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Communication Faculty Highlight: Do Own Donna Kim

1. Describe your teaching values. What specific teaching strategies, beliefs, or resourcesdo you draw on to create a learning environment that is inclusive, diverse, and accessible to all students? 

  • I believe that learning comes from the students, so I focus on providing and helping shape the grounds for learning. I value the student-driven process of making knowledge their own and enlivening it through applications, whether academically, in their respective career paths, or in everyday experiences. This involves locating and refining their own voice through critical engagement with knowledge and research, as well as expanding each other’s understandings through collaborative thinking.
  • I strongly believe that this process can be, and should be, fun, reflexive, and equitable. To best help with their learning, I actively incorporate exercises that are student-led and imaginative, focused on guiding the students to elevate their emerging understandings of theories and empirical findings by connecting them with their lived experiences and applying them to the areas of their interest for problem-solving. For instance, our discussion of the politics of design in game algorithms includes a group-based activity where the students are to design choose-your-adventure game- or visual novel-like sequences for first date scenarios (this happens around Valentine’s Day!). During the debrief, the students are encouraged to reflect on their essays about their relationship to games and previous class exercises on social identities to discuss designed assumptions, social norms, and cultural patterns. To ensure that I am fostering an environment where all students can thrive, I strive to maintain active communication with the students and build in trust-based flexibility into my courses. For example, I utilize beginning-of-the-semester surveys and post-midterm self-evaluation of participation surveys to better understand the students and accommodate their needs.
  • To read more about my teaching, check out my COMM 260 Games as Social Technology syllabus on Pop Junctions.


2. Tell us about your research interests! Feel free to share any relevant links to websites or CVs if you have them.

  • I study everyday, playful digital cultures and boundary-crossing technology practices, focusing on norms and categories. The questions that have inspired my research are: What does it mean to be human and/or real in mediated communicative environments? How do we want to live together? These questions are motivated by my passion for inclusivity and diversity. They are questions about inclusion/exclusion, power, and accountability. I am currently working on my first book project on the social and cultural implications of “humanlike” virtual influencers (CGI influencers), in which I critically trace various (hidden) people, things, and structures. I have also investigated the questions through video games, hybrid technologies, and Korean digital cultures and feminism. I specialize in qualitative research, but I also enjoy collaborating on quantitative, computational, and mixed-method projects.
  • Read more about my research on my website:


3. Any recent conferences attended? Any publications you’d like to shout out?

  • In the 2023-24 school year, I was accepted to four conferences. I presented on augmented reality (AR) parody K-pop virtual idols and authenticity in Philadelphia (Association of Internet Researchers), Korean gay dating apps and hybrid space in National Harbor (National Communication Association), and nostalgia mobile gaming and platformization in Boston (Society for Cinema and Media Studies). These were solo presentations, but I love thinking together with students and colleagues, too. This summer, our first-year PhD student Michel Maksimova and I will be presenting on games and civic imagination on war at the Digital Games Research Association’s 2024 conference, held in Guadalajara, Mexico.
  • From my 2023-24 publications, my New Media & Society article ““Pay for Your Choices”: Deconstructing Neoliberal Choice in Free-to-play Interactive Fiction Games” well demonstrates my line of thinking around video games and technologies, and it has been a wonderful resource for my teaching as well. “Real But Fake, Real Because Fake: Technologically Augmented K-pop Idols and Meta-authenticity” in AoIR Selected Papers of Internet Research hints at what I have been developing in my book project on “humanlike” virtual influencers. I have some more upcoming works that I am excited about, such as the Forum on food and civic imagination “Feeding the Civic Imagination” that I organized with Sangita Shresthova and Paulina Lanz for Lateral: Journal of the Cultural Studies Association (in press, expected Spring 2024) and other works under review or in preparation on topics like virtual influencers and AI. I also write more teaching-friendly, broader readership-friendly pieces on (Korean) media and digital cultures. My most recent piece would be ““Girl Crush” K-pop Idols: A Conversation between Korean, Chinese, and US Aca-fans” on Pop Junctions that I worked on with Lenore Wang and Henry Jenkins.


4. What are you excited for in the future regarding Communication at UIC?

  • Communication is an area that is marked by and is marking its core role in the future with its interconnectedness and applicability. UIC’s Department of Communication’s research innovativeness and continuous support for cultural, social inquiries on emerging sociotechnical systems and actors, such as AI, robots, and hybrid realities, and their relationship with humans excite me. I am excited to contribute to the future of communication academically and practically through my work on virtual influencers and more. I am also excited to continue to work with UIC’s amazing students. Their passion and diverse experiences inspire me, and it has been wonderful seeing them apply their critical thinking and research skills in their respective career paths. I will be teaching a graduate seminar for the first time at UIC in the 2024-25 school year, so I am greatly looking forward to the opportunity to work closely with our graduate students, too.