Undergraduate Course Descriptions

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COMM 2130 (formerly 213)

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.

COMM 2250 (formerly 225)

Children and Media

  • Fall 2022
  • 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.

COMM 2260 (formerly 226)

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.

COMM 2300 (formerly 230)

Advertising and 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.

COMM 2750 (formerly 275)

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.

COMM 2991 (formerly 290-910)

Special Topics // Happy, Sappy, Creepy: Social Media and Feeling

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.

COMM 3100 (formerly 310)

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. Prerequisite: COMM 2100 or HSOC 2002 or INTR 3500 or MKTG 2120 or SOCI 2000 or URBS 2000 or permission from the instructor.

COMM 3300 (formerly 330)

The Hidden World of Privacy Policies

The US Federal Trade Commission considers privacy policies essential for internet sites and apps. Lawyers for firms with internet sites and/or apps spend much time writing privacy policies. Yet surveys show that most Americans don't read the policies, and in fact cannot understand them because of their legal jargon. Moreover, surveys indicate, most Americans don't even correctly understand what the label privacy policy means. The aim of this course will be to examine this crucial but misunderstood aspect of modern life. You will learn how to read privacy policies, how to understand their strategic business purposes within the internet industry, and how to think about the implications for society when the key rules of surveillance and privacy are hidden from all but a relative few. You will also work with others in the class to create and carry out a survey of college students' understanding of privacy policies. There will be one exam and a paper related to the survey.

COMM 3370

Public Health Communication in the Digital Age

  • Fall 2022

This course is designed to explore the role of public health communication in the digital age to influence health behavior change in several areas: infectious disease pandemics, tobacco and substance use, mental health, cancer, nutrition and physical activity and others. Throughout the course, we will discuss a number of important considerations when designing and implementing public health communication interventions. Students will be introduced to theories of health behavior change, models of persuasive communication, practical issues in the design of effective health communication programs, countering misinformation, community engagement, audience segmentation, cultural tailoring to specific audiences, evaluation approaches, ethics, and communication inequalities. We will also explore the use of digital technologies and social media platforms, entertainment education, popular media, and social marketing in delivery of public health communication interventions.

COMM 3450 (formerly 345)

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.

COMM 3670 (formerly 367)

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.

COMM 3710 (formerly 371)

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.

COMM 4040 (formerly 404)

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.

COMM 4050 (formerly 405)

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.

COMM 4230 (formerly 423)

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.

COMM 4410 (formerly 441)

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.