Professor Steven Berg is offering a course on Unflattening and has set up a wiki here to share student work and collaborate with others at different universities. Please click here.

An early post on teaching with Unflattening

Unflattening in the Classroom: Unflattening has been in use in classrooms for over a year now – ranging from high school courses to PhD seminars, and across fields. Some I know about, I’ve visited a few classrooms, and skyped into several more… The nature of the work makes it difficult to categorize, something I was quite intentional about, and which was wonderful pointed out in this story from French reader Vincent Millou:

“I’m a master’s student here in Paris, and I’ve suggested to the library to acquire your book. They have, but the availability was delayed, because, guess what? They couldn’t figure out in which shelving to put it. Here’s the phrase this characteristically formal librarian used: “Face à la difficulté de faire coïncider ce document original avec les logiques classificatoires des salles, celui-ci a finalement été localisé en magasin” (quick and clumsy translation: “Faced with the difficulty of making this original document and the classificatory logic of our rooms coincide, it has in the end been put in store”). … So there you are, you don’t coincide with the classificatory logic of French libraries. Pretty telling isn’t it?”
 Anyhow, because it has appeared in such a broad range of classrooms and levels, I wanted to do a quick roundup of people using the book and how. I sent a brief survey to some of the people I knew were teaching it, and have started to gather responses, the first of which I share below. If you happen to use the book in your classes, please feel free to reach out, I’d love to know in what capacity and subject… Thanks to Danica Savonick, Steven McAlpine, Adam Bessie, Gina Brandolino, Alexandrina Agloro, Tami Carmichael, Rob Salkowitz, Haerin Shin, Henry Jenkins, Jessica Stark, Sybil Baker, Jesús Costantino, Lynne Miles-Morillo, and all their students! – Nick
Danica Savonick, Queens College
Courses: Introduction to Narrative and Great Works of Global Literature; Both are writing intensive humanities courses for undergraduates of all levels
I teach Unflattening in my undergraduate humanities courses because it allows us to explore a very complex humanities question, one that is central to all of the courses I teach: how do you tell a story? In addition to storytelling, it allows us to have conversations about education, creativity, and the many different forms that research can take.
Unflattening encourages students to think in terms of both images and text. I assign it in the hope that they will choose a creative medium for their final projects–one that is suited to the research they’ve done and the story they want to tell (whether that’s a poem, painting, website, comic, podcast, song, photo essay, video, timeline, etc.). It has inspired students like Monique Arantes to submit close readings of novels as drawings… Both times I’ve taught Unflattening we have focused in class on performing close readings of page 14, which features figures trapped in what look like (among other things) scantron bubbles. Through our collective, intensive close reading of this page, we have important conversations about the social function of education, and how different modes of assessment and orientations towards learning incentivize particular modes of being in the world. Together we discuss whether our nation’s current obsession with standardized achievement tests reflects the kinds of education we collectively need and want.
Each time we read Unflattening, students are asked to draw whatever assignment they are working on for our class (whether that’s a close reading essay, a comparative essay, or a research project). This act of translating their thinking into images always produces new ideas and unexpected interpretations, making their final products much richer.
Here are some of the questions students developed based on Unflattening, and continued to explore in their various research projects:
  • What are the assigned paths that society lays out for us to follow? In addition to schools, where and how does this happen?
  • How can we understand the critical work of imagination? How can imagination help transform society?
  • Can creativity be learned or is it an innate trait incapable of being gained through education?
  • What do comics–and specifically the combination of text and images–allow us to communicate that we couldn’t achieve with text alone?
  • What are some of the ways creativity is decreasing in contemporary society? How might we address these issues?
Steven McAlpine, Assistant Director of Interdisciplinary Studies at University of Maryland, Baltimore County
Course: INDS 330 Ways of Knowing
Description: How can the insights from various disciplines inform our understanding of difficult issues? This course explores methods of different academic disciplines and their implications for an interdisciplinary understanding of complex problems. Each year students will examine a compelling issue (e.g. AIDS, energy policy) by integrating the contributions of several disciplines. Students will develop skills in interdisciplinary research and problem-solving, oral and written communication, and in integrating diverse perspectives.
Why I chose Unflattening as a course reading: from Maya Lin’s Vietnam Veterans Memorial to Sir Ken Robinson’s TED Talk on “Changing Education Paradigms,” INDS 330 students analyze the interdisciplinary nature of paradigm shifting work. Unflattening – as a PhD dissertation in comic book form – certainly fits this description. Its visual depiction of non-linear modes of understanding is an inspiration to students awash in a sea of text heavy assigned readings (well, not in my course, of course). Unflattening also offers fresh language for describing interdisciplinarity (see student essay samples).
Adam Bessie, Diablo Valley College (Bay Area, CA)
I used excerpts of Unflattening in two English courses:
ENGL 140: TUTOR TRAINING This course trains students in student-centered, problem posing tutoring. The course provides a theoretical background English tutoring methods, and introduces students to theories of education (Friere, Dewey, for example). The class ultimately prepares students to become a peer tutor in our English tutoring center. ENGL 140 is a recommendation only course. In other words, students have been recommended by an English professor for their outstanding work and ability to work with others.
ENGL 176: GRAPH NOVEL as LITERATURE A survey course on the graphic novel for transfer to UC/CSU. ENGL 176 is an introductory literature course, open to all students who asses into one-level below transfer English. How does Unflattening speak to the larger aims of the course/how is it integrated within that? In ENGL 140, we used Ch.2 to help students further understand the purpose of a student-centered tutoring experience, one that defies the banking model, and encourages problem-poising (or Unflattening). It was paired with Friere’s Banking Model of Education (in part because both rely so squarely on metaphor to make their argument). In ENGL 176, we used Ch. 1 as part of an opening survey of genres/styles of the graphic novel. Most students have read comics, and even graphic novels, but still see comics as a GENRE and not a MEDIUM. Thus, we look at a wide range of short works – memoir, reporting, poetry, experimental, etc. I paired the first chapter with McCloud in particular, to show how comics works as a non-fiction, expository genre.
Anything further you’d care to share about student response to Unflattening, your own, related.
I haven’t yet ordered the text for a full class, as I needed to first pilot an excerpt to see how students response. In both classes, the response was very favorable, and left me considering how it would be integrated as a complete text. In our English Dept, I can see it best integrated into our CRITICAL THINKING and COMPOSITION courses, as the goal of these courses is to explicitly explore how to assess and cultivate new perspectives. Further, I think it would be useful if specific chapters could be anthologized within English texts for Critical Thinking. I could definitely see a reader including one of the first chapters.
Gina Brandolino, University of Michigan
Course: ENG418 Graphic Narrative; English Dept.; undergraduate upper-level
Course description: This course is dedicated to the serious study of graphic narratives, more commonly called graphic novels or comics. It is based on two related ideas: 1) graphic narrative is not a simple or unrefined form of storytelling but incredibly sophisticated and nuanced; and 2) done well, the combination of words and images that graphic narrative employs conjures up something “extra” in stories, a “third thing” or additional element that words or pictures cannot accomplish alone.
Reading for this course includes a selection of primary texts that are graphic narratives. I have very deliberately decided not to include graphic “classics” in this list, thinking they are likely texts you have read before and hoping to expand your range in the genre. So there will be no Maus, Watchmen, V for Vendetta, Fun Home, or Batman. Readings for the course are all just as good as these books—maybe better. They will take us into the fictional worlds of superheroes and supervillains and also include graphic versions of true crime, horror, imagined communities, and battlefields of the past and future. Course reading will also include secondary texts, the work of scholars who explore (in written and graphic texts) graphic narratives in general, the specific stories we will study, and issues related to the topics of those stories. Together, the primary and secondary readings will give you opportunities to think critically about both the content and form of the stories we will study. The course theme—Fame & Infamy—will be an important starting point for us, but I suspect that we will find these corresponding ideas will open up many other ideas and issues in our texts.
How does Unflattening speak to the larger aims of the course/how is it integrated within that?
I use it early in the semester to develop concepts and ways of reading helpful to students in this course especially, but also in general.
Anything further you’d care to share about student response to Unflattening, your own, related.
It’s a great book, and I’m so happy it’s getting so many accolades!
Alexandrina Agloro, Worcester Polytechnic Institute
Courses: Social Movements, Interactive Media, and Games. Interactive Media & Game Development; Level: Upper division undergrad
Description: This course examines interactive media and games’ intersections with contemporary social movements. How are games well suited to shift worldviews and influence popular opinions? How are theories of social change in alignment with creative media making? Students will examine interdisciplinary art forms ranging from games to speculative fiction to art installations in order to understand art’s role in contemporary social movements. Students will also read and examine critical race theory, feminist theory, queer theory, and postcolonial literature in order to understand how and why social movements take place.
How does Unflattening speak to the larger aims of the course/how is it integrated within that?
I use the book in the first unit on unlocking the imagination where students write a speculative fiction/ graphic novel as the culminating assignment.
Tami Carmichael, Professor & Director, Humanities & Integrated Studies, University of North Dakota
Course: Integrated Studies Program First Year Learning Community (a fully interdisciplinary multi-course learning community)
Description: Unflattening is now a core text for this learning community because it does two important things that contribute to helping us develop our student learning goals: it provides an intriguing and accessible way for students to immediately explore the importance of multi-dimensional perspectives on thinking and learning, and it also expertly integrates multi-disciplinary materials to create knew ideas.
Student response: Students resonated with this work. It helped them visualize and integrated complex, abstract ideas. It modeled idea synthesis in a way that was approachable, and there was a clear shift in students’ engagement with and ability to analyze complex ideas after exploring Unflattening. This first use of the text was so successful that it is now one of the core texts for our learning community curriculum and will be used every Fall semester.
Rob Salkowitz, University of Washington
COM 597: Visual Narrative as Transmedia Platform, in the Communication Leadership Graduate Program, School of Communication.
Level: Graduate; 5 credits toward a terminal Masters in Communication degree (professional)
How does Unflattening speak to the larger aims of the course/how is it integrated within that?
I used Unflattening to demonstrate the power of graphic storytelling as a medium for expressing complex and abstract ideas. It was required reading for the second session of the class: a survey of the “graphic novel” (also including graphic nonfiction) from its inception to the present day. It was assigned in conjunction with the student’s choice of a more concrete longform graphic work, typically a memoir or work of literary fiction. We focused specifically on the use of drawings to visualize ideas rather than just represent scenes, and the importance of visual language as a complement/supplement to text in terms of aiding in comprehension. The class benefited from an hour-long Q&A with the author via teleconference.
An overview of the UW CommLead program, which is unusual in its focus, can be found here.  Note that this is a professional-track program designed for professionals in marketing, media, entertainment, technology, journalism and related fields to obtain a credential that is the equivalent of an MBA, with a focus on communication theory and practice.
Anything further you’d care to share about student response to Unflattening, your own, related. Students in this class read Unflattening for its formal properties, not necessarily its subject-matter. However we engaged in a rich and instructive conversation about the issues of learning and education policy raised by the book, and the success that Sousanis achieved in making the issues accessible to non-experts. Everyone enjoyed the opportunity to interact with the author.
Haerin Shin, Vanderbilt University
ENGL 277, Asian American Literature, Stranger in a Home Land: Asian American Literature and the Mechanisms of Alienation
English 243 (3720) Literature, Science, and Technology, Ghostly Bodies and Dreaming Machines: The Question Concerning Technology and Ontology
Level: Upper level (majors and non majors)
How does Unflattening speak to the larger aims of the course/how is it integrated within that?
I paired Unflattening w/ Gene Yang’s The Shadow Hero and Grant Morrison’s We3, respectively, for Eng 277 and Eng 243 – Unflattening’s theoretical dimension and formal exploration helped students delve into the fictional texts in depth, appreciating the aesthetics and craft in through conceptual discussions. Also, some of the key concepts of Unflattening (e.g. breaking out of the box, rethinking the institution and its limits, breathing the life of dimentionality into 2D graphics, the idea of the parallax (the ‘other’ within the I, the science of otherness), etc.) really helped students see the amazing storytelling power, expressive force, and pedagogical potential of the medium (comics).
Anything further you’d care to share about student response to Unflattening, your own, related.
Students were absolutely enthusiastic (as you saw yourself!). They were mesmerized by the graphics, struck by your approach of embodying and enacting the content through form, melding in conceptual observations and philosophical musings with concrete examples (story of the Locker Man and the dog, in particular), the effect of comparative reading (with Flat Land), and more than anything, the sense of ownership, agency, and power your work endowed them with – the ability to give dimension to static images, lift up a flat graphic from the page and animate it with our own imagination.
Henry Jenkins, University of Southern California, Annenberg School of Communication and Journalism Comm
620 Public Intellectuals: Theory and Practice; Level: PhD
Description: This class is designed to help promote the professional development of graduate students pursuing research in the fields of media and communications. The class was inspired by three primary concerns:
  1. USC faculty engage in a broad range of public-facing professional practices which are expected and rewarded through promotion and merit raise practices, yet—for the most part—graduate students are trained with a primary focus on producing academic monographs and essays for peer-reviewed journals and without deep focus on this public-facing role.
  2. The digital era has created a much broader range of opportunities for actively engaging as intellectuals in important political and cultural conversations outside of academia, yet there are still relatively few academics who are participating in these dialogues or reacting to arguments that are shaping other realms of professional activity (policy, law, business, education, etc.)
  3. There is a growing range of different professions and industries seeking expertise in media and communication at a moment of profound technological and cultural change, yet, for the most part, graduate students are encouraged to think of these other opportunities as afterthoughts as they are being prepared almost entirely for careers as academics.
My goals in this class are to expose you to the diversity of contemporary scholarly and intellectual practices, to encourage you to look closely at outstanding exemplars of work in these arenas, to create conversations with faculty members about their professional experiences, to help students think more deeply about their intellectual profile, and to offer some core advice and practical experiences. We will be exploring a broad range of theories of media and communication across the class, but the primary focus is going to be applied and practical, as students cultivate the skills and understanding required to make meaningful interventions as public intellectuals. For this reason, the class is structured around smaller, more focused assignments than would be typical for a more research-oriented PhD Seminar.
How does Unflattening speak to the larger aims of the course/how is it integrated within that?
My focus was on giving students a sense of an expanding range of possibility venues and formats through which scholarship might be presented. Unflattening was taught alongside Drew Morton’s video essays in film studies and the work of Vectors and Scalar. Ultimately students would develop a project in Scalar which required a more visually oriented approach to scholarship. Anything further you’d care to share about student response to Unflattening, your own, related. I benefited enormously from having Nick share his insights with my students via Skype. We were more interested in what the book represented as a new form of scholarship than in the particular techniques or content in this context. But the book really captured the imagination of my students and became a reference point in our further discussions.
Sybil Baker, UC Foundation Associate Professor University of Tennessee at Chattanooga University
Honors UHON1010 Humanities I (fall) and UHON 1020 Humanities II , Honors College Level: Freshman—one year course, 6 credits each semester, Humanities and writing
How does Unflattening speak to the larger aims of the course/how is it integrated within that? The course is seminar based and incorporates books from the traditional Western Humanities curriculum including Homer, Dante, Shakespeare, Descartes, Montaigne, and Milton as well as more contemporary literature by Claudia Rankine, Toni Morrison, Camus, Ta-Nehisi Coates, and Baldwin. Unflattening brings together a lot of the ideas from the books and provides models for students to discuss some of the bigger ideas of the course. A lot of the students are STEM students, so the multidisciplinary approach works well for them.
Anything further you’d care to share about student response to Unflattening, your own, related.
From two of my students:
1. The Unflattening lives up to its title. After reading, excuse me, experiencing The Unflattening, I am now in search of more graphic novels and comics. The Union of image and written language opens up a new level of access to understanding. For example, think about those who do not speak English as their first language. Books like The Unflattening help bridge the gap between native and learning speakers of a language.
Today, illustrations are most often exempted from academic writing, which in turn excludes English language learners from higher levels of academic learning. It takes years and years to master a language, but why wait to master that language before expanding the mind to new ideas? I see Sousanis’s use of image and word as a tool to help close the gap between language and higher learning. His work is inspiring me to pursue a senior thesis that is focused on access. I am an Environmental Science major, and I want to study how environmental injustice affects lower-income communities. Because many individuals and families living in polluted areas claim the lowest levels of literacy, I want to translate my research into a more accessible form than a 50 page academic paper. I want to create something like The Unflattening that discusses environmental justice in gentrifying cities.
Further, in terms of class use, The Unflattening again opened doors. After experiencing it, our classes debated language — what is language and how does it differ from images? Are image and language the same? We traced the evolution of human communication and argued about emoticons and universal symbols. The next class we moved on to discuss ideas such as socialism, scientific ethics, how to argue “like a dance”, human rights, and the future of our world. We dove right into the deep end, and it was great fun. I want to thank Sousanis for the best two classes of my Freshman year.
2. The main theme of the graphic novel being on perspective lends itself to discussion. With so much happening on each page (all the art, the words, the use of space, etc), it is almost necessary to get multiple perspectives on each section to fully understand the work. Speaking in terms of the class, this work really opened up discussion to go beyond the text (and images). Admittedly, part of that may be the comfort level we had established at that point in the course. I would highly recommend The Unflattening for classroom discussion.
Jesús Costantino, University of Notre Dame
University-required introductory humanities seminar, English Department, “The World Is Flat” — following the conceit of “flatness” across a variety of textual forms (comics, prose fiction, video games, and film) Level:
First-year course
How does Unflattening speak to the larger aims of the course/how is it integrated within that?
Unflattening served as both example and theory of flatness. The book was a key nexus among a number of course engagements, particularly in how metaphorical and literal flatness reflect broader epistemological histories from the late-19th century into the present.
Anything further you’d care to share about student response to Unflattening, your own, related.
Many of the students had never (or claimed to have never) read a comic or graphic novel prior to reading Unflattening in this course. It was exciting to see them come alive as they began to understand not just how the form works, but how it can be transformed. I know that at least a few felt the pull to dive more deeply into comics following our discussion of Unflattening, and I am confident that many more will come back to comics in the years to come with the seed already securely planted.
 Lynne Miles-Morillo, Purdue University
Interdisciplinary graduate course in German, English, Comparative Literature — GER 690, ENG 630 and CMPL 6xx; named “Unflattening”.
I knew I wanted to teach this course doing a critical analysis and discussion of the mutual relationship between images and words on the published page before I heard of your book, but when I heard of it and then read it, it was so precisely what I had in mind and had the potential to foster discussion in so many directions that I *snagged* it as my course title!
How does Unflattening speak to the larger aims of the course/how is it integrated within that?
For our little course, Unflattening served all at once as a theoretical introduction, example, and underpinning to a discussion of the various roles of images in (particularly) academic discourse. We also read about another dissertation that integrated text & image and read about the issue of illustrated words in a number of different historical & cultural contexts: Early Modern Japan, Ming China, in Milton’s works, in Erasmus’s Folly. The central topic of your work, education, was a tangential topic in my seminar, if always present in the background. Your book was more an example of how to make an argument in a way that turns out not to be so new or different at all — except in modern academic discourse.
Anything further you’d care to share about student response to Unflattening, your own, related.
My students universally (all 7 of them!) found Unflattening a very different and ultimately liberating experience. I was as hands-off open-minded as I could possibly have been in giving them freedom to design their final projects, and while I did get a couple of standard academic analytical papers, I also got
  • a screen-capture filming of one student analyzing her own writing process and her understanding of the role of time in writing
  • an actual unflattened sculpture & physical interpretation of Unflattening

I think I can state fairly confidently that the course was a significant focus-shifter for all of my students. The very student who wrote the most convention academic paper said that he keeps Unflattening at his bedside and refers to it now & again just to remind him of a different way of thinking and writing.

Jessica Stark, Duke University
Writing 101: Love with Comics Course; Level: Freshmen requisite
Texts: Burns, Charles. Black Hole. Clowes, Daniel. Mr. Wonderful. Fraction, Matt. Sex Criminals, Volume 1. McCloud, Scott. Understanding Comics. Rucka, Greg and J.H. Williams, III. Batwoman: Elegy. Varon, Sara. Robot Dreams.
Course Description: How do we define love? How do we perform desire? This course will approach these questions within the framework of a literary medium known for exploring both counter-cultural as well as hyper-normative representations of love and desire: comic books. Together, we will explore how these visual works speak to the question of how we separate (if at all) our conceptions of how humans love and/or desire one another.
As language both reflects and constructs our relationship with others and ourselves, writing will be the subject as well as the major tool of our inquiries in this course. From the recent, politically-charged iteration of Batwoman to the more high-brow work of Charles Burns, we will explore a number of texts that will serve as a brief introduction into the wide range of artistic approaches within the genre of comic books and/or “graphic novels.” We will read supplementary, critical texts to assist us in addressing form-specific questions that will underscore our discussions on how comics invoke cultural representations on desire and/or love.
Through a variety of exploratory exercises involving analytical writing, conducting research, utilizing editing and revision strategies, and participating in both peer review as well as class discussion, we will attempt to understand and express how the course texts examine love and/or desire and what their forms reveal about our relationships with these representations. Although we will be approaching comics as our main object of inquiry for assignments, we will be actively engaging with effective writing strategies that translate into a number of different fields of writing. There will be a number of short, written blog assignments to aid in generating discussion and critical engagement. In addition, there will be one midterm paper (4-5 pages) and one final research paper (8-10 pages) that may develop from the lines of inquiry explored through previous blog assignments. Approaching writing as an ongoing, interpretive process, you will learn effective techniques for the editing and revision process leading up the final project.
How does Unflattening speak to the larger aims of the course/how is it integrated within that?
We read Chapters 1-3 tandem with the course texts Mr. Wonderful / Sex Criminals / McCloud’s Understanding Comics. These chapters were very helpful in complicating some of McCloud’s definitions and encouraging students to think about how comics operate as “simultaneous ecosystem” (64). Discussions on seriality, non-closure, perception, visuality, “flatness.” We also used in relation to in-class writing assignments (e.g. after discussion of “Chapter 3: The Shape of Our Thoughts,” students wrote a two-part assignment: a one-page textual love story ((either their own from personal history, their own fictional story, or a familiar love story from pop culture) and an accompaniment / “translation” exercise of the story into abstract comic form. Discussed what was possible through the pictorial that is limited in purely textual storytelling)).
Anything further you’d care to share about student response to Unflattening, your own, related:
The students were so interested in the material! Some found the critical references difficult (no surprise for freshmen!), but I’m confident all felt that the text deepened their approach beyond McCloud’s foundations. Many were interested in reading more of the text. For me, this was a spur-of-the-moment addition to the syllabus, since I had not read Unflattening until after I designed the syllabus, but I will definitely try to integrate more of the text in the future.