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Annenberg School for Communication's new courses will be taught by visiting and postdoctoral fellows, meaning they will be one-time offerings.

Credit: Alina Zaidi

The Annenberg School for Communication is offering six new courses for the spring 2024 semester, spanning topics from media interpretation to artificial intelligence. 

Litty Paxton, associate dean for undergraduate studies at Annenberg, announced the new courses in an email to communications majors and prospective majors on Oct. 16. 

The new courses will be taught by visiting and postdoctoral fellows, which means they will be one-time offerings. Paxton told The Daily Pennsylvanian that the tools and questions raised in the study of communications offer insights into many current concerns, such as climate change and AI. 

“These courses reflect a longstanding tradition in the communications field, which is just really to stay abreast of current issues and to say, what are the critical questions we need to be asking?” she said.

COMM 2013-301: “Black Journalism in/and Philadelphia”

This course focuses on the work of Black journalists and journalism’s relationship to race throughout history. In addition to analyzing news and scholarship, students will engage with Philadelphia journalists and media institutions to understand journalism's social and political context.

Postdoctoral fellow Florence Madenga, who worked as a freelance writer before coming to Annenberg, will teach the course. 

COMM 2014-301: “Visibility, Circulation, and Everyday Life of Images”

“Visibility, Circulation, and Everyday Life of Images” will explore images’ various interpretations and transformations across media forms. This course aims to develop students’ ability to critically assess the historical use of images, including how they advance nationalist and colonialist ideologies.  

“Images are mutable forces and can be bent for purposes of self-fashioning as well as disrupting, subverting, and exposing structures of power,” the course description reads.

Zehra Husain, a postdoctoral fellow at the Center for Advanced Research in Global Communication, will teach the course. Her research focuses on media and race in South Asia.

COMM 3012-301: “Media, Aging, and Adulthood in Modern America”

Arthur Wang, a provost’s postdoctoral fellow at Annenberg, will focus his class on how mass media interacts with societal concepts of adulthood and aging. Topics explored will include the prominence of young adulthood in popular culture, midlife crises, and gendered ideas about aging, according to the course syllabus

Wang drew inspiration for the course from a recent Annenberg conference, The Stories We Tell: Gender and Getting Older in the Media, which focused on media representations of aging and its implications.

COMM 4010: “Governing the Internet: Critical Perspectives on Online Trust and Safety” 

This course will be taught by Yoel Roth, a visiting scholar with the Center for Media at Risk and the former head of Trust and Safety at X, formerly Twitter. Roth will discuss the decision-making process behind banning content on online platforms, examining the emerging field of online governance.

Students will learn about strategies to combat online harms and gain experience writing policies using generative AI. 

COMM 4190-301: “Talking with AI: Computational and Communication Approaches”

Talking with AI, taught by lecturer Matthew Brook O'Donnell, responds to the growing capabilities of generative AI and the technology’s implications across different sectors. This course will ask questions about how to learn from and trust AI. 

Students will code various AI models, including a simple voice assistant, misinformation identifier, and text-generative application. 

“Critically, what we’re trying to make sure that people understand what [AI] means, how it works, and what its implications are beyond higher education,” Paxton said. 

COMM/ENVS 4330: “Climate Change and Communication: Theories and Applications”

Kathleen Hall Jamieson, director of the Annenberg Public Policy Center, and Michael Mann, director of the Penn Center for Science, Sustainability, and the Media, will teach the course together. Students will study the communications that determine how the public perceives or misconstrues climate science, analyzing documents such as court briefs, newspaper articles, and media interviews. 

“The course, which in my mind is unique among all other current course offerings, aims to give our students both a theoretical underpinning and hands-on practical experience in communicating the science, impacts, and societal and policy dimensions of the climate science,” Mann wrote to the DP.

Mann added that his scientific insights will complement Jamieson’s expertise as a communications scholar interested in climate and sustainability.

“The course is an incredible opportunity for students to take a class with two absolute experts to put together these two crucial questions, communication and the climate crisis,” Paxton said.