Undergraduate Course Descriptions

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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 2340

Global Communication: Technology and Development

  • Fall 2022

This course will explore the field of global communication, with a focus on the changing landscape of technology and globalization in the digital era. Students will learn about theories and practices of technological social change in the non-Western world. They will be introduced to debates surrounding the uses of information communication technologies for development, drawing on research from Communication Studies and beyond. In order to evaluate ideas in practice, students will examine specific case studies from different countries across the Global South. In assessing the case studies, we will consider both the promises and limitations of technology as a solution for common challenges such as poverty, inequality, and political instability.

COMM 2920 (formerly 292)

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

  • 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.

COMM 2991 (formerly 290-301)

Special Topics // Digital Platforms, Power, and Policy

  • Fall 2022
  • 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.

COMM 3220 (formerly 322)

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.

COMM 3230 (formerly 323)

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 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 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.

COMM 3590 (formerly 359)

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'.

COMM 3600 (formerly 301)

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.

COMM 3780 (formerly 378)

Journalism and Public Service

  • Fall 2022
  • 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.

COMM 3950 (formerly 395)

Communication and the Presidency

  • Fall 2022
  • 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.

COMM 3970 (formerly 397)

New Media and Politics

  • Fall 2022
  • 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 to the present, in the midst of the 2022 midterm elections. 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 the contemporary landscape with special emphasis on changing voting laws, public opinion polls, Covid 19, social media and misinformation and their implications for current and future political campaigns, journalism, and voter participation.

COMM 3991 (formerly 390-301)

Special Topics // The First 100 Days

  • Fall 2021

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.

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 4110 (formerly 411)

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.

COMM 4280 (formerly 428)

Conventions, Debates, and Campaigns

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.

COMM 4310 (formerly 431)

Is Public Opinion the Voice of the People?

Democracy relies on the mechanism in which the public communicates with policy makers. 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.

COMM 4320 (formerly 432)

Digital Inequalities

  • 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.

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.

COMM 4630 (formerly 463)

Surveillance Capitalism

  • Fall 2022
  • 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.