Descriptions and times of courses I am teaching in the Autumn Term!

I just put the final touches on my courses for this year. I am pretty excited about what the year portends!

On Tuesdays and Fridays at 2:30pm, I will be teaching CMST 1a03: Intro to Communication. I absolutely love teaching this giant course. It is the first course that I ever taught at Mac, on the morning of September 11, 2001. What a start to a career. The way we teach communications at McMaster is a little different, with a strong focus on critical, cognitive and professional approaches. The students read a big selection of interpersonal and speech communication texts, as well as a lot of communication, linguistic and cultural theory. The assignments are a combination of professional writing, presentations and, this year, public speaking!

On Tuesday mornings, 11:30-2:30, I will be teaching CMST 4N03: News Analysis, Theory & Practice. This course is designed to highlight agenda setting, framing and cultivation theory. It is also meant to pull the veil back from how news is a produced and viewed. We spend a lot of time thinking about what the move to the Internet and social media means for the news. I also schedule a good number of visiting lectures from the worlds of journalism, public relations and political communication during this class. The students do a major empirical content analysis, working in groups.

On Friday evenings, 4:30-7:30, I will be leading a graduate seminar, CSMM 704: Media, Public Relations & Reality. This course will examine the concept of reality from a variety of perspectives: social, linguistics and cognitive. It is a very challenging course that takes students on a tour of the philosophy of reality, cognition and some public relations theory. Here’s what the syllabus looks like (remember, we are reading excerpts from the philosophical works!). I am very excited about this course, since it really is a “high theory” course – a change from the courses in communications management, measurement and analysis (which I love teaching too!).

CSMM 704: Syllabus

Week 1: What is knowledge? How does it support life?

  • Aristotle, Montaigne, Nietzsche

Week 2: Does knowledge define reality? How about perspectivalism?

  • Berkeley, Nozick, Descartes, Plato (Allegory of the Cave)
  • Fiction: Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?

Week 3: What is reality for communications? The gnostic heresy.

  • Vogelin

Week 4: Causality?

  • Hume, Laplace

Week 5: How do language, mind & society impact reality?

  • Searle, Sperber, Eco, Quine,

Week 6: What is linguistic discourse? Does language shape reality?

  • Lakoff, Pinker, Fairclough

Week 7: What is social discourse? Is reality a social construction?

  • Foucault, Rosen, Wittgenstein

Week 8: What is the mind? Who are you? Is there a self?

  • Dennett, Freud, Aristotle (De Anima)
  • Media: The Century of the Self

Week 9: Media as simulacrum of life?

  • Minsky, Kurzweil, Hofstadter, Baudrillard

Week 10: What is reality from the perspective of public relations theory?

  • Bernays, Lipmann, Ellul, Chomsky
  • Media: Necessary Illusions
  • Fiction: The Man in the High Castle

Week 11: Do our senses and our emotions shape reality?

  • McLuhan, Damasio, Minsky (emotions), Turing
  • Media: The Persuaders, The Merchants of Cool

Week 12: Borges’ story of the map & Jean Vanier’s alternative view.

  • Borges, Vanier
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QPMAP – Question Period Monitoring and Analysis Project Launched at CCA in Montréal!

Today, my colleague Philip Savage and I presented the first, very preliminary results from our QPMAP: Question Period Monitoring and Analysis Project in front of a great crowd of  24 engaged colleagues from across Canada at the  Canadian Communication Association’s (CCA) annual conference at Concordia University in Montréal. The CCA was part of the Congress of the Humanities and Social Sciences – an annual Canadian mega-conference which gathers approximately 8,000 academics in 70 national scholarly associations.

We were part of an excellent panel that included:

  • James Cairn (Laurier University, Brantford) & Susan Ferguson
  • Janis Goldie (Huntington University [formerly a college of Laurentian University])
  • Alex Sévigny & Philip Savage (McMaster University)

Philip and I presented the first round of analyses of very preliminary data from the QPMAP survey, which codes Question Period episodes to establish a baseline of the content, tone and civility of the communication that happens during this most public and crucial moment in the Canadian democratic process. Much of Canada’s democratic process happens behind closed doors in cabinet and caucus meetings who minutes are never published. Question Period is an exception to this – a chance for Members of Parliament to ask questions seeking information of the government.

Our data are still very preliminary and not ready for citation. They will be very soon, though – certainly by the end of the summer.

There was an involved discussion after our presentation and we received many excellent suggestions about how to improve both our methodology and our analyses. We welcome this feedback and will use it to improve future iterations of QPMAP.

One of the most encouraging aspects of the presentation was the audience’s reaction to our new COMM-Lab: Communication Metrics Laboratory. Everyone was really impressed at the inclusive nature of the research model that we have built – one that includes undergraduates as key partners in the research process from the ground floor in new projects.

Both Philip and I have the students’ interests as our first priority, so it was good to see this emphasis rewarded by praise from our CCA colleagues.

Launched new publication: Journal of Professional Communication !

I thought that this warranted its own entry!

Today, I launched the Journal of Professional Communication at the Public Relations Leadership Summit.

The JPC will be a forum where academics, PR practitioners, marketers, political communicators, and multimedia artists and designers can exchange ideas, publish case studies and discuss the actual state of and future of the field of public relations.

I can’t wait to start building the editorial board for this journal. We will aim for gender equality and wide representation from all of our stakeholder groups.

Join me in making JPC a success by supporting it financially and submitting papers when we first issue our call for papers!

This is the website where you can check JPC out:

http://digitalcommons.mcmaster.ca/jpc

COMM-Lab: Communication Metrics Laboratory is LAUNCHED!

Today, we launched the COMM-Lab: Communication Metrics Laboratory, of which I am the founder and co-director with my colleague, Dr. Philip Savage.

COMM-Lab was created because of a dearth of empirical and evidence-based research on communication studies in Canada. Many scholars, practitioners and MPs have told Philip and me that more data is needed to support decisions made around communications in Canada. You can read Philip’s paper by clicking here.

I am very excited about the COMM-Lab. It will be a place for media and communication research from qualitative and quantitative perspectives. Our first focus will be on content and text analysis, capitalizing Philip’s and my shared strengths in research methodology. Philip also brings a strong background and experience in media policy and law, as well as professional and academic audience research, which will enrich the COMM-Lab immensely.

Another very big part of the lab is going to be making sure that it integrates professional academic research into the learning environment of the classes that Philip and I teach at McMaster, both in the undergrad and graduate programs.

Our first project will be on the QPMAP: Question Period Monitoring and Analysis Project. This project using content, textual and discourse analysis techniques to study the interactions between Members of Parliament during Question Period. We hope to establish a rigorous methodology for coding the linguistic-pragmatic, non-verbal, and issues-based content of the MP’s interactions.

Our second project, running concurrently, under the direction of Dr. Dong Sun, a postdoctoral fellow who has joined me from Nanjing University of Finance and Economics, deals with a comparison of coverage of various issues in Chinese and North American newspapers.

I can’t wait to start seeing results from these studies. Both are extremely promising and topical.

I also solicit the interest of any students who wish to come and become members of COMM-Lab by doing their MA in Communication and New Media, under my supervision, or by doing an undergraduate honours thesis under either my direction or that of Dr. Philip Savage. A third way you can join the COMM-Lab team is by applying for a job in the lab (yes, we do have a tiny amount of money to pay employees), by doing a CMST 3B03 communications internship, or simply by volunteering.

Any way that you would like to contribute to COMM-Lab, know that you are welcome.

If you are a potential donor or private or not-for-profit sector partner, and you would like to support our research n COMM-Lab with a financial or an in-kind donation, or if you want to sponsor a content analysis, public opinion or audience research project, don’t hesitate to contact me.

Our founding private sector partner and donor is Dr. Andrew Laing, President, Cormex Research – Canada’s leading media research and content analysis firm. Cormex brings a wealth of methodological and technical support that will enrich COMM-Lab enormously. It will also provide our student researchers exposure to private sector research. A very valuable thing for them, indeed.

Please visit our COMM-Lab website by clicking here.

We have also started a Facebook group for the COMM-Lab, which you can join by clicking here.

Guest lecture from Andrew Laing of Cormex Research at McMaster

My 4th-year News Analysis class had a special treat today. We had a guest lecturer – Dr Andrew Laing, president of Cormex Research.

Cormex Research is Canada’s leading media content measurement and analysis firm. Here’s an example of the sort of work Cormex does.

Andrew is a unique and admirable person. He took time out of running his company to go back to school to complete his PhD (thesis advisor, Dr. Fred Fletcher) in the Communication and Culture Graduate Program at York University in Toronto. His thesis is on developing a new research methodology – the “media-centric model” – for studying agenda setting effects. He defended his thesis three weeks ago – congratulations, Andrew!

Today, he described for the class how his company conducts content analysis research – what the process is, the types of people he employs and the types of clients that he works with. He also described two case studies that his company has developed – one about genetically-modified foods, and another about satire in the Canadian media. After his presentations and a 10-minute break, Andrew workshopped with each project group in the class. The students really benefited from his advice and mentorship.

One more thing – we had an excellent student presentation on the article “Agenda Setting and the ‘New’ News” by Althaus and Tewksbury. A classic article describing a set of content analysis and audience research experiments comparing agenda setting effects in on-line and paper versions of the newspaper. The findings are interesting: the regular paper news readers showed an agenda setting effect and the readers of the electronic newspaper didn’t. The student presenters did a great job – congrats to Michelle Woodruff, Laura Braun and Darryl Spong.

Afterward, Andrew and I went for a late lunch at Maccheroni Cucina Al Fresco in Westdale, near McMaster.

An excellent day.

Variables, Sampling and Content Analysis

I had a seminar class today with my Communication Studies 4N03: News Analysis class. It was great. We focused on units of sampling, variable selection and defining the population. I really enjoy teaching this class, because it is problem- and project-based. The class is divided into 7 groups, each of whom is taking on a specific news analysis challenge. Some are looking at digg.com, some are examining the tonality of Olympic coverage in leading Canadian and American newspapers, others are examining colour schemes on popular news websites, others are looking into equally fascinating research challenges. All of the projects are fascinating and should yield relevant results. I spent most of the class making the distinction between three often confusing elements of a content analysis research design: the units of sampling, data collection and analysis. Then we talked about different sampling techniques. Unitization and sampling are often the pitfalls in content analysis research design and have to be very well thought-through. We went around the class and worked out the units for each study. I left the three-hour class confident that they got it.