Undergraduate Course Descriptions
Visit Penn's course registration page for information about advance registration and course selection, and a link to choose your courses on Penn InTouch.
Find a Course
Data Science for Beginners
- Spring 2021
This course serves as an entrance to the world of data science and is aimed at students who have little to no background in data science, statistics, or programming. The core content of the course focuses on data acquisition and wrangling, exploratory data analysis, data visualization, inference, modeling, and effective communication of results. This course, which will rely on R, the statistical programming language, will prepare students for more advanced data science and computational social science courses.
Popular culture has been alternately condemned as too trivial to warrant attention and too powerful to resist. Its consumers have been dubbed fashion victims, couch potatoes and victims of propaganda. This course considers these critiques, as well as those that suggest that popular culture can be emancipatory, allowing for the creation and renegotiation of meaning. Over the course of the semester we consider the impacts of various forms of popular culture, and discuss their effects on how we see ourselves and others. We explore the ever-shifting distinctions between high, middlebrow, and low culture and analyze how power and resistance structure the production and consumption of popular texts. This course fulfills one of the two introductory core survey courses required of Communication majors or prospective majors.
Introduction to Communication Behavior
- Spring 2022
- Spring 2021
(Fulfills General Requirement I: Society) This course introduces students to social science research regarding the influence of mediated communication on individual and collective attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors. Throughout the semester we explore the impacts of various types of mediated content (e.g., violence, gender and sexuality, race and ethnicity, politics and activism, health and wellbeing); genres (e.g., news, entertainment, educational, marketing); and mediums (e.g., television, film, social media) on what we think and how we act. The aim of the course is to provide students with (1) a general understanding of both the positive and negative effects of mediated communication on people’s personal, professional, social, and civic lives; and (2) the basic conceptual tools needed to evaluate the assumptions, theories, methods, and empirical evidence supporting these presumed effects. Class meets twice a week (MW) as a lecture and once a week (F) in smaller discussion groups led by graduate teaching fellows. In addition to a midterm exam and occasional short assignments, students have the option of producing a multi-media capstone project or a final term paper on a media-effects topic of their choice. Group projects or final papers are permitted, with approval of the instructor. This course fulfills one of the two introductory core survey courses required of Communication majors or prospective majors.
Media Industries and Society
- Spring 2022
- Spring 2021
(Fulfills General Requirement I: Society) The aim of this course is to prepare you to work in the media business as well as to be an informed citizen by acquainting you with the work and language of media practitioners. The class also investigates the exciting, and (to some employed there) scary changes taking place in the news industry, internet industry, advertising industry, television industry, movie industry, magazine industry, and several other areas of the media system. In doing that, the course ranges over economic, political, legal, historical, and cultural considerations that shape what we see when we go online, use social media, watch TV, read books, play video games, and more. This course fulfills one of the two introductory core survey courses required of Communication majors or prospective majors.
Media, Culture & Society in Contemporary China
- Spring 2022
(Fulfills Cross Cultural Analysis Requirement) This course studies contemporary China in the context of globalization. Starting with an analysis of the origins of economic reform and the struggles for political change in the 1970s and 1980s, the course moves on to cover critical issues in the twenty-first century, including migration and work, middle class consumerism, youth, religion, media and communication, environmental degradation, new forms of inequality, civil society and popular protest. Taking a sociological approach, this course introduces methods and theories for analyzing institutions, inequality, and social change.
Quantitative Research Methods in Communication
- Spring 2022
- Fall 2021
- Spring 2021
(Fulfills the Quantitative Data Analysis Requirement) This course is a general overview of the important components of social research. The goal of the course is to understand the logic behind social science research, be able to view research with a critical eye and to engage in the production of research. It will cover defining research problems, research design, assessing research quality, sampling, measurement, and causal inference. The statistical methods covered will include descriptive and inferential statistics, measures of association for categorical and continuous variables, inferences about means, and the basic language of data analysis. Course activities will include lectures, class exercises, reading published scientific articles, using statistical software, and discussing research featured in the news. Instructors for this course may vary by semester. Faculty who have taught or are schedule to teach the course include Yphtach Lelkes (Spring 2021), John B. Jemmott III (Fall 2021), and Matthew B. O'Donnell (Spring 2022).
Media Activism Studies
- Spring 2022
This seminar provides an introduction to the politics and tactics underlying various types of media activism. The class will examine interventions aimed at media representations, labor relations in media production, media policy reform, activists' strategic communications, and "alternative" media making. The course will draw from an overview of the existing scholarship on media activism, as well as close analysis of actual activist practices within both old and new media at local, national, and global levels. We will study how various political groups, past and present, use media to advance their interests and effect social change. Each member of the class will choose one case study of an activist group or campaign to explore throughout the semester.
Social Media and Social Life
The irruption of social media as a means of communication has been said to transform many dimensions of social life, from how we interact with significant others to how we engage in public life - but has it, really? Regardless of the specific technology (blogs, micro-blogs, social networking sites, peer-to-peer networks), social media make interdependence more prevalent, and exposure to information more pervasive. But social networks, and the ties that bring us together, have long mediated the way in which we obtain information, engage in public discussion, and are recruited or mobilized for a public cause. So what has social media brought to the table that is new? This course will evaluate the evidence that can help us answer this question, as well as challenge conventional views and discuss questions that remain open. The effects of social media on ideological polarization, social influence and peer pressure, agenda-setting dynamics, and the formation and effects of social capital are examples of the substantive topics and theoretical debates that will be considered.
Children and Media
- Fall 2021
This course examines children's relationships to media in their historic, economic, political, and social contexts. The class explores the ways in which "childhood" is created and understood as a time of life that is qualitatively unique and socially constructed over time. It continues with a review of various theories of child development as they inform children's relationships with and understanding of media. It reviews public policies designed to empower parents and limit children's exposure to potentially problematic media content and simultaneously considers the economic forces that shape what children see and buy. The course also provides a critical examination of research on the impact of media on children's physical, cognitive, social, and emotional development. Students in this course produce a proposal for an educational children’s media product as their final project.
Introduction to Political Communication
- Fall 2021
This course is an introduction to the field of political communication and conceptual approaches to analyzing communication in various forms, including advertising, speech making, campaign debates, and candidates' and office-holders' uses of social media and efforts to frame news. The focus of this course is on the interplay in the U.S. between media and politics. The course includes a history of campaign practices from the 1952 presidential contest through the election of 2020.
Advertising & Society
- Fall 2021
This course explores the historical and contemporary role of the advertising industry in the U.S. media system. The course will cover the social history of advertising; the structure of today’s advertising industry; the workings of advertising in digital media; and critical analyses of advertising’s role in society. In addition to academic writings, the class will read industry reports to understand contemporary strategies and processes.
Ethnography and Media for Social Justice
How do qualitative social scientists study urban communities? What kinds of powerful tales can be told about urban lifestyles and social issues in places like Philadelphia? This course will allow students to study various ethnographic treatments of urban communities in the United States, using films, articles, TV serials, and books as guides for the framing of their own independent research on the streets of Philadelphia. Students will also form production teams of two or three people, and these production teams will be responsible for (i) identifying and researching an important urban issue in contemporary Philadelphia and (ii) turning that research into a 15-30 minute video documentary or podcast. Mixing video/audio journalism with ethnographic methods will enhance their skills at archival and social research, from participant observation and interviewing techniques to sound editing and production. This course is intended to be a rigorous and exciting opportunity for students to tell empirically grounded stories using the voices of their participants and the sounds of the city.
Civil Dialogue Seminar: Civic Engagement In A Divided Nation
- Fall 2021
The goal of this course is to help students develop concepts, tools, dispositions, and skills that will help them engage productively in the ongoing experiment of American democracy. This nation’s founders created a governmental structure that sets up an ongoing and expansive conversation about how to manage the tensions and tradeoffs between competing values and notions of the public good. These tensions can never be fully resolved or eliminated; they are intrinsic to the American experiment. Every generation must struggle to find its own balance, in no small part because in every era people who previously had been unjustly excluded from the conversation find a way to be heard. That inevitably introduces new values and changes how enduring ones get interpreted. The challenge of each generation is to develop that capacity to its fullest. The goal of this course is to equip you to engage fully in your generation’s renewal of the conversation. Class sessions will use a variety of modalities: lecture, discussion, case studies, opportunities to experiment with the tools and techniques of civil dialogue, and writing. Each session will include some theory or historical context, a case study, exploration of a key concept of civic dialogue with a related tool or technique, and an interactive exercise. This course is part of a larger effort by the university (called the Paideia program) to help Penn students build these skills.
Digital Dissidence: Networked Movements in the Age of the Internet
This course examines digital dissidence, which takes a wide variety of forms in today's online mediascape. Key issues we will explore include: What is the infrastructure of the global Net and who made it? What is the logic of networked action online and how effective is it? Have the supposedly democratic rules of the internet resulted in positive social transformations? What impact does ever-increasing internet surveillance have on digital dissidence? What can ensure the safety and freedom of online resistance? The sociological concepts and theories covered in this course will help students understand and assess the threats that networked movements face in the political context of contemporary global uprisings.
Film Festival History and Practice
- Spring 2022
Film festivals as we know them emerged as nationalist spectacles and have since become important sites of cultural exchange at global and regional levels. Constantly shifting due to geopolitics and technology, festivals are crucial components in the larger film industry and help to shape film culture, greatly impacting the trajectories of both the life of a film and its makers. Festivals offer a vehicle with which to explore the intersection of art, communications, economics, and politics. Festivals have previously constituted an alternative distribution mechanism for independent and so-called ‘international’ films that may never get a theatrical release and thus offer opportunities for regional audiences to find them. They have also been especially important for nonfiction films. In this course, we will examine the histories of the larger international festivals in North America and Western Europe (i.e. Berlin, Cannes, Toronto, Sundance) and also look into smaller festivals that have formed around thematic, regional or cultural parameters. Additional topics include: independent film distribution and exhibition, criticism, funding, film programming theory and practice, differences in regional and niche festivals, tourism, marketing, and social media. Particular attention will be paid to for-profit versus not-for-profit models and explore the relationship of festivals to museums, universities and non-profit arts structures widely. The course will consist of readings, screenings, and guest presentations from festival programmers.
Divine Mediation: Media and the Shaping of Religious Identity and Practice
(Fulfills Cross-Cultural Analysis Foundational Approaches Requirement) This course surveys how religious groups interact with media, and how media texts and institutions have played a role in defining religions. The intersections between media and religion are numerous, from the mediated growth of national identities, the rise of online religious extremism, the ingroup/outgroup dynamics within and among religious groups, and the ways in which media is used to legitimize/delegitimize theological positions. We examine how media institutions have played a role in propping up religious norms (both explicitly and implicitly) and the shaping of religious identities. This course looks at media as both enforcer and disruptor, as well as the ways in which religions have been challenged by those with media literacy and access. The evolution of religious practice and social norms can also be linked with technological innovations such as the mass distribution of Bibles in the 15th and 16th century thanks to the printing press, the rise of radio and television messiahs in the 20th century, and the individualization of religious practices through new apps.
Modern Social Movements
- Fall 2021
This course examines the main sociological theories and concepts in the analysis of revolutions, popular protest, and social movements. Special attention will be given to three theoretical traditions: resource mobilization, political process, and cultural analysis. We will study narratives, symbols, performances, and old and new media forms in the construction of identities and solidarities and the mobilization of publics. Historical and contemporary cases from the U.S. and around the world will be examined. Students will work in small teams on a term project — an analysis of a social movement or protest event of their choice.
Global Digital Activism
This seminar examines the forms, causes, and consequences of global digital activism, defined broadly as activism associated with the use of digital media technologies (e.g., Facebook, Twitter, mobile phones, and the Chinese Weibo). The goal is to provide students with a theoretical tool-kit for analyzing digital activism and to develop a critical understanding of the nature of contemporary activism and its implications for global social change. Major cases to be examined include the "Occupy Wall Street" movement in the U.S., the Arab Spring, the "indignados" protests in Spain, and internet activism in China. Students are required to conduct primary, hands-on research on a contemporary case (or form) of digital activism and produce a final research paper. This research project may be done individually or in small groups.
Communication and Persuasion
- Spring 2021
This course examines theory, research, and application in the persuasive effects of communication in social and mass contexts. The primary focus is on the effects of messages on attitudes, opinions, values, and behaviors. Applications include political, commercial, health and public service advertising, propaganda, and communication campaigns. Students will develop their own communication campaign over the semester. The campaign will include identifying and analyzing the persuasion problem, the target audience’s characteristics and media habits, and then creating a persuasive message consistent with research and practice targeted to the problem and its solution.
Sick and Satired: The Insanity of Humor and How it Keeps Us Sane
- Fall 2021
This course will examine how and why humor, as both an instigator and peacemaker, might be considered one of the most influential and profoundly useful forms of communication devised by human beings. The unique ability of jokes and satire to transcend familiar literary and journalistic forms for the purpose of deepening (or cheapening) socio-philosophical arguments and to inspire (or discourage) debate and participation in public conversations about innumerable political and social issues will be explored. The fearless analytical nature of both high and lowbrow comedy will be examined, as well as its deflective qualities. The course will enable students to consider, through analysis of both contemporary and historical examples, the political and cultural satirist’s unique role in society as a witness, a predictor and, in some circumstances, an instigator of public and private debate. We will examine the role of satire in revealing and mediating differences between disparate social groups based not solely on language differences, but also on political affiliation, cultural identity, ethnicity, gender, religious fellowship, sexual orientation, and socioeconomic caste.
Masculinity and the Media
- Spring 2022
- Spring 2021
This course examines the construction of masculinity in American and global media, highlighting how masculinity developed in parallel to social, cultural, economic, and political norms. Using case studies and multiple theoretical approaches, we will seek to understand how constructions of masculinity across the world have served to uphold – or challenge – the status quo. Analysis of individual texts across time periods and different cultural contexts will also help us better come to terms with the idea of masculinity – and its proliferation across media platforms.
Special Topics // Happy, Sappy, Creepy: Social Media and Feeling
- Summer 2021
Why does Zoom make you sad? Why does it feel good to troll online? Has digital media desensitized us, or are we more sensitized than ever? In the context of protests against systemic injustice across the world, a global pandemic, and rising inequalities, our relationship with digital media is more complicated than ever. This course discusses call-outs, trolling, leaks, scandals, and activism online through the lens of the emotional, thinking about the pleasure, fear, outrage, disgust, shame, and joy that come with these everyday practices. We'll also examine the ways that our emotions are monetized, shaping and reshaping the platforms we interact with. By developing a critical eye to the platforms we use to protest, socialize, pay bills, and scroll through on a Sunday night, we'll also learn about the way that emotion powers university life, the corporate world, and political movements. Throughout the course, we will read articles and engage with media, including podcasts, videos, and other mediums. This course will help students who want to learn about both the theoretical and practical components of social media, whether you are interested in a career in industry, activism, or academia.
Special Topics // Intro to Data Analysis for Communication
In this course, we will learn the basic tools of data analysis and apply them to answer various questions in communication science. Can reluctant parents be convinced to vaccinate their children? Can get-out-the-vote mailings mobilize voters? Does the diffusion of political rumors affect public opinion? Are toxic comments more likely to go viral on Facebook? These are examples of the questions that we will answer using pre-existing datasets as well as a new online experiment that we will run together as part of the course. There is no official prerequisite for this class and students are not expected to have any familiarity with statistical programming. Students will be given step-by-step instructions and we will work together to analyze the datasets. For the final project, each student will write a research note based on their analysis of the new experimental data. At the end of this course, students will be able to use quantitative data to extract statistical patterns and answer empirical questions. These skills will be extremely useful in various settings, from academia to the media and tech industry and more.
This introductory course is designed to bring you the necessary knowledge and techniques to understand, analyze, interpret, and visualize networks. Lectures will cover major theories and models in the field of network analysis, while in-class labs will teach you how to use software to analyze real-world network data. No previous coding or statistics knowledge is required. The course will teach you how to collect and manage network data, and how to analyze that data using measures of centrality, popularity, clustering, etc. The goal of this course is to provide you with basic knowledge of network methods and theories, and allow you to familiarize with network analysis software. By the end of the course, you should be able to apply network thinking to everyday social phenomena.
Special Topics // Visual Culture and Communication
Visual images permeate every aspect of daily life, through social media, advertising, music videos, TV shows, film, art, fashion, video games, and sports. But we are often so accustomed to the constant flow of images that we do not critically examine them. What happens when we peel apart at the many-layered meanings of visual images? How do images communicate important parts of culture, politics, or the construction of social value? How do individuals or social movements push back on dominant norms and construct their own forms of visual meaning and communication? This course focuses how meaning is embedded in images, through theoretical readings paired with contemporary examples. Students will learn how to read and analyze a variety of visual forms, including from popular culture, politics, art, and museums.
Special Topics // Artificial Intelligence and Decision-Making: Theories, Research, and Applications
- Spring 2021
- Fall 2021
Human decision-making is being increasingly shaped by artificial intelligence (AI)-enabled technologies. This course is a primer to understanding the role and influence of AI on human behaviors and decision-making from a social scientific perspective. It includes an introduction to the theories of judgement and decision-making to analyze how humans perceive, use, and are affected by AI-enabled technologies across personal, social, and organizational contexts. We will discuss empirical research on the development and deployment of AI in economics, healthcare, legal system, media, organizations, and politics. We will also cover current debates on the design of AI applications, ethics of AI, and human-AI collaboration. The goals of this course include developing a clear and thorough understanding of decision-making, its definition, types, and of fundamental theoretical ideas from a social scientific perspective. Students are also expected to demonstrate knowledge of AI-related constructs discussed in the class. The course will require students to critically analyze course and related content to develop and defend their arguments. We will use a combination of lectures, readings, discussions, assignments, and exams to accomplish above goals. No prior knowledge of the field of AI required.
Special Topics // Digital Platforms, Power, and Policy
- Spring 2022
From Amazon to Uber, digital platforms play an increasingly central role in our society, including as public spheres, as political tools, as sources of entertainment and news, and as sites of commerce. At the same time, companies that operate these services face growing public scrutiny—the so-called “techlash”—for spreading hate speech and misinformation, undermining user privacy, algorithmic discrimination, exploiting workers, abusing their market power, and environmental destruction. The goal of this course is to provide clarity to the flurry of debates about platforms by critically examining: a) characteristics and definitions of platforms; b) their socio-political and economic influence; and c) the growing list of policy proposals to address that influence, including platforms’ own policy initiatives. Drawing on news reports, policy proposals, scholarly research, and our own engagement with platform tools, we’ll learn to describe, assess, and critique platforms’ power, to evaluate policy interventions, and to draft our own solutions.
Special Topics // America on Record: Music, Culture, and Identity
- Fall 2021
This course asks students to interrogate the idea of America and American identity through the comparative study of popular music. We will use music as a method for exploring issues of race, ethnicity, gender, and sexuality in the constitution of American culture and in the making and unmaking of the American self. This is neither a linear and comprehensive history of American music, nor is it a musicology course with attention to musical formalism and technique. Rather, it emphasizes music as intercultural communication, a living cultural space where ethnic, racial, national, gender, and sexual identities are both formed and de-formed. While focusing on major musical movements throughout the twentieth — and into the twenty-first — century (minstrelsy, blues, jazz, corridos, salsa, rock, punk, hip-hop, pop, etc.), we will root our thinking through several key critical rubrics: performance, community, activism/protest, industry, memory, affect, power, and technology. This course is guided by the following key questions: What is music’s role in the construction of “America” as a geopolitical idea, as well as the notion of transnational, inter-American identities? We will also pay particular attention to the role of the music industry itself. How has the music industry changed from the days of vaudeville to today? Central themes considered all semester long will include immigration, assimilation, citizenship, and patriotism. Together, we will learn to listen critically to the music that shapes the experiences of who we think we are, as well as impacts our engagement with and socio-cultural understandings of particular historical and political moments.
Special Topics // Good Talk: The Purpose, Practice, and Representation of Dialogue Across Difference
- Spring 2022
As we have observed and experienced during the past five years, dialogue across lines of ideological and identity-based difference is deeply challenging. However, the practice of such dialogues is critical for the healthy functioning of a democracy, as a diverse citizenry must find ways to build understanding, trust, and solidarity with one another; bear witness to difficult truths; and both define and enact justice in community. This course is an exploration of dialogue. It begins from the basic assumption that, while communication is a constant among human societies, our notions of how and why to communicate with each other are by no means innate. They are shaped by the performances and representations of dialogue that are available to us, from political debates to reality TV to therapy sessions. In this course, we will explore three essential questions: What is the meaning and purpose of dialogue as a form of civic engagement? What are the specific skills involved in practicing dialogue? How do representations of dialogue in a variety of media and contexts both illuminate our understanding of the complexities that lead to breakdowns in dialogue and help us develop skills to practice dialogue? Our goal will not be to arrive at a single, unified answer to each of these questions but rather to think in community with one another towards individual understanding. To explore these questions, we will respond to contemporary texts that both depict and perform dialogue in a wide range of genres and forms, produced by creators representing a variety of ethnic, racial, religious, sexual, gender, class, generational, and dis/ability identities. For more information, including a video introduction to the course and working reading lists, please see: https://snfpaideia.upenn.edu/course/spring/2022/good-talk-the-purpose-practice-and-representation-of-dialogue-across-difference/
WARNING! Graphic Content — Political Cartoons, Comix and the Uncensored Artistic Mind
- Spring 2022
- Spring 2021
This course examines the past, present and future of political cartooning, underground comix, graphic journalism and protest art, exploring the purpose and significance of image-based communication as an unparalleled propagator of both noble and nefarious ideas. The work presented will be chosen for its unique ability to demonstrate the inflammatory effect of weaponized visual jokes, uncensored commentary and critical thinking on a society so often perplexed by artistic free expression and radicalized creative candor.
We are the 99%: Media and Memory of the Occupy Movement
- Fall 2021
2011 was a watershed year for social movements, from the Arab Spring to Los Indignados, to Occupy Wall Street. This seminar focuses on the Occupy movement, placing it in a global climate of activism, and focusing on the movement’s use of media and technology. In the midst of an activist movement, it’s impossible to know what practices, technologies and ideas have staying power and which ones will fade away. The ten-year anniversary of these activist uprisings provides an opportunity to reflect and ask: what are the legacies of these movements for today’s activist efforts? How did the Occupy movement reshape digital activist practices? Where did the movement fail and what were its successes? In this discussion-based seminar, students will learn fundamentals of social movements theory, analyze the particular efforts and ideas of the Occupy movement, and develop a richer understanding of activist media.
Understanding the Political Economy of Media
- Spring 2021
This course has two aims. First, assuming that communications are central to any society, it situates media systems within larger national and international social relationships and political structures. Second, this course critically examines the structures of the communication systems themselves, including ownership, profit imperatives, support mechanisms such as advertising and public relations, and the ideologies and government policies that sustain these arrangements. Considering case studies ranging from traditional news and entertainment media to new digital and social media, the course provides a comprehensive survey of the major texts in this vibrant sub-field of media studies.
The Communication Research Experience
In this hands-on course students will work with active researchers in the Communication Neuroscience lab at Penn to gain experience in how research works. Students will have the opportunity to interact closely with a mentor and will gain experience conceptualizing research questions, designing experiments, and collecting and analyzing data. In fall 2019, the course “field experiment” will examine how to increase voter turn-out among Penn students, but the specific research approaches taken to this topic will be driven by students' interests (e.g. in persuasion, marketing, network science, etc). Prerequisite: COMM 210, an equivalent research methods class, or permission of the instructor.
Peace Communication: The Use and Abuse of Communications in Intergroup Conflict
Why are conflicts between groups of humans so tragically predictable? What drives us to exclude, demean and fight with members of other groups? And what can we do about it? In this class, we will examine the biological roots of intergroup conflict between religious, ethnic and political groups, and take a critical view of the ways in which psychology and communication have been employed to help foment or transcend conflict. In the first part of the course, we will examine the theoretical work from intergroup psychology. In the second part of the course, we will examine the specific biases that drive conflict (e.g., stereotypes, emotions, prejudice, dehumanization) and how they are measured using both explicit self-report and implicit measures (e.g., physiology, neuroimaging); in the third part, we will explore the interventions that have been demonstrated to work (and fail) to decrease intergroup conflict. No prior experience in psychology or neuroscience is required. The course is lecture-based, but will include class discussions and in-class activities.
Computational Text Analysis for Communication Research
- Spring 2021
In this 'big data' era, presidents and popes tweet daily. Anyone can broadcast their thoughts and experiences through social media. Speeches, debates and events are recorded in online text archives. The resulting explosion of available textual data means that journalists and marketers summarize ideas and events by visualizing the results of textual analysis (the ubiquitous 'word cloud' just scratches the surface of what is possible). Automated text analysis reveals similarities and differences between groups of people and ideological positions. In this hands-on course students will learn how to manage large textual datasets (e.g. Twitter, YouTube, news stories) to investigate research questions. They will work through a series of steps to collect, organize, analyze and present textual data by using automated tools toward a final project of relevant interest. The course will cover linguistic theory and techniques that can be applied to textual data (particularly from the fields of corpus linguistics and natural language processing). No prior programming experience is required. Through this course students will gain skills writing Python programs to handle large amounts of textual data and become familiar with one of the key techniques used by data scientists, which is currently one of the most in-demand jobs.
Stories From Data: Introduction to Programming for Data Journalism
- Fall 2021
Today masses of data are available everywhere, capturing information on just about everything and anything. Related but distinct data streams about newsworthy events and issues -- including activity from social media and open data sources (e.g., The Open Government Initiative) -- have given rise to a new source for and style of reporting sometimes called Data Journalism. Increasingly, news sites and information portals present visually engaging, dynamic, and interactive stories linked to the underlying data (e.g., The Guardian DataBlog). This course offers an introduction to Python programming for data analysis and visualization. Students will learn how to collect, analyze, and present various forms of data. Because numbers and their visualizations do not speak for themselves but require context, interpretation, and narrative, students will practice making effective stories from data and presenting them in blogs and other formats. No programming experience is required for this class.
History and Theory of Freedom of Expression
- Spring 2022
If we were to fashion new laws for speech from scratch in our media-saturated, fake news world, would they be different laws from those we have? The rootedness of free speech in our civic DNA springs from enduring philosophical arguments over what truth and knowledge are, what human nature is like, and what we think society owes to and requires from its members. We explore foundational debates at the core of the First Amendment, the evolving interpretation of the amendment by the Supreme Court, its determined historical challengers, and struggles over its applicability to contemporary controversies. We address strong claims that unfettered speech is central to democratic societies and strong claims that society can be made more democratic by removing discriminatory speech from social media and public discourse more generally. Every society limits speech in significant ways. What are these limits in the United States, why are these the limits, and are they the ones we want? This reading and discussion seminar meets for lively, informed dialogue and debate.
Contemporary Politics, Policy, and Journalism
- Spring 2022
- Spring 2021
This course focuses on how modern media intersect with politics and government in the 21st century. Case studies will include examining media coverage of the Gore v. Bush 2000 presidential election recount, 9/11, Barack Obama’s election and presidency, the Trump administration, and the 2020 election. The course will include several guest speakers, all of them prominent press/political figures. In addition, students will participate in a DC field trip where they will get to hear from, and interact with, Washington leaders in the fields of politics, policy and journalism. Course materials, in addition to number of books, will include the New York Times, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, left- and right-wing social media sites, cable broadcasts, and network news shows. There will be three written assignments: an analysis of the first two weeks of the next Administration; a column or op-ed; and a final research paper. In this discussion-based seminar there will be a premium on class participation.
Drawing the Blue Line: Police and Power in American Popular Culture
- Fall 2021
The police are one of the most heavily imagined institutions in American popular culture. From Cagney and Lacey to Colors, Law & Order, The Wire and The Watchmen, evolving depictions of law enforcement help us to understand larger socio-cultural shifts that have occurred from the post-1968 riots to the dawn of the Black Lives Matter movement in the mid-2010s. Using case study and textual analysis approaches, students will examine how specific police procedurals, movies, and other cultural texts showcase police authority in relation to certain communities, and consider how these texts reflect, uphold and/or challenge prevailing views on law and order and criminal justice. Our explorations of how media and cultural industries have framed policing will pay particular attention to questions of race, gender, sexuality, class, and geography.
The Hidden World of Privacy Policies
Survey Research and Design
- Spring 2021
Survey research is a small but rich academic field and discipline, drawing on theory and practice from many diverse fields including political science, communication, sociology, psychology, and statistics. Surveys are perhaps the most ubiquitous tool of measurement in the social sciences today. Successful practitioners develop expertise in the art and science of survey methodology, including sampling theory and practice, questionnaire instrument development and operationalization, and the analysis and reporting of survey data. Survey researchers are scientists of the method itself testing various practices by which surveys can be improved upon, as well as developing a keen understanding of the nature of error in surveys and how to control it. This course is a canvass course on survey research and design, highly experiential but also based upon introductory statistical theory and analysis.
Critical Perspectives in Journalism
- Spring 2022
- Spring 2021
This course aims to provide students with a critical understanding of journalism. It combines theoretical perspectives on the making of news with primary source material produced by and about journalists. Students analyze theoretical material on journalism – about how news is made, shaped, and performed – alongside articles and broadcasts appearing in the media, interviews with journalists in the trade press, and professional reviews. Topics include models of journalistic practice, journalistic values and norms, gatekeeping and sourcing practices, storytelling formats in news, and ethical problems related to misrepresentation, plagiarism, and celebrity.
Adolescence and Media
- Spring 2022
How are adolescents represented in media and what effects do these portrayals have on developing teens? What makes adolescents a “jackpot market” to be targeted by advertising and how can they be swayed by mediated public health efforts to encourage health-promoting behaviors? Finally, what does the increasingly mediated nature of everyday life mean for adolescents, their friends, and their families during their journey into adulthood? We will explore these questions by reading key empirical studies and by critically analyzing film, music, and public service announcements portraying and/or targeting adolescents from the 1950s to the present day.
Power and Design in Global Communication
In this course, students will critically explore global communication platforms and internet infrastructures with attention to their social and political implications. The goal is to reflect on how the design of communication technologies embeds power relations, and how these impact specific social groups and shape the relations between the global South and the global North. The course will examine topics such as biased algorithms, digital labor, censorship, surveillance, infrastructure standards and protocols, and their public interest dimensions. Cases to be analyzed include gendered and racially biased artificial intelligence tools, the outsourcing of content moderation in social media that links the United States to the Philippines, connectivity shutdowns from the United Kingdom to India, as well the politics of the domain name system affecting LGBTQ+ groups and indigenous communities in the Amazon region. Students will select case studies to research throughout the semester and will examine the relations between technological design, communication, globalization, and transnationalism to imagine new possibilities for the future of global communication.
Media, Memory and Cultural Identity
This global communication seminar examines the relationship between media, memory, and cultural identity. We will explore how globalization induces dynamic changes in the ways people imagine their past as they respond to a new politics of transnational identity formation. The media serves as a pivotal force in this process by reshaping the relationship between memory and identity at the local, national, and global scales. Via an examination of various case studies of contemporary media practices in Asia, Europe and the US, students will learn to think comparatively about the mediation of memory. Focusing primarily on visual and digital cultures, the course will enable students to critically engage with how different media platforms and genres shape the construction of individual and collective memories. Students will also explore semiotics and oral history as important methods for reading and researching cultural memories.
Youth, Digital Culture, and Online Harassment: A Participatory Research Workshop
- Spring 2022
From trolling to cyber-bullying, online harassment has increased exponentially during the COVID-19 pandemic and it disproportionately impacts school-age youth. This ABCS course provides a hands-on opportunity for students to conduct community service and fieldwork investigating digital culture and online harassment. Over the course of the semester, students will review scholarship in Feminist Media Studies and Digital Inequalities, while undertaking participatory focus groups in partnership with students in a West Philadelphia school. In this course, students will merge theory with action through weekly seminars and fieldwork sessions. Together, our community of researchers will produce a collaborative report sharing original findings and evidence-based recommendations on how to prevent and address online harassment. This dynamic, hands-on course is perfect for students who want to tackle real-world communication issues, develop their research skills, and learn more about feminist Communication scholarship.
Journalism in an Age of Information Disorder
- Fall 2021
As audiences navigate the polluted information environment, they increasingly look to journalists to help them understand what is true or false. As a result, newsrooms now publish regular debunks, journalists verify eyewitness footage posted to Twitter in real-time, and a new ‘disinfo’ beat has emerged with reporters investigating conspiracy theories being peddled on 4Chan, Discord or Reddit. At the same time, some members of the public see journalists as being part of the problem itself and Trump has famously labeled them as the ‘enemy of the people’. This course will examine the major shifts that have happened in the information ecosystem since 2005 and will explore how they have impacted journalism. Each week, we will consider a current challenge US newsrooms are facing, for example: the rise of social networks and the resulting collapse of the local newspaper industry, the media manipulation campaigns aimed at hoaxing and tricking newsrooms into amplifying false or divisive content, and the new pressures on ‘objectivity’ as journalists report on stories related to the current political and social climate. This course will focus on the practical strategies journalists and newsrooms will be adopting in the run-up to the Presidential election including hearing from reporters who now work on this new ‘disinfo beat’.
Dreaming Out the Future: Technology, Ideology and Speculative Media from the Global South
- Spring 2021
In this course, utilizing media drawn primarily from postcolonial Africa and Asia, we will examine how science and technology are (and have historically been) imagined as essential to the work of building the future, especially in the Global South. How do a diverse range of actors—from artists to activists, private corporations to government agencies—depict technological progress as vital to the future yet to come? We will work through a broad range of popular texts and primary sources, ranging from sci-fi writer Neal Stephenson’s novel The Diamond Age to the blockbuster Chinese film The Wandering Earth, from the Australian TV show Cleverman to Indonesian president Sukarno’s opening speech to the Bandung Conference. Working through these diverse texts and media, we will unpack and challenge how science and technology have continually been imagined as necessary for building the future to come. We will also examine alternative ways of dreaming the future, as found in Indigenous speculative fiction and the creative movement of Afrofuturism. Students will learn how to closely and critically analyze a variety of written and multimedia texts from the “Global South”, both in translation and in English. They will practice their skills of critical analysis and response through both writing and creative multimedia production. By the end of the course, students will be able to examine, critique and interrogate the various imaginings of technology’s importance and functionality that are at work within diverse genres of corporate, activist and popular media. This class integrates materials and theories from humanistic media studies and science and technology studies (STS) and will serve as a brief introduction to both fields.
Media, the Apocalypse, and the Undead
- Spring 2022
Global media industries have long been fascinated with the idea of the apocalypse, particularly humanity's attempts at survival against (seemingly) mindless hordes. Whether in the form of zombies or infected masses, cultural industries' preoccupation with humankind's collapse - and potential resilience - has led to lucrative film, comic and television franchise universes. Using texts from around the world, including - but not limited to - The Night of the Living Dead, The Walking Dead, Black Mirror, Reality Z, Dead Set, KL Zombie, The Road, Ravenous, Bird Box, Train to Busan, Kingdom, Adventure Time, and The Girl with all the Gifts, this course invites students to explore the ways in which media and cultural industries seek to define human existence through the Otherness of the undead/infected. Central to the course will be an examination of the ways in which post-apocalyptic portrayals of human survival amidst rampaging hordes include important commentaries and subtexts about race, gender, power, and class, as well as the connections to a political moment or era.
Communication in the Networked Age
Communication technologies, including the internet, social media, and countless online applications create the infrastructure and interface through which many of our interactions take place today. This form of networked communication opens new questions about how we establish relationships, engage in public, build a sense of identity, promote social change, or delimit the private domain. The ubiquitous adoption of new technologies has also produced, as a byproduct, new ways of observing the world: many of our interactions now leave a digital trail that, if followed, can help us unravel the determinants and outcomes of human communication in unprecedented ways. This course will give you the theoretical and analytical tools to critically assess research that uses networked technologies to produce new evidence about communication dynamics, their effects, and how to promote social change.
- Spring 2021
This class, team-taught by CEE Visiting Fellow Reggie Wilson and Deborah Thomas, investigates various forms of contemporary performance in relationship to Africanist forms and functions of dance, movement and action. We will concern ourselves with how the body knows, and with how we learn to identify the structures of movement that provide context, meaning and usefulness to various Africanist communities across time and space. Grounding ourselves within a history of ethnographic analyses of the body in motion, and within Africana theorizing about the affective power of the body, we will consider what people are doing when they are dancing. In other words, we will train ourselves to recognize the cultural values, social purposes, and choreographic innovations embedded in bodily action and motion. While we will attend to these phenomena in a range of locations throughout the African diaspora, we will also highlight aspects of the Shaker and Black Shout traditions in Philadelphia. The course will be divided between discussions centered on close reading of primary and secondary material (both text and video) and creative writing/movement exploration (no previous movement experience necessary).
Youth-Driven Health Campaigns
- Spring 2022
Through this academic based community engagement course, you will mentor and collaborate with a team of high school students to develop a media campaign. This is an opportunity to apply communication research to addressing a real-world community-identified problem. The course will cover health communication theories and campaign development with a special focus on youth participatory action research. Together with high school students, you will gain hands-on research experience with problem identification, formative data collection and analysis, message design, and evaluation. Course work will include weekly readings and assignments relevant to each phase, periodic reflections, and a final group presentation related to your team’s campaign. Engagement work will include approximately 2 hours in the late afternoon/early evening (outside of class time and based on availability) facilitating campaign development with one of the Netter Center’s high school programs.
Journalism in/of Conflict
- Spring 2021
When moral and material forces structure reporting and the actions of journalists as they navigate conflict, complex, dangerous and often untenable processes of decision-making can ensue. In this course, students will be introduced to various theoretical approaches for thinking about the journalism of armed conflict and humanitarian disaster. We will discuss what gives conflict journalism its particular moral character, what duties (if any) journalists have towards the conflicts they cover, and what structures the practices of journalists covering the suffering of others. Specific topics include theories of witnessing and their obligations for journalists, debates on ‘peace’ and ‘attached’ journalism, the humanitarian imaginary, the micro-sociology of conflict space, theories of risk and journalism, and the role of affect and emotions in the practice of journalism under pressure. This course is intended to give students a broad introduction to the theoretical issues and questions that arise when journalism meets conflict and suffering.
Black Geographies: Race and Visual Culture
(Fulfills Cultural Diversity in the US Requirement) What is the relationship between the Flint water crisis, the hyper-policing of racialized people, and the increased surveillance of neighborhoods deemed “poverty-stricken” or “at risk?” How do regimes of security, surveillance, policing, and forms of violence depend upon the concept of “risk” as central to their operation? How is risk informed by systemic racism and forms of anti-Blackness? How does visual culture (e.g., media coverage, documentary photographs, etc.) inform how we come to see and define certain people, communities, and ways of life as “risky?” How have those living in racialized geographies of “risk” found ways to live in, make do, and challenge the faulty narratives of risk? This interdisciplinary course will examine critical debates and key moments—historical (e.g., MOVE bombing in Philadelphia) and contemporary (e.g., Ferguson riots)—that have informed the concept of risk. Over the course of the semester, we will read scholarly texts and engage with objects such as archival documents, photographs, conceptual art, performance art and installations, journalistic texts, and films. This communications course will be approached from a cultural studies perspective, with particular attention to race, gender, and sexuality.
Philosophical Problems of Journalism
This course explores the relationship between journalism and philosophy by examining particular issues in epistemology, political philosophy, ethics, and aesthetics. Topics will include: the concept of a "fact"; the role of the press in the state; whether journalists (like doctors and lawyers) operate according to specialized "professional" ethics; and the limits of journalism as a literary or visual genre. Course readings will include philosophical texts, breaking print journalism, and blogs that specialize in media issues.
Journalism & Public Service
- Fall 2021
In this course we examine links between journalism and public service by scrutinizing core concepts involved, practices that sometimes put journalism and public service in conflict (e.g., investigative reporting, coverage of war), and how journalism stacks up against other forms of public service from NGO work to government employment. Beginning with a reading of Robert Coles's classic The Call of Service, we dissect the notion of the "public," assess so-called public-service journalism by reading Pulitzer-Prize-winning examples, and reflect on the news media as a political institution. Individual weeks focus on such topics as the conflict that arises when a journalist's obligation to a confidential source clashes with a duty to the judicial system, whether the business of journalism is business, how journalism and NGO work compares as public service, and whether journalism by committed political activists (such as I.F. Stone) surpasses mainstream "neutral" journalism as a form of public service.
The Politics of Emotions: Love and Hate in Global Media
- Spring 2022
This course examines global communication practices and media cultures through the perspective of emotions across international borders. On the one hand, the global production, circulation, and consumption of media has facilitated global empathy, fascination, or passion through cross-border encounters, dialogues, connections, and cultural flows. On the other hand, globalization has produced and strengthened new forms of hatred and violence, including nationalism, racism, and misogyny, in nations and cultures around the world. Media and communication technologies have become central to these international movements and the articulation of emotions. In this context, the study of emotions in global media offers new ways of understanding popular culture, public communication, social inequalities, and changing social and political mobilization around the world. Connecting interdisciplinary scholarship on emotions and global media with specific case studies, this course covers topics including transnational communities, global resistance and activism, media audiences and fandom, digital labor, soft power and public diplomacy, and nationalism and xenophobia. Students will learn about key concepts and debates in global media studies and consider the emergence of global media as a key space both for generating, aggregating, and intensifying certain emotions. Relatedly, they will examine and interrogate different axes of power, difference, and identity, including nation, race/ethnicity, and gender and sexuality in global media cultures.
Is journalism the same all over the world? Do press systems and practices differ in fundamental ways that affect how we evaluate them politically, morally, aesthetically, epistemologically and economically? Where does U.S. journalism fit among the models? This new undergraduate seminar will introduce students to concrete differences in journalism around the world, but it won't only be an empirical look at how various various press systems operate. We will also examine and argue about which journalistic practices and systems work best for which purposes, and explore the distinctive journalistic and philosophical assumptions and histories that undergird diverse practices and systems. Asian, European, African and Mideast journalism will all be attended to.
- Fall 2021
This course explores the significance of rituals as communicative events in contemporary American culture. We will pay particular attention to the ways in which rituals contribute to the making and re-making of social groups, be they ethnic, religious, familial, or institutional. And we will also attend to the obverse: the ways in which rituals create and perpetuate boundaries between "us" and "them" and between “appropriate" and "deviant" social behavior. Issues of race, class, gender, nationality, religion, age and sexuality will be central to our exploration of how rituals function. Over the course of the semester, we will analyze individual rites of passage -- from quinceañera to funerals -- as well as rituals that mark transitions on a far larger scale such as presidential inaugurations. We will explore rituals that unfold at the local level as well as those that most of us experience only in mediated forms. Students will get hand’s on experience conducting original ethnographic fieldwork and will learn how to develop compelling research proposals.
Black Visual Culture and Its Archives
- Spring 2021
This undergraduate seminar examines the intersections of visual culture and race in the United States. It aims to provide a historical, cultural, and visual foundation for understanding the representation of and by Black people from the 19th to the 21st centuries, including texts such as, but not limited to, photography, film, television, conceptual art, and performance. Students will be introduced to critical concepts in the field of visual studies, black studies, communication, cultural studies, and rhetorical studies. The course will pay special attention to concepts such as Blackness, visuality, visibility and invisibility, surveillance, photographic theory, the gaze, and spectatorship. We will consider questions such as: What is “black visual culture”? What are its archives? How is Blackness produced, represented, and negotiated through visual modes? In what ways does Blackness and Black people challenge, refract, and rewrite the various visual modes that have sought to represent it? The course will explore various theoretical and methodological approaches to answering the aforementioned questions and enable students develop their own questions for understanding the complex ways in which race and the visual have been, and continue to be, entangled.
This course will focus on the decisions and events of the first One Hundred Days of the Biden presidency in light of historic precedent and the factors that have typically accounted for success and failure of a president's first one hundred days. Our assessment of the Biden transition will attend to multiple contextual issues: the COVID-19 pandemic, America’s race crisis, immigration and trade issues, and the conduct and outcome of the 2020 elections. The course objective is to enhance students’ understanding of the presidency and national political leadership, with special emphasis on the critical role played by political communications. This course will be run as a directed research seminar. Students will be required to write short reports and a final research paper on a relevant topic approved by the instructors. Students will be expected to base their papers, in part, on primary research materials such as historical materials to be found online pertaining to past presidents and transitions and/or interviews with or study of past and present presidential staff, politicians, lobbyists, presidential appointees, journalists, and consultants involved in or knowledgeable about the transition process. Students will be expected to contribute fully to weekly discussions that will feature distinguished visitors experienced in presidential and national politics.
Special Topics // Black: Joy, Aesthetics, and Critical Media Making
- Spring 2022
How can the camera and other media tools be used to resist and combat dominant narratives about groups of people whose identities are often misrepresented in mainstream media? What do intentional portrayals of self-defined black joy communicate about the role of power and resistance in media and communication? This course will allow students to study concepts from Black studies, film studies, communication, and performance to learn practical approaches to understanding joy as a form of resistance. Course materials will examine how Black aesthetics (home-making practices and other forms of every day cultural production) play a role in today’s antiracism movement. Using films, articles, tv series, and podcast style interviews for framing independent media pieces, this course pairs ethnographic methods with media making for students to develop skills to combat the overabundance of trauma narratives about Black life and more broadly the lack of nuanced representations of identity and culture in America. Course activities and assignments will help bring into focus creators and knowledge makers who are often overlooked and mis-represented in mainstream media and higher education. Students will be asked to build on new styles of knowledge making and storytelling to generate more visibility onto media-making practices that are imaginative and exist outside of traditional standards for producing knowledge. Students in this class will be encouraged to attend events and watch shows or performances as part of course participation.
Political polls are a central feature of elections and are ubiquitously employed to understand and explain voter intentions and public opinion. This course will examine political polling by focusing on four main areas of consideration. First, what is the role of political polls in a functioning democracy? This area will explore the theoretical justifications for polling as a representation of public opinion. Second, the course will explore the business and use of political polling, including media coverage of polls, use by politicians for political strategy and messaging, and the impact polls have on elections specifically and politics more broadly. The third area will focus on the nuts and bolts of election and political polls, specifically with regard to exploring traditional questions and scales used for political measurement; the construction and considerations of likely voter models; measurement of the horse race; and samples and modes used for election polls. The course will additionally cover a fourth area of special topics, which will include exit polling, prediction markets, polling aggregation, and other topics. It is not necessary for students to have any specialized mathematical or statistical background for this course.
Communication and the Presidency
- Spring 2022
- Fall 2021
- Spring 2021
This course examines the vital aspect of communication as a tool of the modern Presidency. Reading and class discussions focus on case studies drawn from modern Presidential administrations (beginning with FDR) that demonstrate the elements of successful and unsuccessful Presidential initiatives and the critical factor of communication common to both. This course is also an introduction to primary research methods and to the use of primary research materials in the Presidential Library system.
New Media and Politics
- Spring 2021
This course examines the evolving media landscape and the political process from three perspectives: 1) the voter, 2) political campaigns and candidates, and 3) the news media. The course opens with a broad overview of the main theories of political communication and a historical review of the role played by new media technologies in U.S. political campaigns leading up to 1996, the year the internet debuted in presidential campaigns. The course then follows this evolution from the 1996 presidential campaign through the current 2020 presidential campaign. We will take a deep dive into the landmark changes brought on by new media technologies to mobilize, persuade, inform, and fundraise around modern presidential campaigns. While the course takes a historical perspective it will also focus on what is happening currently in this environment, with special emphasis on President Trump’s campaign for re-election, the Democratic primaries and caucuses, sustained attacks on the press, “fake news,” bots, and outside interference in elections.
Media and Politics
Media and Politics will examine multiple issues specific to the past and present political media environment in the United States. Focus will be primarily, though not exclusively, on the contemporary news media. Topics covered will include political primaries, how elections have been influenced by the rise of partisan media, selective exposure, freedom of political speech as it relates to elections, the theoretical purpose of elections, money and media, political targeting, etc. We will also explore the quantitative and qualitative methods underlying what is and is not known about how elections work. Under the supervision of the professor, students will write an original research paper examining a specific topic in greater depth.
Media, Public Opinion, and Globalization
- Spring 2022
This seminar will examine American attitudes toward globalization and the role of the media in shaping public opinion toward events and people beyond our borders. Students will participate in original research on attitudes toward issues tied to globalization such as immigration, international trade, support for international organizations, isolationism and so forth. Students will also spend time systematically studying the implications of American media coverage of these issues.
Understanding Social Networks
- Fall 2021
Digital technologies have made communication networks ubiquitous: even when we can’t really notice them, they mediate most aspects of our daily activities. Networks, however, have always been the backbone of social life: long before Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, or other similar platforms, communication created channels for information diffusion that linked people in a myriad other ways. Through letters, commerce, or simply face to face interactions, people have always been exposed to the behavior of others. These communicative ties embed us into an invisible web of influence that we can make tangible and analyze. This course will teach you how to map those connections in the form of networks, and how to study those networks so that we can improve our understanding of social life. The goal is to help you grasp the consequences of connectivity, and how small changes in the structure of our ties can lead to big differences in how networks behave.
Communication, Activism, and Social Change
This course examines the communication strategies of 20th and 21st-century social movements, both U.S. and global. We analyze the communication social movements create (including rhetorical persuasion, art activism, bodily argumentation, protest music, media campaigns, public protest, and grassroots organizing), and the role of communication in the identity formation, circulation, and efficacy of social movements. We also consider the communication created by forces seeking to undermine social change, define the study of social movements from a communication perspective, identify major historical and contemporary movements, and apply theories of communication and social change to “real world” activism. Students are required to research and design their own social movement campaign.
Communication and Social Influence Laboratory
Considerable resources are devoted to constructing mass media campaigns that persuade individuals to change their behavior. In addition, individuals powerfully influence one another without even knowing it. Still, our ability to design and select optimal messages and interventions is far from perfect. This course will review investigations in social and cognitive psychology and communication sciences that attempt to circumvent the limits of introspection by using biological and implicit measures, with particular focus on neuroimaging studies of social influence and media effects.
Offered every four years to coincide with the U.S. presidential election cycle, this course focuses broadly on the Democratic and Republican national conventions and the post-conventions campaign lasting until election day. Seminar members will attend either one or both conventions in order to make a close study of the convention process as well as the role of the convention in launching the two major party nominees. Students will explore how political appeals are fashioned and presented; how campaign themes develop; how efforts are split between persuading the electorate versus mobilizing the party faithful; the role of political parties, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), and political action committees (PACs); how the campaigns forecast governance and serve American democracy. Students will produce comprehensive group reports on the conventions, debates, or major aspects of the unfolding campaigns.
Is Public Opinion the Voice of the People?
Democracy relies on mechanism in which the public communicates with policymakers. This course examines the extent to which public opinion effectively represents this mechanism. We begin with historical conceptions of public opinion tracing back to ancient Athens and 18th century enlightenment thinking. We then consider the extent to which public opinion can be captured by modern day polling, or whether it only emerges after considered deliberation and discussion. We then discuss the ways in which elite rhetoric and the media move public opinion, including through the use of public opinion polls. Finally, we ask whether policymakers are actually sensitive to the voice of the people or only the voice of some of the people.
- Fall 2021
Digital information and communication technologies are intertwined with our everyday lives, from banking, to working, and dating. They’re also increasingly crucial parts of our most powerful institutions, from policing, to the welfare state, and education. This course examines the ways that these technologies combine with traditional axes of inequality like race, gender, and class in ways that may deepen social inequality. We’ll consider major approaches to understanding digital inequalities and apply them to case studies of both problems and solutions. Students will learn to critically analyze policies and programs from a variety of perspectives, and to evaluate the promise of digital technologies against their potential perils.
Data Literacy in the Algorithmic Society
- Spring 2022
Algorithms regulate many areas of social life: they shape the information you see online, how resources are allocated, or how hiring and matching happen in private and public settings. In these and many other examples, algorithms rely on data informing the automated decisions they encode. Our ability to think critically about that data is, thus, paramount to understanding how the algorithms operate. In this course, we will discuss how data is transformed into information and actionable knowledge. You will learn how to question data to ensure their validity, reliability, and representativeness. Understanding how data are collected, analyzed, and used is key to being able to demand transparency in automated decision-making, and to exercising our democratic role of demanding accountability when decisions are made based on questionable data.
The Impact of the Internet, Social Media, and Information Technology on Democracy
At the turn of the 21st century, many claimed that the internet would make the world a more democratic place. Have these prophecies borne out? We examine the effects the internet has had on democracy, looking at research that examines whether, for instance, the internet has increased or decreased inequality, polarization, and political participation. In addition to reading and discussing empirical literature, we will also test many of the theories in this course through hands-on workshops in data analysis.
Media Industries and Nationalism
Media institutions have long played a central role in constructing national identity, particularly in the era of nation-states. As globalization increases, media industries have also helped countries project their national identities – and nationalism – for both domestic and international audiences. With contemporary nationalist movements in the spotlight, this course examines how media institutions and cultural industries help to shape nationalism while framing in-group/out-group dynamics for audiences. This course examines case studies in mediated nationalism, paying particularly close attention to – but not limited to - countries such as the United States, the United Kingdom, Brazil, Hungary, Israel, India, Sri Lanka, and Turkey. Using Benedict Anderson’s idea of imagined communities as a theoretical basis, this course seeks to investigate how media industries affirm – and occasionally challenge – nationalistic sentiment, and how much of a role state intervention has played in the production of media texts. This course provides students with an understanding of the deep connection between media institutions and state-sponsored/populist-nationalist movements, as well as the dynamics that shape nationalism in both wartime and peacetime eras.
Social Networks and the Spread of Behavior
- Spring 2022
- Spring 2021
This course explores the nature of diffusion through social networks, the ways networks are formed and shaped by social structures, and the role they play in health behavior, public policy, and innovation adoption. Topics include: the theory of social networks; the small world model of network structure; constructing models to represent society; the social bases of the adoption of innovations and the spread of new ideas; the role of social networks in controlling changes in public opinion; the emergence of unexpected fashions, fads, and social movements; and the connection between social network models and the design of public policy interventions. Students will learn how to use the agent-based computational modeling tool "NetLogo", and they will work directly with the models to understand how to test scientific theories. We will examine the basic theory of social networks in offline, face-to-face, networks, as well as the role of online networks in spreading new ideas and behaviors through social media. Long standing debates on the effects of social networks on changing beliefs and behaviors, their impact on social change, and ethical concerns regarding their potential manipulation will be given careful consideration throughout. Students will be taught new skills that will enable them to use and develop their own agent-based models.
- Spring 2021
Surveillance capitalism is a term academics and policymakers increasingly use to describe the world in which live: where businesses track and classify individuals in order to decide how to sell to them, or whether to sell to them at all. Companies that millions of people turn to every hour such as Google, Facebook, Amazon, Target, Walmart, and Pandora use the technologies of surveillance capitalism to drive their revenues. Critics point out that these activities are intimately bound with issues of discrimination and reputation. The “big data” analyses (often powered by artificial intelligence) may affect the ads people see, the discounts they receive, the jobs they may get offered, and far more. This course surveys the history of surveillance capitalism, how it works, and the key issues swirling around it. Students will write short (350 word) essays about each reading that will be key contributors toward their grades. Students will also a conduct research and write a paper that explores a contemporary or historical topic related to surveillance capitalism.
Annenberg Media Lab 2020: It’s Not Just TV — The HBO Project
(Permission Only. Preference given to Comm Majors and CAMRA undergrad fellows) “It’s not TV. It’s HBO.” This is one of the marketing slogans Home Box Office started using in the 1990s to articulate its difference from standard network television. Using videotaped interviews already conducted with many of the executives who helped launch HBO in the 1970s, this hands-on course will provide students with a unique opportunity to engage with the methodological and theoretical implications of crafting arguments/stories in images and sound. Students should be prepared to put theory into practice by working on smaller media products linked to these archival materials. Students will study these interviews with HBO execs, watch fictional and non-fictional films/videos of various genres, discuss relevant media/social theory, and acquire training in (and exposure to) the basics of digital media-making. At the end of the course, students should have acquired a more sophisticated aesthetic and analytical approach to media analysis, to media production, and to the inescapable interconnections between the two.
Communication Internship Seminar
- Spring 2022
- Fall 2021
- Spring 2021
(Requires approval of Undergraduate Office) This seminar provides a scholarly counterpart for students' internships in various communication-related organizations. Through individually-selected readings, class discussion, and individual conferences, students develop their own independent research agendas, which investigate aspects of their internship experience or industry. In written field notes and a final paper, students combine communication theory and practice in pursuit of their individual questions.
Communication Independent Study
- Spring 2021
(Requires agreement of supervising faculty member and approval of Undergraduate Office) The independent study offers the self-motivated student an opportunity for a tailored, academically rigorous, semester-long investigation into a topic of the student's choice with faculty supervision. Students must complete and file a designated form, approved and signed by the supervising faculty member and the Associate Dean for Undergraduate Studies. This form must be received by the Undergraduate Office before the end of the first week of classes in the semester in which the independent study will be conducted. See asc.upenn.edu/independent for more information.
Honors & Capstone Thesis
- Fall 2021
The senior thesis provides a capstone intellectual experience for Honors students and Communication and Public Service Program (ComPS) participants. Students conduct a primary research study on a communication-related issue over the course of two semesters. Students should consult with and arrange for a faculty supervisor no later than the summer before senior year. Students must also file a designated form and topic statement, approved and signed by the supervising faculty member, no later than the first week of class. Required of all students planning to enroll in COMM 495 or COMM 499 in the Spring. All Honors students must have a 3.5 cumulative GPA at the end of junior year for eligibility. See the Annenberg website for complete eligibility requirements.
Second semester of two semester thesis course. Successful completion of COMM 494 is required for enrollment. The capstone thesis is a requirement for all Communication and Public Service Program participants. Students complete the primary research project started during COMM 494. For students graduating with a 3.5 cumulative GPA after completing COMM 495 with a grade of 3.7 or higher, the capstone thesis may be designated as a senior honors thesis in communication and public service.
Second semester of two semester thesis course. Completion of COMM 494 with a grade of 3.3 or higher and a 3.5 cumulative GPA at the end of the Fall semester of senior year are required for enrollment. The Senior Honors Thesis provides a capstone intellectual experience for students who have demonstrated academic achievement of a superior level. Students complete the primary research project started during COMM 494.