New Module: Popular Culture in East Asia

As with all new jobs one of the main elements that causes, not a panic exactly but rather a pause for thought, is new module development. This year I will be starting up the new module Popular Culture in East Asia. This module is aimed at the second years and I am very much looking forward to it.

The format will be workshop based as I have a long and deep seated hatred of lecture/seminar approach when I find myself totally discounted for the class for one hour and then running out of time in the seminar sessions.  Talking with the students about the issues and academically debating them as a group is clearly much more interesting that standing there and talking at them in my opinion. Still, maybe I have been lucky and always had some good and interesting students in my classes….

So we have a two hour workshop each week. Now what to fill them with….This module I am toying with using this blog as public forum for self-reflexivity about my aims and ambitions as a educator and the successes and failures that accompany any teaching experience.

Firstly, curriculum design. With such a wide topic this is a challenge in many ways. What to include, what not to include, my personal loves and hates vs. the field of study and, of course, the fact that the students on average are 15 years younger that me and their notion of popular culture is, well,to be frank,  slightly more up-to-date than mine.  Take a week on stardom – I love with an overwhelming passion Tony Leung-Chiu-wai 梁朝偉. I always have and always will but to the 18 year old student he is an old man. They prefer the youthful (in my mind, baby face and bland) fresh young visages of various K-Pop bands.  The last ‘boy’ band I really listened too was SMAP and they started in 1988 and have recently disbanded with the average age of the band member somewhere in the early to mid 40’s. So a bit of a disjuncture there….




Secondly, this is a School of East Asian Studies, not media department. This mean that theoretical frameworks are more of a challenge, and, often the wider linguistic and cultural knowledge the students have is not matched by media knowledge and experiences.

Thirdly, the endless worry of assessment. How to assess – essay, exam, blog posts? Does the assessment match learning outcomes? What about the student with dyslexia? Have I unnecessarily challenged the student who English is little shaky? I am dyslexic i HATE exams with a passion, yet, this schools policy is we much have a percentage (at least 50% as an exam). How to I write the exams scripts to help the students as much as I can but still test their academic standards.

So, in short a lot to thing about.

I will be posting on this more over the next few weeks so if you are interested, keep reading.


Academic Tantrums


This is not research related but rather a quick post on something that I have been thinking about over the weekend. In the last few months my beautiful and intelligent toddler has alternated from being a complete delight to acting like something reminiscent of a mixture of Regan from the Exorcist with Damien from the Omen thrown in for good measure. In a rather amusing attempt to chart her toddler’s motivations,  a mother from Australia charted all the reasons for a tantrum inside a 12 hour period. From such rational (!) reasons like the shape of sandwich to the weather, the list made me feel a lot better since suddenly realizing the complete insanity that takes place in my house is a completely normal and shared experience was a liberating feeling. Over the weekend just some of the reasons we had tantrums were:

  • Her father asked her nicely if she would like breakfast
  • She wanted pink socks
  • I gave her pink socks
  • I would not let her eat quavers for breakfast
  • She wanted to feed the ducks
  • The ducks did not eat the food she threw to them
  • She would not put her hat and gloves on
  • She was cold since she did not have hat and gloves on


This got me thinking about academic tantrums and the shared experience we all feel in the working environment. I used to work with some people who threw the closest thing to serious tantrums that I have ever seen in the work environment. By this I mean almost shouting unreasonable and often highly ridiculous demands (“I should be allowed to email during meetings despite everyone been told not to because I am special” was my favorite one and then sulking and being unpleasant whenever their own way was not given). This not only led to a horrid work environment but, frankly, really damaged this person’s professional standing inside the whole unit. What I found notable was that this person’s behavior was always linked to his or her (!) own subjectivity and never once about the wider work environment unless it directly impacted them. These were people who never gave a s**t about anyone else. I have found that those who are most prone to unreasonable behavior at work are often those colleagues who are most likely to screw others over in their desire to scramble to the top and/or avoid any admin work.

Yet, aside from the manic few, there are the shared complaints we all have that reflect the wider work environment rather than any individual personality type. I would would love to throw an on-the-floor screaming fit many times in the working day over the conflicting pressure we are under. We don’t, as social norms and the fear of getting fired (usually) prevent us from doing so but the underlying reasons are often not dissimilar to my daughters. For the most part it is compete frustration we cannot 100% control the environment around us. I mean, who has not felt the desire to scream over the following:

  • Students don’t attend meetings
  • Too many student attend meetings and we get nothing else done
  • We don’t get recognition for our research
  • People recognize our research and ask us to do stuff (talks, reviews etc.) as a result
  • We need to ensure academic standards
  • We need to ensure that all students do well on the modules to ensure our teaching reviews are good – academic standards are often left behind in this
  • We want research-led teaching
  • Research-led teaching confronts us with the reality not all students love our research topic as much as we do

The list can go on…..

The complicating pressures on us at all times in the working day can lead to a real sense of unbalance and stress and it is this stress that feeds our primitive desires to throw fits, complain and metaphorically lash out at anyone/anything we think, often erroneously,  may be able to control it. Think about how many times you have heard colleagues (and yourself!) complain about ‘the university’ as it we are in some way separate from it.

How do we deal with tantrums with toddlers I think gives us insight into how to deal with academic ones.

– A firm schedule. Take a research day, turn off email, put a do not disturb sign on office door – do the same each week where possible and keep to it.

– Participate in the wider debates. I have found the unhappiest staff are those who don’t engage with their wider school/colleges etc. This ranges from professors to postdocs. The most frustrating people I have ever encountered were a couple of teaching fellows/temporary staff who never tried to understand the system and the pressures schools and other individuals were under and therefore did not tailor their behaviour accordingly. This meant they continually did not get jobs due to their own actions and reputation for very poor collegiality (incidentally there were all male and I think there is a lot more that can be said here but perhaps another day). Whilst the temporary staff life is tough – making demands that schools can never meet due to wider pressures and policies, does not help your own case.

– Model academic behavior – in short, be nice to your colleagues and students. If anything, this is my resolution this year – everyone has merit and deserved respect so try to treat them accordingly.


I may return to this debate later.