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Alan Levine's Presentation Showcase

A Purposeful Use for Silly Media? (TCC 2019 Pre-Conference)

An invited pre-conference session for the 24th Teaching, Colleges, and Community Online Conference.

Do easily shared social media content like memes and animated GIFs represent the worst elements of internet culture? Are they inappropriate for academic work? Are there purposeful applications for “silly media”? The characteristics of these media forms can help attract attention to concepts. Humor may ease online communications or provide discussion points for in-class presentations. Rather than just re-sharing media others have made, what can you or your students accomplish by creating your own?

Mostly associated with pop culture references, the concept of the meme has its roots in the scientific community. This presentation will suggest ways we can augment online teaching by just adding images to words, not as an aesthetic, but for visualizing examples, applying metaphors, and opening discussion topics.

Like memes, animated GIFs are often used to generate a laugh, a smile, maybe just a ¯\_(ツ)_/¯. But considering them as short-form video, their looping structure is effective for demonstrating natural processes or showing hands-on techniques where repetition can aid understanding.

Learn what you and your students might accomplish by creating your own meme images and animated GIFs. These media we see mostly “just to be funny” in social spaces, with your creative teaching idea, might be used in a much more meaningful way.



A recording of the session is now available at the TCC web site.

Memes Made by Participants During the Session


LINKS and more

Previously on Silly Media (related materials)


We need a name for the new replicator, a noun which conveys the idea of a unit of cultural transmission, or a unit of imitation. ‘Mimeme’ comes from a suitable Greek root, but I want a monosyllable that sounds a bit like ‘gene’. I hope my classicist friends will forgive me if I abbreviate mimeme to meme. If it is any consolation, it could alternatively be thought of as being related to ‘memory’, or to the French word même. It should be pronounced to rhyme with ‘cream’.

Examples of memes are tunes, ideas, catch-phrases, clothes fashions, ways of making pots or of building arches. Just as genes propagate themselves in the gene pool by leaping from body to body via sperms or eggs, so memes propagate themselves in the meme pool by leaping from brain to brain, via a process which, in the broad sense, can be called imitation.

Purposeful Memes

Meme Making Activities

Animated GIFs

“I ran across this animated GIF of C. elegans on the move while putting together the previous post on optogenetics. It’s the work of Bob Goldstein of the University of North Carolina’s biology department, who has created a large body of microphotographic cinema. This little looping movie of a sinuous nematode seems nearly the perfect marriage of format and subject: the winking, primitive, robust genre of the animated GIF; an ancient, simple, vermiform specimen of multicellular life. It’s as if C. elegans had swum down through the aeons to intersect with an image-making format precisely engineered to express its particular qualities.”
Great Animated GIFs of Science (GearFuse)

GIF Making


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