The GeeksverseLeaving Proof 179 | Ball State University and Christy Blanch’s Gender Through Comic Books Course: First Impressions

Leaving Proof 179 | Ball State University and Christy Blanch’s Gender Through Comic Books Course: First Impressions
Published on Wednesday, April 3, 2013 by
Yesterday marked the formal start of Ball State University’s pioneering massive open online course (MOOC) Gender Through Comic Books. Read on for my early impressions and a list of alternatives to the digitally-sourced comics readings for the course.

ball_state_gender_thru_comicsSo Ball State University’s Gender Through Comic Books massive open online course (MOOC), designed and taught by adjunct professor Christina Blanch, formally began yesterday. I signed up for the class not too long after posting news of its impending launch several weeks ago, intrigued as I am by the pedagogical implications of the MOOC concept and of course, I’m also genuinely interested in the actual subject matter being taught. I’d never used the Canvas.net service that serves as the course’s online platform before, but I found the web interface, user tools, and navigation process to be fairly intuitive, nothing that would confuse anyone who’s had experience fiddling with their webmail, forum profile, blog, or social network site settings. The Discussion section isn’t entirely ideal though, as there doesn’t seem to be a way to reorder threads based on recency or level of activity.

The course is divided into weekly modules, with the first week introducing various theories and views on gender, set against the works of Terry Moore. The course materials do an excellent job of providing an accessible and concise overview of the major threads of gender studies, although speaking as someone with some background in biological psychology, I thought that the influence of evolutionary pressures, endocrinology, and neurochemistry in shaping what can be considered normative “gender-based” human behavior is given a bit of a short shrift. Still, this is just a minor, insignificant quibble on my part, and I am in no way disagreeing with the materials’ broad-strokes assertion of gender as primarily a social construct with limited biological underpinnings.

Beyond the course content, I’m also impressed with the—for lack of a better term—production values of the course’s original multimedia. The brief introductory and interstitial lecture videos featuring instructor Christina Blanch have a great degree of technical polish, with clear sound mixing (a very, very important feature that is too often overlooked in pre-recorded lecture production), excellent lighting, and a set design that wouldn’t look out of place in a professional made-for-broadcast-TV production.

The course’s comics readings cover a wide array of material from a variety of publishers, although the focus is clearly on superhero comics published by Marvel and DC. As I understand from Blanch’s explanation, the choice of readings for the course was partially influenced by their ready availability on comiXology (where the books are at a deep limited-time discount, even for customers who are not enrolled in the course), which makes sense given that students enrolled in the course are from different parts of the world where access to the printed material may be quite limited or even non-existent. Those students who aren’t interested in digitally “leasing” their comics can buy the physical comics, of course, but for those looking to save some money, all of the assigned, optional readings—with the sole exception of Captain Marvel (6th series) #7—have also been collected in various trade paperbacks and hardcovers, and those students fortunate enough to live in a town or city with a library that has a well-stocked and up-to-date graphic novel section might want to check it out first before making outright purchases. Below is a list of the week-by-week comics readings for the course and the most recently published trade paperbacks and hardcovers where they can be found:

Week 1:

Strangers in Paradise (1st series) #1–3 can be found in the following collected editions:
Strangers in Paradise (2nd series) #1–9 can be found in the following collected editions:
Rachel Rising #1 can be found in the following collected edition:

Week 2:

Superman: Birthright #1–12 can be found in the following collected edition:
Action Comics (1st series) #1 can be found in the following collected editions:
Action Comics (1st series) #267 can be found in the following collected editions:

Week 3:

Captain Marvel (6th series) #1–7 can be found in the following collected edition:
Ms. Marvel (1st series) #1 can be found in the following collected editions:
Ms. Marvel (2nd series) #1 can be found in the following collected edition:
Daredevil (3rd series) #1 can be found in the following collected edition:

Week 4:

Wonder Woman (1st series) #1 can be found in the following collected editions:
Wonder Woman (4th series) #7 can be found in the following collected edition:
Secret Six (3rd series) #1–7 can be found in the following collected edition:
Birds of Prey (1st series) #56 can be found in the following collected edition:
Batgirl (4th series) #0 can be found in the following collected editions:

Week 5:

Batman (2nd series) #0 and Swamp Thing (5th series) #0 can be found in the following collected edition:

Week 6:

Y: The Last Man #1–6 can be found in the following collected editions:
Saga #1 is available for free on comiXology, as a $1.00 “Image Firsts” special edition, and can also be found in the following collected edition:

These readings can also be borrowed from a friend, loaned from your local comic book shop if you’re particularly tight with the owner/manager, or obtained by what the course syllabus cannily refers to as “any other means,” but I’ll leave it to my fellow students to figure out what those means might be.

If you’re enrolled in Gender Through Comic Books or are simply interested in the subject matter, below are links to some pieces I’ve written in the past that touch on topics relevant to the course as well as an excellent paper written by Robert Lendrum published in the International Journal of Comic Art back in 2010:

Are you one of the 7000+ students currently enrolled in professor Christy Blanch’s Gender Through Comic Books class? Feel free to raise concepts and issues discussed in class in the comments section below or send me a message on the Canvas Network.

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5 Responses
    • I’m also taking the class. This is my first MOOC. As a teacher myself, the idea of a class with 700 students seems odd. I’m finding the online class software a bit clunky, but in all honesty, when I first use any online class service I find it clunky until I get into the rhythm. Otherwise, I see the class as interesting and look forward to moving into it. Like all software, I’ll get used to it.

      So far, the reading list and course information is excellent. This is a great first week.

    • I’ve finally finished the first week and am now moving, slightly late, into week 2. I’m still struggling with the MOOC class space but part of that is probably due to my already full schedule making it hard to explore the way I would want. I have had courses on Gender Theories, Third Wave Feminism, and Critical Approaches based on Gender in the past and I must admit that this course has information on par with any other course I have ever taken. The information is mostly easy to follow and easy to read but delves into the material with depth.

      So, far, I’m impressed.

      I’ve been thinking about why biology and chemistry …”of evolutionary pressures, endocrinology, and neurochemistry in shaping
      what can be considered normative “gender-based” human behavior…” might have been slighted. ZD mentions they might be above. Perhaps it has to do with how sociology, psychology, and philosophy based approaches to gender would be easier to find, dissect, and represent in Literature–in this case comics–than the biology and nueroscience side of psychology. Coupling the issue of gender with literature in the MOOC might explain it. It could also be as simple as what falls into the instructor’s background. In Literature classes that I teach I would never choose to go into the chemistry because those are not terms that I know well.

      I’m glad that the instructor does mention comics not on the reading list to illustrate points. Now I want to read Blood Syndicate from Milestone and check out the character she mentioned. Working with Comixology may have influenced her reading list but at least it isn’t trapping her discussions.

      • I’m actually a bit behind with the readings in week 2 (I’d never read Superman: Birthright before, so I’m reading it on top of this month’s TPB/HC releases for review), and as for the rest of the discussions I’m somewhat ashamed to say, there’s actually something of a Superman-shaped gap in my modern comics knowledge (I stopped keeping up with the character sometime in the late 1980s) and I missed the live interview with Waid (argh!), one of my favorite writers in any medium. I’ll be playing catch up all weekend, it seems.

    • […] Leaving Proof 179 | Ball State University and Christy Blanch's Gender Through Comic Books Course: Fi… April 3, 2013 […]

    • […] Leaving Proof 179 | Ball State University and Christy Blanch's Gender Through Comic Books Course: Fi… April 3, 2013 […]

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