Teaching heroes: Meredith Guthrie tries to connect, even with large lecture classes

Meredith Guthrie

This is the first in an occasional series focusing on faculty noted for their classroom teaching.


The longer Meredith Guthrie teaches, she says, the more she sticks to “the tried and true.” There’s nothing high tech about her large media studies lecture class, and she prefers it that way, aiming to communicate more intimately with her students despite the vastness of a Lawrence Hall auditorium.

“I want to be rigorous, but I want to invite a good connection with my students,” she says. “I try to keep it interactive, check in with them, answer their questions and try to make sure they are understanding things.”

It shows in the personal anecdotes and frank opinions Guthrie adds to the litany of media theories she is highlighting on this November day in her “Mass Communication Process” class.

She ticks off the ways Americans were once thought to consume film, radio, television and now social media:

  • We are a clueless herd, open to any persuasion.
  • No, but we are swayed by people who seem well-informed.
  • Wait — actually, media outlets don’t tell us what to think, they only tell us what to think about.
  • Nope — we are invariably swayed by what we hear the most.
  • Sorry: the news just affects the weak-minded.
  • Hold on: maybe there is just so much information bombarding us that we’re left uncertain what to think or do.

Through it all, Guthrie — a faculty member in the Department of Communication in the Dietrich School of Arts & Sciences — leavens the lecture with stories that show the media in action in everyday life. Her lecture concludes with the tale of an older relative who binged on the mid-2000s TV program “America’s Most Wanted,” to the point that “she is convinced that the world is a terrible place where everyone wants to shoot her.”

Yet Guthrie is still reading the research to debunk this notion that the media is terribly influential — “Because I want most people not to be so scared of the world,” she says.

Guthrie’s teaching has a broader aim, she adds: “It’s awesome if they get the specifics of a particular class, but it’s even better if I can help them learn to learn for themselves. I want to help my students learn to be lifelong learners, because I think that’s the biggest skill I got out of college and graduate school.”

Guthrie joined Pitt a dozen years ago; today she is lecturer II and an undergraduate academic advisor. Previously, she taught at Bowling Green State University in Ohio, where she earned her Ph.D.

She was attracted to Pitt, she says, by the possibility of teaching media literacy, so she can show students how to be critical of the stuff we all consume, including the Internet. Today she teaches “Introduction to Media Studies,” “History of Media Studies,” “Television and Society” and other courses.

“They’re overwhelmed, just like the rest of us,” she says of her students. “Technologically, they know how to use it, but no one has taught them to be critical thinkers about it. So media literacy is more important than it has ever been.

“I don't know if I have any secrets,” Guthrie concludes about her teaching skills. Well, perhaps there is one, she allows: “To not pretend I know everything. Then we can figure it out together.”

Marty Levine is a writer for the University Times. Reach him at martyl@pitt.edu or 412-758-4859.