Dec 302014

A Media Literacy Assignment by Dr. Chrys Egan, Salisbury University

Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games franchise uses a dystopian future “Panem,” a thinly veiled United States, to offer a thought-provoking social commentary on the growing economic disparities among its people. Using techniques of media literacy to analyze and evaluate texts (Aufderheide, 1993), audiences can apply major themes raised in the fictional story to contemporary concerns in the US regarding: inequality, work, food, class, gender, and race. The driving force of The Hunger Games narrative is the extreme unethical imbalance and oppression that occurs with the wealthy, minority citizens of the Capitol ruling the poverty-stricken majority of citizens in the segregated Districts. While The Hunger Games depicts the bleakest possible view of an America ravaged by civil war and depleted resources, it undeniably offers a glimpse of current concerns about inequality and the growing divide among citizens. This analysis helps media users consider real-life issues of inequality, work, food, class, gender, and race. To examine these issues, the lesson has two components: analysis and application. In the Hunger Games analysis, students read or view The Hunger Games to understand the six concepts. Examples of each theme are illustrated, followed by students identifying additional examples from the text. Then students use current findings on these concepts from the US Census data and/or Inequality for All documentary. To apply the six concepts to their lives, students view the selected United States Census Bureau tables and/or watch the documentary Inequality for All. Ultimately, students consider the evidence for economic opportunities, fairness, and justice in their present and future.

This two-pronged media analysis increases media literacy among users to understand what is presented, how to apply it, and why it matters. Fiction often allows for less threatening reflection on reality. While consumers of The Hunger Games may not typically be considered the same consumers of US Census data and documentaries on the economy, this assignment allows audiences to approach the hard data in a softer way. Completing this exercise results in a serious consideration of complex relationships between work opportunities, economic prospects, and social stratification.

For full resources, see Egan – Land of Inopportunity.

Jan 092014

This course offers an introduction to thinking about relationships among emerging media technologies, everyday life, society, and history.  We will be exploring questions about what kinds of social impacts new media are having, as well as how social, political and cultural forces are shaping the way new media technologies are being designed and deployed.  We’ll be using new media as platforms for performing this inquiry and adopting ways of generating knowledge associated with digital culture (such as a focus on gathering knowledge through collective intelligence).   This course is not a survey of the entire range of new media studies, nor will we focus on a single area.  Rather, we will explore several important issues and controversies as entry points into thinking critically about the significance of contemporary media changes and we will be using emerging media to facilitate complex analysis.

Jul 192013

Here’s my syllabus an intermediate level undergrad class introducing critical media studies approaches to advertising and propaganda. This was the first time I taught this syllabus, and I will surely refine it in the future.  But I had a good experience with this class the first time and received positive feedback from students.  My approach was to provide some exploration of more sweeping histories of advertising and propaganda, but most weeks we focused on a particular controversy or provocative argument.

Feel free to contact me if you’d like reading questions, blog prompts or any other materials from this course.

MCS 358 Syllabus – Spring 2013

Aug 052012

This class was a 3000-level, writing intensive class. Both syllabi are very similar. The second syllabus includes more “alternative” readings such as blog posts and radio shows.  I am happy to share any materials not directly linked to in these documents.

Media Literacy Syllabus_Melody Hoffmann

Media Literacy Syllabus_Melody Hoffmann #2

Aug 052012

One of my favorite topics to teach is working class representations in the media. Although over 15 years old, Bettie’s article about Roseanne still resonates with students. I pair this reading with a shorter piece about working class male representation (links below).

Bettie, 1995, “Class Dismissed? Roseanne and the Changing Face of Working-Class Iconography”

Butsch, 2003, “Ralph, Fred, Archie and Homer: Why television keeps re-creating the white male working class buffoon” 


In class, I screen “The Dark Ages,” Season 5 ep. 3 of Roseanne:

This episode is a great example of what Roseanne did for the TV industry and its audience in the 1990s. It also shows an emotional, working class male (Dan Connor), which helps explore the Butsch reading.

While screening, I give students these DQs for “The Dark Ages.” These discussion questions apply Bettie’s arguments and terminology. Students who do not read for class would not be able to accurately answer some of these questions.

I try to focus some of the discussion on the political economy elements of working class representations. So, as a class, we often talk about why shows about struggling families are not popular with advertisers.

During this day in class I also like to make a student-produced list of working class representations in the media. This list is simply written on the chalkboard.  Students usually cannot come up with very much. Friday Night Lights may be the strongest example as of late, an excellent example to use in class if you want a more current media text.

Overall, students really like this day in class and I enjoy being able to screen a one-of-a-kind media text that many of my students are not familiar with.


Aug 012012

For a session on “pornography” as part of a media literacy class, I have previously assigned the following two readings (see attached files)

Dworkin, Andrea.  Selections from Pornography: Men Possessing Women. New York: Plume, 1979.

McElroy, Wendy. Selections from XXX: A Woman’s Right to Pornography. New York: St. Martin’s Press. 1995.

During  class, students are split up into groups of 3-4 people and work through an assignment sheet (see attached pdf) to discern the authors’ differing views on porn, i.e. pro-sex/porn vs. anti-porn feminists. After they worked through the questions, we all reconvene and discuss the different definitions/takes on porn. I also encourage students to share their own opinions or provide examples, which has in the past sometimes revealed interesting gender dynamics in the classroom.

I also like to show excerpts from both authors being interviewed to clarify their standpoint:

Dworkin Pornography Documentary

Wendy McElroy Interview on XXX

Since these readings are somewhat “dated”, I’ve also found these more recent publications on porn to be useful in generating class room discussion:

Caputi, Jennifer (2011) “The Pornography of Everyday Life” (Chapter 34, pp. 311-320) in Gender, Race, and Class in Media. A Critical Reader 3rd Edition. Thousand Oaks: Sage Publications.

Fahy, Thomas (2011) “One Night in Paris (Hilton). Wealth, Celebrity, and the Politics of Humiliation” (Chapter 33, pp. 301-309) in Gender, Race, and Class in Media. A Critical Reader 3rd Edition. Thousand Oakes: Sage Publications.

Clark-Flory, Tracy (2011, August) “When Porn meets Real Motherhood”

McElroy (1995) XXX A Woman’s Right to Pornography

Dworkin (1979) Pornography Men Possessing Women

Group Activity Pornography



Jul 312012

Here is my syllabus from a condensed, writing-intensive Media Literacy course that I taught this summer.

Don’t hesitate to contact me if you have any questions!

Mia Fischer

PhD Student
Department of Communication
University of Minnesota
224 Church St. S.E.
250 Ford Hall
Minneapolis, MN 55455

Office: Ford Hall 285





COMM 3623W Fischer Syllabus

Feb 272012


This assignment is intended for classes that include an examination of new/digital media (e.g., Media Literacy, Media Studies, Digital Media & Society, Digital & Social Media, Communication Technologies, etc).   It is designed to help students draw connections between critical scholarship and everyday use of digital media; to give them an opportunity to identify, develop and share knowledge and skills related to digital media; and to provide them a chance to practice and develop their communication skills.  This assignment could be implemented as either an individual or group project.



For this assignment, you will create and present a tutorial about digital media, using digital media.  Your tutorial should be geared toward providing both technical instruction and media literacy on your chosen topic. While your tutorial should be theoretically/conceptually informed by course materials (readings and in-class discussion), its subject matter is up to you.  For example, you might create a tutorial on managing personal data online; using social media for political/activist purposes; creating a wiki; understanding and navigating race, gender and sexuality on multi-user virtual environments (MUVEs); etc.  Please create your tutorial in a form you can share online.  For example, your tutorial might take the form of a website, a blog, a wiki, a short video, a podcast, etc.

This assignment includes several components:  a proposal, a project update, your tutorial itself, a presentation (with an accompanying visual aid) and a written analysis.

  • Proposal (300-500 words):  First, compose a proposal for your project in which you identify the focus of your tutorial, its purpose, your target audience (e.g., high school students; older adults; people involved with a particular cause; etc.); and how you will go about constructing your tutorial.  In other words, what is it you want to do?  Who are you trying to reach?  What is your underlying goal?  How does this goal relate to theories and concepts covered in the class? What steps do you need to take to create this tutorial?
  • Project update (200-300 words):  Your project update should be a document that describes a) how your conceptualization of your project has changed and developed since your proposal, b) where you are in the process of constructing your tutorial, and c) the steps you need to take to complete the tutorial.  You should also specify 2-3 concrete learning objectives that support your tutorial’s underlying purpose.  For example, if you are creating a tutorial on how to use Twitter to organize a protest or rally, your learning objectives might include 1) how to create a Twitter account, 2) how to craft short, powerful messages and 3) how to circulate your messages strategically.
  • Create & post your tutorial online:  On the day your tutorial is due, post a brief description (2-3 sentences) along with a link to the tutorial on the discussion forum
  • Presentation (10-15 minutes):  Prepare a presentation that describes your tutorial (its target audience, its purpose, how it works, etc.) and explains how your tutorial is informed by course theories/concepts.  Ideally, your presentation will also include a brief demonstration of how your tutorial works.  If for some reason you are unable to provide an in-class demonstration, please be sure to include some kind of visual and/or aural aid to help illustrate what your tutorial is and how it works.
  • Written analysis(2400-3200 words): Your written analysis should elaborate on the material you shared in your presentation.
    • Briefly summarize the focus of your tutorial, its target audience, its underlying purpose, and the 2-3 learning objectives it’s designed to meet.
    • Next, describe how your tutorial is designed to reach its target audience, achieve the learning objectives, and work towards the underlying purpose.  What kinds of decisions did you make to reach out to your target audience?  What did you do to learn about your target audience, their needs, and their pre-existing skills and literacy with digital media? How did you consider their needs, goals, skills and digital media literacy in constructing your tutorial? In other words, how did your knowledge of your target audience impact your decision-making?  How is your tutorial designed to reach the learning objectives you identified?
    • Discuss how your project is theoretically/conceptually informed by readings and class discussions. What concepts or theories are relevant to your tutorial?  To its purpose?  Its leaning objectives?  Its design? Be sure to define the key concepts relevant to your tutorial and cite relevant course material.
    • Finally, briefly assess how effective you believe your tutorial is in reaching its target audience, meeting the learning objectives, and working towards the underlying goal.  What are your projects strengths?  Limitations?  What might you to make your tutorial more effective, reach a wider audience or have more of an impact?  A strong analysis will incorporate a discussion of the feedback your peers gave you on the day of your presentation.


Feb 272012


This assignment was developed for a Media Literacy class, and it could be easily adapted for a variety of Media Studies classes (including classes on Digital Media & Society; Digital & Social Media; Communication Technologies, etc.).  It is designed to help students draw connections between critical scholarship on media, popular culture and everyday use of the media.  It is also intended to help students draw connect media theory to the production of media, and asks students to think of themselves as media producers.

This assignment could be implemented as either an individual or group project.  This particular version asks students to work in pairs.



You and your partner are being asked to design a media intervention that is theoretically/conceptually informed by the course materials.  In other words, I am asking you to create and pitch an idea for a DIY media project that communicates a message of your choosing, as long as it relates to course concepts.  You decide what concept(s) you’d like to engage with, and what kind of media intervention you’d like to make.  For example, you could design and propose a short video, a television show, a film, wiki, blog, digital game, etc.  Your media intervention should be something you could create, as students, with resources you can readily assemble (in other words, with a limited budget and access to whatever technology & expertise you can find).

Examples might include: A film that challenges race- and class-based stereotypes, a news article that examines media ownership, a digital game that challenges heteronormativity, or a wiki on the issue of internet neutrality.

The purpose of the assignment is to spark thought and discussion about possibilities for creating our own media messages with the resources that are at hand.   It is also an opportunity for you to engage with the course materials in a creative way: for you to explore what messages you, as a potential media maker, could create yourself.

This project includes several components:  a proposal, a presentation, and an individual reflection paper.

  • Proposal (200-250 words):  First, you and your partner will compose a proposal for your project in which you describe what kind of media production you are envisioning (e.g., a digital game, a wiki, a short video, etc.) and what you want your project to accomplish (e.g., spreading awareness on internet neutrality, challenging racism in cyberspace, provoking debate on digital surveillance, etc).  You will post your proposal to the class discussion forum and exchange feedback with other students.
  • Presentation (8-10 minutes):  In your presentation, please describe the concept for your media intervention and how your project relates or responds to course concepts.  Please provide some kind of visual and/or aural aid to help illustrate your idea (e.g., sample graphics, storyboards, a draft of a website, etc).  In addition, please be prepared to respond to questions during a brief Q&A period that will follow your presentation.
  • Individual reflection paper (1000-1200 words):  Your reflection paper should elaborate on the content you presented to the class and discuss your experience collaborating with your partner.  Please describe your DIY media intervention, its purpose and how you could go about creating your project using resources and skills you have at hand.  In addition, discuss how your idea is informed by, responds to and/or critiques theories and concepts covered in class.  Be sure to define the key terms and theories you refer to, and cite sources appropriately.  Finally, discuss your experience collaborating with your partner:  What were the most difficult aspects of collaborating?  The most interesting ones?  Did you encounter any obstacles in designing your project?  How did you and your partner decide who was responsible for what?  How do you think would this project be different had you worked individually or in a larger group?


Sep 122011

So “Who’s the Caboose?” is this 90s-era mockumentary about the process of auditioning during pilot season in LA.  There are some sharp moments in the script referencing the dearth of feature roles for women.  I found the following very short segment pretty incisive.


Offscreen: So what is it you’re auditioning for?

Sarah Silverman: Well it’s really exciting, because um, the lead character is funny, and dynamic, and charismatic, and quick-witted, and really suave, and just a dream role.  And uh, I’m auditioning to play his wife.