communication theory/practice

mwf – 12-12:50
comm studies lab • merion hall 150

Mike Lyons • office:  Merion Hall 116
office hours: monday, 1-2 • wednesday 1-2 in Merion Hall 150 (our classroom)• or by appointment
twitter: @jmikelyons

about the course

The point of this course is to engage digital media as a producer, consumer and critical thinker. In what ways does digital media reflect us? How does it change the way we do things we have always done – play, work, read, share, love? The course will engage specific media forms – video, audio, text – and try to get how they work within platforms like You Tube, Blogs, etc. Through a series of hands-on projects students learn to research and analyze contemporary issues and trends in the field of communication, with an emphasis on emerging communication technologies.

Importantly, this is a learning community and I am a member like you. I have placed myself within this community as a guide. You, as members of this community, will do much of the teaching by leading seminars and presenting your work to others.


To learn how to use digital media creatively and effectively.
To learn how to use digital media collectively and collaboratively.
To learn how to learn new digital media tools quickly and independently.
To develop a critical understanding of the way digital tools work and how they came to work the way they do.

books, etc.

Two books are required:

Cognitive Surplus, Clay Shirky
Googled, Ken Auletta

Both of these books are available in the bookstore, but I have left time in the beginning of the semester so that you can order them online if you like (where they are likely cheaper). You will also need a sizeable storage device. A large-capacity thumb drive will work for much of what we produce. But you will need a sizeable memory device such as an external hard drive. You can get a 500 Gb drive from somewhere like Best Buy for well under $100.


Those of us who teach courses in the communications program view these classes as a connected community of learners. If you take more than one communications course you will likely see familiar faces. The courses are connected in there use of technology as well, but we have a finite number of cameras and audio recorders. So it is critical that you borrow equipment only when you need it and return it promptly after you are done using it. It is very likely that someone else will be waiting for it. In some classes, including this one, your participation grade will suffer if you hoard equipment (that is, you don’t return it on time). Your bank account will suffer too.


Four large assignments and a number of smaller ones comprise your grade for the course.

Blog creation and maintenance – at least one blog post per week (one is assessed). Half of your grade for this will be an individual grade for each blog post. The other half will be assessed at the end of the semester when you “hand” your blog in.  So basically if you have kept up with the posts (both in quality and quantity) and put some thought into your blog you will do fine. If you just occasionally pay it some mind you won’t.

Wikipedia Project – This is a multi-week group project. Take a Wikipedia article in Philadelphia and improve it and apply for feature article status. I will provide a list of articles. What you added to the article; Interactions with other editors on the article outside your group; Approaches that were successful; etc. You will also do a formal presentation of your article at the beginning of the project and at the end.

Mash-up – An audio/video mash-up that you will create and present to the class.

Meme – You will create a video using Xtranormal that plays on a meme (which we will talk about in class)

Your grade will also be based on participation, which includes presentations and leading seminar discussions. The presentations will be of your own work and the presentation of your Wikipedia group project. Seminar discussion will require you to prepare to lead the class in a discussion of a topic.

Participation includes:

• Leading (with two others) a seminar discussion twice during the semester.

• Presentations – Of your blog, your “web behavior animal,” and your bigger assignments.

• Attendance – If you aren’t here, this won’t work.

• Returning equipment on time

How it adds up:

Assignments – 50 percent, broken down as follows:

Blog creation and maintenance – (portfolio grade) – 40 points

Wikipedia Project – 40 points

Meme assignment – 10 points
Mash-up – 10 points

Participation – 50 percent, broken down as follows:

Leading seminar discussion – 20 points

Presentations – 40 points

Attendance – 30 points

Equipment niceness – 10 points

Assignments – 100
Participation – 100

Total points – 200

A breakdown for each assignment will be distributed throughout the semester.


Get stuff in on time and come to class. It’s as simple as that. Each 24-hour period, including weekends, something is late will cost you a letter grade. Extensions can be provided for documented illnesses or family emergencies. You need to notify me in advance to get an extension on a story. These will only be granted for emergency situations. Exams or assignments in other classes don’t count as emergencies. Good deals on plane tickets that take you out of town early for fall break don’t count either. Sorry.

on cell phones and civility and being a knucklehead

Please put your phones on vibrate when come in and forget about texting until class is over.
Also, we will talk about many controversial things this semester that many of you will have strong feelings about. Please respect the opinions of others as you would like to have them respect yours. Lastly, the success of this course depends on the constructive criticism of your classmates’ work so basically don’t be a knucklehead.

students with special needs

Students with Disabilities:  For those who have or think that you may have a disability  (learning, physical or psychological), are encouraged to contact Services for Students with Disabilities, Room 113, Science Center, 610-660-1774 or 610-660-1620 as early as possible in the semester. Accommodations can only be provided to student with current (within three years) documentation.

Students are encouraged to discuss their instructional (“reasonable academic adjustments”) and accommodation needs with me.

All student requests for extended time to take examinations in a distraction free environment, must be discussed with the professor a minimum of one week prior to the scheduled date of the exam; the student must complete the Extended-Time Request Form and obtain the professor’s approval; and submit the form to the office – Services for Students with Disabilities a minimum of 3 days prior to the date of the scheduled exam.  Failure to follow these procedures could result in a denial of the request.

Exceptions to assignment schedules require prior written approval of the professor.

The syllabus and course schedule are subject to change – you will be notified in advance of any modification.

academic dishonesty

Journalism depends fully upon honesty and a commitment to the truth. I am assuming none of you will take any unethical shortcuts in your work. In case you are unsure about what constitutes academic misconduct, here are some rough guidelines:

• All work must be your own.
• You must accurately quote and represent all sources in your stories.
• Making up quotes, presenting material as your own interview quotes when you have simply lifted it from a Web site, inventing sources are examples of serious academic dishonesty.

For more information on academic dishonesty consult the university’s policy here:

Penalties for academic honesty could include failure of the course or worse.


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