Course Introduction – Media and Power in Canadian Society (CMNS 202)

Are you curious about the role of mass media in Canada? Interested in how the mass media impacts Canadian life? Wondering about profit and loss in the media industry? Athabasca University has effectively answered these questions and more in its new Communication Studies course, Media and Power in Canadian Society (CMNS 202).

Cross-listed in the AU calendar as POLI 291, CMNS 202 enables students to have the opportunity to examine the role media plays in society, but ?within a specifically Canadian context,? commented course author Dr. Karen Wall.

Dr. Wall continued that CMNS 202 ?reflects the structure of most comparable undergraduate programs that examine themes of technology and society, and particularly how the mass media in particular work within pluralist, democratic societies to advance certain political and economic agendas.?

CMNS 202 contains 12 units, and is divided into four parts. Dr. Wall indicated that, from her experience, we are ?used to a ?mass media environment? and rarely step back to think about the role of the media in everyday life beyond simply ?what’s on tonight?.?

In response to this, CMNS 202 attempts to encourage students to consider other media-related details, including ?who exactly gets to decide what we consume, who we talk to, who is listening and who profits from all of that.?
Through the course, students examine the effects of the media on our ?cultural and political history.?

Additionally, students are taught to determine how ?politicians and businesspeople have used the media to further certain agendas and suppress others.? Dr. Wall commented that ?we’ve seen protesters on the news with banners and read blogs and indymedia reviews on the Internet; these are aspects of the mass media shaping Canadian life and linking us to the rest of the world.?

Dr. Wall encourages thoughtful questions for students: ?How can the media work for you, as a citizen? What are you learning about your country and the world? How much say do you have in it? Should the federal government be able to dictate the content of film, television, or even news reports by wielding power over funding??

The course material in CMNS 202 has been carefully selected to enable students to be aware of such thought-provoking questions.

The Canadian course content of CMNS 202 is particularly relevant to Canadians at AU, and for this reason is highlighted throughout the course. To quote Dr. Wall, ?As Conrad Black goes from the height of media moguldom to jail, citizens across the country protest CBC radio programming decisions, actors and directors unite to combat the threat of film censorship, multicultural and Aboriginal people demand an equitable voice in public affairs, and everyone wonders who will control the Internet, questions about the mass media are inextricable from others concerning the future of the nation.?

Student evaluation in CMNS 202 is derived from reading exercises (worth 30% of the total course mark); a timeline (weighted at 10%); a news summary journal (40%); and a final exam (20%).

The reading exercises are assignments that encourage students to focus on the ?role of the media in everyday life.? Dr. Wall indicated that students can pick from a highly diverse topic selection, with topics that ?range from the connection between customer loyalty cards, corporate profits and privacy protection, to the effect on popular culture and identity of the vast array of entertainment choices in movies, music, and television.?

The timeline is innovative in that it enables students to focus on one aspect of the media they find relevant or interesting. Potential areas that students could include in their timeline include ?Aboriginal broadcasting history, the development of film policy, the rise and fall of the CBC funding, the backstage drama of a major commercial television network, or the history of the Canadian recorded music industry,? suggested Dr. Wall.

Similar to the timeline, the journal likewise enables students to ?zoom in? on a particular media-related issue. Dr. Wall explained that, in addition, the journal allows students to ?get a sense of what the media are saying about the media, by running a personal ?mediawatch? with commentary.?

With this project, students may find, ?with any luck, a major scandal . . . unfold over the months a student is working on this assignment.? Even if this does not occur, students will benefit from the ?detective-style journalism? that the assignment cultivates.

CMNS 202 course author, Karen Wall, is an assistant professor of Communication Studies at AU. Dr. Wall has a diverse and extensive background in the subject area, beginning with her pre-AU years as a journalist, graphic artist, typesetter, photographer, copywriter, film art director, scriptwriter, theatre set painter, and museum designer.

She jokes, ?I consumed my share of Canadian content via print, audio, video, and live action, not to mention eavesdropping in public places.? As a result, she finds ?questions about such activities remain fascinating, which is why I like to ask them of students.?

Dr. Wall’s teaching experience began with teaching Canadian Studies, Leisure Studies, and Community Development programs at several institutions, and then teaching Communication Studies courses at AU. In January 2006, she joined AU’s Centre for State and Legal Studies. Currently, she teaches for AU’s new Heritage Resource Management program and has developed several of the new courses in this area, in addition to CMNS 202.

For more information on CMNS 202, visit the course syllabus.

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