COM 559-01 Current Trends in Mass Communication Research (23375)
Steven Alan Carr, Ph.D.
Course Syllabus
Spring 2006

revised 25 January 2006; revisions marked in yellow

Course Content and Goals

Building upon the COM 250/251 and COM 330 sequence, which focus on media industries, the texts they produce, the audiences who read these texts, and the theories that attempt to explain these processes; this course conducts a survey of current trends in research and scholarship that Lynn Spigel has deemed “a history of scholarly reading protocols, theoretical assumptions, debates… [and] ‘ideas’” that comprise “television studies.”  No one approach or theoretical consensus has come to define the recent academic focus of television studies.  Rather, this course surveys selected and key attempts to understand television from the perspectives of its early history; of its institutional and corporate context; of its varied texts; its audience – or audiences?; and, of course, of its cultural significance.  Our goal, in this as in other classes I teach, is to think critically about these different approaches taken in television studies in the terms and explanations that scholars and critics have offered, synthesize them, and in the process develop some new explanations of our own.

Prerequisites and Intended Audience

This is a Dual Level, Undergraduate-Graduate Course.  It is assumed that both graduate and undergraduate students have taken or are currently enrolled in COM 250 Mass Communication and Society, COM 251 Introduction to Electronic Mass Media, and COM 330 Theories of Mass Communication. The intended audience consists of graduate students in the Professional Masters, and 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 approximately 100 pages per week (this is a graduate-level class). Consequently, one of your primary responsibilities will be to prepare for each week's reading by completing assigned readings before Wednesday’s class meeting.  That preparation will consist of completing all readings as well as developing all class activity and discussion on the basis of these readings prior to coming to class.  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 ten (10) learning modules worth 100 possible points each, due on the assigned date before 9 PM.  Twice during the semester, you will present your module in class, beginning at approximately 6:30 PM on the assigned date, worth 250 possible points.  You will critique two (2) of the modules from another group for 250 possible points per critique.  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.


Eleven (11) times throughout the semester, in-class teams will author, test, and evaluate a collaborative learning module (LM).  The ten (10) highest scoring learning modules will count toward your final grade.  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, involve the entire class, and be conducted in the regular classroom.  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 ideas and materials before class.  The instructor will make WebCT resources available, including an online discussion forum for each team.  Regardless of whether a presentation has been given, all teams will submit their learning modules for a possible 100 points within 24 hours after 9 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.


During the semester, your team will present two (2) of the learning modules (LMP) to the entire class at approximately 6:30 PM on the assigned date, worth an additional 200 possible points each.  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.  Following an in-class break of approximately 10-15 minutes, the instructor will solicit additional teams to demonstrate their modules, time permitting.  There will be only ten opportunities throughout the semester, so volunteer early.  You cannot redo this presentation, and you will not receive written feedback unless specifically requested immediately after the presentation. However, in subsequent weeks, teams are encouraged to present their work more than two times provided all in attendance have had a chance to present twice.  Although only two presentations will be graded, teams have the option of doing more than two presentations and have only the highest grade count.  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 approaches covered during the semester, and show how your synthesis could be applied to some aspect of television institutions/industry, audience, and texts.  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; five to eight (5-8) 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:

Ten (10) Learning Modules @ 100 pts ea

1000 points (25%)

Within 24 hours of 9 PM, as marked

Two (2) Learning Module In-Class Demos @ 200 pts ea

400 points (10%)

In class at approx 6:30 PM, as marked

One (1) Learning Module Critique

100 points (2.5%)

Within 24 hours of LM posting

Midterm Exam

500 points (12.5%)

1 Mar

Argument-Driven Synthesis Paper

500 points (12.5%)

1 Feb; 15 Mar; 12 Apr; 26 Apr

Final Exam

500 points (12.5%)

3 May 6:15-8:15 PM


1000 points (25%)



4000 points (100%)




(Above Average)


(Below Average, But Passable)






0 - 2399


Tentative Course Schedule and Readings

(revised 25 January 2006)





What Is Television Studies and Why Study TV?

11 Jan

Course Introduction / The Political Economy of Commercial Television


F 13 Jan

Last Day to Complete Online Student Agreement

18 Jan

Approaches and Paradigms

Allen intro; Allen FAQ; Newcomb intro; Newcomb and Hirsch


25 Jan

Television: The Rise of an Industrial Art Form

Barnouw; Ellis


Approaches to the Television Text

1 Feb

Semiotics and Structuralism

Seiter (ch1); Barker; Williams; Himmelstein


Synthesis Paper Proposal and Abstract (due 6 PM)

U 5 Feb

Last Day to Withdraw with partial refund

8 Feb

Narrative Theory

Kozloff (ch2); Thorburn; Feuer


15 Feb

Television Genres

Feuer (ch4); Feuer et al.; Mittel


Approaches to Television Audiences

22 Feb

Audience-Oriented Criticism

Allen (ch3); Morley; Jenkins, Seiter, Ang


1 Mar


8 Mar


Critical/Cultural Approaches

15 Mar


White (ch5); Gitlin


Synthesis Paper Sample Paragraph (due 6 PM)

F 17 Mar

Last Day to Withdraw (no refund)

22 Mar


Flitterman-Lewis (ch6); Mulvey


29 Mar

Feminist Theory and Criticism

Kaplan (ch7); Lewis; Meehan and Byars; D’Acci


5 Apr

British Cultural Studies

Fiske (ch8); Hall


Television and Postmodernism

12 Apr

Reading Day – No Class

Synthesis Paper Theories Inventory (Due 9 PM)

Last Day to Submit Work for Instructor Feedback

19 Apr

Reading Day – No Class

Watch 3-hour block of TV programming

26 Apr


Collins (ch9); Poster; Baudrillard; Fiske

LM 11

Synthesis Paper Final Draft

All Retakes and Resubmits

3 May

Scheduled Final Exam 6:15-8:15 PM