COM 200 • Fall ’16

“Our visions of technology and design and entertainment and creativity have to be married with visions of humanity, compassion and justice.”    – Bryan Stevenson

COM 200 – Communication Theory and Practice

Mike Lyons, Ph.D.
Office: Bronstein Hall
Office hours: MW – 1-2; Th – 1-3; and by appointment.


This introduction to communication and digital media studies focuses on various ways people employ language, image, and more cinematic means for communicative purposes. Through a series of hands-on projects students learn to research and analyze contemporary issues and trends in the field of communications, with an emphasis on digital media. In doing so, students examine how communication technologies are impacting the relationship between media audiences, producers, and content.

We will focuses on three key areas:

• Digital media production

Production is an important part of the COM major. You will often be required to make things – writing and using video, audio, photographs etc. So we’ll get started in this class. You will write blog posts that will require some mastery of WordPress and produce short audio and video pieces.

• The history of mediated communication

We will spend the first weeks thinking about the antecedents of digital media and the internet, which will help us think, design and make for the present and maybe the future. Like Winston Churchill said, “The farther you can look back, the farther forward you are likely to see.” We will read Tom Standage’s book Writing on the Wall: Social Media, the First 2,000 Years.

• Online Communities

Mediated communication – from smoke signals to the printing press to the iPhone – have always helped us to form communities. But what, if anything, is different about communities that are formed through digital media? If we can figure out the basics of online communities – the “sociotechnological” relationships people form online – we will be better able to produce work and communicate in meaningful ways. The project for this unit will require you to participate in and systematically analyze an online community.

Course Objectives

By the end of the course, students should:

• Be conversant in the history of mediated communication, which informs our use of digital media.

• Through analyzing texts and practicing writing, improve analytical, critical and creative writing skills

• Be comfortable researching, analyzing and participating in online communities using the concepts and vocabulary found in various theoretical frameworks.

• Gain experience with a range of tools for producing digital media.

Required Book/Storage/Hosting

There is just one book to buy for this course:

• Tom Standage, Writing on the Wall: Social Media, the First 2,000 Years (referred to as “Standage” in the schedule)
• A minimum 16G SD card
• A minimum 16G USB drive
Reclaim Hosting for your website ($25 per year)

Preparing for Class

Class discussion is critical to the success and enjoyment of the class. Make sure you do the reading/watching/listening(s) before class and be ready to participate. Blog posts (see below) will help you think through the readings I will also occasionally give impromptu quizzes on the readings. You won’t know when, so be ready.


• Website/portfolio creation, design and maintenance

You will install a website on your own url using Reclaim hosting and WordPress. This website will serve as a portfolio of your work during your time at Saint Joseph’s and will be an important part of your resumé after you graduate. You will use it in this class as well for regular blog posts. Your website is an ongoing project that should be improved and tweaked throughout the semester.

Your site will be assessed partly on the improvements you make on it throughout the semester. Getting set up is not nearly enough. It needs to be good. Really good. We will have periodic check-ins throughout the semester to keep track of your progress.

• Audio/image/video production

We will explore audio and video production at a basic level to give everyone a little taste of things to come in their major or minor. You will produce one audio piece and one video piece – genre, style and content are negotiable – and post them on your website.

• Blog posts

You will create several blog posts that synthesize what we have read/watched/listened to/discussed that week. Writing for an online audience is much different than the kind of writing you have most likely done up until now. It requires you to take complicated topics and make them accessible and engaging.

Written posts should be 400-500 words in length and should include at least one meaningful image and one other digital feature – video, graphic, audio (with attribution). On a few occasions I will also ask you to do audio and/or video posts.

• Online community participation/analysis project

A thorough, systematic and theoretically informed analysis of an online community that aims to provide a nuanced understanding how and why it works the way that it does and details your participation in it. This will include a 5-minute presentation of how you would make your chosen community better.

Students with Special Needs

Reasonable academic accommodations may be provided to students who submit appropriate documentation of their disability.  Students are encouraged to contact Dr. Christine Mecke in the Office of Student Disability Services, Bellarmine, B-10, at; or at 610.660.1774 (voice), or 610.660.1620 (TTY), for assistance with this issue.  The university also provides an appeal/grievance procedure regarding requested or offered reasonable accommodations through Dr. Mecke’s office.  More information:


I take attendance. You get three unexcused absences – a week. After that, each absence will result in a half-letter-grade reduction. More than six unexcused absences will result in a failing grade.


Website creation and maintenance – 25 percent
Audio/Video production – 25 percent
Blog Posts/quizzes – 25 percent
Community analysis and presentation – 25 percent


The COM Studies department has most of the equipment what you will need to complete course assignments. Everyone in the department, including faculty, use the gear for their work, so it’s important that we all treat it kindly and return it on time.

Where is the gear?

The department equipment room is located on the second floor of Bronstein Hall. It is opened during limited hours during the semester, so be sure to plan ahead. A list of equipment will be available at hours.JPG


Equipment is available on a first-come, first-served basis. Equipment can be checked out for blocks of time. If you check something out on Mon.-Wednesday, it’s due on Thursday. If you check something out on Thursday, it’s due Monday. Check-outs are renewable if no one is waiting for it.

Loss and damage

You are responsible for the item that you check out. If you lose it or damage it, you are responsible for repairs or replacement.

Overdue gear

Overdue equipment will result in the suspension of borrowing privileges and could result in a hold placed on the borrower’s university account.


Please recharge the batteries before returning the item and make sure you remove your SD card (SD cards are not provided by the department).


This schedule is a living document, subject to shifts and tweaks as we see fit. But you will be kept apprise of the shifts and tweaks before they occur. The number next to the reading will be the number you will use on your reading notes.

Week of Aug. 29 – Getting a digital footprint started

M – Course introduction
W – Domain and WordPress installation workshop. We will work on installing and building your website in class. – Bring laptop

• Register your domain and install wordpress.
More wordpress and Reclaim tutorials

Come to class with at least three examples of personal or portfolio websites that you like and that you can model your site on.

The front page of your website should serve as a “landing page.” Create a blog on your site separate from your front or landing page. Here are some free, pretty good quality WordPress themes.

F – Website design and management workshop – Bring laptop

Jerry Cao, The Five Pillars of Visual Hierarchy in Web Design
How to Create a Site Structure that Google Will Love
Five Key Guidelines for Visual Web Design

Create a blog on your site separate from your front or landing page. Likely it would be something like That’s where you will write your blog posts (not reading responses). This should help. Also create an “About” page.

Week of Sept. 5 – Writing, online

M – Labor Day, no class

WOn Writing Well, Ch. 1-7 On-writing-well

Blog Post (due by 8 a.m. today on your website):
Explain your website. Write about your design choices. How have you incorporated yourself into your site? Include at least one image and at least two links.

Your post should keep in mind the writing conventions of Zinsser. For example, think about what he means by, “Clutter is the disease of American writing.” Mind the clutter in your own writing.

“If you here require a practical rule of me, I will present you with this: ‘Whenever you feel an impulse to perpetrate a piece of exceptionally fine writing, obey it—whole-heartedly—and delete it before sending your manuscript to press. Murder your darlings.”

– Arthur Quiller-Couch

F – More on writing and a little audio.

Listen to:

Subjective Reporting

Blog post; Due this (Friday) morning at 8 a.m. Describe the interview with “Matthew.” What do you like about it? What would you change? Be mindful of the blog post rubric – mouse over “COM 200- Fall ’16” at the top of the site.

Week of Sept. 12 – Audio design and production

M – Introduction to audio

Writing narration – Read: How Sound: How Not to Write for Radio
“The Basics” –

Download and install Audacity to your computer. This is a free and open-source editing platform that works on both Macs and PCs.

We are in Bronstein Hall today. Please bring your SD card with you if you have one. You can probably get one at the bookstore.

Audio/image assignment

W – Gathering sound – Back in Merion Hall today

Here are some more “basics” to keep in mind as you start to gather sound.

Watch this series of short videos by Ira Glass (founder of This American Life, a show that changed the way we tell stories with audio). Here’s the first and the others are linked below:

Part 2
Part 3
Part 4

F – Audio editing – Bring laptop

Here are some sound samples to experiment. Download some to your desktop and drop them into Audacity and start messing around. Remember that you can play more than one track at once. Other sound samples are available to download here. Try to tell a story with these. Remember to “design” the sound – think about how you want the audience to feel when they listen.

You will be editing your audio using the free and open source platform Audacity. Here is the online users’ guide. We will spend time in class today editing in Audacity so be sure to have it downloaded to your computer before class.

Week of Sept. 19 – Image composition and editing

M – Introduction to images – In Bronstein

Watch: Henry Cartier Bresson: The Decisive Moment
What does Cartier-Bresson mean by “The Decisive Moment”?

Henri Cartier-Bresson, Place de l’Europe. Gare Saint Lazare. 1932.

Listen: Street Focus 94: Street Tips with Molly Porter

W – Image composition – Back in Merion Hall

Read: Five Basic Rules of Shot Composition

Photoshop practice photos

F – Image editing – Intro to Photoshop

Week of Sept. 26 –

M – In-class work on projects

W – Audio and image projects due

Blog posts:

1. Audio post. Load your audio piece onto SoundCloud and then embed it into a blog post that explains your production choices and reflects on what you think you did well and what you would improve.

2. Image posts. Create a post that includes each type of photograph (ie. a post for portraits, one for negative space, etc.). Include a caption for each that reflects on your lighting and composition choices.

In- class Presentations

F – Presentations

Week of Oct. 3 – Video production

M – Introduction to video

Casey Newton, “How one of the best films at Sundance was shot using an iPhone 5S”, The Verge

Video project assigned

W – Storyboarding

F – Video storyboard blog post due by end of class.

Blog post

Week of Oct. 10

M – Fall Break, no class

W – Short films screening/judging


Week of Oct. 17 – (R)Evolution

M – Standage, Introduction and Ch. 1 – No class today.

Blog post (due at 11 a.m. today): In ch. 1, Standage writes that social media results in a “shared social environment and a sense of membership in a distributed community.”

What does he mean by this? What is a “distributed community”? Provides examples and links in your post.

W – Standage  Ch. 2 and 3 (I put chapter 2 back in since we didn’t have class on Monday. Also, I think it’s an important chapter.

F –Standage Ch. 4 – No class today (at a conference), but you need to create a slide show blog post. Create a narrated slide show that explains the week’s readings (Chapters 1-4). It should be 2-2 1/2 minutes long with a minimum of 15 images.

How to make a slideshow in iMovie

How to make a slideshow in Movie Maker

Due: Friday, 5 p.m.

Week of Oct. 24

M – Standage Ch. 5, 6

W – Standage Ch. 7

This chapter is called “The Liberty of Printing.” So think about the role of media in the events of this period. In what ways are they similar to the role the media plays now? In what ways are they different?

F – Standage Ch. 9

Blog post: Timeline post. Using TimelineJS, take us through chapters 5-9. Due by 5 p.m.

Have a “thesis statement” spelled out in the first couple of frames of your timeline. Remember a timeline is a linear platform, so your argument or explanation needs to be linear. I suggest you think about how a particular concept related to communication or information changed over time. Maybe it was how technology changed communication for example. But it’s not enough to say “technology really changed communication.” That’s obvious. How did it change it.

Your timeline should have at least 12 slides and should be embedded in a post on your blog.

Week of Oct. 31

M – Standage Ch. 10-11

Quiz on chapters 10 and 11. Questions to think about:

Ch. 10

• Standage writes about three different radio industry models adopted by the American, Great Britain and German in the late 1920s and 1930s. How did these three models work? How were they funded? What was their purpose?

• Standage writes that “…broadcast media are ‘the opposite of’ social media.” What does he mean?

Ch. 11

• Standage argues that “social media” have been reborn with the Internet. What does he mean? What are some important aspects/norms/habits of “social media”?

• Standage describes a democratization of media in Ch. 11 and the . What does he mean? Provide 3 examples.

WNo class

Extra-credit opportunity: Attend listening event with Sam Broun in Foley Campus Center at 4 p.m.

F – Introduction to online communities

Howard Rheinghold, “The Heart of the Well,” from The Virtual Community: Homesteading on the Electronic Frontier. 

Rheinghold was one the first to write about online communities. In this chapter he is describing The Well in 1986. Does he seem naive? What do we know about online communities now that he missed or couldn’t have foreseen?

Identify an online community to participate in and analyze. This is for your final assignment, the description and analysis of an online community.

Week of Nov. 7 – Online communities

M – Jason Fry, “Seeking a ‘Third Place’ Online: Virtual Communities Can Unite People, But Can They Replace the Corner Bar?” 

Pew Charitable Trusts, “The Internet, Communities and the Virtual ‘Third Place'”

Both of these short articles give you an idea of how the conversation about online communities evolved through the early 2000s. Best old-timey Internet term of the week “Cyber Groupies.” Huh?

Blog Post (due by class time): Spend some time on My Pro Ana, an online community designed to support people maintain their eating disorder. In particular, consider the concepts below that we generated in class and write a few sentences about each based on your observations of the community.


The concepts are:

Shared interest (How does the community maintain its focus on shared interests?)
Norms (What are the behaviors that are accepted?)
Anonymity (Is anonymity encouraged? Why?)
Communication (How do people talk to one another? Mostly text? Chat? Images?)
Roles (Are their clear leaders? How do you know? What do they do?),
Barriers to entry (How hard is it get in? This is both logistically getting in – For example, do you gave to register? and also How hard is to be accepted as a member?)
Boundaries (This relates to the last one, who is allowed in and how is it policed?).

Check out this link to get an idea of how many people study this site.

W – No Class (I’m at a conference) – Online community participation and observation

F –Arrasvuori and Olsson, “A Model for Analyzing Online Communities” a-model-for-analyzing-online-communities (pdf)

Blog Post: Online community proposal due.

Week of Nov. 14 – Building and managing communities

M –  Read: Kraut and Resnick, Building Successful Online Communities: Evidence-based Social Design, Ch. 1 (Introduction) and Ch. 2 (“Encouraging Contribution to Online Communities”) (pdf) resnick-ch-1

• What do they mean by “sociotechnical design”? In what ways does design matter?

• What do they mean by “levers of change”? What are some examples?

W – Kraut and Resnick, Ch. 3 (Encouraging Commitment in Online Communities) (pdf) pp. 77-97 kraut-and-resnick-ch-3

What are the purpose of design claims?

Blog Post: Write 250 words about the word you were assigned in class on Monday  (governance or roles or norms/rules or newcomers) and one specific example on the Wikipedia page you looked at.

In class:

Investigate these design claims from Kraut and Resnick in your assigned community below:

  • Identity-based commitment makes people more compliant with norms than does bonds-based commitment (p. 81).
  • Recruiting or clustering those who are similar to each other into homogenous groups fosters identity-based commitment to a community (p. 82).
  • Making community fate, goals, or purpose explicit increases members’ identity-based commitment to the group (p. 85)
  • Making group members anonymous will foster identity-based commitment (p. 87)

In what ways are these design claims evident in the community from below that you have been assigned? Do they seem successful? Why?

2. Wiki Project Food and Drink
3. Wiki Project Dogs
4. Wiki Project U.S. Roads
5. Wiki Project Alternative music

F – Kraut and Resnick, Ch. 3 (Encouraging Commitment in Online Communities) (see pdf from Wednesday), pp. 97-115.

Week of Nov. 21

M – Anil Dash, “If your community is full of assholes, it’s your fault”

Blog post: Update 1.

Tell us about your progress in this blog post. Provide some preliminary findings. Given the concepts (on the assignment) that you are asked to look at, what have you discovered? What has surprised you?

Today in class we talked briefly about the concepts that you should investigate and explicate based on your community. They are laid out in the Prezi below.

After class Pilar asked basically “what if my community is not good at these things?” Great question. How would you improve it? What specific design elements would you change or add? Remember that design elements are not just technical elements, but also things like allowing anonymity or making stricter rules about etiquette.

Prezi from class on concepts.

W – Thanksgiving Break, no class

F – Thanksgiving Break, no class

Week of Nov. 28

M – In-class work on community project.

W – Small group presentation – Five-minute presentation to others at your table, followed by a few minutes of constructive feedback.

Blog Post: Update 2 due in class today

For this blog post “operationalize” one or two of the concepts from the assignment (governance, norms, etc.) and write about them. That will give you a jump start on the final post.

F – Presentation design

Have a look at this blog post by Garr Reynolds, who is kind of the guru of presentation design.

Week of Dec. 5

M –  Community project “ignite talks

An ignite talk is 5 minutes with 20 slides on auto-advance. This requires you to condense your information into coherent chunks. Your slides are there primarily for illustration, not information. No notes. This requires a lot of practice to do well.

Most importantly, tell us a story. That’s how we engage, learn and remember.


W –  Ignite talks

Today’s presenters:


F – Ignite talks

Today’s presenters:
Week of Dec. 12

MIgnite talks

Today’s presenters:

Lauren K.
Maria D.
Lauren J.

Final blog post

Final – Dec. 15, 10:30 a.m. – portfolio review, individual meetings.