Course Exam—CMNS 301

CMNS 301 (Communication Theory and Analysis) is a three-credit communication studies course that is intended to provide students with a grounding in the field of communication studies, a relatively new interdisciplinary field that draws many of its theoretical ideas about human communication from psychology, sociology, cultural studies, linguistics, philosophy, and literary studies.  The course focuses on developing notions of mass communication in the twenty-first century and debates in the field.  There are no prerequisites for this course and there is a Challenge for Credit option as well.

This course is offered as an individualized study online or grouped study.  Both options are offered with an eTextbook and with a video component.  Students that are studying overseas are asked to contact the University Library before registering in a course that has an audio and/or visual component.

Communication Theory and Analysis is made up of three parts (introduction persuasion, and media and culture), nine units, nine-unit journals, a critical review, and a final essay.  There are no exams for this course.  The nine units within this course cover several interesting topics such as propaganda, classical rhetoric, public communication, semiotics, and agenda-setting theories in the digital age.  To receive credit for CMNS 301, students must complete all the assignments and obtain a composite grade of at least fifty percent.

Dr. Michael Lithgow was hired as an Assistant Professor of Communication and Media Studies in June of 2016 and became the tutor for CMNS 301 when he was hired.  Alongside CMNS 301, he teaches two courses in the Masters in Interdisciplinary Studies (MAIS) program: MAIS 623 (Introduction to Trends in New Media: Digital Humanities) and MAIS 620 (Digital Storytelling).  He also coordinates a number of courses in the CMNS program, such as CMNS 201 (Introduction to Mass Media), CMNS 202 (Media and Power in Canadian Society), CMNS 301 (Communication Theory and Analysis), CMNS 315 (Understanding Media Literacy: Inside Plato’s Cave), CMNS 321 (Computing in Everyday Life), CMNS 358 (Popular Culture and the Media), CMNS 380 (Corporate Communication), CMNS 420 (Topics in Communication: Children and Media), CMNS 421 (Being Online).

He provided a brief introduction, stating “I am an Assistant Professor of Media and Communication Studies.  My research interests generally have to do with citizen engagement in public cultures.  I am particularly interested in questions of power, aesthetics and epistemology in discourse.  Current research includes an international study of changing practices in professional journalism in response to the growing importance of user generated content; exploring community strategies in indigenous and rural contexts in Canada, Mexico and Argentina for designing, building and operating telecommunications infrastructure; developing expanded strategies for data, network and technology literacies; and a study of organizational transformation through embedded artists-in-residence.”

He continues, “In 2016, I completed a post-doctoral research fellowship from McGill University examining the aesthetics of public participation in policy proceedings at the Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC).”

Dr. Lithgow concludes, “Before pursuing graduate studies, I worked for many years as journalist in community radio, community television and freelance writing.  My first collection of poetry, Waking in the Tree House, was published in 2012 by Cormorant Books.”

When asked to describe the course to students, he states “CMNS 301 is a survey course introducing students to a range of theoretical approaches to the study of mass media communications including semiotics, rhetoric and propaganda; the Toronto School (the space/time biases of communication technologies), the Frankfurt School (critical theory and the industrialization of mass media); the Birmingham School (cultural studies / identity and representation); uses and effects models of media consumption; and agenda setting.”

Dr. Lithgow continues by explaining the structure of the course, stating “Each unit explores one or more theoretical approach.  Marks are based primarily on short essays in response to questions designed to encourage reflection on the readings (journals), and a longer, end-of-term research paper.”

As for what type of work ethic students will have to have in order to be successful in CMNS 301, he believes that “Students will have to bring a disciplined post-secondary work ethic to this course, applying close reading skills while developing the ability to apply concepts explored in course readings to real world examples.”

When asked to provide some advice for current or future students, he states “Take the time to answer the short answer questions thoroughly, and in doing so, develop your skills of close reading the articles in each unit.  Don’t be afraid to re-read articles, and if there is something you find puzzling, ask your colleagues in the class: guaranteed if you have a question, other students will have the same question.  Often, a discussion among peers produces excellent answers to questions and in ways that are particularly relevant for students.  For the assignments, find examples from the real world that you care about.  The more deeply you are interested in the examples you choose, the easier you will find the work and likely the better your assignment will be.  If you are not sure if something you are interested is appropriate for the assignment, ask your tutor.  The course offers students a chance to apply media theory to the real world of popular culture and new media.”

Dr.  Michael Lithgow believes that “CMNS 301 will be of interest to anyone who wants a deeper and more complex understanding of how mass media shapes and is shaped by the world we live in.  Understanding mass media and communications can emerge in many ways, and different theoretical approaches will produce different kinds of understanding.  This course will be of interest and relevance to: communications professionals who want to push the boundaries of their practice and begin to cultivate ‘out-of-the-box’ thinking about media systems and practices; scholars, journalists and educational professionals who want to develop critical complexity in thinking about the role of media systems in contemporary society; and students who want to broaden and deepen their thinking about how media and communications shapes the cultures we live in.”

Whether CMNS 301 is a program or degree requirement of yours, or the topics discussed above are of interest to you, this course will have you learning interesting material surrounding the topic of communication theory and analysis.