Participatory Media

These links take you to the syllabus and course schedule of a course I teach, titled Participatory Media. The course provides an analysis of the social, political, and economic implications of various modes of particpatory media (a.k.a. social media, digital media, “new” media).

Course schedule: FA10.CourseSchedule

Syllabus: FA10.FINAL.Syllabus.only

Here is an excerpt from “About the Course”:

All learning begins with curiosity and asking questions. In this course, we will ask and begin to answer several interesting questions about the relationship between technology and collective life. For example:

  • How does technology affect our lives?
  • Can technology create connection, community? If so, how? If not, why not?
  • Can we use technology to improve our lives?
  • What can (or should?) we do about negative consequences of technology use?
  • Can technology help us achieve personal, professional and civic goals?
  • What is a participatory media culture? How is it different from a mass media culture?
  • What motivates humans to collaborate and engage in collective action?

Perhaps what is most interesting about these questions is that there is not a single, correct answer. So, these questions will lead us on a far-ranging and multifaceted exploration of participatory media, the use of which has moved from an underground culture embodied by tech geeks and entrepreneurs, to become an integral part of the wider civic, social, political and economic culture.

Participatory media have become the technological infrastructure for our social networks, for our relationships with others. They include some well-known platforms such as Facebook, YouTube, Wikipedia, GoogleDocs, and Twitter, as well as other less-known platforms that are built from easily available web development software, blogging communities and so on. But, what makes these media forms so different from traditional outlets, such as television, radio or books?

The answer: WE are the media.

It used to be that professional media producers and gatekeepers made and controlled the media content that we consumed. Consider the case of a Hollywood film, a newspaper, or a television show. Well, not anymore. Participatory media are different. They don’t require professionals because amateurs can play this media production game, too.

So, participatory media challenge the once-traditional relationship between the producer and the consumer of mediated messages. Individuals who were once consumers of centralized, commercial programming are now active producers of mediated content, whether that be a social networking profile, a video posted to YouTube, a website or blog, a Wikipedia entry, a series of comments on a news site, a music playlist and so on. There are almost limitless ways in which the “audience” has become an active participant in at least some aspect of the creation of mediated content. And, we are creating in a multitude of ways from the mundane to the sublime.

This class examines the human relationships and technological tools that make this participation possible, as well as the social, political and cultural implications of this changing media environment.  The theoretical base of the course stems from the concept of the network. A network is a collection of connections—some weak and some strong. But all of these connections represent some type of relationship that is constructed through communication.

The nature of these connections is dependent upon the people who populate the network, their actions and the motivations for those actions. Network characteristics, technological evolution, and social norms have influenced and will continue to influence the participatory media ecology. Over the course of the semester, we’ll examine these aspects through three general units:

  1. Foundations of the participatory ethic
  2. Community and social networking
  3. Cultural convergence and changing modes of media production

The course schedule is organized around these three units and their subtopics.

Course Objectives

  1. Challenge assumptions (your own and others’), resisting the temptation to stick with habits of thought. Upon challenging said assumptions, you will think critically about which ideas you wish to retain and which you wish to reject.
  2. Engage in critical thinking about the relationship among the various topics of study and apply theories and concepts to analyze concrete examples from your experiences and the experiences of others.
  3. Identify, analyze and evaluate:
    1. the contribution of network theory to understanding the social, political and cultural changes brought about by widely-available participatory media
    2. the technological history and political economy of the participatory media ecology
    3. the regulatory and ethical challenges of the participatory media ecology, such as privacy, intellectual property rights, and network neutrality
    4. the nature of and impact of social networking and community, enabled by participatory media technology
    5. the impact of amateur or grassroots media production on professional media production, and vice versa
  4. Strengthen written and oral communication, as well as research competency.

I’d be happy to discuss any questions or feedback.

About masteach

Associate Professor of Communication Studies, Rowan University.
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