Senior Seminar (COM 450) (Fall 2016)

Dr. Christopher Anderson

Class Time / Room: Monday & Wednesday, 12:20-2:15pm,

My Office: 1P / Room 232A

Office Hours: Monday, Wednesday 11:30-12:00, 4:30-5:30

Required Texts

  • Mass Media Research: An Introduction Roger D. Wimmer and Joseph R. Dominick () (ISBN-10: 143908274X)
  • Online course reader of collected texts.

Course Learning Objectives

  • Write and analyze surveys, to conduct in depth content analyses of media, and to calculate sampling errors in order to analyze the accurateness of polls
  • Understand how to conduct different qualitative research methods such as ethnography, interviews, and focus groups in order to conduct original media research.
  • Recognize the reasons why research is conducted in group and to develop strategies for efficient teamwork

Course Description The capstone class for communications majors. The course provides an overview of communications research and introduces students to basic research procedures, paradigms, and methods. Students learn research goals, methodologies, and strategies in communications. They use these tools to formulate a research problem of their own and to conduct research in libraries, through media resources, and through fieldwork. During your years at the College of Staten Island, you have been exposed to a variety of perspectives on media and a number of theories and analytical lenses by which you can think about communication process more generally. The senior seminar is designed to prepare students to make the transition from “theory to practice,” helping you to gain mastery of the basic research skills necessary to succeed in the communications field, all the while not forgetting your analytical and theoretical roots. In the field of communications, you will most likely have to: gather and analyze data, document your sources, present your research findings, work in teams, and meet hard and fast deadlines. You will also have to master some or all of the basic research methods: literature reviews, variable analysis, surveys, content analysis, participant observation, ethnography, focus groups, discourse analysis, and the analysis of “big data.” This class will teach you to master these methods and practices. It will do so by asking students to develop and carry out their own group research projects focusing on a particular trend or phenomenon in communication (for example, students in previous classes discussed the rise of the iPod and the growth of Facebook). This class is an intensive capstone class, and thus involves a significant amount of group work both inside and outside of class, as well as self-directed research.

Course Requirements

This is the grading breakdown for the course. To receive a passing grade for the class, students must meet all requirements. Missed assignments will automatically result in a failing grade.

Group Assignments

Portfolio (30%)

Midterm (25%)

In-class Presentation (15%)

Final Paper (20%)

Class Participation (10%)

Group Assignments Include

  1. Proposal (Due 9/7)
  2. Literature review (Due 10/05)
  3. Sampling exercise (Due 10/31)
  4. Coding sheet and instructions (Due 11/7)
  5. Ethnographic Notebooks (Due 11/21)
  6. Survey report (Due 12/05)
  7. Final presentation (Due 12/7, 12/12)

Individual Assignments Include

1. Midterm (in-class, 10/19)

Basic Breakdown of the Week

This class will meet Mondays and Wednesdays. In general, Mondays will consist of lectures and in-class discussion, while Wednesdays will consist of group work and making progress on your final project. It is important to keep in mind, however, that most of your group work will need to be done outside of class.

How the Group Projects Will Work

Most communication research- indeed, most research, and most work generally- requires you to work in teams, and this class is designed with that expectation in mind. You will have 7 group projects due over the course of the semester, projects which will build on each other and culminate in your final in-class presentation (due the last week of class). For all group projects you will need to work as a team and divide work evenly. For each of the seven projects you will have a different project manager, who accepts responsibility for scheduling meetings, dividing up the work, and meeting deadlines. The project manager will submit a 1-page memo to me, along with the actual assignment itself, in which he or she chronicles the different meetings of the group, problems with roadblocks encountered in completing the assignment, and a general analysis.

The groups will begin by picking a research topic. Over the course of the semester, they will complete their assignments. These assignments will culminate in a 30-minute group presentation, due the last day of class.

I will provide you with examples of many assignments. The literature review will need to include an annotated bibliography of at least twenty sources (5 pages). Survey reports and content analysis reports should be professionally presented and include graphs and figures, as well as a two-page narrative summarizing your findings. Field notes should include a “self-reflection” section wherein you discuss your fieldwork.

Project manager memos will be addressed to me and take the form of an inter-office memo. It should be at least one full page. You will chronicle the different meetings of the group, problems with roadblocks encountered in completing the assignment, and engage in a general analysis.  This is not a chance for you to badmouth your fellow students.


Students will complete a traditional mid-term exam, in class, on October 20 Attendance Students are expected to attend every session of the senior seminar. According to college policy, unexcused absences exceeding 15% of course hours can result in a WU grade. Bottom line: don’t miss class. In the event that a student must miss a class due to religious observance or family emergency, students must provide advance notice, in writing, of days missed. In the event of class missed due to illness, students must provide the instructor with a doctors’ note. No exceptions.

Plagiarism Plagiarism is a major—perhaps the major—academic offense a student can commit as an undergraduate, graduate student, or as a scholar. Plagiarism is defined as either (1) failure to acknowledge the source of ideas not one’s own or (2) failure to indicate verbatim expressions not one’s own through quotation marks and footnotes. Plagiarism is a growing problem on college campuses across the nation, largely due to growing technological ease in accessing already composed papers and sources of information. For this reason, I personally will be relentlessly unforgiving regarding any suspected cases of plagiarism this semester—and I will check. There will probably not be a second chance in this regard, and I will recommend the strict enforce university policy for all cases of plagiarism. Bottom line: don’t do it. If you have any questions, please talk to me before you write rather than afterward. For more information, see the CUNY Policy on Academic Integrity: For a guide on how to cite your sources well, see

Schedule of Classes

August 29 Class Introduction and Student Group Formation

September 07 READING: “Facebook Tinkers With Users’ Emotions in News Feed Experiment, Stirring Outcry” (Goel); “Facebook and Engineering the Public” (Tufecki); “The Beneficence of Mobs: A Facebook Apologia.” LECTURE: Thinking About Research GROUP WORK: Project Proposal

September 12 READING DUE: “The Scientific Revolution,” (excerpt) (Shapin). “Science and Research,” (Wimmer and Dominick, Ch. 1) LECTURE: What is science? Where did science come from? What is communication research?

September 14 READING DUE: “Technology and Modern Life,” (Fischer) LECTURE: The literature review: what do we already know? Bibliographies, Citations & Links ASSIGNMENT DUE: Group project proposals (Assignment #1)

September 19 READING DUE “A History of Statistics in the Social Sciences,” (Coven); “The Wisdom of Crowds” (excerpts) (Surowecki) LECTURE: Variables, validity, and reliability

September 21 GROUP WORK: Literature Review

September 26 Library Visit

September 28 READING DUE: “Sampling,” and “Research in the Electronic Media” (Wimmer and Dominick, Ch. 4 and 14) Lecture: A brief history of sampling and early audience research.

October 5                LECTURE: Research Ethics

SCREENING: The Stanford Prison Experiment

ASSIGNMENT DUE: Literature review (Assignment #2)

October 6           READING DUE: “Content Analysis” (Wimmer and Dominick, Ch 6); “The Whole World is Watching” (excerpt) (Todd Gitlin)

LECTURE: Content Analysis

October 14 GROUP WORK: Content Analysis

October 19 READING DUE: “Six Provocations for Big Data,” (boyd and Crawford) LECTURE: Big data

October 21 SCREENING: “Kinsey.”

October 31 READING DUE: “Appendix: On the Methods Used in this Study” (Nielsen) LECTURE: Ethnography and Participant Observation ASSIGNMENT DUE: Content Analysis. (Assignment #5). IN CLASS: DISCUSS ETHNOGRAPHY

November 2 GROUP WORK: Ethnographic Immersion Practice (in class)

November 7 READING DUE: “Interview Techniques,” (Wimmer and Dominick, Ch. 5) LECTURE: Interview techniques.

November 9 READING DUE: “Focus Groups as Qualitative Research,” (Morgan); “The Secret Life of Focus Groups,” (Lee) LECTURE: Focus Groups



November 21 READING DUE: “The Interaction Order,” (Goffman) LECTURE:     Narrative and textual analysis ASSIGNMENT DUE: Ethnographic Notebooks (Assignment #6)

November 28:  Group Work: Focus Groups and Qualitative Interviews

November 30 READING DUE: “Survey Research,” (Wimmer and Dominick, Ch. 7); “Survey Research and Societal Change,” (Tourangeau). LECTURE: What is survey research? ASSIGNMENT DUE (Assignment Due): Focus Groups & Interviews

December 5 GROUP WORK: Preparing a survey

December 7 GROUP WORK: CONDUCTING SURVEY and Preparing Final Projects

December 12               *** FINAL PROJECT PRESENTATIONS ***  Assignment Due: Portfolio. ASSIGNMENT DUE:  Survey report (Assignment #8)

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