“Social Issues Through Comic Books”

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Last year, Christina Blanch led “Gender Through Comic Books” a six-week course that ended up with over 7,000 enrolled students. Now she’s back with a new course, “Social Issues Through Comic Books” starting on March 10. Over the course of 6 months it will use a variety of mediums, such as lectures and live interviews, to learn about the presentation and impact of social issues in comic books.

Like “Gender Through Comic Books,” “Social Issues Through Comic Books” is a Massive Open Online Courses (MOOC), an online course that’s free and available to the public. Though MOOCs have been around for several years with elite universities, such as Harvard University, and collaboratives, like Coursera, offering extensive lists such as “Data Analysis and Statistical Reference” or “Live A History of Art for Artists, Animators and Gamers,” it seems using comics as a teaching tool is only recently gaining momentum.

Swamp Thing, November 19 2013, Jeff Lemire, Scott Snyder, Yanick Paquette, DC Comics When asked if she’s expecting the same kind of enrollment numbers, Christina responds, “I would say no. I hope so, but we’ll see. This is six months long which seems like a bigger commitment. It might scare some people away. But really, it’s not a bad thing it’s longer. It just takes what we crammed into six weeks last time and adds a few more things. It gives people a chance to take their time and enjoy the course. I extended the time frame because of comments made on the ‘exit’ interview from the ‘Gender through Comic Books’ course. A lot of people said they wanted more time on each module, so that’s what I did.”

Discussing social issues can be sensitive, but can an online course makes it easier to discuss these types of issues, as opposed to physically being in the same room as someone? Christina thinks so. “One of the reasons I am doing more MOOCs using comic books is that in the last course, it created this safe space for people to come and talk about the topics and the comics in a more academic way. Not all internet sites are safe spaces for people. We were lucky last course that we had disagreements in discussions, but they were all civil and respectful. I don’t tolerate intolerance and hate.”

Scalped #4, April 4 2007, Jock, Jason Aaron, R. M. Guera, VertigoBut that’s not the only benefit. As opposed to physical courses, an online course “creates space for those students who usually don’t speak up to express their opinions and thoughts. The pressure of an instructor calling on your to share your thoughts is gone. There is time for the student to think about they want to say for as long as they need before they put it out there.”

Although the idea for the course, didn’t necessarily stem from one comic book in particular, Christina says it was mostly the medium that inspire her. “ I … think that comics allow people to discuss these issues more easily. I have found that students start talking about the comics, but end up talking about themselves without even realizing it.”

Want to hear more? Women Write About Comics will be chronicling the experiences of several students as they participate in the course over the next six months. Images used in this post are covers of comics to be read during the course.

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Brenda works in tech by day and as a geek, maker, STEM community builder by night. She uses her super hero powers for the good of all kind.

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