Praxis

Evaluating fandom: Using blogging and a grade contract to promote fan labor in the classroom

Dominic J. Ashby

Eastern Kentucky University, Richmond, Kentucky, United States

[0.1] AbstractGrade contracts offer a way to transform the relationship between labor and assessment in classrooms. By turning attention from evaluations of quality to labor completed, grade contracts make space for students to shift from a grade-driven extrinsic motivation to an interest-driven intrinsic motivation for completing coursework. Such an assessment model is well suited for fan studies classes where instructors ask students to engage in fan behavior. I share how I built an upper-division course about anime and anime fandom centered around a student-authored, publicly viewable blog. I discuss the synergy between the blogging project and a grade contract that enhanced student learning, engagement, and enjoyment. I also share my course design philosophy, approach to blogging, and student reactions to the grade contract.

[0.2] KeywordsAnime; College coursework; Pedagogy

Ashby, Dominic. 2021. "Evaluating Fandom: Using Blogging and a Grade Contract to Promote Fan Labor in the Classroom." In "Fan Studies Pedagogies," edited by Paul Booth and Regina Yung Lee, special issue, Transformative Works and Cultures, no. 35. https://doi.org/10.3983/twc.2021.1971.

1. Introduction

[1.1] A specialist in Composition and Rhetoric by training, I have the good fortune to also regularly teach courses on popular culture, using methods shaped by New Media writing pedagogy and the standpoint that all writing is social. My upper-division Film and Anime course, ENG 345, has been particularly popular, drawing students from majors across the university. The course serves as an introduction to basic film theory and fan studies, with a focus on feature-length anime and the international fandom that surrounds it. In the course catalogue, ENG 345 is a topics course with broad student learning outcomes that allow instructors a great deal of latitude: specifically, "Students will use critical and creative thinking" and "Students will communicate effectively." One way I have enabled critical thinking, creative thinking, and effective communication has been through use of a class blog for hosting discussions about readings, reviews, and reactions to the assigned films, as well as news and thoughts related to anime and fandom.

[1.2] As of Spring 2020, I have taught ENG 345 three times, each time using a course blog hosted on WordPress. For the first two semesters, I kept the blog closed and password protected, viewable only by students in the course. In evaluations, students regularly note how much they prefer the blog to the discussion boards found on our university's learning management system. The blog improved in-class discussions because conversations had already begun online—classes could take right off from posts and comments. As an instructor, at first I couldn't be happier with the results. Yet, I knew I was only scratching the surface of the potential of classroom blogging.

[1.3] When planning to teach ENG 345 in Spring 2019, I began a significant redesign of the course. Instead of just a more friendly stand-in for a discussion board, the course blog, viewable at https://eng345anime.wordpress.com/, would become a public performance space where students would write knowing that their audience extended beyond the classroom. Such a public space can create what Rebecca Black (2007), drawing from James Gee, calls an affinity space (387). In a study of "language, literacy, and social practice" on the site FanFiction.net (384), Black describes a "writing space that engenders affiliation with and facilitates access to literacy and language learning" (385). While nowhere near the size of a site like FanFiction.net, a fandom-facing course blog can foster the kinds of interactions present in affinity spaces. Especially relevant to my course goals, Black notes that in an affinity space, "'newbies,' or novices, and experts share the same activities and participate in the same space" and that "a wide range of expertise and many forms of knowledge…are valued; thus, the roles of 'expert' and 'novice' are highly variable and contingent on activity and context at any given moment" (389). Such an open space, with many avenues for entry and opportunities for participation, is exactly what I wanted for the course blog, knowing that students would have widely varying levels of familiarity and interest in anime, anime fandom, and writing for the web. However, I worried that the interactions necessary for such a space to emerge could be hampered by traditional grading, which often focuses on quality and so is friendlier to the expert or experienced writer over the novice; to help all students maintain openness to the risk of trying new things and admitting to being a novice, I decided to use a grade contract, an idea I return to shortly.

[1.4] Due to the shift from a private to a public blog, I spent more time discussing online privacy and netiquette. These discussions went beyond the basics of protecting private information of self and classmates. Students majoring in Education shared what their professors taught them about maintaining a professional online presence; journalism students discussed the pros and cons of using one's real name or a pseudonym in online writing and how that might vary by context. We discussed the technical issues of how students with an existing WordPress account could create a new account if they wanted to keep their profiles separate. I also provided students with alternatives to making posts to the blog if they were concerned about privacy—either by posting to the university's learning management system (LMS) where only their classmates and I could read them or emailing posts to me, which I would post on their behalf to the blog using my username. Ultimately, all students chose to make their own posts. As the semester went on, we discussed ways of editing, hiding, and deleting individual posts and comments, so that students remained in control of their content.

[1.5] To provide opportunity for creativity, I asked each student to create an individual project that would function as a running column or series on the blog—this student-directed project, or SDP, was required for students who were aiming for a B or an A; for students earning a C or D in the course, the SDP could be used as a way to make up for other missing work. Students who did not wish to write publicly on the blog could instead share their work on the LMS or email it to me. For the SDP, each student would propose a topic and determine as part of that proposal a schedule for how often and how much they would write; each student set the terms of success for their own project.

[1.6] Finally, the course was held together by what Danielewicz and Elbow (2009) describe as a "unilateral grade contract"—a contract designed by the instructor that laid out expectations for the final course grade (for A, B, C, etc.), but that did not make use of individual assignment grades. Course expectations were measured by labor, influenced by Asao Inoue's (2014; 2015) contract model. Students aiming for a higher letter grade—A or B—had to do more labor in the form of a completed SDP, posting and commenting more to the blog, and meeting a higher bar for attendance. Each tier of the grade contract lays out the different expectations (see Appendix 1 for the full contract).

[1.7] The result? Over the sixteen-week semester, twenty students made a total of 179 public posts, shared over 800 comments, and wrote 138,003 words on the course blog—the equivalent of nearly 500 pages of double-spaced prose. Site views grew steadily, as post titles and subject tags helped to draw in search engine queries: traffic increased from sixty-four visitors (including the twenty students and myself) and 321 views in January of 2019 to 209 visitors and 632 views for the month of May, when the course ended. At least two anime bloggers wrote brief reviews of our course site (Irina 2019; RisefromAshes 2019), which drove more traffic our way. Although students stopped creating new posts when the semester ended in early May of 2019, the site continues to draw visitors. With a high point of 701 views and 478 visitors in August 2019 (though visits are now declining), February 2020 still saw 587 views and 359 visitors to the site. The students in the class successfully generated meaningful content that continues to appeal to fans internationally—while the United States is home to the largest group of viewers, according to WordPress's analytics, viewers from fifty-two different countries visited the site in February 2020 alone.

[1.8] While the blog is the result and the record of success for the course, I believe the grade contract is what enabled that success. The contract helped me as the instructor to get past a thorny ethical issue that often needles academic courses that focus on enacting fandom—how to evaluate student-fans' participation in the fandom. By shifting the grade calculation from quality of work to the labor put into it, students were freed to take risks and experiment with their posts and writing. Put another way, the contract let them geek out about things they loved and rewarded them for it. Further, students did not need to come to the course as self-professed anime fans; indeed, many came for the film-studies element of the course, and a few signed up simply because they needed an English elective that would fit their schedule. All of these students—self-professed anime fans, film buffs, and those driven by curiosity or necessity—were able to participate in their own, self-directed ways.

[1.9] In what follows, I share details about my course design; provide an overview of scholarship about grade contracts and how it pertains to my own contract; and share student reactions to the course, drawing from course reflections written at the end of the semester, use of which is approved by my university's Institutional Review Board (note 1).

2. Course design

[2.1] In ENG 345, the shared course blog became the platform for building community within the class and connecting to the larger anime fandom. It became a space for experimenting with academic concepts and connecting students to fannish interest—such as by posting reading responses to academic texts that made connections to popular anime. Through the blog and the student-designed projects, the students themselves produced a significant portion of the course content—what they blogged about became part of in-class discussions.

[2.2] As for the instructor-chosen content, I began with a list of feature-length anime films, which the university library purchased and kept on closed reserve for students in the class to check out and watch. We would watch portions of these films in class for close analysis of scenes. For texts, I chose an introductory film studies text—Sikov's (2009) Film Studies: An Introduction—and Ian Condry's (2013) The Soul of Anime, along with links to several journal articles and book chapters about anime and fandom. Sikov's introductory text provided general film concepts and language for the class to use when discussing the films, and I encouraged students to use these concepts in their blog posts. One student especially took up this challenge and worked with the terms in their SDP, creating a multiweek, episode-by-episode review of a Japanese action-horror game, The Evil Within (2014) (wordofthejesseday 2019). Condry's (2013) anthropological study delved into anime studio culture and the notion of anime as inherently collaborative not only within and between studios but driven by collaboration between fans and studios as well. His study makes apparent the interconnectedness of fans and industry that helped the class think more deeply about fans as not just consumers but also as active participants and coconstructors of culture.

[2.3] The thrust of the course, then, was toward practicing both academic study and active engagement with the texts as members of the fandom, to do the labor of being a fan in a way that reinforced the idea that fandom itself is also deserving of respect and study. That is, to carry on the effort of cultural studies to challenge the artificial divide between high and low art. Again, the blog served as the bridge or network to hold these concepts and the work of the course together.

3. Copyright considerations

[3.1] While a majority of the student-developed projects engaged with visuals in some way, only a few of those images were directly created by the students. Even the created content could be considered derivative rather than original: as an SDP, one student created a DIY crafting column featuring anime-themed crafts; another built Gundam models and photo-documented his process. The majority of projects engaged with images that were undoubtedly copyrighted, although their uses of them meet several of the fair-use thresholds: not-for-profit; for reporting, commentary, or critique; using a small portion. I felt it was important to give students latitude in their image use, as sharing screenshots, scans, and fansubbed video has long been a component of the fandom we were studying in the course (note 2). Just as moving the course blog from a closed space to an open space necessitated discussing public writing, working with a fandom that is so closely tied to copyrighted images required more discussion with students. What is copyright? When and how can we use copyrighted material in our projects? What is the relationship of the fandom with copyright? While general notions of fair use could be addressed through instructional materials provided by our university library, the larger issue of fandom's—especially anime and manga fandom's—relationship with copyright became an ongoing discussion point.

[3.2] The copyright in/fringing nature of many of the students' projects resonates with what Ian Condry (2013) calls the "dark energy" of anime fandom. In one chapter of his study, Condry addresses fansubbing, "the translation and dissemination of anime online by fans," and argues that "to see the world of fansubs simply in terms of copyright infringement" is an oversimplification of a complex social practice (161). He explains the concept of anime fandom's "dark energy" thus:

[3.3] An ethnographic perspective on fansubbing clarifies the value of the energy that circulates through peer-to-peer sharing. This is what I call "dark energy," a reference to the hidden cosmological force pushing apart the galaxies of our universe; the effects are observable, but the source is poorly explained by current theory. Similarly, the dark energy of fandom is measurable but poorly explained by theories of economic motivation. (163)

[3.4] Although no students in ENG 345 created fansubs, their interactions with images and intellectual property related to anime had much in common with the practices and energy that Condry describes in his chapter about fansubbing. His discussion of fansubbing groups' sense of ethics, which includes a not-for-profit approach and respect for content creators, was instructive for the class. In blog posts and discussions about the chapter, students wrestled with the ethical complexity:

[3.5] I found the discussion on ethics in fansubbing to be the most interesting part in this chapter…I see how companies can be mad about their missing out on money, and how fans see a need to spread anime that they are passionate about. I think it gets hard to define the ethical standard fansubbing should adhere to because it is centered around an art. Anime is an art form and due to that aspect, the sharing of its work by traditionally illegal means can be seen as a distribution of art work…Most see art as something that should be available to all so all can interpret it and find their own meanings. However, anime is also a company-based endeavor, which is what makes fansubbing potentially unethical. (kcarpenter842 2019)

[3.6] Other students extended the discussion to other kinds of fan production and appropriation. One who created animated gifs for their SDP and who also expressed an interest in fan fiction came back to the topic of ethics and legality of fan creativity in their final reflection:

[3.7] Another thing that stuck with me [from the course] when discussing fan culture is the legal aspect of it. I am aware that fan creations are using characters who belong to someone else, but I think I take for granted that most content creators are cool with fans making things. Reading the chapter on fansubbing reminded me that legal action could be just around the corner for all fans, not just ones who directly use [e.g. pirate] content made by others.

[3.8] Intellectual property, copyright, fair use, derivative works, and fan creativity are important topics to explore in a fandom-based course. While I purposefully included course readings that helped to open up the discussion, students' own work on the blog drove the discussion further and helped to make the topic more relevant and concrete for them.

4. Grade contract

[4.1] How was all this work assessed? I've mentioned the grade contract at several points, and I believe it to be an essential component in encouraging the kind of experimentation and the embrace of fun that occurred while still maintaining a rigorous course. My experience with ENG 345 demonstrates the method's effectiveness for fan studies or fandom-based courses. The reason for this fit is that a grade contract can move the class beyond a concern with evaluation to focus instead on doing. Being part of a fandom is to engage in the practice of that fandom; a grade contract enables student-fans (and teacher-fans!) to bring the energy and practice of their fandom into the course and gives the instructor a way to still meet the obligation to assign course grades that do not involve subjective, quality-based assessments of fan labor. In what follows, I briefly survey the literature that guided my grade contract design and then explain my implementation.

[4.2] Grade contracts are not something new; they have been used in various instructional settings since at least the 1970s (Poppen and Thomson 1971; Parks and Zurhellen 1978; Hassencahl 1979). In writing studies, Ira Shor and Peter Elbow were two early and influential proponents of contracts, each using contracts in slightly different ways. An adaptor of Paolo Freire's critical pedagogy to college writing classrooms in the United States, Shor cocreates grade contracts with his students as one way of sharing power and authority with them in the classroom (1996). Shor sees direct student input into the contract as essential to making it a critical tool and as necessary for such a document to truly be considered a contract (2009). Elbow (1996), and later Danielewicz and Elbow (2009), developed a "unilateral grading contract" for their writing classes. Such a contract is defined by the instructor and presented to the class; Danielewicz and Elbow describe it as still empowering students because it holds the instructor just as accountable to the contract as it does the students. Elbow (1996) finds that "a contract helps me put students into the ideal learning situation: they have to listen to my criticism and advice, yet they get to make up their own mind about whether to go along" (4). In this way, students have control over their work. Danielewicz and Elbow (2009) note that the contract is a way to move students from an extrinsic motivator for their work—the grade control of the contract—toward a more intrinsic motivation—their own interest in their work and desire to write (257).

[4.3] Asao Inoue (2014) takes inspiration from Shor, Elbow, Danielewicz, and others in designing his labor-based approach to grade contracts. Motivated by social justice, Inoue (2015) sees labor-based contracts as an assessment tool that can make classes more equitable for students of all backgrounds, particularly members of minority and underrepresented groups. Inoue presents his students with sample contract language at the beginning of the semester; after several class sessions that involve readings and discussion about contracts, students can propose changes to the contract. The defining point about his contract is the labor-based approach: all grades are determined by whether students complete the labor agreed to in the contract, with different expectations for each grade tier. Importantly, Inoue (2014) found that when first-year composition classes used a labor-based contract instead of traditional quality-based assessment to determine final grades, the resulting work was of higher quality when compared to work produced in traditional courses; that is, in a setting where student work was not graded based upon quality but instead based upon labor, the quality of student work actually increased (343).

[4.4] Common to all these approaches is that their contracts make course expectations explicit up front; they give students the autonomy and responsibility to decide what grade they will aim for and to make choices about what work they will do—knowing that those choices will have results (grades) that are defined in the contract. The potential for using a grade contract to reward fan labor is that the course and accompanying grade contract can be designed to put certain fan behaviors front and center. Forms of participation and interaction can make use of technologies and platforms used by fans; as I have done in my class, discussion boards and reading responses can be replaced with posting to a course blog. Common assignment genres can mirror fan-used genres rather than academic genres. Most importantly, these contracted tasks can be set up to be evaluated based upon labor, essentially as complete or incomplete, removing instructor subjectivity and replacing it with an opportunity for student creativity.

[4.5] My own contract (see Appendix 1) rewards labor and is unilateral in form, while allowing students individual control over one major course component, the student-directed project or SDP. The SDP is the major opportunity for students to engage in fan labor in the course because it is the component that individual students have the most control over. Completion of an SDP is required for students aiming for a final course grade of A or B; a student who might fall below the requirements for a C or D could also complete an SDP as a way to make up for other missing work. In the second week of class, each student provided a project proposal that included a justification for how the project fit the course learning outcomes and a plan for how often they would post and how substantial these posts would be. Students posted to the blog about their plans, so the rest of the class had a preview of what to expect. In Spring 2019, all students submitted plans for an SDP, although two ended up not beginning their projects and two others did not reach the outcomes they set for themselves.

[4.6] Since students submitted plans for an SDP in the second week, they had to plan their project before really knowing what grade they would be aiming for in the course—in other courses I teach with a grade contract, those courses' equivalent of an SDP are not begun until after midterm, when students have a clearer sense of their own grade expectations. This is part of the reason that while the SDP is required for a grade of A or B, a completed project can still benefit students who are moving toward the C or D tiers because they could use them to substitute for other late, incomplete, or missed work. In actual practice, the students who kept up with their self-set SDP goals also kept up with the other course requirements. Students met with me one-on-one twice to discuss their SDP progress—once at midterm and again during the last two weeks of the semester. During these meetings, we also discussed the grade each student expected based upon their compliance with the grade contract and what additional work they might still do; these discussions helped students stay on track and ensured that we were in agreement regarding midterm and final course grades before they were officially posted.

[4.7] Other required components of the course included discussion lead posts for readings and reviews of assigned films, all of which had dates preset in the course schedule; each student chose from the reading list which sources they were responsible for and their names were added to the syllabus for those dates. These reviews were another opportunity to enact fan behavior and started with some informal genre analysis by looking at samples of book, film, television series, and game reviews posted on fan sites suggested by students. Through discussion, the class developed a loose template for the reviews and responses, which the class followed and further developed over time. All students were required to comment weekly on other posts. Students who were in charge of a discussion lead or a review were expected to respond to questions posted by their classmates. Again, blog engagement was a way to practice fan behavior; as shown in the student comments in section 5, involvement in the blog through the reviews and SDPs was critical to building affinity and developing communication skills. Also included in the course was a midterm exam and a research paper. There was no final exam; instead students submitted essay revisions and a final course reflection.

[4.8] Reflecting on the course design and contract, I plan to change two things in the future: end use of a midterm exam and redesign the research paper to be a part of the blog rather than a stand-alone academic piece. When designing for Spring 2019, I was hesitant to give up the midterm exam—in previous semesters, it was an effective way to check students' understanding of key concepts from the readings, which told me what I needed to return to during the second half. However, it does not fit with the ethos of the grade contract—and students noted this. As the only traditionally graded component in the course, it was a cause for anxiety; one student said the midterm score requirement created a block he felt he couldn't get around, which for him made the entire grade contract a source of anxiety. In the future, I may ask students to instead work collaboratively to develop a glossary page for the blog or to create an attached wiki where they explain the terms as a way to achieve the learning goals of the midterm without needing to assign an exam. The stand-alone research paper, which followed the norms of academic research conventions, did result in many excellent essays. However, aside from the two in-class peers who read them during peer review, I ended up being the only audience for those works—this was too much of a departure from the rest of the course's focus on writing for a public, web-based audience. Smaller, research-driven projects written for the blog will likely replace these papers in future seasons of the class.

5. Student reactions

[5.1] The final course reflection assignment asked students to think about their learning in the class, experience with the blog, and reactions to the grade contract. Although the reflections were neither anonymous nor voluntary—they were turned in as a required part of the course at the end of the semester—they provided valuable feedback about the course all the same. By that point, students understood how the course contract guaranteed their grades, which I hope allowed them to be more forthcoming with their comments. In selecting examples, I focus on passages about what can be categorized as fan behaviors, even if not exclusive to fandom: interacting with the community through blogging, writing about their fandom, and growth in understanding about issues related to fandom, such as copyright. I also include passages about the grade contract, particularly examples that show how it enabled fan behaviors and developing affinity, as well as things that may have gotten in the way of individual students' learning. These students' thoughts about the course illustrate both the benefits of this model of course design and potential complications that other instructors interested in implementing a similar approach should consider. Use of these reflections is approved by my university's IRB; to protect the confidentiality of the writers, I include neither real names nor their blog user names when quoting from the reflection essays and refer to them using gender-neutral pronouns.

[5.2] Students had a lot to say about the blog—not surprising, as it served as a central hub for the course. Several mentioned how the blog helped them to get to know their classmates better; for example, "This is one of the first classes in a very long time where I feel that I actually know my classmates, not only by name, but by personality, opinion, and writing style." Another valued the opportunity to practice their informal writing skills in a college class:

[5.3] This helped me practice writing in my personal voice instead of my academic voice. I think as college students we are not prompted enough to simply write and say what we want to say. We are often given rubrics which outline exactly how our writing should go. Though that may be a beneficial skill to have, I think writing things such as movie reviews or discussions about reading material allowed me to take what I read and write what I wanted about it.

[5.4] Comments such as this show how students are meeting the course outcomes of critical and creative thinking and of effective communication.

[5.5] One student wrote about how for many the blog shifted from something that was extrinsically motivated to something intrinsically motivated: "People started contributing, first out of obligation to the grade contract but then as something more individually directed. The blog became something that was valuable to the class and enriching to those who contributed." Interestingly, this student noted exactly the kind of shift that Danielewicz and Elbow (2009) identify as one of the great benefits of a grade contract—that the contract at first compels participation but offers the flexibility needed for students to begin to be driven more by their own desire to write and communicate. The observed transformation also demonstrates the development of the blog into an affinity space, showing the "interplay between engagement, active participation, a sense of belonging, and the production of social space" (Black 2007, 387). The student comment points to a synergy between the two pedagogical tools of blog and grade contract, suggesting that both support a shift toward intrinsic motivation.

[5.6] Students also addressed the student-directed projects in their reflections. One addressed how the SDP helped them to become a more engaged fan and how the contract supported that creativity:

[5.7] It was great to interact with each person on their projects, and see what their passions were. It was also a great way to develop my own hobbies, as my student-directed project was on the model figures that were born from the very popular mecha anime from the '80s. I was doing more research on each kit I bought, and, realizing I was creating for an audience for the first time, I took much more pride with my work. I made sure to take my time and make each model look as great as possible to the best of my abilities…It was even better that I didn't have to worry too much about my grades, as the grade contract ensured that as long as I participated in the class, I would get that A by participating in interesting discussions and posting about things I have a passion for.

[5.8] This comment shows how the grade contract and SDP allowed students to define their own measures for success and that the results can carry beyond the traditional bounds of academia. This student was already enjoying what they were doing—model building was something they were doing outside of the class anyway. However, the SDP gave them an opportunity to do more with their hobby and to see that work anew as something that wasn't just a source of individual pleasure but as something that others would be interested in and take pleasure from as well. Their project is not a case of a student subordinating or reshaping their fan interest to fit with the needs of a class. Rather, here the student could make the class project their own. The grade became secondary, and engaging in and documenting the hobby to share with others—their labor as a fan—became the ascendant cause of motivation.

[5.9] Many students recognized how the grade contract supported creative thinking and expression in the class. One contrasted what they experienced in the contract class with courses that use traditional grading:

[5.10] If the class had been structured around points and concrete assignments, I don't feel that I or many others would have been able to create and contribute as freely as we did this semester. For a class like this that focuses on a topic that is partially an expression of creativity and the energy of many coming together to make something unique, restraining the students to a point-based system could have been discouraging and dampening to their contributions.

[5.11] Not all students liked the contract. Part of their discomfort came from the SDP. As one wrote, "I feel like the grade contract made the course less serious and more of a 'do it if you want to' type of course, which I did not like at all. This does not hold students accountable for their work and does not show [their] true understanding of concepts learned throughout the class." However, this student's response suggests a misunderstanding of how the grade contract worked. On the one hand, they are correct in that the course is "do it if you want to," but they ignore in their comment that those choices have consequences, codified in the grade contract. For example, students didn't have to complete a student-directed project, but if they didn't, they would cut themselves off from earning grades of A or B for the course.

[5.12] Another student expressed discomfort with the flexibility of due dates; this particularly applied to the SDP because students were responsible for setting their own deadlines. They wrote, "Personally, I don't think grade contracts cater to how I work. I am very good with due dates and making sure things get handed in on time, and the grade contract kind of made that not as attainable for me, especially for the student-directed projects."

[5.13] The students who were active with their SDPs and likewise developed interest in their peers' projects are the ones who, like the student quoted in paragraph 5.5 above, grew to see the blog as their own, as an affinity space that their contributions and interactions helped to shape. As Black (2007) notes, being able to interact with a space in such a way "contributes to users' commitment to the site and its concomitant literacy-related activities" (387). For students who found a strong enthusiasm for their projects, the energy of being a fan seemed to help maintain their momentum and complete the necessary labor called for by the grade contract. The challenge is to adequately support students who have trouble finding that enthusiasm; giving them more checkpoints to demonstrate success may help to motivate them. Looking ahead to future semesters, I plan to include more guidance for students in regards to setting their own deadlines. Although I met each student at midterm to discuss their SDP progress, students like the two quoted above may likely benefit from more regular check-ins. Asking students to submit occasional brief progress reports, a practice used in many professional and technical writing classes for longer projects, may help them to better track their own progress.

6. Conclusion

[6.1] Course blogs and grade contracts are a powerful combination. Grade contracts are almost revolutionary by nature, as their use requires teachers and students to think differently about labor, grades, and what grades mean and are for. New Media pedagogy, of which class blogs are but one facet, likewise has the potential to reshape thinking about what kinds of labor count as school work. Similarly, courses that focus on popular culture and fandom, and especially those that engage with fandom or being a fan as part of the labor and the learning of the course, can challenge students', teachers', and administrators' thinking about what constitutes learning and success.

[6.2] The approach I've shared here emphasizes the power of pleasure in the classroom. Students in my class enjoyed what they were learning, they enjoyed the labor, and they willingly made choices that often resulted in their doing more for the class than they might have done in an equivalent but traditionally focused and graded course. Further, they enjoyed expanding their ideas about what counts as academic work and research—for many, this course was an eye-opener into the realms of cultural and fan studies. As one student noted, "I hate the stigmatization that is placed on anime, and watching these movies and taking them in a serious context really helps remove the idea that it can't be taken as an art form." Another wrote, "The main thing I learned about fan culture in this class is that fandom as a whole is a topic that can be talked about in academic settings and sound legitimate. To see fandoms and fan culture discussed not only neutrally in an academic setting, but to see that the author [Condry 2013] was given government grants to do so, still boggles my mind a bit." I see this mind-boggling as a good thing, a challenge to many students' concept of what is deserving of attention, labor, and recognition.

[6.3] Finally, students enjoyed seeing their work and words—their hard but beloved labor—moving beyond the bounds of the classroom. I share their excitement and feel a great pride for each of them, seeing how their blog continues to draw views long after the class is over. I look forward to the next time I can teach the course, to bringing in the next set of bloggers who will reshape that space with their own ideas and interests.

7. Notes

1. This study has been reviewed and approved for exemption by the Institutional Review Board at Eastern Kentucky University as research protocol number 2372.

2. Students did not have the option to host scanlations or fansubs to the blog; while Condry questions whether such works constitute piracy, it would still violate our university's policy on intellectual property.

8. References

Black, Rebecca. 2007. "Fanfiction Writing and the Construction of Space." E-Learning 4 (4): 384–97. https://doi.org/10.2304%2Felea.2007.4.4.384.

Condry, Ian. 2013. The Soul of Anime: Collaborative Creativity and Japan's Media Success Story. Durham, NC: Duke University Press. https://doi.org/10.1515/9780822397557.

Danielewicz, Jane, and Peter Elbow. 2009. "A Unilateral Grading Contract to Improve Learning and Teaching." College Composition and Communication 61 (2): 244–68.

Elbow, Peter. 1996. "Getting Along without Grades—And Getting Along with Them Too," March 1996.

Hassencahl, Fran. 1979. "Contract Grading in the Classroom." Improving College and University Teaching 27 (1): 30–33. https://doi.org/10.1080/00193089.1979.9930426.

Inoue, Asao. 2014. "A Grade-less Writing Course that Focuses on Labor and Assessing." In First-Year Composition: From Theory to Practice, edited by Deborah Coxwell-Teague and Ronald F. Lunsford, 71–110. West Lafayette: Parlor Press.

Inoue, Asao. 2015. Antiracist Writing Assessment Ecologies: Teaching and Assessing Writing for a Socially Just Future. Perspectives on Writing. Fort Collins, CO: The WAC Clearinghouse and Parlor Press. https://doi.org/10.37514/PER-B.2015.0698.

Irina. 2019. "April 2019 Anime Blog Discovery!" Drunken Anime Blog. April 30, 2019. https://drunkenanimeblog.com/2019/04/30/april-2019-anime-blog-discovery/.

kcarpenter842. 2019. "The Soul of Anime: Dark Energy." Cinema Anime (blog). April 22, 2019. https://eng345anime.wordpress.com/2019/04/22/the-soul-of-anime-dark-energy-2/.

Parks, Arnold G., and Henry S. Zurhellen. 1978. "Student Attitudes toward the Grade Contract." Improving College and University Teaching 26 (4): 239–42. https://doi.org/10.1080/00193089.1978.9927590.

Poppen, William A., and Charles L. Thompson. 1971. "The Effect of Grade Contracts on Student Performance." Journal of Educational Research 64 (9): 420. https://doi.org/10.1080/00220671.1971.10884209.

RisefromAshes. 2019. "April/May (2019) Monthly Favorites." Phoenix Talks Pop Culture Japan (blog). May 31, 2019. https://phoenixtalkspopculturejapan.wordpress.com/2019/05/31/april-may-2019-monthly-favorites/.

Shor, Ira. 1996. When Students Have Power: Negotiating Authority in a Critical Pedagogy. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press. https://doi.org/10.7208/chicago/9780226223858.001.0001.

Shor, Ira. 2009. "Critical Pedagogy Is Too Big to Fail." Journal of Basic Writing 28 (2): 6–27.

wordofthejesseday. 2019. "The Evil Within: Chapter 1: 'An Emergency Call.'" Cinema Anime (blog). January 27, 2019.https://eng345anime.wordpress.com/2019/01/27/the-evil-within-chapter-1-an-emergency-call/.