Media and Democracy

COM 245

Media and Democracy is a 200-level, undergraduate course with an average class size of 20-25 students. The course is primarily discussion based, is held for four hours per week, and emphasizes project-based assignments.

Course Description

The current political climate has heightened attention toward the role of information in society. From news sources to social media, media offer the most prevalent and immediate opportunities for citizens to access information to make political decisions on local and national issues. This class explores ways media ownership concentration and contested truth influence content and access to information. The final project develops media literacy curricula for children to help them navigate the changing nature of information in society.

The content of Media & Democracy promotes civic learning and democratic engagement through examining the role of information in a democracy and developing resources for children. Content is divided into four modules.

  1. The role of information in a democracy covers basic tenets and historical developments of different types of democracy, democratic theory, and ways information formats shape content, quality, and rigor.
  2. Evaluating information teaches students how to critically analyze information they encounter. Topics for this module include evaluating information for relevancy and reliability using different information criteria, media effects theories like framing, priming, and agenda setting, and case studies using the Checkology virtual classroom (created by The News Literacy Project) and stories like RadioLab’s study of reality and media manipulation.
  3. Capitalism’s role in democracy includes media regulation, media conglomeration, the impact of new information technologies on democracy, alternative news sites, and the economic value of information.
  4. To prepare for the Learning Resources Assignment, students learn about critical information literacy, how children process information, Minnesota State Standards, P21 Framework for 21st Century Learning, and the “Backward Design” curriculum writing strategy.

Student Learning Outcomes:

  • Cognitive Practice: Students thoughtfully analyze enduring and contemporary questions about the role of information in a democracy from multiple perspectives, independently develop original and creative solutions to complex problems related to information and democracy, and support their reasoning while considering other possibilities.
  • Intellectual Capacities: Students demonstrate the ability to understand and communicate effectively across a variety of modes, including written, oral, visual, creative, and quantitative.
  • Integration of Learning: Students synthesize and apply their broad and specialized knowledge, skills, and ways of knowing about the role of information in democracy in varied contexts.
  • Ethical Reflection: Students critically contemplate the conflicting value choices of the ethically complex world in which we live, articulate their own values, and reflect on how these values shape their ethical decisions.
  • Intercultural Understanding: Students thoughtfully consider different beliefs, customs, practices, and social behaviors as they develop strategies for respectful and constructive engagement with others in order to come to a broad sense of being in the world, especially as it relates to the role of information in a democracy.

Assignments

  • Visual Representation of Concepts
    • Students synthesize information from the first module of the course to create a visual representation of the role of information in a democracy. They choose a perspective and write for a specific audience to produce the visual manifestation. For example, as content creator for a prominent social media site, a student would act as if their boss has given them the task of creating an infographic that explains the role of information in a democracy.
  • Evaluating Information
    • For this assignment, students act as elected officials charged with educating community members of their towns/cities on elements important for critically evaluating information (e.g. making sure they can find credentials of the author). Students design apps that guide citizens through questions to ask when evaluating information.
  • Media/Democracy Paradox
    • This assignment sets students up with the following scenario: “The year is 2025. A chance encounter with Robert McChesney on an international flight and some amazing follow-up conversations afterward landed you in a very important position with Free Press. As part of your job, you are invited to a dinner to help facilitate a conversation among three individuals and yourself. One attendee is an avid consumer of broadcast network news (choose one: ABC, NBC, CBS, or FOX). Another attendee is a person who works for the parent company of that broadcast network news corporation (The Walt Disney Company, NBC Universal, CBS Corporation, or 21st Century Fox, respectively). The third attendee is a person who works for the FCC. The topic of conversation is the media/democracy paradox.”
  • Learning Resources for K-12 children
    • The purpose of this assignment is for students to use the process of Backward Design to create media education learning activities for children in grades K-5 or 6-12. The topic of the lessons are issues relevant to media and democracy for that age group. The lessons are focused on helping students become information literate individuals and are posted on a website for teachers to access.

Assessment

Assessment for Media & Democracy is twofold: direct and indirect measures of learning and assessing information literacy. Direct measures of learning are infused throughout the course in in-class exercises as well as for each assignment. Indirect measures are in the form of course evaluations and student surveys at mid-term and the final week of the course. Information literacy is assessed using two instruments: the Association of American Colleges and Universities Information Literacy VALUE Rubric, which measures, “The ability to know when there is a need for information, to be able to identify, locate, evaluate, and effectively and responsibly use and share that information for the problem at hand.” The second instrument is the Standardized Assessment of Information Literacy Skills (SAILS) from Kent University, which is based on the ACRL Information Literacy Competency Standards for Higher Education and objectives for Information Literacy Instruction.

Additional Documentation

View the course syllabus here.

View an example Media Literacy Lesson Plan here.