Media Literacy class postmortem, Fall 2012

I’m overhauling my media literacy syllabus from last semester, in preparation for teaching another two sections of it this semester. By the end of the fall, it was already a very different document than it had been at the beginning, shredded and re-assembled as I discovered who my students were, what their goals, experience, and pain threshholds were (to summarize the latter: OH GOD PLEASE DON’T EXPOSE US TO THEORY, WE’RE COLLEGE SOPHOMORES IN AN ADVERTISING PROGRAM). So I figured I’d post a post-mortem here, looking for feedback (and hey, this should help with tenure documentation too, right?)

(And of course, the only proper way to illustrate this postmortem is with Honey Boo Boo philosophy GIFs. For which we may thank the bounty of the Interwebs.)

My shredding and re-assembling has to some extent been documented, thanks to colleague Matt Curinga‘s encouragement that we try versioning, recording, and forking our syllabi on GitHub. Which I did through the middle of the semester — and then abandoned. While the idea is lovely, GitHub is really not a great place to work on written documents which in their end state need to be human-readable. Every time I forked the syllabus I needed to run it through a markup converter. I was editing it in DreamWeaver, for the sake of not writing all my markup by hand. Then I was posting the thing on the campus Drupal install, which had its own limitations… there were just too many steps. I might have been happier on a wiki, having written my whole dissertation on one.

Actually, though, I think this semester I will be making better use of the dated individual assignment function on our school’s courseware. One drawback of the “syllabus” function is it had no good way to highlight which changes had recently been made, or email students about just those changes. Students in both courses (the other class I taught being Digital Toolbox) were confused when I sometimes posted things as assignments in order to push a notification at them. They also seemed to expect assignments to show up in different parts of the courseware than the ones I was using because of their experiences in other classes, which was problematic. And changing the date on a given assignment required me to overhaul the entire table of the syllabus. Once a student even challenged me, saying I hadn’t told them about an assignment, when it was clearly posted on the syllabus — she was referring to an earlier copy she had printed out. (Not taking that excuse, sorry!)

So yeah — more object-oriented syllabus units would be useful, coupled with a don’t-show-the-minor-assignments-til-weeks-before-they’re-due strategy. Though I expect changing all the dates on things when I move assignments around will still be a major hassle. This is something the courseware could address better — I’d like assignments to be viewable as a calendar, so I could see what had been moved and when exam weeks are. Hopefully, I’ll be moving units around a lot less this semester… fingers crossed that I understand the flow of the course better.

One interesting thing to note is that I initially forked this from a draft of a course for graduate students in education at Adelphi, which Matt and I wrote,  to a working document for communications undergrads — and that was a major part of my problem. Apparently a dozen or so years has elapsed since I was an undergrad! I’ve sort of forgotten what being an undergrad was like! In fact, given my early training, I may never have understood what “being a college student” felt like to other people! I don’t even know what to give people to read when they’re at that level! HOW DO I SHOT JARGON

So, um, I scared the crap out of my students, and the”40% of your grade will be class participation” and “every paper may be revised” concessions came late in the game to ensure everyone survived the class despite my early tendency to ask them to read things written for masters-level educators. o.O# I might keep the balance that way, as the biweekly forum posts that made up a big part of “class participation” were hugely vital to running the class and assessing what students were and were not understanding.

To start the process of revamping, I went through and annotated the final syllabus itself. Here is the final syllabus, with annotations in red. It is rough and sometimes inaccurate, as additional directives went out via email and other parts of the courseware system; I’ve noted where that was the case.

Media Literacy

Dr. Gillian Andrews


Office hours: see my iLearn profile. Figured out late it was a really good idea to have my hours in a central place so I could update them without having to change four pages. Unfortunately the iLearn profile page is not the most obvious thing for students.

Key words:

media studies, digital literacies, new literacy, semiotics, new media, communication theory, media ecology


Media Literacy is an introduction to the ways media influences its own future as well as our own. This course will help students become more critical of our media environment and more effective communicators of ideas, perspectives, and knowledge. Media Literacy comprises film, television, radio, the Web, and digital games. As both consumers and producers of media, we will analyze and make sense of the myriad ways that media informs, obscures, propagates, sells, and makes whole our sense of individuality and community. Topics include visual signification, digital media, the social functions of the image, and the role of media in the cultural process. I think this was the catalog description, so I can’t twiddle with it. It’s a decent description, but I do like to have descriptions which are more vivid to students.

Goals and objectives

Students will:

  • Confront and assess their own preconceived ideas about media, technology, and literacy; This was one of my additions to goals.
  • Distinguish between the affordances of different media; Not as much of this as I would have liked. Didn’t use the term “affordances,” and I’m glad I didn’t, as my students tended to be fixated on jargon, as if they expected to have to take a standardized test on it.
  • Understand relationships between technical and meaning-creating practices;
  • Develop a language for media technology and signification; What terms I did manage to get across (“frankenbites” in reality TV, “tropes,” use of music, etc) seemed to stick pretty well; again, as memorizable words, they grabbed on to them and tried to use them wherever possible.
  • Understand how media technologies interact with identity; Students struggled with “identity” generally; most of the time I felt it didn’t get through.
  • Be able to articulate cultural and political implications of communication, with attention to concerns of power and equity. Pretty sure this line was my addition, and I do think we covered this well. Whether it stuck…

Required books

Lessig, L. (2006) Code: And Other Laws of Cyberspace, Version 2.0. Basic Books.

McChesney, R. (2004) The Problem of the Media. New York: Monthly Review Press.

Sardar, Z, and Van Loon, B. (2010) Introducing Media Studies: A Graphic Guide. Icon Books.

Shirky, C. (2008). Here Comes Everybody. New York: The Penguin Press.

Other readings

Brunton, F. (in press). The Art Of Misdirection: Robot Readability. in Spam: A Flood, A Theory, A History. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press

Buckingham, D. (2003). Media Education. Polity. This fell by the wayside, wasn’t going to be using much anyway.

Clanchy, M. (1993). Selection from From Memory to Written Record, England 1066-1307. Oxford: Blackwell.

Feynman, R. (1985). Judging books by their covers. In Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman!. New York: W.W. Norton. Didn’t get to this, in the end, but I think I may have narrated it to them. Not sure it was so useful to do that.

Hammer, J., Black, J., Kinzer, C., Andrews, G., Zhou, Z. (2008). A Process-PFL Approach to Learning in Video Games. Submitted to the American Educational Research Association conference. When the early effects assignments went awry, I threw this one out.

Hargittai, E. (2008). The Role of Expertise in Navigating Links of Influence. In The Hyperlinked Society, Turow J and Lokman Tsui, eds. Ann Arbor, MI: The University of Michigan Press.This article and previous got jettisoned when I used the first assignment’s articles instead to investigate the claims articles made.

Hobbs, R. (1998). The Seven Great Debates in the Media Literacy Movement. Journal of Communication, 48(1), 16-32.

Gauntlett, D. (1998). Ten things wrong with the effects model. In R. Dickinson, Ramaswani Harindranath & Olga Linné (Ed.), Approaches to Audiences: A Reader. London: Arnold.When the early effects assignments went awry, I threw this one out.

Gee, J. P. (2003). What Video Games Have To Teach Us About Learning and Literacy. Palgrave Macmillan.

Lesser, G. (1975). Selection from Children and Television: Lessons from Sesame Street. Random House, Inc.

Prandstraller, F. (2002). Virtual proximity: Creating Connection in an Online Fan Community. Gnovis (Georgetown University online Journal of Communication, Culture, and Technology), 3.



Students will complete a variety of in-class and homework assignments that ask them to reflect on the reading and to effectively use digital tools to create new media texts. The following assignments will allow the instructor to evaluate their progress.
Due Thursday, August 30: Media panics (1 page) (no grade)

Due Thursday, September 13: Media literacy exercise (2%)

Due Thursday, September 20: Gee definitions exercise (digital worksheet on forums) (5%)

Due Monday, October 1: Fan production worksheet (3%)

Due Thursday, October 11: New vs old media assignment (5 page paper or 7 page script) (15%)

Due Monday, November 5: News, Ads, Representation, Ownership, and Regulation (5 page paper or 7 page script) (15%)

Due Monday, December 3: Revision to scripts and papers (included in points for those assignments)

Due December 10-13: Screencast or video production of one of your scripts (20%)

Participation in class and on the class website will account for the remaining 40% of your grade.


  • A. An A student is one who, in addition to all the qualities manifested by a B student, seeks mastery of a special field; s/he has initiative and originality in attacking and solving problems; s/he shows ability in rethinking problems, making associations, and adapting to new and changing situations; moreover, s/ he has an appropriate vocabulary at his or her command.
  • B. To earn a B grade a student must manifest all the qualities characteristic of a C student and in addition be able to demonstrate skills beyond the basic elements of the course; s/he has a more personal grasp of the principles of the course and perceives wider application of them. The student should be able to discuss the subject matter of the course with ease.
  • C. To earn a C grade a student must be able to demonstrate the basic skills of a course, understand the essential background and materials of a course, apply the basic principles involved, and express them intelligibly.
  • D. A student who is deficient in some degree in any of the areas that are characteristic of a C grade will earn a D.
  • F. The student has failed to show mastery of the basic subject matter for the course.

The grades of A-, B+, B-, C+, C-, D+, D- are used to indicate that a student has shown more or less than the usual competency required for that grade.

Again, all of this was utterly boilerplate. I forget if it’s something I am allowed to change or whether it’s in the school handbook. If it’s the former, I plan to gut it, as it feels pretty meaningless and doesn’t give students concrete tasks to do (“Ask questions. Give me evidence for the argument you are making. Apply the things you learn to your own life. Change your mind”). Also, I feel the vast majority of students didn’t make it out of C territory by this definition, and heaven knows they don’t want to believe they’re C students.

Disability support

Students with disabilities who believe they may need accommodations in this class are encouraged to contact the Office of Special Services at 575-3274, Donnelly Hall 226, or via email at as soon as possible to better ensure that such accommodations are implemented in a timely fashion.

Cell Phone Policy

To help you and everyone around you concentrate, cell phone ringers and vibrations are to remain OFF during class, as they would in a professional office. Please refrain from texting, calling, or answering texts or calls in class. I changed this boilerplate when I copied it from a previous iteration of this course — no penalties from me. I want students to learn to cope with device distractions on their own. I’m not here to parent them, so I’m not penalizing them for device use. If they don’t learn because they’re distracted, it’s their funeral.


Attendance and punctuality are required. It is each student’s responsibility to sign the attendance sheet during every class. Failure to sign the sheet will result in an absence being recorded for that day. If someone else signs in for you, you will both lose three points from your final grade. If the person who signs in for you admits to her/his misdeed, then only one point will be deducted from your grade and her/his grade.

Every student will be allowed to miss two classes for any reason without a penalty. There are no excused or unexcused absences. Every absence after the first two absences will result in three points being deducted from the student’s final grade.

Arriving late and/or leaving early is unacceptable. You miss out on what we’re learning, and it distracts all of us. Do not arrive late to class or leave class early. Every tardy or early departure will result in one point being deducted from your final grade.

How to Do Well in This Class

  • Attend all classes and participate constructively, i.e. answer questions, ask questions, and offer helpful suggestions for others’ works.
  • Do not cheat on any assignment.
  • Do not spam the instructor with any kind of communication, be it voice, text, video, or direct messages in Second Life. (Particularly not direct messages in Second Life, I’m almost never there anymore.) Wow, this was such a non-issue, and that joke was even sadder than I thought it was.
    Generally I need to flesh this section out more. I expect a lot of things from students that other teachers don’t seem to (revise papers, ask the stupidest questions possible, challenge me when I’m boring or wrong, demonstrate your knowledge in synthesis rather than pop quizzes, don’t ever EVER ask me “is this good enough?”), and in this class and especially the other class (Digital Toolbox), I need to express those up front. But then again, who ever read a syllabus? The very word “syllabus” is opaque — the hell are its roots?(looks it up) Oh. It means List, in Latin.

    Part of the confusion of students over the assignments, I think, is that I may not have been using iLearn the way other profs do. No doubt because we received minimal introduction to the system (I had to seek some out specially from a very helpful library staffer). I relied heavily on the syllabus, and did not use the assignment function. This meant my assignments were in two separate HTML files (one instance for each class), rather than being discrete moving parts connected to a grading rubric — they were lists, rather than object-oriented. Rearranging the syllabus was, thus, hellish, and the students noticed the difficulty and resulting mess and were as frustrated as I was. I think next semester I’ll make the units as assignments, and maybe leave them invisible to students until a week or so beforehand, so I can rearrange them behind the scenes? Who knows, maybe this will only make things worse. I spent a great deal of time on the reorganizations I did, and on signposting changes to students.


Class sessions

Session Topic DUE IN CLASS
Session 1, Monday, August 27 IntroductionsCourse overview

In-class writing assignment

Verdict: Keep, but move.

(This will not be graded; it just helps me understand where everyone is coming from):What have the adults in your life — your teachers, parents, pastor, people on the news — said about the effects of television, the Internet, video games, movies, manga, news, magazines, and other media? How have they told you you should or should not use the media, or what you should or should not watch/listen to/read/play? Tell me any stories you remember.

This was an in-class writing exercise. Generally I think it went pretty well, though I was surprised how many students seemed to agree with adult concerns about the negative effects of violence, “trash” tv, etc.

Session 2, Thursday, August 30 Media panics, media attitudesHave you ever heard it said that video games, movies, or the Internet are harming people, or spreading violence, inappropriate content, or hate? Do you agree or disagree, or kinda both? In this class, we will talk about attitudes toward the media — ours and other people’s, not just today but throughout history.

Watch in class:

Report on Colorado Batman shooting

versus Charlie Brooker’s Newswipe (about 5 min total)

Unfortunately, I have another timely news hook to teach these videos again this semester. As the psychologist
in the Newswipe video says, when there’s 24/7 coverage of a mass shooting, we expect to see another shooting again within weeks…

Verdict on the reading: Probably keep, but move. The “overcoming your biases about ‘bad’ media” approach I was making didn’t really help frame the course, and that’s not really what we all got out of this lesson anyway.



READ 2 of these 3 selections, your choiceComics Code History: The Seal of Approval (5 pp)

Medieval and Greek writing: Clanchy p 294-300 (6 pp)

Children and Television: Lessons From Sesame Street: Lesser: 177-181


Is Google Making Us Stupid? (8 pp)
WRITE (1 page):

What do the “media panics” we’re reading about have in common?
This did not go well.
It’s possible that I did not frame the assignment or explain the readings well enough; they had no historical context to understand these. One or two students came away saying they’d never realized that Sesame Street was trying to teach communism — that the editorial we read that said so was framed as reactionary by a Sesame cofounder, or that the newspaper editor also decried the show for promoting “race mixing” and lesbianism, didn’t register with them.

I started overhauling the syllabus from here; I think I may have had them read Gerbner this week and the next week as well as a result of the misconceptions that arose.

Given the option, nobody read Clanchy. Looked too boring, I guess. So I just told them about swords as the pre-documentary British form of evidence and the anecdote about Socrates saying “the kids these days they learn the writin’ and it keeps them from rememberin’!”

I think this lesson was largely forgotten as a corrective to fears about “bad” media. Once or twice later in the semester students referred to media panics, though.

Early in the semester I also struggled a lot with students responding to prompts with “I agree” or “I disagree.” Not at all what I was looking for, and I had to stress that repeatedly, encouraging them to offer evidence and make arguments instead.

Session 3, Thursday, September 6 Come to class with questions about the reading. What didn’t you understand?In class: Begin discussing the truth claims made in each of the media panics articles with your groups. How might we evaluate these claims?

Verdict: Keep if running a lesson on evaluating scientific and other truth claims.

READ:TV Violence and the Art of Asking the Wrong Question (5 pp)


This was where I really threw on the brakes and overhauled the syllabus. Their initial reaction to Gerbner was that he was outdated (again, they had no historical context to understand statements like “TV viewers watch by the clock and not by the program,” living as they do in the age of TiVo and Netflix) and generally working off his own opinion — even though he had decades of research behind this piece. It just didn’t have any citations in it… but it also didn’t jive with their take on the article. This while they were perfectly happy taking the Atlantic Magazine piece on Google “making us stupid” in the previous week as gospel, and agreeing with it.

So we took a class period and I had them answer the following questions about each piece we’d read so far by doing some background research and brainstorming in class:

What kind of publications were the media panics articles (and Gerbner)?

What other kinds of publications did they refer to?

Who did we hear from in the media panics articles?

Who were they?

What are the kinds of evidence their fields require in order for us to decide what they are saying is fact and not opinion?

This was pretty much what I had wanted to do by having them review scientific research on media effects, an assignment that would have appeared a few weeks after this. In the end I jettisoned that assignment as too repetitive after this somewhat frustrating slog.

The assignment kind of baffled them, but some important things arose from it. First they asked “How many of these sources do we need to find for each piece?” and I told them “As many as it takes” and sent them back to their web browsers. This ended up being twenty or thirty sources in some of these articles. Then they asked, How deep do we need to go in asking who these sources are?, and I think that’s a better question, an important one for anyone to ask themselves, be they professional journalists or everyday media consumers. They also said they’d never looked into an article this way. and they seemed to appreciate the different perspective.

I think this time I will try to work these questions in throughout the entire semester, and interrogate each text we come to, working in some of the stuff I did at the end about checking Wikipedia talk/history/citation pages, doing WhoIs searches, looking up corporate ownership, etc. This is a toolbox I think a lot of people should have for interrogating any text, and I think repeated practice will be more useful.

Session 4, Monday, September 10: Media Studies OverviewLet’s clarify what we mean when we say “media.” What’s included, and what’s not included? What have a range of scholars said about how media fit into society?

In class, we will talk about the truth claims made by the people referred to in the articles we previously read, finishing the exercise from last Thursday.

Verdict: Ditch it! Well, maybe re-introduce the Buckingham.

DO:Meet with your group to finish the exercise we started in class.


What are media? Buckingham, p 1-2 I think in the end I cut this.

Sardar and Van Loon, p 6, p 21-37

Jettisoning this book this semester. Funnily enough, my students hated Sardar and Van Loon as much as I did — the comic format adds nothing to what the authors are trying to communicate; it’s so wordy it’s not even a good comic. The book also hasn’t been updated usefully for the digital age. The theory is a lot for freshmen and sophomores, I think they may get it in later classes, and in the end being able to identify different theories distracted them from absorbing more salient points that I think can be made without reference to theory.

A few of my students, accustomed to scanning for headlines to make sense of the text, came away talking about “Sunday theory.” I was baffled by this until I realized that the authors had made one cute little section on Saussure look like a newspaper with a masthead that read “Sunday Theory.” So much for using visual language to write a richer text!

Session 5, Thursday, September 13: What is Media Literacy?When we say someone is “media literate,” what does that mean? Why do we call it “literacy” when people aren’t reading words?

Verdict: Ditch Sardar and Van Loon, ditch the exercise. Move Hobbs up to the beginning of the semester as a framework and/or incorporate parts of the framework she described in her own syllabus.

READ:Sardar and Van Loon, p 6, p 38-46


From “The Seven Great Debates in the Media Literacy Movement” (Renee Hobbs, 1998:

This brief passage’s five bullet points remained on the board for a number of the subsequent weeks of class, and served as a pretty good rubric for identifying which aspect of the media we were focusing on at a given time (though I was bemused that students did not refer to the rubric as often as I’d hoped). I think I’ll keep it.

“At the 1993 Media Literacy National Leadership Conference, U.S. educators could not agree on the range of appropriate goals for media education, or the scope of appropriate instructional techniques, but they did identify the following concepts, based on models developed by British, Australian and Canadian

educators that should be included in the analysis of media messages:

  1. media messages are constructed The word “constructed” proved particularly thorny for my students in the weeks following this activity, with the main confusion being the subtle difference between “constructed” and “having a structure” — one focusing on the human activity, the other focusing on the structure itself.
  2. media messages are produced within economic, social, political, historical and aesthetic contexts
  3. the interpretative meaning-making processes involved in message reception consists of an interaction between the reader, the text and the culture
  4. media have are unique ‘languages,’ characteristics which typify various forms, genres and symbol systems of communication
  5. media representations play a role in people’s understanding of social reality”

Match each of Renee Hobbs’s outline points to a media theory mentioned in what you’ve read so far in Introducing Media Studies. There may be more than one theory matched to more than of her numbered points, and vice versa. Send your answers in to me via iLearn. I worded this too vaguely — multiple responses per bullet made it easy for them to weasel out of staking a claim to a right answer.

While this assignment gave me a good sense of their comprehension, I don’t know that they learned anything long-lasting from it, and again, they were sort of baffled and distracted by the demand that they work with theory.

Session 6, Monday, September 17: Theories of the Media: Semiotics and literacy

Verdict: Not sure. Check if there’s leftover space in the schedule.

READ:Gee, What Video Games Have To Teach Us About Learning And Literacy, pp 1-4, 13-21, 24-36

Post a question about the reading to the forum by 8 am Monday. What didn’t you understand? We’ll discuss in class to help prepare you for the exercise due Thursday.

Again, I think they were distracted from the ideas by the demand that they memorize difficult, unfamiliar phrases like “situated meaning” and “affinity group.” I was and still am frustrated that they didn’t seem to try to understand phrases by looking at the words themselves and their context to understand what they meant, or by doing a little additional research… dare I say it, it seems like the same kind of problem with logic many of them had in their writing: when they add more than one word together they have a very hard time judging what the combination of words might imply, particularly if you organized them one way as opposed to another way. (This is the kind of thing I feel inadequate to teach, as I don’t remember learning how to write anymore; I was pretty adept at it before I left elementary school. I’d be better off teaching math than writing, as I remember what I struggled to understand in those classes.) I have been meaning to do a little reading in class to demonstrate how to solve puzzles like these rather than throwing yourself on your dorm bed and crying because the teacher is a cruel taskmistress.

This was the lesson where my gamers and kids from the Internet really began to emerge as quicker to pick up on the material — small wonder, James Gee was speaking their language. Also, I think they came from a culture where they were more used to talking with other fans, so “situated meaning” made a lot more sense to them… more on that in the Prandstraller lesson.

Session 7, Thursday, September 20 Theories of the Media: Semiotics and literacyIn class: Meet The Media Show?

Verdict: Not sure. Possibly contextualize with more student-driven research on online fan communities, and have them write about a fandom they don’t know instead of one they do.

DUE:Gee definitions exercise

By this point, I had learned not to give them a writing assignment without having them do a trial run in a brief response first! This alleviated their anxiety and made sure everyone did a little better on the assignments.

The major things misunderstood:

First, what “identity” and “affinity group” might refer to. A lot of them tried to apply it to people on the show rather than audiences. Probably I need to give them more practice in thinking about fandoms, but this also seems to go with the territory of being a college student, reorganizing your own sense of identity, and realizing not everyone in the world shares your viewpoint.

A number of students tried to think of celebrities or characters as “design grammar,” which didn’t work well. We covered elements of “the language of media” a number of times and still I’m not entirely sure that they ended up stringing them all together over the course of the class.

Session 8, Monday, September 24: Theories of the Media: Uses/GratificationsPreparation for next sessions: What do we mean by “representation”?

Verdict: Keep. Try to find more contex/activities. More hands-on stuff.

READ:Prandstraller (24 pp)


Come to class prepared to talk about Gee and Prandstraller. Post the following response to the forum by 10 pm Sunday BEFORE CLASS.: Before reading these pieces, what did the word “fans” mean to you? What did these two authors say about fan communities that were new to you?

This produced really interesting feedback. Many students said they’d previously thought being a fan meant just liking a show, but they didn’t know people got as far into a media property as to, say, discuss the marital status of a member of U2 online. Framing the reading with some brainstorming about the various meanings of “fan” (obsessed, devoted, active, having no life, etc) seems to have helped them develop really nuanced questions and thoughts about this reading. The one thing they still seemed to miss was the idea that fans help create a celebrity’s “text” — this tripped them up in their next assignment, and I may need to emphasize it or have a debate about whether fan creation is really part of reality or not.

Session 9, Thursday, September 27: Making The Media: RepresentationOne thing that just about all media scholars agree is that the media do not reflect reality “as it is” — because they are created by people, they always represent some particular take on reality. You may have heard criticism of how media represent women or people of color, or how they glorify criminals… but have you thought about how they represent rich and poor people, people with disabilities, different professions, or sports? In the next few classes we will explore representation, and how it interacts with advertisers’ plans to reach audiences.

Verdict: Keep, build out the Honey Boo Boo lesson. Maybe move this before Gee?


READ:Pozner, In These Times, on wealth representation, branding, and reality TV (2 pp)

Murketing: The Product Is You images (moved to next lesson)


Screenwipe, reality TV editing

A Hard Day’s Work Law and Order supercut

The Media Show, Stock Photos

The Media Show, TV Tropes

What’s not reflected here is I ran them through two straight days of watching and analyzing Here Comes Honey Boo Boo, and reading a few articles about it. Ohhhhh, did they ever hate me for that. But man does that show ever work for talking about race, class, gender, and the kind of hamfisted editing which makes “reality” TV anything but.

This discussion included one of those moments when students seemed to actively ignore a claim made in the reading — many offhandedly said that reality TV was popular, when the reading explicitly said that reality TV actually doesn’t get great ratings. I think that was the point at which I discovered many students didn’t understand what the Nielsens were or what role they play in determining what airs.

Session 10, Monday, October 1: Making The Media: Audiences and RepresentationNew media have also transformed the meanings and contexts of representations. The Cluetrain Manifesto was produced by a couple of guys in advertising around the year 2000, just as people were realizing how the Internet might change the relationship between consumer audiences and advertisers. What else is different in how people can interact with the media now?

Verdict: Ditch the writing prompt. Overhaul the activity if you’re going to use it. Put the readings elsewhere.

READ:Shirky, pp 122-130 As I recall, this reading felt somewhat out of place here, but it may be because we didn’t do the broadcast/digital contrast. Doing it alongside the superhero/American Apparel stuff was definitely not that clear. I need to take them through some sort of progression, possibly very early in the semester, from “look, the media used to be different” (McQuail) to “this is what digital allows viewers to do” (Prandstraller and maybe then the other fan art) to “here’s how it’s changed the structure of broadcast and advertising” (Shirky and Cluetrain). But then, I have this sense that the transition would be covered in the Comm Revolution class they have to take… and maybe I should just take this element out of this class. Except that they really need better tools to think about the differences between media, no doubt about that.

Cluetrain Manifesto (7 pp)

As many of them are self-identified advertising and PR majors, they really liked and kept referring back to the Cluetrain Manifesto — much as they seemed to enjoy the movie The Naked Brand, which another professor screened later in the semester. I think I need to set up a unit around these, and add in stuff on greenwashing and/or a piece on charity as it is viewed by its recipients. Most of my students want to do good, the trick is getting them to think about what really is good and what just looks good.


Ad campaign images from the blog “Murketing”

Superhero gender-bending fan art

Disability art

I also added in an activity here where they were supposed to role-play as stakeholders in a scenario in which American Apparel was faced with a startling parody by a woman with a very non-standard body, and Marvel was faced with blowback over female characters in sexy poses — they were supposed to play as advertisers, lawyers at the company, fans, etc. Came up with that on the spur of the moment. The students did OK and seemed to enjoy it, but I don’t think any of us got much out of the activity.


On the forum, address these two sets of questions:

1) Pick an image from the ad campaign gallery. (You may need to zoom in on the image to read the words a little bit better. Sorry for the small size and not-great quality.) Who do you think is the audience FOR THIS AD (i.e., who do the advertisers think will SEE this ad?) What is the product being sold in this ad? Have you ever seen an ad like this before?

2) View the re-imagined images of superheros and the parody American Apparel ad campaign. Who are the usual audiences for superhero comics and movies (not for these images here)? Who are the usual audiences for American Apparel ads (again, not for these ones)? What do you think the creators of these images are trying to say about superhero properties and about American Apparel?

Oh lord did this writing prompt ever not work. They were completely unable to judge the audience for the corporate ads — in general many of them had a hard time conceiving of “audience.” The art-gallery American Apparel parody, featuring a disabled model, also went over their heads, and I don’t think they were generally familiar with fan art. So this elicited near-universal wrong answers and blank stares.

Session 11, Thursday, October 4: Theories of the Media: Mass media theoryMany of the critiques of the effects of media come from the era of mass media — when there was less broadcast media and film content available, there were fewer channels, and any given media property was much more likely to reach a sizeable percentage of the population. How did this landscape effect what got made — and how people thought about the effects of media?

Verdict: This might be good to introduce earlier in the semester, as there’s things about the historical workings of the media which they don’t get. The fan production worksheet might replace the Gee exercise.


McQuail (6th edition) on mass models, p 52-63 (there’s one copy of this book in the library, I will try to put it on reserve, but I will also try to get you a PDF as well) Bummed that the schedule got effed up around here because I was sick — this reading was cut. I plan to try to bring this article back, as I think it would have played well.WRITE:

Fan production worksheet (due to me via iLearn by BEFORE CLASS, Sunday at 10 pm) This was canceled for similar reasons; I graded them on the in-class role-play activity instead. It would maybe have been redundant to the Gee exercise.

Session 12, Monday, October 8: From Mass Media to Participatory MediaDigital media have radically changed the shape of fame and audience attention.

Verdict: Keep reading, possibly move to a section on digital vs broadcast media. Writing prompt was also effective.

READ:Shirky, pp 81-108

They REEEALLY latched on to the phrase “publish, then filter” and seemed to want to use it a lot. They seemed to get it when it came to users posting things on Facebook, but less when it comes to things like journalists jumping the gun on reportage. I’d like to be able to connect all this better to
their understanding of how to judge the credibility of a text.


By 10 pm Sunday BEFORE CLASS, post to the forum one thing mass media theorists assumed about media. What does Shirky say the transition to digital media has changed about this assumption?

Session 13, Thursday, October 11: Making The Media: Participatory Media and AudiencesWatch in class:

15 Million Merits I decided this was way too depressing for words.


Just A GameI did show this at one point, and they LOVED it. It was a great post-midterms class. They were very thoughtful about Zirin’s reasoning that we revere Michael Jordan for very different reasons than we revered Muhammad Ali; it really seemed to strike a chord.

Verdict: Keep the video, for sure, and try to revive the new vs. old assignment.

DUE:New vs old media assignment (due to me via iLearn by 9 AM if you are in the 9:30 class, by noon if you are in the 12:30 class) And I canceled this assignment due to schedule chaos and the McQuail reading being removed. I will probably revisit it — it’s the missing bit about media affordances.
Session 14, Monday, October 15: Making The Media: Commercial constraints

Advertising may seem like an annoying interruption to the media we actually want to be “reading.” But in fact, it shapes the media in fundamental ways. We transition from discussing how media makers’ conceptions of audiences interact with their representations, to discussing how advertising funding shapes those audiences, and ultimately shapes the media we see.


READ:McChesney, Age of Hyper-Commercialism p 138-153


Post a question about the reading to the forum by 10 pm Sunday BEFORE CLASS. What didn’t you understand? If it seemed relatively clear to you, what stuck out to you as interesting in this reading?

Session 15, Thursday, October 18: Making The Media: Commercial constraints

Verdict: Keep these readings. Quite possibly move them much earlier in the semester, when talking about the structure of the media industry.

READ:McChesney, Age of Hyper-Commercialism p 153-168


Post a question about the reading to the forum by 10 pm Wednesday BEFORE CLASS. What didn’t you understand? If it seemed relatively clear to you, what stuck out to you as interesting in this reading?

Students were pretty resistant to what McChesney was saying — I was seeing them ignore his argument that advertising undermines democracy, in favor of absorbing other more technical details because, as a handful of them asserted repeatedly in their forum comments,
“I am an advertising and PR major.” It was a mantra that seemed to fortify them in the face of the contrary ideas I wanted them to take on. I came into this class expecting an entirely different set of preconceived notions that would keep media literacy issues from sticking in their heads — that they’d think of me as a radical feminist, or that they would think media literacy was about talking about how bad media content is. Instead, around this time it smacked me in the face that they were selectively absorbing or ignoring particular readings based on their perceived participation in the advertising community. And if I wanted them to really grapple with the ideas, I was going to need to go over them carefully.

Walking them through McChesney’s arguments, rather than letting them go nuts with their own reactions to the piece, really helped guide this discussion in the direction I wanted to go. Dealing with this reading over the course of a couple of weeks also seemed to help. The students who challenged his degredation of advertising started to do so through smarter arguments. In the end, the idea of oligopoly stuck with them pretty well through the end of the semester (though some conflated it with monopoly); many seemed genuinely concerned with it, and grappled well with its possible implications.

Session 16, Monday, October 22: Making The Media: Ownership and RegulationAdvertising shapes media by being a funding source, but other forces shape what we see as well. We’ll start discussing the impact of ownership and government regulation on the content that media-makers give us. READ:McChesney, Advertising and Policy p 168-174, Market Uber Alles p 175-189


Post a question about the reading to the forum by 10 pm Sunday BEFORE CLASS. What didn’t you understand? If it seemed relatively clear to you, what stuck out to you as interesting in this reading?

Session 17, Thursday, October 25: Making The Media: Ownership and RegulationWATCH:

Media Show: Cootie Catcher (Synergy)

I don’t remember this video having much of an impact. But again: the

Verdict for McChesney: keep, keep, keep.

READ:McChesney, The Market Uber Alles p 189-209


Post to the forum by 10 pm Wednesday BEFORE CLASS. What surprised you or was new to you about this reading?

Session 18, Monday, October 29: Making The Media: Breaking The NewsWe trust news outlets to pick the stories that are important to our lives and report on them accurately. But as with all the other media we have studied, the news is constructed — it’s not just an unaltered reflection of reality. We’ll discuss some of the ways that the news is impacted by the shape of the genre, the channels through which we receive it, and decisions made by editors and reporters.

Watch in class: Brooker, Newswipe, How To Report The News

Verdict: Perhaps try to identify a better section of Fallows, or a shorter article that might work; probably keep.

READ:Fallows: 129-143; 165-181

Sadly, around this time Hurricane Sandy hit. We missed a class and I think many students did not do this reading; by the time we caught up we gave this reading short shrift in class and it got ignored in the long-form writing assignment that was supposed to cover it. However, the students who did do the reading grappled with it meaningfully, and I think generally it was easy to read because of Fallows’s journalistic style and clear headlines.


Post to the forum by 10 pm Sunday BEFORE CLASS. What surprised you or was new to you about this reading?

Session 19, Thursday, November 1: Making The Media: Breaking The NewsOf course, a lot has changed since Fallows was writing in the mid-nineties. Shirky describes some of the changes to journalism wrought by digital media.

Verdict: Probably keep.


READ:Shirky, pp 55-80

Again, this got short shrift due to hurricane-related schedule damage.
Students did like and refer back to this, though, and I think it dovetails well with the Fallows, covering a few things he does not (including the shift to the Internet).


Read the News, Ownership, and Regulation assignment that will be due Monday. Send the topic which you think you will write about to me via iLearn by 10 pm Wednesday BEFORE CLASS. We can talk about this so you can be sure you have a solid topic idea.


Session 20, Monday, November 5: Discuss papers; go over the goals for the next few weeks.
Presaging the next few weeks was smart, as was discussing what should go into papers — they really need that kind of thing.

Verdict: Move and possibly split the Anderson audio and get the video instead. Remember to leave time in class sessions for preparation! This was good timing for another paper, though.

Listen to: “From Indymedia to Demand Media: Participation, Surveillance, and the Transformation of Journalism,”a talk by Professor Chris Anderson at the Next HOPE Conference.I ended up having them listen to this about 3 times over the course of the semester (and I think in this case many of them skipped listening to it in part because they were recovering from doing the paper), which seems
ridiculous, but it’s probably because this didn’t really come at the right time in the schedule. The stuff Chris said about keywords was the really important stuff, and that needs to go into the Internet section. I think I might also have them watch the stuff on Indymedia as a solution to the things Shirky and Fallows were talking about; not sure. I kind of ended up doing a lecture about Indymedia off the top of my head. A lot of the time when faced with critique of media students pushed back, going “well, how do YOU propose to fix it?” So giving examples of those attempts is probably a good idea.

News, Ads, Representation, Ownership, and Regulation paper/script

Session 21, Thursday, November 8: Aspects of Digital Media: RobotsWhile computers seem to get “smarter” every year, able to predict what we want before we even know we want it, beneath the surface layer of interaction they still think like robots. To understand why they do what they do, we may still need to think like robots to communicate well with them and get them to do what we want. The next few classes explore some of the ways in which computers “read” and “think” differently from people, with limitations and demands which are helpful when we’re trying to figure out how to “read” digital media.

We may be able to chat with Finn Brunton, the author of this reading, via Skype in class.

Because of poor reaction to this reading, I texted Finn from the
train on the way to work, screaming ABORT! ABORT! ABORT! So, yeah, no Skype session last semester.

Verdict: Move to a point where they’ve gone over code a bit more if you keep this.

READ:Brunton, ch 2 section 4 on Robot Readability (about 20 pp)

Post a question about the reading to the forum by 10 pm Sunday BEFORE CLASS. What didn’t you understand?

I was surprised by how much they disliked this reading. What they hated was specifically what I like about Finn’s work — he’s gifted with metaphor, and has an elegant conversational tone. “What does he think he is, a poet?” one of the students scoffed.

They were also clearly intimidated by some of the technical terms, which frustrated me. Note to self: urge them to look up terms online rather than cowering from them in terror, starting early in the semester.

I had them listen to the Anderson talk again in class, as a lot of the search term stuff overlapped. I think we also watched the Spiders and Spam and Search Engine episodes of The Media Show at this point, which may or may not have helped clarify those points.

Session 22, Monday, November 12: Aspects of Digital Media: Is Code Law?Marshall McLuhan said “the medium is the message;” he and other theorists believe that the medium shapes what can be said, and how. Digital law professor Lawrence Lessig says that the nature of digital technology shapes free speech and its regulation online: “Because there is no simple way to know who someone is, where they come from, and what they’re doing, there is no simple way to regulate what people do on the Net. If you can’t discover who did what and where, you can’t easily impose rules that say ‘don’t do this, or at least, don’t do it there.'”

Verdict: Consider abandoning it, or putting it after other Internet readings.

READ: Lessig, Architectures of Control, 38-54

Post a question about the reading to the forum by 10 pm Sunday BEFORE CLASS. What didn’t you understand, or what stood out to you about this reading?

And again the students surprised me here with how much they liked and seemed to grasp Lessig, when I thought he’d terrify them with jargon. Score one for the silver-tongued lawyers and their arguments ;)

Going back over my notes from the discussion, though, it looks like maybe a lot of what we discussed with Lessig was later covered by boyd, the article on Target tracking users, Rambam’s talk at HOPE, and Moglen’s talk, possibly in more accessible ways. The one thing I think he covers better than those readings is IP addresses. So perhaps this reading should come after those readings.

Session 23, Thursday, November 15 Aspects of Digital Media: Identification, Verifiability, and TrustWe talked about Wikipedia a little bit earlier in this class, waaay back when we were trying to figure out whether we found the sources of the “media panics” articles to be reliable. Last time we read Lessig’s thoughts about identifying people online. Today we’re going to look into how volunteer Wikipedia writers are asked to back up their truth claims as factual. We’re also going to think about how we verify who wrote things online.

Verdict: Not only keep, but possibly introduce this as a tool early on in the semester, and repeatedly refer back to talk pages, history, citations, etc.

READ:Post a question about the reading to the forum by 10 pm Sunday BEFORE CLASS, slightly different assignment this time: Given what you’ve read today, how are you thinking about changing how you read a Wikipedia article or other website? What kinds of things might you do to decide if a site’s information is trustworthy?

Wikipedia policies:

I had my friend Sumana Harihareswara of the Wikimedia Foundation Skype in to talk to the class for this lesson. Between her talk and the reading, students definitely came away with a better understanding of how Wikipedia works and remarked on how they now had new tools to use.

Session 24, Monday, November 19: Aspects of Digital Media: NymwarsLessig discussed how the Internet does and does not require us to identify ourselves online. For this class we’ll read a blog post from tech researcher danah boyd where she plays out more thinking about the possible problems with requiring everyone online to identify themselves with their legal names.

Tutorial: Using WhoIs

been insisting to anyone who would listen, since around the end of my dissertation, that it’s useful for people to be able to run WhoIs lookups. Having had my students do so in their final projects, I’m seeing it as useful maybe 20% of the time. So much of the time, WhoIs only turns up a registry company these days.

But then, combining WhoIs with corporate ownership searches and digging around the About page, I saw students developing a bit more useful synergy, able to triangulate ownership information. So perhaps it’s a matter of using this as just one tool in the kit. I’m thinking about adding traceroutes, which would require me to learn more about those from Rob or another hacker friend.

Verdict: Keep boyd,

consider ditching walled garden,

ditch Moglen (sorry Eben!),

find something to read on what FLOSS is.

READ:boyd, real names policies are an abuse of power

MacManus, Tim Berners-Lee Calls Facebook a Walled Garden

Post a question about the reading to the forum by 10 pm Sunday BEFORE CLASS, slightly different assignment this time: Had you ever heard any of the criticisms made by boyd before? How do you and your friends manage your identities online? (Obviously, you don’t need to compromise your privacy — just tell us in general terms what you do!)

The boyd article seemed to register well, the Facebook one less so. Students were very engaged by this point, seeing all of this as pretty directly related to their lives, and asking questions that arose meaningfully from personal experience.

TUESDAY BEFORE THANKSGIVING BREAK by 10 pm: Finish watching Eben Moglen’s talk on Freedom in the Cloud. Post a question to the forum: What did you not understand? Did this talk raise any additional questions for you?

Moglen mostly just confused them, though a few of them saw through some of his grand pronouncements and asked very practical questions
(wouldn’t we have to back up Freedom Boxes somewhere? Like, say, in the cloud?) But then, I mostly threw Moglen at them late in the semester when I was feeling overwhelmed and frustrated, and couldn’t cope.

This reminds me, though, that I need more information for them on free software. I didn’t have a good explanation for them to read, and they ended up confused by the concept’s implications.

Session 25, Monday, November 26: Aspects of Digital Media: Privacy We’ll be watching “Privacy is Dead,” a talk given by private investigator Steven Rambam at the Hackers On Planet Earth (HOPE) Conference.

Verdict: Vet the more recent Rambam HOPE talk and possibly show that instead.

Rambam seemed to connect with them well, and they remembered and cited what he talked about for the final project. My one concern is that he mentions a bunch of potential security threats without explaining how they work, and I worry the overall effect is fear without understanding.

Make that two concerns — one of my students picked up on his constant harping on homosexuality, and I had to apologize for Rambam more than once, explaining that I thought his observations about privacy were useful while I found his casual bigotry problematic and troubling coming from a professional.

Session 26, Thursday, November 29 Aspects of Digital Media: Privacy

Verdict: Keep the Duhigg; definitely pair it with Chanders.

Listen AGAIN to part of “From Indymedia to Demand Media: Participation, Surveillance, and the Transformation of Journalism,”— listen from 26:40 to 44:10.Read Duhigg, “How Companies Learn Your Secrets”

They LURVED this article. It shocked them and gave them good tools to think with, connected well with Rambam and Anderson, and pleased those of them who were still trying to push class ideas into their head through an advertising frame.

I think despite all of these readings on digital stuff, I was still struggling to get them to think of cases where their privacy might matter more than they initially believed it did — democratic speech, threats to life and limb, medical privacy issues, etc. Maybe this is just hard to get across to people who have never felt such a threat personally. Or maybe the message did get through and I just didn’t hear it back from them. I don’t know.

Post about the reading to the forum by 10 pm Sunday BEFORE CLASS. Slightly different assignment today: How do you feel about the influence of companies like Demand Media on the things you may read online? How do you feel about companies using your data from social networking sites?

Revisions to any major paper written in this class are due by class time on December 3rd — but please try to do your papers long before then!Storyboards and script revisions also due (for those who are doing video for their final projects).
Session 27, Monday, December 3 Aspects of Digital Media: Digital Divides

Verdict: Keep if there’s space.

Read boyd, White Flight In Networked Publics?Post about the reading to the forum by 10 pm Sunday BEFORE CLASS: pose a question about this reading which you would like answered.

Many were confused by the re-introduction of MySpace (isn’t it, like, dead?) and also thought boyd was somehow wrongly biased against MySpace. Perhaps this article could have used some closer reading in class, as I did with McChesney or the media panics articles.

Session 28, Thursday, December 6: Tutorial in class: How to make a screencastBecause I didn’t have them repeat their website analysis tools throughout the semester (as I plan to this semester) and because they were (needlessly!) anxious about using screencasting software (it has a big red button! Push it!) this was a crucial class period. One thing I was sure to emphasize, as I did in Digital Toolbox, was to BE MINDFUL when working with video files, as they are disk-crashingly immense.

Note to self: Camtasia works fine on both platforms, is downloadable, and is native on many lab computers. I think it was Screenium that had the annoying watermark. Having them upload to YouTube at the end was also a good idea.

Verdict: Keep.


Work on your final project.
FINALS WEEK Troubleshooting screencasts.Slot 8: Wednesday, December 12, 1:00-3:00

Slot 2: Thursday, December 13, 10:30-12:30

Both sessions in LT 209.


Please come to one of the two sessions; it does not matter which class you are in, but SHOW UP ON TIME so we don’t have to go over everything multiple times.

Please do not plan to do the entire project during this time slot — you will not be able to record voiceovers well in a room full of everyone doing the same thing.

Work on your final project. Bring the video files you have so far with you to class, and bring questions about things with Screenium you’re having trouble with.

I think I’d finally learned how to specify and prepare for an assignment at this point; the finals went quite smoothly and most students’ results were good. The screencast idea was Matt Curinga’s, and I really like how it turned out — the show-and-tell format was nice, and probably helped some students who were poorer writers. I did tell them to script their projects, and I’m glad of that, as no doubt they would have missed more key points if they’d walked through it without planning.

FRIDAY, December 14: DUE ON ILEARN: SCREENCAST project.Final draft of final project due



Media panics (1 page, due Thursday, August 30)

What do the “media panics” we’re reading about have in common? Gerbner said “The usual question – “Does television violence incite real-life violence?” – is itself a symptom rather than diagnostic tool of the problem.” What might he have said was “the usual question” about medieval writing, the alphabet, comic books, Google, and Sesame Street? What do you think people’s concerns about these media products were “symptoms” of? This was far too oblique of me, and I think it set the tone of “guess what teacher is thinking” I was struggling to get rid of all semester.


Gee definitions exercise (digital worksheet on forum, due Thursday, September 20)

This assignment will probably be easier if you provide examples of something in the media that YOU are a fan of. But if you’re uncomfortable sharing, you can describe someone else and the media they are a fan of. I’m on the fence as to whether doing it on a property they were familiar with helped. Certainly the kids who were from fandoms seemed to understand this activity a lot better; perhaps the ones who were not in fandoms needed to go look at the kind of fandom Gee was talking about.

Copy and paste these questions on the forum. Write your answers between the questions, as full sentences, formatting the questions differently (bold, italic, different color, whatever) and using line spacing to be sure everything is readable.

Give me a tour of a SEMIOTIC DOMAIN and an IDENTITY related to a movie, band, show, broadcast event, book, comic, website, game, or other media “text.” Use examples from the Internet.

What SEMIOTIC DOMAIN are you going to be talking about?

Link to a site which relates to this semiotic domain.

Remember that a specific semiotic domain is different from “general knowledge.”

Give me an example of an IDENTITY a person might take on to be a part of this semiotic domain.

Then give me an example of an IDENTITY that person might have elsewhere in their life which might conflict with their identity in that semiotic domain.

Why might these two identities conflict?

Give me an example of an AFFINITY GROUP within this semiotic domain.

Link to or post two VISUAL things that you/this person would need to be able to “read” to participate in the literacy specific to this domain. (Be specific: this should either be links to image files like .jpg or .png; if you’re linking to a whole page, you need to tell me which visual element you are referring to.)

For each one:

What does the “reader” need to know to interpret these visual elements within this specific domain?

How is the SITUATED MEANING of this visual element different in this domain than in another domain?

Give two examples of DESIGN GRAMMAR elements that you/this person need to know to be LITERATE about this domain.

Link to something which relates to a SOCIAL PRACTICE specific to this domain. In a couple of sentences, describe this social practice.

How is the SITUATED MEANING of this social practice seen differently by people who do and do not participate in this domain?



Fan production worksheet (due Monday, October 1)

Online, find an example of fans who have created their own content — writing, art, video, etc — based on a mass media property.

Places to start looking for fan works (but anywhere you find it is fine):

  • DeviantArt
  • Know Your Meme
  • TVTropes
  • YouTube

On the forum, link to it (post it if it is an image, embed it if it is a video).

Briefly say something about what you think the original message of the media property is, as well as the intended original audience.

Describe who you think the new audience of the “repurposed” text is (age? gender? race? class? education level?).

Answer these questions in your writing:

How have the fans “subverted” the original message, or if you don’t think they have, why would you say they have not?

Think back to Jim Gee’s writing on video games and affinity groups, and Prandstraller’s article on fans writing about U2. Would you say, like they do, that these fans are “active consumers” who are creating new meanings? Why or why not?


News, Ownership, and Regulation assignment (5 page paper or 7 page script, due Monday, November 5)

Pick a current story from a publication which covers the media or advertising industries. This should be a story which is primarily about media ownership (mergers and acquisitions are good), and could include news about partnership/co-development deals, new advertising tactics, product placement deals, etc.

Look to industry publications and/or the entertainment industry sections of major newspapers to find at least two articles on the story. Here’s some suggestions:

You may want to look further than the websites; I am pretty sure the Marist library will have subscriptions to Ad Age and the rest.

Write a paper or a script analyzing the news item you chose through the lens of McChesney, Fallows, and/or (if you like) Shirky.

What could be the implications of this current issue for audience choice, information that’s available to the public, and democratic participation?

I want to see you present SPECIFIC EXAMPLES and clearly play out what the effects might be.

Do a little digging into who owns who: if your story is about a network or cable channel (NBC, Fox, Oxygen, etc) or a magazine or website, look for who owns them and what other media properties they may own. If your story is about a parent company (News Corporation, Disney, Viacom, etc), look into the range of properties it owns.

Even though by this point I was trying to structure my assignments more clearly and rigidly, the lack of specificity about potential topics hamstrung a number of students. My insistence on revisions was a saving grace here, as many of them turned their papers around on the second draft. Next time I think I’ll just turn the entire class loose on a small handful of ownership-related articles I’ve pre-selected myself and spare us all the pain.

A few resources which will help you research media ownership:, in addition to the corporate information page for any given company’s website:

Again, you have three options for writing this:

  • Option 1: write it as a traditional paper; 5 pages. (UNLESS you did your last assignment as a paper — you need to have one script for the end of the semester project.)
  • Option 2: write it as a script for a five-minute episode of The Media Show, using Weena, Erna, the Intern, and other characters as you see fit; 7 pages.
  • Option 3: write it as a script for your own five-minute video; 7 pages.
  • We are not producing these videos yet! Just work on the script.
  • Even if you already did one script, you’re free to do a second one.

IF YOU ARE WRITING A SCRIPT: Be sure to specify how you will use visual elements to demonstrate the points you are making. Video is a visual medium; there’s no point in using it if you’re just going to have someone lecturing to the camera! (Yeah, I know. I am bad at following this advice myself.) See the example script if you need some guidance on how to include visuals.

Recommended scriptwriting software: Celtx (I think you can still get the desktop version, for free: )

On scripts: By the end, I’d jettisoned the requirement that they produce one script. Initially the plan was for them to produce multiple scripts and then produce a video at the end. Between this class and Digital Toolbox it was clear I was working with many students who were not going to be expected to produce any videos as their careers progressed, and who were intimidated by production requirements. That was the point at which I recalculated the GPA to have more to do with class participation, let them repair scores through revision, and turned the final requirement into the screencast (with the option to produce a video for students in the radio/tv/film track — this produced all of two scripted videos, and I wouldn’t have wanted to have more as it became a bit of an apples-and-oranges problem in the final assessment). I think I’ll leave the script option in for future classes, but not require it of anyone. The department seemed to want a video production component, but I think this is inconsiderate of the large number of PR and advertising students in the class. I’d have to do more work on visual language in order to see more production, which I might should do anyway, but the course isn’t well-structured for it in my current organization.

I also need to emphasize more that students shouldn’t be afraid of scripts. Many of them seemed terrified of the new format, when I was thinking of it as far easier than papers! I wanted them to try their hand at thinking more through dialogue and different stakeholders. I think some clarification of this up front would go a long way. Also, need to clarify how to cite, as a couple of students came dangerously close to plagiarizing when they did not cite in scripts.

Screencast final project (due Friday, December 14)

Using software like Jing, Camtasia, Fraps, HyperCam, or iShowU (we will be using Camtasia to practice in class, but if you know another program better feel free to use that one instead), do a walkthrough of a major site that you use regularly. The site should have a social networking component (i.e. you have an account where you can log in, and you can share things with other users).

Navigate through and show the following elements of the website, and evaluate all of the following in your voiceover:

  • Identifying the site. Who is involved in creating, editing, and moderating the content on this site? How do you know? How easy or hard is it to tell? Visit the site About page (if there is one, or talk about the lack of an About page if there isn’t.)
  • Do research on who owns the site using the site’s corporate page and databases from the Marist library: Standard and Poor’s or Hoover’s will help, among others.Wikipedia. Look the site or its parent company up on Wikipedia as well. Show three ways you might be able to tell if someone has posted false information about the website and/or the company that runs it.
    • What do you find? How might this impact what content does and does not show up on the site?
    • Also do a WhoiIs lookup of the site’s address, and talk about what you find.
    • Finally, analyze the site’s address: what does it tell you about the site?
  • Advertising. What does the advertising you are seeing on this site (or lack of it) tell you about the intended audience for this site? About who the advertisers think you are?
  • Robot-readable elements. Which elements may be there for search engines to read, which may or may not be readable by human users? You may want to use the “view source” option in your browser to find some robot-readable elements.
  • Privacy features. Do you feel this site adequately considers users’ privacy? Why or why not? Give examples from the page to back up your argument.
  • Name conventions. How does this site ask users to identify themselves – with real names? Nicknames? Do they need to give financial or geographic information to sign up? How might this be a problem for particular categories of users (think back to the “nymwars” reading from danah boyd)?

Video final project (storyboard due Monday, December 3 with script revision; final video due Friday, December 14)

My two video producers did not storyboard for me. I was frustrated with this. Storyboards are such useful tools. One of them did an excellent job of describing shots in her script, though. In sum the two projects produced were talking-head affairs, and I feel somewhat to blame, as the basic assignment was “frame this as two characters having an argument” and I then demonstrated this with the basic, troublingly-flat Media Show setup. A little more show and tell about differences in visual storytelling styles might be good.

If you are a Film and TV or other Media Arts major, you may produce one of the scripts you wrote for the class for your final project instead of doing a screencast. (I will consider video proposals from other students as well, but you MUST meet with me to discuss what you will do.)

You will be expected to significantly revise your existing script to improve how it works visually and dramatically, moving from a script which centers around a discussion to one in which some of the issues discussed are played out in action. In addition to developing a script you must also develop a storyboard to plan the shots for your video. Storyboards don’t need to be artistic masterpieces — stick figures are fine! Just be sure you are clearly communicating which angles you will be using and how the shots match up with the script. You may also use any graphics program you like to make the storyboard; making use of photos as well as drawn art is fine.

Plan to meet with me during my office hours on November 26, 27, or 28 to discuss which script you will use, to go over your storyboard ideas, and to address what additional revisions may be necessary to meet the requirements.


If you liked this,

read this

Why does any professor, ever, suggest supplemental readings? Why did I bother?

Here Comes Everybody Goldhaber, The Attention Economy and the Net
Breaking The News Marche, The Real Problem with Niall Ferguson’s Letter to the 1%Bogost, Speaking of Fees… The facile scourge of paid speaking

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