Undergraduate Course Descriptions

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COMM 2013

Black Journalism in/and Philadelphia

  • Spring 2024

What is the “Black” in Black journalism? How do questions about “Blackness” complicate how we think about and study journalism globally, locally, and especially in the city in which we live? This course provides: 1) an overview of theories about journalism’s relationship to race; 2) varied perspectives on how Black journalists have thought about and practiced journalism in their specific social and political contexts; 3) an opportunity to consider what this all means for Black journalists and for journalism in Philadelphia. The course is ideal for students who want to be more critical news consumers and/or media makers and provides opportunities to learn about diverse approaches to journalistic practice that center Black media makers and audiences. In addition to weekly analysis of relevant scholarship, news, and popular materials, we will engage with local journalists and news media institutions throughout the semester. For their final assignment, students will be able to choose between submitting a paper or a multimedia project.

COMM 2260 (formerly 226)

Introduction to Political Communication

  • Fall 2024
  • 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.

COMM 2920 (formerly 292)

WARNING! Graphic Content: Political Cartoons, Comix, and the Uncensored Artist

  • Spring 2023
  • Spring 2024

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.

COMM 3200

Common Sense vs. Data Science in Communications Research and Practice

  • Fall 2024

Policy makers, entrepreneurs, and marketers frequently rely on common sense when planning for the future; yet their predictions are often wrong, and their plans fail for reasons that seem obvious after the fact. In this course you will learn about the nature of common sense, when it should be expected to work effectively, and why we are tempted to use it even when we should not. The course will also introduce a data science perspective on explanation, understanding, and decision making, covering topics such as experiments, predictive analytics, forecasting tournaments, scenario planning, and epistemic humility. The course will be conceptual rather than methodological and so is equally appropriate for students with technical and nontechnical backgrounds.

COMM 3220 (formerly 322)

History and Theory of Freedom of Expression (SNF Paideia Program Course)

  • Spring 2023
  • Spring 2024

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. This is an SNF Paideia Program course.

COMM 3230 (formerly 323)

Contemporary Politics, Policy, and Journalism

  • Spring 2023
  • Spring 2024

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 a 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.

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 3390 (formerly 339)

Critical Perspectives in Journalism

  • Spring 2023
  • Spring 2024

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.

COMM 3600 (formerly 301)

Understanding the Political Economy of Media

  • Spring 2024

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.

COMM 3780 (formerly 378)

Journalism and Public Service

  • Fall 2024

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.

COMM 3950 (formerly 395)

Communication and the Presidency

  • Fall 2024
  • Spring 2024
  • Fall 2023
  • Spring 2023

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.

COMM 3970 (formerly 397)

New Media and Politics

  • Fall 2023

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 evolving and expanding media environment. 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 to the present. 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. Students will gain an understanding of the shifting role of social media and Big Tech as it relates to political content moderation, misinformation, campaign speech/ads, laws governing voting, measuring public opinion, media coverage and participation.

COMM 4010

Governing the Internet: Critical Perspectives on Online Trust and Safety

  • Spring 2024

Who decides what’s allowed (or banned) online — and how are these choices made and implemented? Online platforms have become a ubiquitous part of how people socialize, do their jobs, find love and romance, and express their political views; they shape virtually every part of human experience for billions of people around the world. But their governance — the rules that structure what people can and can’t do on online platforms — remains obscure and poorly understood. This interdisciplinary course examines the histories, theories, policies, and technologies of internet governance that make up the emerging field of online trust and safety. You will learn about the different harms online platforms have to contend with — from governments meddling in elections to abuse and harassment — and the strategies platforms have employed to contend with these challenges. You will also have an opportunity to gain hands-on experience writing and implementing policies, including through the use of generative AI and other emergent technologies.

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

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 4110 (formerly 411)

Communication, Activism, and Social Change

  • Fall 2023
  • Spring 2024

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.

COMM 4280 (formerly 428)

Conventions, Debates, and Campaigns

  • Fall 2024

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 travel to one of the two conventions where they will attend a variety of events and gain an in-person understanding of the convention process and the evolving role of conventions in relation to party nominee selection. 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.

COMM 4320 (formerly 432)

Digital Inequalities

  • Fall 2024

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.

COMM 4630 (formerly 463)

Surveillance Capitalism

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.