Using forum threads for classroom activities

Continuing the discussion from Using Memes to Teach... Should we? How much?:

I like the exercises developed by @spencerivy93 and @doktorb (detailed in the above thread), and I wonder if we could try them out as a thread in the Experiments and Collaboration subcategory. How might we redesign the analysis activities so that they can be facilitated through a thread?

Also, we can set up private subcategories for classroom purposes if any educators are interested in using the forum for their class. Each category and subcategory can have its own category-specific moderators, meaning that the educators will have direct control over them, including privacy settings and group-based membership. They would basically be like smaller, private forums within the main forum. We should test that out separately!


Whilst I am not sure how we would do this in a practical/logistical sense, I am 100% down to be part of this experiment. I would be very happy to work with someone who has more experience setting up/managing forums to develop and facilitate activities here.

Also I am writing a new studio subject which is all about re-defining co-design as a research practice for online communities/internet culture so the idea of having classroom spaces in this forum, or having worked examples of collaborative inquiry experiments I can show my students to inspire their own projects, is extremely useful to me for selfish work-related purposes.

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I'd be happy to build an optional module into my class to give points for an exercise that utilizes this forum and the generation of memes. I'm teaching existentialism this summer and already have a large portion of the class' points designated for "creative projects" (broadly construed).

If we can generate an activity that would be a healthy experiment for the forum and also an opportunity for me to meet educational goals with my students, I will encourage them to take part.

What would be an example of a symbiotic activity for the forum and a set of students interested in memes/memetic studies?


I liked the way that @doktorb's activity was designed to guide the participants through a kind of reverse engineering process. In the activity, the participants:

  1. Fist identify common characteristics within a set of memetic artefacts;
  2. Then, they produce a hypothesis for a discursive context within which artefacts displaying those common characteristics would be coherent;
  3. Then, they reformulate the common characteristics they identified in step (1) as an expression of some position, based on the hypothesis they produced in step (2);
  4. Then, they identify alternative positions that could substitute for the position formulated in (3) within the discursive context hypothesised in (2);
  5. Finally, they create new memetic artefacts that express alternative positions identified in (4) which deviate from the one identified in (3).

It's a way of estimating the underlying context of the meme, based on incomplete evidence of the total lineage of memes which produced them. I think it's especially good because it approximates how memeculturalists typically engage with memes: having "incomplete evidence of the total lineage" is typically how they engage with memes and make meaning with them (it's not that different from how fluency in a language does not require much etymology, let alone comprehensive historical linguistic knowledge; though an awareness of both is frequently important).

It seems unlikely to me that we could brute force this kind of estimation using a greater volume of evidence (something like a complete history of all interactions related to a meme). No ordinary audience will encounter and experience a meme as big data (perhaps that will change in the future if using data science tools to browse the web becomes a thing normal people do). In fact, people who know a lot about the history of a meme sometimes have trouble accepting that a meme has drifted semantically and has indeed become a different meme. Therefore, it seems to me, that we would want to approximate the experience, reasoning, and actual use case of typical memecultural participants.

The benefit of using a thread is that the activity can be asynchronous, and the participants can build on top of previous posts within the thread. But that means earlier posts (in particular, the OP) and later posts are asymmetrical in terms of what might be called "stages of thread development". Not too different from a tutorial discussion, where more obvious responses are brought up and dealt with first to get everyone prepared for the more complex aspects. Looking ahead to thread-based classroom exercises, every student having a go at being the OP would provide a good balance (not too different from discussions that revolve around student presentations).

For a thread-based activity, something like this might work:

  1. The OP posts an exemplar of a meme being used (e.g. a comment section interaction in a discussion group; a Twitter reply chain; an imageboard thread; or a hypothetical scenario featuring a meme) along with other examples of the same meme, and their observations about the common characteristics between the memes (steps 1-2 in the original activity);
  2. Other posters post edited versions of the exemplar, with the meme replaced with a plaintext description of the common thesis expressed by all of the variants OP posted (step 3 in the original activity);
  3. The posters then reply to one another with edits produced in (2), replacing the plaintext descriptions with an edited version of a variant that OP posted, such that it expresses the antithesis of the thesis identified in step (2) by the poster (steps 4-5 in the original activity).

The above formulation is a bit ambiguous, but we can clarify it further after we try it out with an exemplar. The benefit of this design is that, since threads have two levels (posts and then replies; the first post is unique and can readily set the rules for the thread), limiting the activities to three types with one being done only once makes everything easy to keep track of (posts are transliterations of the OP's exemplar; replies are subversions of the transliterations).


This sounds like a very fun game that we can play internally to see how it works/flows

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Yes, good idea! It will be a great opportunity to test out some more of the private category features. I'll set up something we can use.

I wonder when it's right to collaborate in public and in private. For experimental, forum-based activities, I usually prefer to work on designs and experiments in public threads whenever appropriate. Other researchers may find our work valuable and might like to participate as well.

But I've also run some similar activities in tight-knit and private groups that resemble classes (and semi-public, such as invitation-only events that released the proceedings afterwards). Most classroom activities should be private, I think, but don't have to be (I'm thinking of how some IT-related courses assign open source contributions or Wikipedia edits as part of the coursework).

This is fantastic!! I feel like you have boiled down the essence of the class room activity I posted about into an intuitive game that could be played online with scholars and general meme enthusiasts alike. Reading this and thinking about my swole doge vs cheers experiences, one thing that will be really interesting is when participants come along with subversive iterations of a meme template that are designed to wreck the rules and try to introduce them into our data set to derail the translation into plaintext description. In my experience there is always one, and it prompts a really interesting discussion of whether 1) the subversion actually reinforces the underlying textual logic or 2) we need to fork our experiment into more than one framework.

I would love to see how this performs in the wild. And I totally agree with @spencerivy93 that maybe we should trial it with a few willing players on this forum first and then see if/how it might be expanded.