As I see it, the value of a graduate course, besides its contribution of credits toward a degree, can be assessed by its usefulness to students in their future ventures.  This is a subjective measure to be sure - the same class might be far more valuable in this sense to some students than others.  Call me teleological.  But it’s also the responsibility, at the graduate level, of the student to identify and extract this value.  For this class, I was interested more in the final project than the class content.  It’s not that I don’t enjoy learning about new media, but I’m not sure we covered much I anticipate using in the near future (not that one can always foresee such a thing).  On the other hand, I found writing the final paper substantially more valuable because it was something I didn’t have the opportunity to do anywhere else.

For another class, Qualitative Theories and Methods, we learn (as the title suggests) qualitative approaches to communication research.  I figured the final project for Emerging Media would be a good chance to try out one of those methods, so I wrote a historical print media textual analysis for the final paper.  Granted, it might not have followed the strictest guidelines for academic rigor, but it was intended as more of a pilot study so I could “test drive” the method – an endeavor I found tremendously rewarding.  In the future, I expect I will be asked to conduct similar research and I will feel more confident approaching those types of projects having tried it out in this project.

    I think it’s appropriate that this type of learning took place in a class about emerging media.  If I’ve come to learn anything about new communication technologies, it is that these tools (particularly those enabled by the microprocessor, but I really mean any new communication tool) support the principles of communication rather than represent a re-writing of the rulebook.  Earlier in the semester, I posted a blog entry asking “
Does Social Media Challenge Long-Held Assumptions of Communication Theory?  As with all overbroad questions, the answer is both yes and no, but I think I’ve come to see the notion of “new media” as substantially aggrandized by this sort of question.  The biggest change that emerging communication media represents is not a new standard for good or effective communication.  The attributes of “good” communication, as a core human activity, haven’t really ever changed.  But the means of communication, which are as central to the critical communication scholar as the means of production are to a political economist, have indeed changed.

    So it is appropriate that in an emerging media course, I didn’t try to do something theoretically unique to an emerging media context, because I have come to reject that category’s existence.  Rather, I took knowledge from elsewhere and used that to produce something relevant to examining “new media” as a social construct.  In doing so, I might have found an answer to my aggrandizing: the emergence of new communication media does not challenge theories, it reinvigorates them.  Marquette’s
Dr. Brennen uses a quote from Raymond Williams in her syllabus: “The very strength of theory (is) its systematic explanations of practice.”  By writing a paper that employs “new media” as a lens for examining a long-held theory of belief (technological determinism), I like to think I demonstrated an understanding of the social meaning behind emerging media.  The point is not to use emerging media to create new claims about theoretical transformations of society, or to challenge our understanding of communication, but instead to examine existing theoretical claims with the idea that new technologies nuance those theories to draw out the ways they explain social practices.

    I might have liked a class that explored these sorts of ideas in depth.  We spent an entire class considering whether we “need” new technologies, which is frankly a trite question unless it is approached as part of a larger discussion on how we conceptually understand the social nature of communication.  Otherwise the answer is just “no.”  I don’t claim to know precisely how this more sophisticated conversation would be framed in a classroom setting.  I do, however, know that for the course to be more successful, more structure would be nice.  If anyone is interested in my opinion, I’d start by taking the long night class and dividing it into two parts – the first dedicated to talking about general happenings in new media (news stories, particular technologies, etc), and the second about these more theoretical questions that could lend substance to the course.  I’ve read parts of a few books from the library (I picked them up while writing the paper) that might make good starting points, or offer good chapters for class readings to ground such a conversation (see below).  Of course, these are just the angles I’d like to see, there is plenty of substance to conversations about business implications, impact on advertising and journalism practice, rhetorical approaches computer mediated communication topics, in-depth technological discussions (e.g. flash, html, Internet advertising mechanisms), etc.  Anything out of the journals Journal of Computer Mediated Communication or New Media and Society would make for a good starting point.


Some books that might inspire topical directions for future courses on emerging media:

Ferre, Frederick. 1995. Philosophy of Technology. Athens, GA: The University of Georgia Press. [See particularly the chapter on ethics]

Gendron, Bernard. 1977. Technology and the Human Condition. New York, NY: St. Martin’s Press.

Hassan, Robert, and Thomas, Julian (Eds.). 2006. The New Media Theory Reader. New York, NY: Open University Press.

Hickman, Larry, and Al-Hibri, Azizah (Eds.). 1981. Technology and Human Affairs. St. Louis, MO: C. V. Mosby Co. [Hickman has published subsequently, but this book has a good ideological section called “Some Salient Views on Technology” that are still quite salient]

MacKenzie, Donals, and Judy, Wajcman (Eds.). 1999. The Social Shaping of Technology (2nd ed). Philadelphia, PA: Open University Press.

Nightingale, Virginia, and Dwyer, Tim (Eds.). 2007. New Media Worlds: Challenges for Convergence. South Melbourne, Victoria & New York, NY: Oxford University Press. [See particularly part four, which includes articles like “Just Do It: The Brand as New Media Object” and “Digital Technologies and Moral Economies”]

Smith, Merritt Roe, and Marx, Leo (Eds.). 1994. Does Technology Drive History? The Dilemma of Technological Determinism. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press.

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