Undergraduate Course Descriptions

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COMM 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 225

Children and Media

  • Fall 2020
  • 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 226

Introduction to Political Communication

  • Fall 2020
  • 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 230

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.

COMM 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 290

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.

COMM 290-301

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.

COMM 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. 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.

COMM 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 332

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.

COMM 367

Communication in the Networked Age

  • Fall 2020

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 393

Political Polling

  • Fall 2020

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.

COMM 404

Media and Politics

  • Fall 2020

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 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 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.