COM 330-01 (23371) Theories of Mass Communication
Steven Alan Carr, Ph.D.
Course Syllabus
Spring 2006

Course Content and Goals

Building upon the COM 250/251 sequence, which focuses on media industries and the texts they produce, this course 1) surveys social science and critical/cultural approaches that attempt to analyze and explain the power and influence of both mass media and its texts within an increasingly global context; 2) considers the extent to which media and media texts influence an increasingly global audience; and 3) considers the extent to which a global audience influences media industries and the media texts that these industries produce. Rather than argue that media influence is either all-encompassing or infinitesimal, this course argues that no one theory can explain fully the complex interrelationships between culture, history, social power, and human behavior that intersect what is commonly referred to as "the media."  Our goal is to think critically about different approaches to media influence and the explanations that scholars and critics have offered, and maybe even develop some new explanations of our own.

Prerequisites and Intended Audience

Although there are no prerequisites for this course, it is assumed that students have taken or are currently enrolled in COM 250 Mass Communication and Society and COM 251 Introduction to Electronic Mass Media. The intended audience consists of junior and senior Communication majors in the Media and Public degree track.


If you continue with this course, you agree to be responsible for downloading all required assigned readings.  In addition to the assigned textbook for this class, readings will consist of essays and chapters in Adobe Acrobat PDF format available through WebCT.  If you do not have access to a computer connected to the Internet, you cannot get WebCT to work properly from off-campus, or you are unable to make arrangements to use a computer on campus, you will still be held responsible for all assigned readings.  The instructor does not download, email, or print off readings for students.  Be resourceful and make other arrangements with fellow classmates.  If you can’t open certain files from within WebCT or your web browser, try downloading the file to your computer and then opening it using its native application.  If you still can’t open the file, try restarting your computer, or try using a different computer before reporting a technical difficulty.

Course Requirements

The normal schedule for reading assignments will be between 30-60 pages per week. Consequently, one of your primary responsibilities will be to prepare for each week's reading by completing assigned readings before Tuesday's class meeting. To that end, there will be fifteen (15) online quizzes worth 100 points each, due before class on the assigned date before 12 PM noon. In addition, your IPFW email address will be subscribed to a class listserv; you are responsible for checking that address, or arranging for forwarding email to another email address. You should check both your email and WebCT on a daily basis for important course announcements.  Working in teams of 5-7, you will propose, design, test, and evaluate eight (8) learning modules worth 100 possible points each, due on the assigned date before 6 PM.  You will present one (1) of these modules in class at approximately 2 PM on the assigned date, worth 100 possible points.  You will critique one (1) of the modules from another group for 100 possible points.  You will take a midterm and a final, each worth 500 possible points. You will be required to write a final, argument driven synthesis paper worth 500 possible points showing how you have taken one or more approaches to media influence seriously. Finally, your participation worth 1000 possible points will be assessed, primarily on the basis of what you do during the scheduled class meeting time, but in general on the basis of what you do as a stakeholder to help make this class a success.


No incompletes will be given for this course, except in extreme circumstances. If an extreme circumstance does arise, however, you are urged to notify the instructor and propose a workable solution as soon as possible. A workable solution in this case, of course, would include the possibility of an incomplete.  However, a request for an incomplete will only be granted only for assignments that have already been started.  Under no circumstances can a student do additional work after final grades have been submitted to raise his or her final grade.


It is expected that all work submitted is the original work prepared specifically for this course by the student whose name appears on it.  It also is expected that all contributors to the original work have their names listed accurately on the assignment at the time of submission.


Fifteen (15) online quizzes (Q) worth 100 points each for a total of 1500 points will be available for a 24 hour window before the date of an assigned reading, and due before 12 PM noon on that date. You may use your textbook and notes, but you will have a maximum of 30 minutes to take each quiz.  Quizzes will consist of ten (10) multiple-choice questions.  You will take these quizzes online.  Once you open the quiz and see the questions for the first time, you have 30 minutes to answer at least 6 questions correctly on that quiz in order to be eligible to retake it.  You may print off the quiz.  However, if you score less than 60%, or if you open the quiz to print it off but you do not complete it within 30 minutes, you will receive a failing grade and you will forfeit the opportunity for a retake.  If you score 60% or more on a quiz, but less than 100%, you will be able to access the questions, but you will not be able to distinguish between which questions were answered correctly and which were not.  Any distribution of the questions and/or their answers, whether electronically or in hard copy, by one student to another will be treated as an instance of academic dishonesty and may result in an automatic grade of F for the course for all involved.


Eight (8) times throughout the semester, in-class teams will author, test, and evaluate a collaborative learning module (LM).  Learning modules must extend a significant concept relevant to the assigned reading for the week.  Each learning module should require no more than 30 minutes of time to complete, require no extensive use of resources, and involve the entire class.  Each learning module must clearly state an objective, a short explanation of the significance of the activity and how it is relevant to the assigned reading, a step-by-step description of the activity, and a series of open-ended “thought-prods.”  Each team then will have approximately 30 minutes of class time to develop these proposals.  At the end of 30 minutes time, the instructor will solicit one team to demonstrate their learning module for the entire class.  Teams are encouraged to prepare materials before class.  The instructor will make WebCT resources available, including an online discussion forum for each team.  Each submission is worth 100 points for a total of 800 points and is due before 6 PM on the assigned date. You will not receive written feedback from the instructor on these modules, unless specifically requested.  Individual grades for team members will be assessed on the basis of contributions made in advance of and during in-class development, as well as on the substantiality of the module itself, its relevance to the reading, how well it extends a concept or concepts from the reading, and its feasibility.  Based on these criteria, modules will be assessed as excellent, satisfactory, or poor.  Individuals who earn 60 points or better on a module may revise and resubmit that module once it has been submitted.  Each module must accurately list the names of all team members who participated at the time of submission.  It is each team's responsibility to maintain the Honors System in accurately reporting the names of those who contributed to the project.


At least once during the semester, your team will present one (1) of the learning modules (LMP) to the entire class at approximately 2 PM on the assigned date, worth an additional 100 possible points.  Presentations will be made only on the assigned date of a Learning Module.  The instructor will solicit one team to offer a test run of their module after the 30-minute in-class meeting.  There will be only eight opportunities throughout the semester, so volunteer early.  You cannot redo this assignment, and you will not receive written feedback unless specifically requested immediately after the presentation.  Individual grades for team members will be assessed on the basis of participation in leading this module, as well as on how well the presentation communicates the following: the substantiality of the module itself, its relevance to the reading, how well it extends a concept or concepts from the reading, and its feasibility.  Based on these criteria, modules will be assessed as excellent, satisfactory, or poor.  Due to variations in team memberships, you may present more than once as part of a different team.  In that case, only the highest grade for the in-class presentation will be counted.


Once during the semester, you will critique (LMC) the module prepared by another team that was not presented during class.  The critique, worth 100 possible points, should evaluate the significance of the module’s objective, relevance to the substance of the reading, how well the module extends a concept or concepts from the reading, and evidence that the module has been fully thought through for feasibility. You will not receive written feedback unless specifically requested.  Your grade will be assessed on the basis of how thoughtfully you demonstrate engagement with the criteria listed above that you use to critique the learning module.


You will take a midterm (M) and a non-comprehensive final (F). Both the midterm and final will build upon readings, questions that appear on the quizzes, on online discussion questions, and on issues raised in class discussion. Both the midterm and the final each will count 500 possible points toward your final grade.


You must write a final, argument-driven synthesis paper (P) worth 500 points.  This paper will be submitted in parts - including a proposal and abstract (P1 - 100 points), a sample paragraph (P2 - 100 points), an annotated inventory of theories presented as part of the paper (P3 - 100 points), and a final draft (P4 - 200 points) - at various intervals throughout the semester.  Written feedback will not be offered on P3 and P4 unless specifically requested and submitted 2 weeks in advance of the due date.  The synthesis paper will synthesize two or more substantive concepts covered during the semester, and show how your synthesis could be applied to a topic relevant to an issue or controversy concerning mass media.  There is no page or source minimum requirement.  The successful final draft will include, all in the same file, the following: an introduction that states a problem, explains its significance, and clearly states a central thesis; an explanation of each theory or concept covered in the paper, with appropriate citations; three to five (3-5) paragraphs (paragraph=key statement, plus 3-5 additional sentences) with each paragraph advancing and developing the central thesis; a conclusion that reconsiders (as opposed to restating) the central thesis in light of the body of the paper; and a works cited page that demonstrates the breadth and diversity of sources used in the paper.  The final paper will be evaluated on the basis of its relevance to a topic concerning mass media; the substance and significance of the thesis; how well the paper engages the theories and concepts discussed; the thoughtfulness and originality with which the paper synthesizes these concepts; the overall structure, readability, clarity, and effectiveness of how well the paper advances its argument; and the ability of the paper to draw from multiple theoretical perspectives.  With regard to the last criteria, make sure you can demonstrate that your list of sources used in the paper can demonstrate how you were able to engage with multiple perspectives.


Your participation is worth 1000 points or 20% toward your final grade. This participation will be assessed primarily, though not exclusively, on the basis of what you do during our scheduled class meetings. You will not receive feedback on your participation unless specifically requested. The burden of proof is on you to maintain detailed, accurate, and clearly presented records of your contributions to the success of the class. Although you are not required to do so, you are strongly encouraged to maintain evidence of these contributions throughout the semester. This data can include evidence of preparation (such as detailed, original notes), letters of support from other students, written self-evaluations of your performance, etc. Should a difference of opinion arise with regard to the level of your performance, you will be asked to produce these records upon request.  Failure to participate in class, regardless of attendance, will directly impact this portion of your grade.  Questions regarding participation raised earlier in the semester will receive far greater consideration than questions raised later in the semester.


Your final grade will be determined based on the following criteria:

Fifteen (15) Quizzes @ 100 pts ea

1500 points (30%)

T before noon (unless otherwise noted)

Eight (8) Learning Modules @ 100 pts ea

800 points (16%)

R before 6 PM, as marked

One (1) Learning Module In-Class Demo

100 points (2%)

R in class at approx 12:30 PM, as marked

One (1) Learning Module Critique

100 points (2%)

Within 48 hours of LM posting

Midterm Exam

500 points (10%)

R 2 Mar

Argument-Driven Synthesis Paper

500 points (10%)

R 23 Feb; R 6 Apr; R 20 Apr; R 27 Apr

Final Exam

500 points (10%)

T 2 May 1-3 PM


1000 points (20%)



5000 points (100%)




(Above Average)


(Below Average, But Passable)






0 - 2999


Tentative Course Schedule





T 10 Jan

Course Introduction


The Media/Culture/Communication Paradigm

R 12 Jan

Structuration Theory

Lull Ch 1

Quiz 1

F 13 Jan

Last Day to Complete Online Student Agreement

T 17 Jan

From Transportation to Communication

Czitrom Ch1

Quiz 2

R 19 Jan

From Transportation to Communication


T 24 Jan

Communication: Two Views


Quiz 3

R 26 Jan

Communication: Two Views

LM 1

Critical/Cultural Approaches to Mass Media

T 31 Jan

Ideology and Consciousness

Lull Ch 2

Quiz 4

R 2 Feb

Ideology and Consciousness

LM 2

U 5 Feb

Last Day to Withdraw with partial refund

T 7 Feb

Ideology and Base/Superstructure


Quiz 5

R 9 Feb

Ideology and Base/Superstructure

LM 3

T 14 Feb

Consciousness and Subconscious


Quiz 6

R 16 Feb

Consciousness and Subconscious

LM 4

T 21 Feb

Hegemony, Rules, and Power

Lull Chs 3-4

Quiz 7

R 23 Feb

Hegemony, Rules, and Power

Synthesis Paper Proposal and Abstract (due 12 PM Noon)

T 28 Feb

Ideological State Apparatuses


Quiz 8

R 2 Mar


T 7 Mar


R 9 Mar

Audiences, Texts, and Cultural Identity

T 14 Mar

Media Audiences and Cultural Life

Lull Chs 5-6

Quiz 9

R 16 Mar

Media Audiences and Cultural Life

LM 5

F 17 Mar

Last Day to Withdraw (no refund)

T 21 Mar

Democracy and Public Opinion


Quiz 10

R 23 Mar

Democracy and Public Opinion

LM 6

T 28 Mar

Behavioralism and the Minimal Effects Model


Quiz 11

R 30 Mar

Behavioralism and the Minimal Effects Model

LM 7

T 4 Apr

Frankfurt School and the Critique of Popular Culture

Kracauer; Horkheimer and Adorno

Quiz 12

R 6 Apr

Frankfurt School and the Critique of Popular Culture

Synthesis Paper Sample Paragraph (due 12 PM Noon)

Symbols, Texts, and Meaning

T 11 Apr

Democratizing Influence of Mass Culture


Quiz 13

R 13 Apr

Democratizing Influence of Mass Culture

LM 8

T 18 Apr

Symbols and Meaning-Making

Lull Chs 7-8

Quiz 14

R 20 Apr

Reading Day – No Class

Synthesis Paper Theories Inventory (due 1:30 PM) – no written feedback from instructor

Culture and Globalization

T 25 Apr

Global Culture

Lull Chs 9-10

Quiz 15

R 27 Apr


Synthesis Paper Final Draft

All Retakes and Resubmits

T 2 May

Scheduled Final Exam 1-3 PM