Teaching the Grateful Dead Phenomenon and Cultural Communication

Natalie Dollar
Oregon State University-Cascades
Bend, OR, USA


Communication studies is particularly well-situated for teaching a course about the Grateful Dead phenomenon and using the phenomenon to teach discipline-specific content. This combination, teaching “the” Grateful Dead and teaching “with” the Grateful Dead, rather than one or the other, is what produces such an engaging course for students, guests, and instructor. I argue that musical speech communities warrant rigorous study and discuss the role of academic publications, professional organizations, and library archives in this process. Developing a pedagogy grounded in cultural communication and treating the course as a communication event allowed for collaboration with students and guest scholars, and illustrates that a multidisciplinary perspective is necessary to understand the significance and complexity of the Grateful Dead phenomenon. Through reflexive analysis of fieldnotes, personal communication with students, and course materials I located the following themes as important to student learning. First, allowing students to choose their topic of study provided familiarity based on personal interests, enhanced comprehension, provided the space for student voice fostering student agency, and increased motivation to prepare and attend class. Second, for students, guest presentations demonstrated new ways of thinking and helped them understand how their personal interests could be academically researched. Third, teaching the Grateful Dead phenomenon with a cultural communication-informed pedagogy necessarily includes teaching methodology and students report improved understanding of the relationship between theory and research. The most common feedback from students was that the level of engagement with the topic facilitated motivation to attend, participate, and increased their learning. Students identified course organization, guest speakers and the multidisciplinary nature of the course as significant to their motivation and success.

Keywords: communication studies discipline, Grateful Dead phenomenon, cultural communication, speech community, Grateful Dead studies, cultural communication pedagogy, student agency, student motivation, student preparation

Author Bio

Natalie J. Dollar is an Associate Professor, Communication and Social Science at Oregon State University-Cascades (https://osucascades.edu/people/natalie-dollar).  Her research focuses on three topics: cultural communication, primarily in the context of the Grateful Dead phenomenon, dispersed communities, and houseless youth; community dialogue about contested issues; and pedagogy (https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Natalie-Dollar-2). While teaching on the Corvallis campus, she was named a College of Liberal Arts Master Teacher and then the OSU-Cascades Teaching Award for 2011-2012.  In 2003, she developed the Community Dialogue Project (https://osucascades.edu/communication/community-dialogue-project) and continues to work with undergraduate students and the community designing and implementing community dialogues.

Suggested Reference Citation


Dollar, Natalie J. “Teaching the Grateful Dead Phenomenon and Cultural Communication”. Dialogue: The Interdisciplinary Journal of Popular Culture and Pedagogy, vol. 9, no. 1 & 2, 2022. http://journaldialogue.org/issues/v9-issue-1-and-2/teaching-the-grateful-dead-phenomenon-and-cultural-communication/.


Dollar, N.J. (2022). Teaching the Grateful Dead phenomenon and cultural communication. Dialogue: The Interdisciplinary Journal of Popular Culture and Pedagogy, 9(1 & 2). http://journaldialogue.org/issues/v9-issue-1-and-2/teaching-the-grateful-dead-phenomenon-and-cultural-communication/

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