene, shoot this individual scene, then post it. If they want to do a succession of scenes, they’ve got to think it through in a very linear way to shoot each one individually, then download their story for the day. It’s got to happen fast, rapid fire-motion of having the idea and then doing the idea as soon as it’s imagined. This speed, on TOP of the counter-intuitive production tools layout. Students get a lot of credit for so quickly becoming fluent in this interactive digital language.

I guess once you get into the swing of it, it becomes routine. For now, though, thinking through the differences between making content for Snapchat and making a more traditional video is forcing me to bend my brain in new ways, which I always enjoy img_1629precisely because it puts me in a situation my students know all too well — the role of being a learner taking the first steps. We’ll see how it goes! Until then, check out my horrifying “taste test,” and if you’re on Snapchat, feel free to follow along with me and Spark students– @Spark_pkny and @metamare.



*I initially designed this program in December, prior to the “fake news” maelstrom surrounding Trump’s incipient presidency, and I’ve since realized (due in no small part to my time at NMLC) that  “real vs fake” rhetorical constructions reduce the issue to an oversimplified binary when its actually more a continuum of credibility, perspective, and bias. It’s likely that we’re going to encounter a lot of statements that contain bits of truth but are connected in a false narrative, or are based on interpretations of the truth that make sense from one perspective but can also be construed as nonsensical, and so on, and so on. Being that I’m generally a fan of destabilizing binaries, I wish I’d named it something else, but too late now.

A Look At Life Lately

Every update on my website, it seems, is fated to begin with a similar sentiment.

“It’s been a while since my last update, I’ve been so busy…”

The thought occurs that posting nothing on my website for almost a year may give the opposite impression.

Rest assured though, dear readers, I’ve been up to a great many things. So many, in fact, that when I get home from work for the day or when I have an extra hour on a weekend, I want to spend it resting and recuperating rather than writing about what it is that’s been exhausting me.

And while I’m exhausted, I’m also enthused and inspired! Let me tell you all about my many projects at present.

  • I’m proofing and indexing my soon-to-be-published collection Joss Whedon and Race: Critical Essays. My co-editor Lowery A. Woodall III and I have been working on this for five years, and it’s going to be such a relief when it finally comes out! For more information, click here:

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  • Also on my docket at Spark Media Project: managing our internship program (we have 10 interns this semester…so far!), overseeing the implementation of our FRAME programs as well as our DROP Studios programs, handling media education contracts with the Adriance Library and Family Service’s Office of Sexual Violence Prevention… I’m getting to collaborate with many wonderful people on producing media products that critically engage with our society and speak truth to power. I’ll be posting more about specifics soon. For now, though, you should check out this amazing documentary created by last year’s DROP TV youth producers. We just learned it’s been accepted to the Tower of Youth Film Festival, and we couldn’t be prouder! Watch it here!

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  • I’m seeking proposals for two NeMLA 2017 sessions. One is a panel session entitled “Questioning Canon: Transmedia Storytelling in 21st-Century Pop Culture Narratives.” Here’s the abstract:

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The other is a roundtable session entitled Superheroes and (Dis)Ability. Here’s the abstract for that one:

screen-shot-2016-09-10-at-1-42-13-pmPotential panelists must sign into the NeMLA system to submit their abstracts to one or both panels. To log in, to create an account, and to get more info on what that entails, go here. The deadline is September 30th, and I’m very open to discussing abstracts and their suitability to the topic prior to submission, so drop me a line if you’re interested!

  • I’m working on a chapter for the forthcoming anthology Can the Subaltern Be A Superhero? The Politics of Non-Hegemonic Superheroism. My chapter explores the interdependence of aesthetics and politics in the recent Ms. Marvel comic series featuring Kamala Khan, and is tentatively entitled: “Negative Space and Narrative Subjugation: The Paradox of Representing Empowerment in Ms. Marvel.” It’s been a fascinating research project so far, and now comes the time for turning notes into prose. Or, as I like to call it… the hard part.

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There’s a lot on the docket, a lot of strands in the ol’ duder’s head (to quote The Big Lebowski), but I’m grateful to be involved in so many interesting projects that mean so much to me.


CFPs for NeMLA 2016 Sessions

Calling all scholars of Film/TV/Literature/Comics!

The deadline for all abstracts to be submitted for the March 2016 meeting of the Northeast Modern Language Association is coming up this Wednesday 9/30.

Along with my colleague Derek S. McGrath, I’m co-organizing two sessions for NeMLA 2016:

The Monster In The House: Domestic Ideology in Superhero Narratives 

(Panel Session)

In worlds full of superhuman heroes, mythological imaginary creatures and battle narratives of epic scope, what is the role of the domestic? This panel session seeks proposals investigating the ways in which domestic spaces function within superhero narratives as sites of union and/or conflict between the human, the subhuman, and the superhuman. How do teenage vigilantes like those in Runaways construct unconventional homes? How do familial/community obligations inspire the Hell’s Kitchen resident Daredevil to defend his hometown? How have heterogeneous, even internally combative, groups like the X-Men and the Justice League been imagined as odd couple household scenarios? How have extraterrestrials such as Superman used domestic ideology to make sense of their self-appointed mission to protect their adopted homes, and how may domestic ideology help us make sense of reading these characters’ stories as allegories of immigrants’ experiences?

This session seeks proposals that explore how domestic ideology informs and functions within superhero stories, as well as how humanity and the human are depicted in the context of domestic spaces within superhero narratives.

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The “Black Widow babygate” plot thread in Avengers: Age of Ultron, for instance, is ripe for exploration through the lens of the literary domestic.

The Marvel Cinematic Universe As Literature

(Roundtable Session)

From co-organizer Derek S. McGrath:

This roundtable seeks to consider ways of analyzing the Marvel Cinematic Universe (films including Iron ManCaptain America, and Guardians of the Galaxy, among others, as well as television series including Agents of SHIELDAgent Carter, and Daredevil) films and television series as literature. We are equally interested in proposals that focus on one specific film and ones that consider multiple films. And we welcome submissions from various schools of literary and media theory. In addition to points that we outline in our call for papers above, submitted abstracts may consider:

  • Strategies for incorporating individual films and television episodes in course syllabi—or even courses based around just the Cinematic Universe
  • The films’ structures as analogous to much earlier 1930s and 1940s superhero film serials
  • The significance of revisions made in adapting the comics for film, whether changing characters’ backstories or adjustments in visual narrative between comic book panels and film screens
  • Differences in storytelling practices between the films and the television series
  • Challenges when adapting the original Marvel Comics due to rights disputes between Disney and Sony, Fox, and other studios that have led to the exclusion of the Fantastic Four, the X-Men, and up until now Spider-man
  • Diversity or lack thereof among the characters, cast, and crew for the films and television series

Submissions for both CFPs are due this Wednesday, September 30. Abstracts must be submitted online at, with a free CFP List NeMLA account.

If you have any questions, please email and

CFP: Shakespearean [Re]Visions (NeMLA 2015 Panel)

Call For Proposals for NeMLA 2015 panel:

Shakespearean [Re]Visions:

Adapting the Bard in 21st-Century Visual Culture

How and why does Shakespeare matter in the 21st century? Belonging to both ‘high brow’ and ‘low brow’ culture, his plays have always functioned as an important site of cultural [re]production. Merely mentioning his name today signifies esoteric intellectualism and artistic excellence, despite a history of pop-cultural and commercial success that perennially ensures even illiterate audiences can enjoy Shapespearean products and performances. His popularity persists across centuries and media formats, as Shakespeare lives on today through frequent cinematic adaptations, contemporary theatrical stagings, even in digital comic-book form.

In what ways do twenty-first-century adaptations of the Bard’s works refashion, reinvent, and/or comment upon the original texts (’original,’ of course, being itself a vexed term in light of Shakespeare’s reputation for plagiarism)? In what ways are Shakespeare’s plays transformed through visual culture’s adaptation from one medium to another? What new insights are revealed about Shakespearean works through the art of adaptation in the digital age?

This panel seeks proposals that examine, interrogate, and assess interpretations, adaptations, and/or [re]visions of Shakespeare’s works in the 21st century.

Proposals may wish to address the question of what constitutes ‘reading’ in visual/popular/digital cultural contexts, especially in light of increasing collaboration between new and emerging media and more traditional logocentric modes of literary production.

Topics may include (but are not limited to):
• Cinematic adaptations of Shakespeare’s plays
• Digital works based on/allegorizing Shakespearean works
• Shakespearean influences in comic book culture and superhero lore
• Issues of adaptation, translation, appropriation and representation

Essays focusing on adaptations/reinterpretations by specific writers/directors are welcome, as are comparative essays investigating thematic connections throughout a selection of adaptations.

Chair: Mary Ellen Iatropoulos

Area: Culture & Media Studies

Cross: Interdisciplinary Humanities 

*Abstract Deadline: September 30, 2014* *

Please Note: This year, NeMLA has implemented a user-based system to accept and track abstract submissions. In order to submit an abstract using the button for a CFP entry, you must **sign up* <>*with NeMLA and **log in* <>*. Using this new system, you can manage your personal information and review and update your abstract following submission. Signing up is free, and you only have to do it once. *   Interested participants may submit abstracts to more than one NeMLA session; however, panelists can only present one paper (panel or seminar). Convention participants may present a paper at a panel and also present at a creative session or participate in a roundtable.

Questions may be directed to:

Outstanding Graduate Award!

Hello, Internet! It’s been awhile since my last update. I’ve been busy finishing up my MPS degree, managing four separate 21st Century Learning Community programs, advising team of nine teachers, teaching my own middle-school filmmaking classes, overseeing CMP’s Media Magic, Radio Uprising and Media Monsters programs . . .the list goes on and on. But as I always say, it’s better to be busy than the other thing!

Last December, I received the most exhilarating news. I’d been selected as the Fall 2013 Outstanding Graduate for the SUNY New Paltz Department of Education in the Humanistic/Multicultural MPS graduate degree program. Winning this award was particularly poignant for me, I’ve been working on my two Master’s degrees (while working full-time!) for a grand total of 12 semesters/7 years. I came to New Paltz in 2007, and at the end of my long journey, it’s incredibly gratifying to be recognized for my my hard work and efforts (and, I’m just going to say it, ENDURANCE). I’m honored and delighted, and it’s a perfect way to end my grad school career. For now. 😉

Here I am at the award ceremony, with Dean Michael Rosenberg of SUNY New Paltz’s School of Education.


Upcoming Conference Presentations

I’ve got several conference presentations coming up. Hope to see you there!

Teaching the Hudson Valley – Hyde Park, NY

August 1st 10:45 am Dyson Room

Presenter: “Learning From The Streets: Critical Media Literacy and the Common Core”


NeMLA 2014 – Harrisburg, PA

April 3rd – 6th, 2014

Panel Chair: “Vexing Gender in 19th-Century American Women’s Writing”

Presenter: “Laughing and Crying Behind Her Mask: Sentimental Code-Switching in Fanny Fern’s Ruth Hall”