Mission Impossible: Curating the History of K-pop

Image by MasterTux from Pixabay

Some of us are using this unprecedented time to work on projects that have gotten away from us. My latest project, KPOPCULTURE, a never ending quest to create a history of K-pop, is one such project!

From KPOPIANA to the Kpop Collaboration Project, I have been working on projects that seek to document and describe K-pop’s development, structure and how we think about it. Such research is the essence of a mission impossible research project, one that relies on ever-shifting sources on K-pop on the Internet and constant development of the music in general. But most importantly, it’s a challenge doing this work for 10 years, especially in the early years when K-pop was not even recognized as a legitimate object of study.  But research is not dependent on what’s popular and trendy; it’s driven by curiosity.

Working with undergraduate students, my colleague Kaetrena Davis Kendrick and I trained students (and pretty anyone else, really) back in 2011 to use digital tools to find and evaluate key information about K-pop and its culture using our KPK: KPopKollective site housed on good old WordPress. Our Kpop Essentials defined common terms used by K-pop fans, while Solo Artists and Groups provided basic information (like explanation of fandom names!), discographies and videographies.   We moved this project over to KPOPIANA, and used its more robust tools to document more extensive information.

At the core of such projects has always been curation and documentation. As my historian friends will tell you, it’s not just about information; it’s about crafting a narrative based on observing patterns, influence and relationships. This means not only going through a lot information, but putting that information in a form that explains and seeks to answer not just what but also why.

Which brings me back to KPOPCULTURE, my most adventurous project to date to capture a comprehensive history of K-pop. Housed in Omeka, a web-based content management system, KPOPCULTURE allows me to document and explain K-pop’s music, choreography, creative personnel and media. The project balances providing information to the public with more in-depth context-building to understand K-pop artists, the industry and the media.

For example, Omeka allows me to create items with more discrete information, like capsule profiles on artists like TVXQ, a group that recently had been deemed under-appreciated and little-known by current K-pop fans. Basics Items includes information about the K-pop artist as well as a selection of music videos that covers the breadth of a career. Omeka also allows me to use Items in Music Exhibits, such as SHINee: Like a Fire, a music exhibit that chronicles the group’s music through a curated playlist, music reviews and fan playlists. I have also created Special Exhibits, such as a retrospective of concepts used by Girls’ Generation (SNSD) in the exhibit, Girls’ Generation: Flower Power.

The quest continues! Let’s hope I can get more Items and Exhibits done.


Creative Commons License
Mission Impossible: Curating the History of K-pop by Crystal S. Anderson is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.

How to Grade Faster and Foster Student Learning

Image: Pixabay

Grading is an age-old source of frustration for instructors, with many feeling torn between evaluating student performance and fostering student learning, as they struggle with less time to do either. However, one does not have to forgo student learning to attain more efficiency in grading.

In her piece “How to Grade Faster in 2020,” Deborah J. Cohan suggests that instructors can begin to grade more efficiently by limiting the number of assignments and increasing the value of those assignments for the final grade:

I don’t see the point in assigning a lot of busy work or many assignments each worth 1 percent to 10 percent and then feeling breathless all semester with grading.

Such advice may reduce grading for the instructor, but it runs counter to what we know about student learning. In “Want to Reach All of Your Students? Here’s How to Make Your Teaching More Inclusive,” Viji Sathy and Kelly A. Hogan explain the benefits of reducing high-stakes assignments: “When a single exam or paper carries a lot of weight, you risk letting that one experience or day wreak havoc on a student’s grade.”

One way to address the needs of both the instructor and the student is to consider the relationship between grading and feedback. Jeffrey Schinske and Kimberly Tanner explain that grading is a form of feedback that may be evaluative, which “judges student work [thorough grades, praise or criticism]”, or formative or descriptive, which “provides information about how a student can become more competent.”  Descriptive feedback can have a positive effect on evaluative feedback:

[One study found] that students receiving descriptive feedback (but not grades) on an initial assignment performed significantly better on follow-up quantitative tasks and problem-solving tasks than did students receiving grades or students receiving no feedback. (Schinske and Tanner).

Student learning is enhanced when instructors provide feedback meant to improve a student’s performance. There are several strategies that instructors can employ to provide this kind of descriptive feedback to students that, in the long run, will reduce the amount of evaluative feedback they provide.

Instructors can design courses in ways that provide feedback for low-stakes assignments through quizzes and other assessments. This means that instructors want to intentionally deploy these when they help students the most. Sathy and Hogan note that whatever low-stakes assignments an instructor chooses, it should be required: “When assignments are optional, compliance will vary and you risk exacerbating differences in study skills, background knowledge and the like.”

Holly Fiock and Heather Garcia suggest using technology, especially audio and video comments, to provide feedback that is frequent, specific, balanced, and timely. While Cohan discontinued her use of rubrics, a rubric directly linked to what the instructor wants students to be able to do, explained to students beforehand and coupled with time to practice is more effective. Fiock and Garcia note that rubrics and peer review help provide the kind of formative feedback that help enhance student learning, improve their performance and lessen the time it takes to provide evaluative feedback down the road.

For example, I used a series of low-stakes assignments that fed into the larger project for the literature class I taught in Fall 2019, “Worldbuilding in Science Fiction.” All of these assignments followed the same format:

  1. students created a draft before class and brought it to class
  2. students worked in groups to receive feedback from their peers
  3. students wrote down all of the feedback they received and then explained why they did or did not use the feedback
  4. students revised the draft, then turned in a document that contained the draft, the feedback, their response to feedback and the revision

I graded the assignments using a simple rubric where I looked for whether students had the elements of the assignments. I reviewed the feedback they received from their peers (they were using the same rubric) and made notes of the common mistakes students made. In most cases, a student’s revision was vastly improved from the draft, so I didn’t have to give feedback on the things group members had already addressed. In the next class, I went over with the class the common mistakes and show them how to improve for next time.

We can improve our grading efficiency in ways that do not diminish student learning.


Cohan, Deborah J. “How to Grade Faster in 2020.” Inside Higher Education. 11 Feb 2020, https://www.insidehighered.com/advice/2020/02/11/advice-grading-more-efficiently-opinion.

Fiock, Holly and Heather Garcia. “How to Give Your Students Better Feedback With Technology.” The Chronicle of Higher Education. 08 Nov 2019. https://www.chronicle.com/interactives/20191108-Advice-Feedback#2.

Sathy, Viji and Kelly A. Hogan. “Want to Reach All of Your Students? Here’s How to Make Your Teaching More Inclusive.” The Chronicle of Higher Education, 22 Jul 2019, https://www.chronicle.com/interactives/20190719_inclusive_teaching.

Schinske, Jeffrey and Kimberley Tanner. Teaching More by Grading Less (or Differently). CBE Life Sciences Education. 13.2 (2014): 159-166. doi: 10.1187/cbe.CBE-14-03-0054.

Creative Commons License
How to Grade Faster and Foster Student Learning by Crystal S. Anderson is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.

Disciplines and Active Learning

Image: Pixabay

Active learning represents a significant set of strategies that can increase student engagement with course material. However, how does disciplinary context factor into the way we use these strategies?

Active learning remains a major trend in higher education. Several of the most-read topics for The Chronicle of Higher Education‘s Teaching Newsletter revolved around active learning strategies, including the interactive lecture, test review and debriefing. Studies show that it can have a major impact on student learning. However, much of that research focuses on the implementation of active learning strategies in STEM courses. They represent a stark departure from the continuous lecture, a common mode of teaching, particularly in large classes.

For example, Scott Freeman and his colleagues conducted an analysis of 225 studies and found that active learning increased test scores, but this was specifically for undergraduate STEM courses: “The data suggest that STEM instructors may begin to question the contained use of traditional lecturing in everyday practice, especially in light of recent work indicating that active learning confers disproportionate benefits for STEM students from disadvantaged backgrounds and for female students in male-dominated fields” (8413).

However, disciplines in the humanities have employed active learning strategies like flipped learning for decades: “Procedurally, a humanities seminar is already ‘flipped.’ Exciting student interactivity in a ‘flipped’ engineering class is true of an ordinary humanities seminar” (Berens). So are active learning strategies only effective for certain disciplines? How can we make them effective in all disciplines?

Rather than a magic bullet, it may be more helpful to see active learning as a constellation of strategies that instructors link to the specific learning goals for their courses and match to the needs of their students. In doing, the disciplinary context is key. Some strategies work better than others for certain disciplines. Failing to link the strategies with student learning outcomes, student work and assessment could result in the failure of active learning strategies in the classroom. Claire L. Jarvis reports on Amanda Holton’s experience in her chemistry course at the University of California, Irvine:

Amanda Holton encountered the gap between the optimistic literature and reality when she flipped her large general chemistry class. . . . [Holton’s students] were in their first semester of college, nonmajors taking general chemistry as a prerequisite for their biology degrees. They weren’t strongly motivated to study chemistry and resented having to run through lectures and teach themselves outside the classroom. Exam performance only slightly improved compared with students who took the nonflipped version the year before.

It sounds like Holton’s flip could more directly address the kinds of students in her general course who, unlike majors, do not exhibit the same kind of motivation. Could Holton incorporate other activities that could spark their interest, perhaps linking chemistry to the world they experience everyday? Could she explain her use of the flipped classroom in a way that students see themselves participating in their own learning rather than being completely responsible for it?

Success with active learning strategies begins with the instructor intentionally incorporating and linking them to the goals of the course. Instructors are better positioned to get the most out of active learning when they keep disciplinary values in view.


Berens, Kathi Inman. “Double Flip: 3 Insights Flipping the Humanities Seminar.” Hybrid Pedagogy, 23 Jan 2014, https://hybridpedagogy.org/double-flip-3-insights-flipping-humanities-seminar/ (31 Jan 2020).

Freeman, Scott; Eddy, Sarah L; McDonough, Miles; Smith, Michelle K.; Okoroafor, Nnadozie; Jordt, Hannah and Mary Pat Wenderoth. “Active Learning Increases Student Performance in Science, Engineering, and Mathematics.” PNAS, 111.23 (2014): 8410-8415. doi/10.1073/pnas.1319030111.

Jarvis, Claire L. “The Flip Side of Flipped Classrooms: Popular Teaching Method Doesn’t Always Work as Planned.” C&EN, 17 Jan 2020, https://cen.acs.org/education/undergraduate-education/flip-side-flipped-classrooms/98/i3, (31 Jan 2020).


The Music of SHINee is a digital exhibit, part of the digital humanities project KPOPCULTURE. It provides an overview of the music of K-pop group SHINee, including promotional tracks as well as deep cuts and song credit information.

Research is one of the most inefficient processes on the planet, and mine is no exception.  While Soul in Seoul will have all kinds of insights about the way African American popular music informs K-pop, there is a lot of things (a lot!) that will not make it into the book. What to do?

Continue reading “PROJECT UPDATE: The Music of SHINee”

PROJECT UPDATE: K-pop Producer Yoo Young Jin

The new exhibit on KPOPCULTURE, Yoo Young Jin, provides an overview of one of K-pop’s most influential music producers. Not only has Yoo worked on some of the most recognizable and enduring K-pop songs, he has also produced his own material. The exhibit provides an overview of his most popular work as well as a Curated Playlist that delves into other tracks with the groups with whom he works the most, including SHINee, TVXQ, Super Junior and Shinhwa (when they were on the SM Entertainment label).

This exhibit is part of the KPOPCULTURE digital humanities project, which curates modern Korean popular music (K-pop) and the culture that surrounds it through digital exhibitions of music, choreography, fandom and industry.

Creative Activity as Undergraduate Student Research

Source: Pixabay

Many institutions, including my own, include creative activity from art, music, theatre and other disciplines as part of undergraduate student research. Given the creative nature and output of these disciplines, what can this look like?

Continue reading “Creative Activity as Undergraduate Student Research”

PROJECT UPDATE: New Asian Drama Digital Humanities Project

OMO!: Korean and Chinese Drama and Commentary is my newest digital humanities project, which curates information on dramas and the global response to them in the form of reviews. It represents not only resource creation but also an examination of how global audiences make meaning of this transnational popular culture.

The project also includes the work of undergraduate researchers, providing the valuable experience of working on a research project. The first exhibit, City Hunter (2011), includes an analysis of the promotional poster as well as an overview as well as short-form and longer reviews compiled by De’siree Fairley, undergraduate research assistant. Users can view complete reviews in Evernote. As the project includes more dramas, we hope that we can determine a pattern in the consumption of dramas by global audiences.

Panelist, “Black American Music and K-pop,” KCON 2017 LA

I’ll be a panelist at KCON 2017 LA! Panel 502B, “Black American Music and K-pop”, will be on Sunday, August 20, 2:30 p.m. – 3:30 p.m. Hope to see you there!

In the meantime, check out some of my work on Black American Music and K-pop.

Not Just Pretty Faces: K-pop Idols and Quiet Storm Masculinity

Black Popular Music and K-pop

Ethnicity, Glamour and Image in Korean Popular Music

What Type of Fan Are You?: Fan Hierarchy vs. Fan Continuum

Image: Pixabay

Fan identity is at the heart of fandom studies, and one of the most contested issues revolves around differentiating types of fans based on their knowledge, behavior or both. Fan hierarchy and fan continuum are two concepts that attempt to answer this question, with different implications.

In Understanding Fandom, Mark Duffett defines a fan as “a person with a relatively deep, positive emotional conviction about someone or something famous, usually expressed through a recognition of style or creativity. He/she is also a person driven to explore and participate in fannish practices” (18). As a result, a fan differs from a general member of an audience, for “contemporary culture still marks out an emotional and rhetorical divide between the identities of the fan and the ordinary audience member” (45). By definition, fans are emotionally attached to the object of fandom, while ordinary audiences are just not as attached. Fans can be identified by what they know and how they engage in a variety of fan activities.

Perhaps it is this emotional attachment that also factors into the way fans see themselves in relation to each other. In Fan Cultures, Matt Hills refers to the notion of fan hierarchy, which he argues involves both fan cultural capital, or “the knowledge that a fan has about their object of fandom,” and fan social capital, or “the network of fan friends and acquaintances that a fan possesses, as well as their access to media producers and professional personnel linked with the object of fandom” (57). Hill’s issue is more with academics who study fans and how they arrange fans in relation to each other. Fan cultural capital is based on knowledge alone, whereas fan social capital is based on interaction with other fans and larger fan culture. This tends to lend itself to comparisons and valuing certain kinds of fans over others, privileging those who have more knowledge or more interaction with the larger fandom.

But Duffett realizes that this may not capture the complexities of fan culture. It also may reinforce a negative appraisal of fans. Remember that Duffett defines fan activity as positive. Instead, he proffers the notion of a fan continuum “that stretches between the least committed fans and the most dedicated fans” and allows for the consideration of other kinds of fan characteristics, including “fan self-identification, community participation, consumption of publicity material and archiving” (44).

This move attempts to get us away from thinking about “good” fans and “bad” fans, and more on what fans do and how they think of themselves. It recognizes as a fan anyone who has any level of the emotional attachment to the fan object. In this way, if you think you are a fan, then you are one. At the same time, it allows us to make distinctions based on how fans operate. We might be fans, but we are not the same type of fans. Some fans have a superficial engagement with the fan object, while others have deep knowledge. Hills acknowledges this when he notes that one can have high fan cultural capital, but low fan social capital. This doesn’t take away a fan’s identity, but it does describe a different mode of fandom. Fan continuum allows us to recognize the differences in fan practices without passing judgement on fans or questioning a fan’s authenticity.


Duffett, Mark. Understanding Fandom: An Introduction to the Study of Media Fan Culture. New York: Bloomsbury Academic, 2013.

Hills, Matt. Fan Cultures. London and New York: Routledge, 2002.