PROJECT UPDATE: The Music of SHINee

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?

I found I could use this extra material in my digital humanities project, KPOPCULTURE, which curates K-pop through digital exhibits and functions as a resource. While different from my traditional scholarship, it still bears the hallmarks of research.

The dictionary defines research as “the systematic investigation into and study of materials and sources in order to establish facts and reach new conclusions.” “The Music of SHINee” is the result of systematic investigation and reaches new conclusions.  I conceived of these music exhibits to help users get a better idea of the music of K-pop artists, which is often overlooked even in scholarship on K-pop. Rather than just gather all of the songs, I curated an artist’s discography in a systematic way by turning to the people who knew the most: fans. From my other work on K-pop fans, I knew that fans were drawn first and foremost by the music and they arguably spend more time with K-pop music than even professional pop music critics in media. Using views would have been problematic, as viewing videos has become less of a metric for quality and more of a measure for popularity. Also, views only focus on promotional tracks which are usually attached to music videos, while fans also love deeper cuts on albums.

I had my trusty undergraduate research assistant De’Siree Fairley compile songs from SHINee playlists on YouTube, then compile a list of common songs.  I also compiled a list of “best songs” from all those music reviews I’d consulted for the book. I created one large playlist,  included song credit information about each, and looked for patterns. Only by putting this “data” together could I come to some conclusions. For example, contrary to what many say about K-pop “idols,” members of SHINee creatively contributed to their music. Instead of simply outsourcing music production, SHINee uses a combination of Korean, Swedish, Danish and American music producers. SHINee’s early music, beginning with the unparalleled debut of “Noona Neomu Yeppo” in 2008, continues to resonate with fans, challenging the notion that K-pop is disposable.

Moreover, technology allows the exhibit to function as a resource for users. The Omeka platform allows me to embed a playlist, so users can listen to a song while consulting song credit information in the exhibit. Naming the creative people behind K-pop makes their work visible and helps users to expand their knowledge of K-pop.

There you have it! A behind-the-scenes look at K-pop scholarship!

Creative Commons License
PROJECT UPDATE: The Music of SHINee by Crystal S. Anderson, PhD is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.

If Not Now, When?: Students and Difficult Reading

Source: Pixabay

Many professors bemoan the failure to do the assigned reading on the part of their students. But is that a reason to shy away from giving students challenging texts?

After regaling readers with the common experience of encountering students in the classroom who have not done the reading, Theresa MacPhail offers a solution in a recent piece for The Chronicle of Higher Education. She suggests assigning less reading: “Long story short: Don’t assign too much reading–and don’t assume you know how much reading is too much for your students.” Why? Because students are pressed for time and, “read only if they have time and if the readings are relatively easy to digest.” Moreover, she suggests that professors avoid long texts:  “It may be the biggest reason students are no longer reading the things we assign. They have complained over and over again that a lot of assigned texts are just too boring or too long or–the deadliest of combinations–both at once.”

In her own classroom, MacPhail incorporates other kinds of material, including documentaries and podcasts. She only has students read a few scholarly texts during the course. The result: “My student are getting the information–but in formats with which they are most comfortable. Instead of reading more, they are doing more research and writing.”

There are two things that struck me. One is the idea that learning should be easy and comfortable.  Whereas learning shouldn’t be torture, it also shouldn’t be without discomfort. I’m a proponent of meeting students where they are. At the same time, the goal is also to move the student forward, even if it’s just a little bit, and that often means taking the student out of a comfort zone to a new place that is unfamiliar and sometimes scary. But that’s ok! The unfamiliar then becomes familiar; then we move on to more unfamiliar things.  What we should be doing is making students comfortable with being uncomfortable, with ambiguity, with not knowing and confident enough to charge ahead and grapple with difficult texts or challenging readings.

The other idea that struck me was placing reading in opposition to research and writing.  As a person who designs and implements research programs for undergraduates and trains them to work on my own research, I know the value of reading for research. I know some academics who look down on basic bibliographic research, but that research is the foundation for any subsequent research. An inability to read well at this stage does not bode well later down the road.  I have seen students who have never been asked to grapple with a “difficult’ text that challenged them. As a result, they lack the confidence and ability to do so. If a student never has to grapple with a dense text, then a student will never learn how to grapple with a dense text. But it’s about more than grappling with jargon or a boring text. It’s about developing critical reading skills that they can use anywhere.

Rather than denigrating difficult texts, perhaps what we should teach students is how to read smarter, which would really make the best use of their time and engage them with the material.   Miriam E. Sweeney offers some great insights in her post, “How to Read for Grad School.” Instead of a cursory review of the material, these suggestions offer a reading strategy to ensure the reader understands the material at a sufficient depth to be able to engage its ideas. There are probably others who have written similarly.

In the 1970s, I remember seeing public service advertisements for the Reading is Fundamental program, which was designed to increase literacy rates. Reading is still fundamental. The way to address student reading is not to encourage students to avoid difficult reading, but to teach them how to engage it.

Sources

MacPhail, Theresa. “Are You Assigning Too Much REading? Or Just Too Much Boring Reading?” The Chronicle of Higher Education, 27 Jan 2019, https://www.chronicle.com/article/Are-You-Assigning-Too-Much/245531 (21 Mar 2019).

Miriam. “How to Read for Grad School.” Miriam E. Sweeney. 20 Jun 2012, https://miriamsweeney.net/2012/06/20/readforgradschool/ (21 Mar 2019).