Challenging post-truth and Urthboy came together in Citizenship and Communication – or CitComm – a new UTS subject, where students learn to be critical and informed citizens.  According to Jenna Price and Christina Ho, students who want to work in the communication industries had to be able to grasp key political, economic and legal concepts.

“Students need to understand how the world works, in order to work in the world” says Chris Ho, a senior lecturer in FASS at UTS.

Urthboy, himself a UTS graduate, was able to explain to students how it helped his work to have an excellent grasp of how institutions operate. That week, some of the student reading list appeared on Spotify, a collection of political songs, including Urthboy’s own work. In the lecture students listened to a track about urban over-development, and Urthboy talked about the role of music and creativity in civic participation and public debate.

Students really engaged with the diversity of panellists – each discipline could connect with different guests yet appreciate the differences and insights of others. Guests included Emma Rossi, from the Australian Communication and Media Authority; Richard Denniss, the chief economist of the Australia Institute; Thalia Anthony, Associate Professor in Law at UTS; Gabe Kavanagh, the president of Amnesty Australia; Justin Whelan, the coordinator of Love Makes A Way; and many others.

But great guest speakers don’t mean a theory-free subject. In fact, Chris and Jenna provided a strong theoretical framework through pre-readings, which students read and annotated collaboratively, using A.nnotate, which makes reading social.

So what about assessment, which drives learning for so many students? Students were assessed on tasks which were both traditional and experimental, linking theory, practice, critical skills and collaboration. Students felt comfortable with essays and reflective blogs, forms which appear in high school. But these students came together to design a board game. They worked in small groups, and learned skills in critiquing post-truths and fake news along with collaboration.  A student commented:

“I was dreading the games assessment, but it was the highlight of the unit. It expanded my team work and organisational skills and taught me what collaborative learning means. We had a group made up of peers from different courses and majors and this is important, because it was like a puzzle that brought us together to work collaboratively. Keep the game assessment in the unit forever please. It will benefit future students who take up this unit.”

The game played by students in the unit
Student-designed board game 


The board game
Student-designed board game

Students also voted with their feet and mobile devices, with high levels of ‘lecture’ attendance and Student Feedback Survey results that were up on previous first year subjects.

You can read more about how the subject engaged students in the Large Collaborative Classes Case Study here. This post was co-written by UTS Journalism’s Jenna Price and Dr Christina Ho, and Associate Professor Jo McKenzie, Director IML.

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