Video frame from Bushner's glitch art performance for SOPHIEFEST. Watch the full video here

A regular Reddit-user, glitch art performer, and University of Michigan Digital Studies Institute lecturer, Dr. Toni Bushner spends a lot of time thinking about what it means to be online. When we sat down for a Zoom interview, Dr. Bushner was happy to talk about their teaching style, show me their music-making gadgets, and recommend video essays for me to watch. They are involved in many different online communities; in exploring all versions of “what it means on the Internet,” Dr. Bushner’s teaching is innately motivated and tied to their online experiences. 

Dr. Bushner completed their Masters degree and PhD at Purdue University’s Rhetoric and Composition program, where they focused on digital rhetoric and technical writing. They became involved with the DSI in the beginning of 2020, when they taught DIGITAL 366, “Deception, Manipulation, and Privacy in the Digital Age.” In Dr. Bushner’s version of this course, students explore their own use of technology and social media, as well as broader issues with consuming and producing digital content on big tech platforms. Students have opportunities to reevaluate some of their Internet habits and form new ones, with projects involving social media fasts and creating user-privacy guidelines. 

One such opportunity involves students suspending all of their social media accounts. “[These] apps are made to be quite addictive,” explains Dr. Bushner, “and so those assignments are geared toward disrupting our pattern of engagement… a lot of [students] do end up going back, but they do so in at least a modified or more mindful way.”

In Fall 2022, after a few semesters teaching DIGITAL 366, Dr. Bushner felt it was time to teach a class that explored the more creative and fun aspects of the Internet, which led them to develop DIGITAL 258, “Fan Fiction, Theorycrafting, and Online Communities.” “It is quite depressing to be talking about all the ways in which our online systems are putting people in conflict with each other,” says Dr. Bushner. As a major Internet “prosumer” (producer/consumer) themself, Dr. Bushner discusses how the Internet brings people together to create things that may not have been made otherwise. Hoping to connect everyone with their own niche community online, Dr. Bushner encourages students to delve into their interests through projects like making a chiptune song, glitch art, video essay, or fan fiction piece.

About DIGITAL 258, Dr. Bushner said, “It’s hard to pick a favorite part, I’m a really big fan.” And about DIGITAL 366, Bushner cites one of their favorite things as the eager Discord conversation that occurs during movie-watching in class. Creativity and flexibility in final projects and the classroom are important aspects of Dr. Bushner’s teaching philosophy—being a prosumer is about self-expression and exploring new skills in low-stakes situations. They explained, “It certainly seems like they put in a lot more effort when they’re given just a little bit of flexibility… a part of the educational journey is figuring out how you learn best.” 

Dr. Bushner will be teaching DIGITAL 202: “Digital Culture” (cross-listed with AMCULT), and DIGITAL 334: “Race, Gender Sexuality and U.S. Culture in Video Games” (cross-listed with AMCULT, COMM, and FTVM) in Winter 2023. Be sure to check out their glitch art online, too.