Fandom and pedagogy in a time of pandemic

Crystal S. Anderson

George Mason University, Fairfax, Virginia, United States

[0.1] AbstractThe Covid-19 pandemic caused a number of instructors to move to emergency remote teaching. In the process, many instructors worried about being able to replicate the instruction of their face-to-face courses. Instructors can use strategies used by fans to promote engagement with course material, build community, and deploy technology in ways that promote their learning goals and enhance learning in online courses.

[0.2] KeywordsAffect; Blogging; Communities of practice; Covid-19; K-pop; Student engagement

Anderson, Crystal S. 2021. "Fandom and Pedagogy in a Time of Pandemic." In "Fan Studies Pedagogies," edited by Paul Booth and Regina Yung Lee, special issue, Transformative Works and Cultures, no. 35.

1. Introduction

[1.1] For many teachers, emergency remote teaching became their primary teaching modality as the Covid-19 pandemic spread in early 2020. Instructors used to face-to-face teaching felt daunted by the prospect of recreating the engagement of their classroom environments. These concerns mirrored attitudes toward online teaching that predate the pandemic. Robert Ubell (2016) observed that many faculty "believe that virtual instruction offers little interaction with and among students" and that "online content is inferior." Teaching modalities that include an online component are likely to continue to be part of the pedagogical landscape as the pandemic continues, and likely will remain long after. In light of this, it's necessary to explore how instructors can cultivate student engagement by using strategies drawn from fandom and fan practices. We can motivate students by viewing our course content as fan objects and encouraging students to engage with them as such. We can draw on their shared passion to encourage collaboration. We can emulate the ways online fan communities use technology to leverage the affordances of online teaching to reach our learning goals.

2. Cultivating affect using course materials

[2.1] The overall response to emergency remote teaching during the pandemic has been less than stellar. Students, instructors, and higher education commentators reduce teaching to little more than dull discussion boards with dispassionate students zoned out in front of a screen. However, recontextualizing course materials as fan objects can motivate students to engage with them in meaningful ways.

[2.2] Course content plays a major role in student engagement. Students are more likely to become invested in the material if they engage with and relate it according to their own preferences. This engagement with material contributes to long-lasting student learning. Michael Moore (1989) identified "learner-content" interaction as essential for effective learning: "Without [it], there cannot be education, since it is the process of intellectually interacting with content that results in changes in the learner's understanding, the learner's perspective, or the cognitive structures of the learner's mind" (2).

[2.3] We can achieve student-content engagement by looking at our students as fans (or potential fans) and our content as fan objects, thereby leveraging fan affect. Mark Duffett (2013) notes that "at some initial point the fan has to deeply connect with, and love—or at least be fascinated by—the object of their interest" (25). We know that fans' love for something will motive them to engage more fully through fan activities. Fans do what they love even if it requires labor. Duffett also argues that affect "make[s] text matter in a specific historical situation and place" and "guides the whole possibility of emotion and is meta-emotional" (136). This relationship between fans and fan objects also has a critical dimension, which is crucial for the kind of critical thinking we want to see from our students. Lawrence Grossberg (1992) reminds us that a relationship exists between the audience and popular texts: "People are constantly struggling, not merely to figure out what a text means, but to make it mean something that connects to their own lives, experiences, needs and desires" (52). Our students can engage in this kind of critical thinking with our course materials if they view them as fan objects.

[2.4] One way we can establish a fan-object relationship between our students and content is to create assignments that simultaneously allow them to explore topics related to their interests and support our learning goals. In one learning goal for my course on Korean popular culture, students learn how to find and analyze Korean popular culture and related media. I require students to choose their own topics, but I also provide a mind map of Korean popular culture at the beginning of the course to help them see the relationship between their topic and Korean popular culture as a whole ( For example, a student can pursue an interest in fan subtitling, but will also understand it as an activity connected to a larger global fandom. Because students focus on their topic the entire semester, they get multiple opportunities to see their interests in different contexts and develop critical skills with less anxiety. In other words, by engaging them in their own learning by using what they love, we can allow students to see themselves in the content of the course.

3. Cultivating community through collaboration

[3.1] It is great to get students to engage with the material, but we also know that learning is a social activity. David Boud (n.d.) explains that "students learn a great deal by explaining their ideas to others and by participating in activities in which they can learn from peers." Yet online teaching poses a challenge in that it could, as Peter C. Herman (2020a) explains, contribute to feelings of isolation: "There is no immediate interaction between the professor and the students, no immediate interaction among the students." We can promote a dynamic community among our students in our online classes by encouraging collaboration that is based on their shared passion as fans of the course material.

[3.2] Collaboration represents student-student engagement, providing a social context for learning. In face-to-face courses, this can take the form of project-based learning where students learn together. John W. Thomas (2000) argues that such projects represent "a goal-directed process that involves inquiry, knowledge building, and resolution" and activities that "involve the transformation and construction of knowledge (by definition: new understandings, new skills) on the part of students" (3). Such collaboration features student-student engagement, which occurs "between one learner and other learners, alone or in group settings, with or without the real-time presence of an instructor" (Moore 1989, 5). On the other hand, communities of practice go further by drawing on a shared passion as part of the project. Etienne and Beverly Wenger-Trayner (2015) describe communities of practice as "groups of people who share a concern or a passion for something they do and learn how to do it better as they interact regularly." Unlike project-based learning, communities of practice leverage the power of a shared passion to learn something.

[3.3] Communities of practice resonate with the kind of community that exists among online fans, which are often based on shared passion and collaboration. Fandom provides models for online collaboration and community building: "Social networking is a central part of the continuation of fandom for many millions of people, and there is therefore a circular relationship involved: fandom facilitates networking, so those looking for friends with a common interest will utilize the fan community for support" (Duffett 2013, 27). As an online community, members of K-pop fandom are comfortable sustaining community in the online environment and working together virtually to accomplish a goal. They use social media apps to link to other like-minded fans and squee about their favorites. They come together to support comebacks by their favorite artists and to participate in philanthropic endeavors, such as raising money to build schools and planting rain forests.

[3.4] Instructors can harness such community building by designing opportunities for students to work collaboratively on something they care about, as I did for KPK: Kpop Kollective ( KPK is a cocurricular research project where undergraduate students create online resources featuring information about K-pop music and culture. Developed by me and Kaetrena Davis Kendrick (dean of Ida Jane Dacus Library and Louise Pettus Archives and Special Collections at Winthrop University), along with several undergraduates, KPK provides an opportunity for students to work together and create knowledge. We maintain a Facebook group where members post about their favorite K-pop artists, and we meet virtually to talk about the work. Through these activities, students participate in a community of practice in a way that validates their own fan knowledge and promotes critical thinking. As Kendrick (2013) notes, "This kind of lay information resulting from direct participation as a fan community member is just as valid as understanding rules of classification or applying the rigor of qualitative data analysis." Creating opportunities for students to collaborate in ways that validate their passion creates community.

4. Cultivating technology to reach learning goals

[4.1] The swift move to emergency remote teaching required many instructors to rely more on technology in unfamiliar ways. However, technology can be used to support community building and student engagement with content in ways that mirror the way fans use technology.

[4.2] In our courses, technology can be used to create virtual experiences "that are unavailable in physical learning spaces and can enrich the student experience" (Keppell and Riddle 2011, 8). Such virtual environments should be seen in terms of their affordances, or the way technology such as online discussions, blogs, wikis, and podcasts can be used in a given situation (Keppell and Riddle 2011, 8). Rather than just using technology because it looks exciting, we can use it help students to gain knowledge or develop skills. We can also build in time into our courses to teach students how to use the technology in the way we want them to use it. Such tools should be cheap (or free), easy to use, and accessible to students.

[4.3] Online fan communities like K-pop fans rely on technology as part of their fan practice. Tamar Herman (2020b) explains: "K-pop in 2020 is very much about the organizational skills of different fandoms. Who can stream more? Who can buy more albums? How many trends can you trend worldwide in any given month? Organizing and navigating digital spaces are old hat for K-pop audiences nowadays." K-pop fans use messaging apps like WeChat and LINE to communicate with each other. They form online communities through Tumblr and Amino Apps. They use social media such as Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram to share information, organize philanthropic projects in the name of their favorite artists, and support comebacks. K-pop fans also use blogging platforms like WordPress to organize information in the form of profile sites and artist archives, and to write commentary about various aspects of K-pop.

[4.4] For one learning goal in my Korean popular culture course, I want students to learn how to use digital tools to write for a broad audience. As a result, I have students write short web articles on their topics in Journo Portfolio, a web-based platform that allows students to use multimedia. My students utilize the affordances of online communication in ways that build community. They can see and comment on their fellow students' work; they are tickled when they received praise from strangers in the form of comments and likes. Technology also provides opportunities to engage with the course material. Using sources related to their interests, they learn how to write using a web-based text editor, and they learn how to locate, embed, and attribute digital images and video. They use technology for knowledge creation, just like fans do.

5. Conclusion

[5.1] Teaching online, or incorporating an online component into your face-to-face course, may seem daunting. Yet drawing on what we know about fans and fandom, we can reach our students and help them meet our learning goals. When we exhibit fan-level enthusiasm for the course material, it signals to students that we want them to have fun as they learn. Doing so does not sacrifice rigor. Instead, it fosters an engaged and collaborative atmosphere that students will remember.

6. References

Boud, David. n.d. "What Is Peer Learning and Why Is It Important." Tomorrow's Professor Postings.

Duffett, Mark. 2013. Understanding Fandom: An Introduction to the Study of Media Fan Culture. New York: Bloomsbury.

Grossberg, Lawrence. 1992. "Is There a Fan in the House? The Affective Sensibility of Fandom." In The Adoring Audience: Fan Culture and Popular Media, edited by Lisa A. Lewis, 50–65. London: Routledge.

Herman, Peter C. 2020a. "Online Learning Is Not the Future." Inside Higher Education, June 10, 2020.

Herman, Tamar. 2020b. "Digitally-Savvy and Passionate, K-pop Fans' Trump Activism Should Come as No Surprise." Guardian, June 22, 2020.

Kendrick, Kaetrena Davis. 2013. "Keeping the 'L' in Digital: Applying LIS Core Competencies to Digital Humanities Work." Journal of Creative Library Practice, September 6, 2013.

Keppell, Mike, and Matthew Riddle. 2011. "Distributed Learning Spaces: Physical, Blended and Virtual Spaces in Higher Education." In Physical and Virtual Learning Spaces in Higher Education: Concepts for the Modern Learning Environment, edited by Mike Keppell, Kay Souter, and Matthew Riddle, 1–20. Hershey, PA: IGI Global.

Moore, Michael. 1989. "Three Types of Interaction." American Journal of Distance Education 3:1–7.

Thomas, John W. 2000. A Review of the Research on Project-Based Learning. San Rafael, CA: Autodesk.

Ubell, Robert. 2016. "Why Faculty Still Don't Want to Teach Online." Inside Higher Education, December 13, 2016.

Wenger-Trayner, Etienne and Beverly. 2015. "Introduction to Communities of Practice."