Making concise statements about difficult ideas

Learning how to make concise, insightful statements about difficult ideas remains one of the cornerstones of a college education. Perhaps more than anything else, processing and articulating difficult concepts as a way to start building new creative insights of one’s own underlies the point of higher education.

Which is why this week, my undergraduate STS class is going to be making comics.

Let me explain. Last week the class read Eden Medina’s award-winning new book, Cybernetic Revolutionaries. As with any interesting work, Medina’s contains difficult concepts and slippery ideas. Articulating these ideas is crucial to fully understanding them, but sometimes as we discuss works in class overly-verbose articulation slips into narrative and endless example. While narrative and example are useful tools with which to think, they are a means to the end of understanding, a way of getting to the kernel of insight that one eventually hopes to highlight.

That’s where the comics come in. We’ve had the class discussion already (all 2+ hours of it), so now it’s time to nail down the kernels of insight, stating them as compellingly and concisely as possible. In order to facilitate this, I’m trying something new: I’m asking students to use a comic-making app for their IIT-issued iPads┬áto make a “one page” comic that crystallizes a point of their choosing from Cybernetic Revolutionaries. In particular, I’ve asked them to keep in mind how the theorists we’ve read so far (Winner, Latour, Pinch, Kline, and Balabanian) might be brought to bear on the text to create or clarify an insight.

Next week, I’ll post the most interesting comics here. In the meantime, I can’t help but think that this whole post could simply have been covered by a comic itself:

Background pictures are from the wealth of images in Medina’s book, but have been edited, colorized, & post-processed. I made this comic using Comic Book! v. 1.7.0 for the iPad. Thanks go to my IIT colleague Carly Kocurek for the idea to use this app in class.

UPDATE: The students’ comics are in! Click below to expand the thumbnails and see some of the best ones…

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