Undergraduate Course Descriptions
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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 2022
- Fall 2023
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 2023
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 and Society
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.
Communication and Persuasion
- Spring 2024
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.
How We Change: Social-Psychological and Communication Dynamics (SNF Paideia Program Course)
- Spring 2023
Have you wondered why people undergo religious conversion, change their political affiliation, suddenly endorse conspiracy theories, alter their taste in music, or seek hypnosis to quit smoking? What is common to these processes of change, and how does resistance to change play out across these seemingly different contexts? In “Why We Change,” we will ask unique questions such as how religious change might highlight methods of transforming public health communications or how the study of attitude change might yield new theories about the impact of life experiences on personality. Broadly speaking, the class will provide an opportunity for students to learn theories of belief formation, attitudes and persuasion, normative influence, and behavioral change. For example, we will work to understand how specific beliefs, such as group stereotypes, or specific attitudes, such as trust and values, change in response to variations in the environment and communication with other people. We will cover culturally based and professional approaches to change, from fear appeals to motivational interviewing, to hypnosis. Students will read empirical studies and conduct observational projects about potential sources of social, cultural, or psychological change and resistance to change in Philadelphia. This is an SNF Paideia Program course.
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.
The Hidden World of Privacy Policies
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.
Adolescence and Media
- Spring 2023
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.
Communication in the Networked Age
- Fall 2023
- Spring 2023
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 tools to critically analyze the impact that networked technologies have on social life and inform your assessment of current controversies surrounding those technologies.
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
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.
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.
Climate Change and Communication: Theories and Applications
- Spring 2024
This course will focus on understanding the multiple ways in which climate science is communicated to publics and how they come to understand it. In the process, we will explore ways to blunt susceptibilities to misconceptions, misconstruals, and deliberate deceptions about climate science. Forms of communication on which the class will focus include consensus statements, manifestos, commentaries, court briefs, news accounts, fact checks, op-eds, letters to the editor, speeches, and media interviews. Students will have the opportunity to interact with guest lecturers, among them leading journalists, climate activists, and climate survey analysts. Students will write letters to the editor and fact checks and will participate in mock interviews designed to increase their understanding of the nature of the interactions between journalists and climate scientists. As a class project, students will collaborate on a white paper on climate discourse fallacies to be distributed at the April 3-7 Society for Environmental Journalists annual convention (hosted by the Annenberg Public Policy Center and the Penn Center for Science, Sustainability, and Media). Students will interview attendees at that conference as part of the class project.
Social Networks and the Spread of Behavior
- Spring 2024
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.
The Industrial Construction of Audiences
- Spring 2023
This course will explore the ways in which media companies, advertisers, and the ratings and/or analytics firms they hire (Nielsen, ComScore, Liveramp, 84.51°, Experian etc.) count, track, estimate, and label the people who make up their audiences. The descriptions they present are industrial constructions in the sense that they are portrayals of population segments and individuals that are based on data; they may or may not reflect the views that the populations or individuals have of themselves. The class will explore how internet giants such as Google, smaller internet firms such as The New York Times, multimedia companies such as NBC-Universal, connected TV manufacturers such as Vizio, and supermarkets such as Kroger construct their audiences. We will discuss the controversies such activities engender, and the possible implications the industrial constructions of audiences have for society as well as media industries.