Flash Mobs: Eng 104 as a Mini-Immersive Learning Class

Many of Ball State’s unique educational opportunities are based in immersive learning. Unfortunately, many classes are not given this exciting and innovative learning atmosphere for a variety of reasons. English 104 has largely been among these classes until recently when English Professor Adrienne Bliss stumbled upon a radio broadcast which was the inspiration for a whole new immersive learning opportunity. Continue reading see Dr. Bliss’s personal account on this mini-immersive Eng 104 class.

I have generally steered away from the discussions of immersive learning due to teaching English 104 which I did not see as lending itself to this format.  I was wrong.

In the fall of 2011 while driving to work I heard a story on NPR about flash mobs that got my attention.  So, when I got to my office I began looking on YouTube and crawled out about 2 hours later after looking at dozens of videos of fun, political, and so called violent flash mobs.

I took the idea of exploring flash mobs to my classes and we watched people dancing in stores (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AwzN4633mpI), train stations (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VQ3d3KigPQM), prisons (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9OawiTae0bA), public squares and anywhere else they could for the joy and distraction of onlookers.  There were videos of political importance protesting against governments (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dBj1z0G0GOY&feature=fvsr) or hazardous material production, and finally the class watched what newscasters labeled violent flash mobs (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N4WOYMWp29g).  The commonality of most of these flash mobs is their reliance on social media to assemble a group of people (obviously the prison was different situation).

We utilized the idea of flash mobs for the students’ initial paper.  They chose an element of flash mob and its history, did some research, and wrote papers on topics such as violent flash mobs as a media creation; the effectiveness of flash mobs; mob or groupthink creation and its dangers; flash mob as performance art, etc.  During this process I suggested that each of my classes create a flash mob on campus which they agreed to and afterwards they wrote a personal reflection on the experience.  A short video of our performances is available on the monitor outside the main English Office.

What I had not anticipated was the growth of cohesiveness in the class or the power of actually implementing something that was originally was an abstract idea with a lot of cool videos to watch in class.  Students quickly discovered that flash mobs are strategically planned and coordinated; the spontaneity is in the audience’s response.  Time was spent determining where, when, and how the flash mob would occur on campus.  Each class did something different and in a different space – freezing in place, playing rock/paper/scissors, and utilizing props were all part of the experience.

Students also questioned the application of the term flash mob to illegal riots that took place in London and Philadelphia.  A strong debate as to what is a flash mob and the role of the news media took place in each class. Much of our discussions centered on social media resulting in the belief that social media is not the scapegoat, that the violent riots were not flash mobs, and the rioting groups were labeled inaccurately by the media.   This label allowed the media to create a sense of danger and sensationalism that students saw as unwarranted or just plain stupid.

Sitting here now in February 2012, the idea and the video seem long ago and somehow writing about it does not bring the sense of awareness, camaraderie, anticipation, and nervousness my students felt on performance day.  Nor does it capture my surprise at how much I learned through watching my students go from vague idea to research paper, performance, and reflection. I had not really seen my class as being conducive to the immersive experience.  I am glad I was wrong.

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