Friday, May 16, 2014

Syllabi Comparison -- Media and Minorities

Given my interest in teaching and research on race and ethnicity, I decided to compare syllabi for courses that are related to the study of media and minorities. Although I found a number of courses on the topic, I narrowed it down to three. They are all upper level undergraduate courses at different U.S. universities, including the University of Wisconsin-Madison (UW-Madison), University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC), and University of South Carolina (USC). Links to the syllabi are below:

1) J662: Mass Media and Minorities (UW-Madison), Spring 2014 (Please contact for copy of syllabus.)

(3) Communication 429: Minorities, Women and the Media (USC), Spring 2011

Learning Objectives
Each course asked students to engage with stereotypes in the media so they could critically read mass media representations of minorities, including women. They all emphasized the role the media plays in perpetuating stereotypes and their potential effects.

However, Comm 429 at UIUC did not explicitly spell out learning objectives. The course was designed to provide an overview of the topic, whereas J662 at UW-Madison and Journ 311 at USC seemed to be geared toward gaining historical context and allowing people to develop the skills to critically analyze media based on communication theories and/or theories related to race and ethnicity.

Reviewing these syllabi confirmed the importance of setting out explicit learning goals at the beginning of the course so that students can make connections to what they are reading/discussing, and the knowledge they are amassing through this process.

Course Topics
Although all of the courses are grounded in some sort of theory, the courses differed on how they conceptualized learning about mass media and minorities. For instance, J662 and Journ 311 took the trajectory of first establishing a theoretical foundation, then focusing on special topics (e.g. specific minority groups and the media). On the other hand, Comm 429 was more focused on the current social science literature on media content and media effects in relation to minorities. Therefore, there was less of a focus on theory in that particular course and more emphasis on topic-based knowledge.

However, the theory-based approach also had its differences: J662 was mainly concerned with the theoretical basis and concepts related to “race” and “ethnicity,” whereas Journ 311 focused on communication theories (e.g. cultivation theory, agenda setting). J662 did the most to delve into the actual conceptualization of race and difference, and why that matters to the study of race in media. It provided a framework for understanding media in context by drawing attention to the U.S. as a multicultural society.

Course Readings
The readings reflected the emphasis of each course. Each syllabus had a fair share of popular media readings, but also included a variety of journal articles, chapters from books, etc. Not many of the readings overlapped, which is probably reflective of the different approaches each course took in tackling the topic. Comm 429 focused on empirical research, mainly journal articles that studied the content and effects of minority representations. Journ 311’s reading list was mainly made up of popular media that supplemented the two required books. The J662 reading list seemed to be the most extensive, in terms of combining excerpts from books with some popular media readings. The readings seemed to generally reflect the goals each syllabus outlined for the class.

Course Assignments
All of the courses compared here used a combination of exams, papers, and/or projects to assess student learning. The assignments required students to critically engage with the material and often matched up with their learning objectives. For example, the papers in Journ 311 asked students to explicitly use mass communication theories. In J662, the writing assignments asked students to engage critically with the concepts and theorizations of race (e.g. white privilege, color-blind racism). Comm 429’s main writing assignment asks students to critique a stereotyped media portrayal and consider its effects. Therefore, each of the courses uses the assignments to bolster the goals they have set forth for the course.

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