Aalto University Collaboration

Introduction to Media Art and Culture: flipped classroom and self-directed study

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I have been teaching over 20 years. One thing many people do not necessary know about the work of a teacher, is that big part of teaching is to develop it — gradually by iterating the course design.

Introduction to Media Art and Culture course I have been teaching for 6 years. Before it I used to co-design and co-teach A Brief History of New Media course, where many of the elements and practices I have today, as part of the Media Art and Culture course, were originally developed. So in its current form the Introduction to Media Art and Culture course is a result of about 10 years of product development.

Today the course is a combination of flipped classroom practices with self-directed group study activities.

Introduction to Media Art and Culture (nickname: IMAC) is a 3 ECTS credit points course and belong to the MA program of the Media Lab Helsinki at the Aalto University. The course lasts three weeks and belong to the group of so called “intensive courses”. In the intensive courses there are classroom activities every day from Tuesday to Friday, three hours per day in the mornings (9-12). In addition to the 36 hours of classroom time students are expected to dedicate in total 45 hours to do the assignments and to prepare for the classes. In a way this is administrative mathematics but also an important fact for student must now about. They are expected to do a lot of things outside the classroom.

In the IMAC-course the number of participants is limited to 40 students. The course is facilitated by two teachers and one teaching assistant. The general structure is that during the first week the focus is on media culture and media studies. I am facilitating the first week. The second week is lead by a visiting teacher (there has been several of them), who directs students to participate in contemporary discussion about media art. The third week is lead by the students and dedicated to their presentations and discussions about their study work done in small groups.

The objective of the course is to introduce central ideas that form both contemporary media culture and media art discourses and practices. By taking the course students will have a basic understanding about many topics and number of pointers to study more.

To introduce the course content I do lectures but I keep them very short, often less than 20 minutes. I also invite visitors to give lectures. The mini-lectures are introductions to themes that students may then study more independently. I thing the lectures are important, because with them I can underline things which I (and most of my colleagues) consider to be the most central concepts and themes. For each topic of the course we also have an online library of articles and videos that are categorized by the topics of the course. Students may use the library to study more and to prepare to the classroom activities.


The flipped classroom is used by providing students with homework reading and video screening for every class. The homework students are asked to do between the classes. In the class we then have a fishbowl discussion (see the image above) about the reading and the videos. The videos are often long documentary movies. The discussions may last from one hour to two hours depending on how it goes.

The second assignment of the course is a study that is made in a small groups of students (2-3 students in each). The members of the study groups are selected randomly. Also the topics of study are selected blindly by picking two media culture and media art related topics, such as (1) generative art and (2) internet or (1) cultural jamming and (2) augmented reality. The task is to study the selected two concepts and to combine out of them a coherent video essay. The video must be 2-5 minutes long with 2-3 minutes of spoken voice over (see an example below). With the video students must also return the text of the voice over with a list of references. The videos are uploaded to online video services, such as Vimeo or YouTube and screened and discussed during the third week of the course.

The reasons to have a combination of flipped classroom practices (homework readings/screenings and fishbowl discussions) and self-directed group study activities (groups study assignment) are various.

Naturally, within 3 weeks I and my colleagues are not able to lecture everything under the title “Media Art and Culture”. It is an “Introduction”. This means that a lot of things should be introduced without having time to get very deep to the topics. With this kind of design the course is an invitation to study more.

With the flipped classroom I aim to have engaged students that are taking responsibility of their own learning. Within the framework of the course they may choose what topics they will study more. With the classroom discussions they are asked to take an active role in the learning situations. If they do not like the homework readings or screenings (documentary movies) in the fishbowl discussions they can have the opportunity to tell this to everyone with reasons.

With the group study assignment I am guiding students to do research: to search and synthesize information and to present findings. This also gives students an opportunity to set their own learning objectives to the right level. They can make it challenging for themselves. With the assignment it is also good to remember that the best way to learn something is to teach it for others. With the video essays students are teaching each other.

PS. From the last course we have collect some data and are at the moment writing a research article about the findings. I will post a link to the blog when the article is published.

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