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For quick resolution to technical or administrative issues, please Contact Our Support Staff rather than your instructor.

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Required Textbooks

  1. David Crowley and Paul Heyer, eds., Communication in History: Technology, Culture, Society, 5th ed. (Boston: Pearson A and B, 2007).
    ISBN: 0205483887

This course preview outlines the details of this online course. For more information on taking this course, please send an e-mail message to our support staff at UW offices are closed on these holidays.

COM 201
Introduction to Communication I

Course Introduction

Welcome to COM 201. This course is an introduction into the nature and development of media technologies—by which we mean both media systems, or the companies, producers, networks, business, and organization elements that produce and deliver media content and information, and communication technologies, or the specific machines, hardware, software, tools, and the like that help to make content and information delivery possible. This course does not distinguish between machines and content; we deal with them as one interacting, self-contained unit. The main purpose of media technologies is to create, foster, facilitate, and spread communication and information to a wide span of people.

While we mainly focus on media technologies as they developed and spread in the United States, the earliest media tools such as books and newspapers first appeared in Europe in the late Middle Ages. The focus of the course therefore concentrates on the United States, but as we move into television in Lesson Seven, the discussion will take a more global slant. Today's media's systems are more than just national enterprises. They increasingly are global ones.

The assigned textbook for the course is Communication in History (Crowley and Heyer 2007). Despite the word "history" in the title, the course is not a historical survey class. The book invites you to "consider the development of human behavior and social experience as, in part, a response to the uses and consequences of communication media in the wider context of human history" (page xv). It asks you to look for patterns and themes that can help to explain the mediated environment we live in today.

At heart, this course is about the way human beings send and receive information and messages via specific media technologies, what those technologies say about us and society, and the process by which these technologies have created large and pervasive media systems that increasingly shape and influence our lives. By understanding these elements, you may have a better grasp of modern civilization, communication and the role you play in a "mediated landscape" (Couldry 2001, 162. Cf. also pp. 168, 171–72).

The course

  • provides a social context in which media technologies are shaped and diffused to a large number of people;
  • gives an overview of the interaction between communication and information and its influence on the development of modern society;
  • explains the nature of information as part of a "dynamic" (i.e., ongoing, changing) process of interconnectivity between humans;
  • combines theory and practice in understanding the power of media on both an individual and a communal level; and
  • provides an overview of the key issues being debated in the field.

Course Materials

Textbook (Required)

David Crowley and Paul Heyer, eds., Communication in History: Technology, Culture, Society, 5th ed. (Boston: Pearson A and B, 2007).
ISBN: 0205483887

Communication in History is a compilation of thoughtful—indeed, brilliant—essays that regard mass media and communication technologies from a perspective that goes beneath surface impressions. You will find this book worth keeping.

This is the type of book that you don't have to read in sequence. It invites you to leaf through it, stop on something interesting, and then read as you see fit (beyond, of course, the required reading assignments for each lesson). The essays in this book raise issues that are profound and worth reflecting on; many of these issues we will discuss in the course. In this sense, the book is a useful guide to our goals and objectives for this course. But like any good textbook, it is also a springboard to the assignments in the course; that is to say, think of the required readings as ways to stimulate your thinking about issues, not as the last words on the subject.

Newspaper Subscription (Recommended)

A quarter-long subscription to a major newspaper (New York Times, Washington Post, Seattle Times, Seattle P-I) will help you understand mass media as you see it on a practical, everyday basis.

About the Online Environment

Your online course offers several advantages to the traditional classroom, including the comprehensive Online Student Handbook, the ability to communicate electronically with students and with me, and links to a rich array of online resources.

Online Student Handbook

This handbook answers questions about your online learning course, such as how to purchase your text, schedule an exam, obtain a transcript, and get technical help if you need it. The handbook also provides additional resources, such as how to order books or journals from the library and how to study for an online course.

Communication with Me and with Student Peers

Online Discussion Guidelines

Please read these guidelines for participating in online discussions.

  • The Discussion Forum allows you to communicate with other currently enrolled students and with me. I encourage you to use it to exchange ideas, resources, and comments about your course work with other students in this course. I will monitor this unstructured forum.
  • You can use e-mail to ask me a question or preferably post your question on the Discussion Forum. I will reply to all Discussion Forum questions on the forum, and to e-mail questions via e-mail.

UW Library Services

As an online student, you have access to a wealth of Web resources compiled to provide fast, easy access to information that supports your online learning experience. Organized by subjects, UW Library Services links you to sites with help for writing and research, study skills, language learning, and library reference materials. All links have been assessed for credibility and reliability, and they are regularly monitored to ensure their usability.

About This Course

Course Preview
  • 11 lessons
  • 10 assignments
  • Final Exam

Course Schedule

This course is self-paced and designed so that you can complete it in three months. Use the "Planning Your Assignment Due Dates" Assessment (on your online course syllabus) to plan your own due dates for the lessons. Note that you should complete the last lesson within three months after the date of your enrollment in the course.

Scope and Themes

There are two major areas of communication study—on the one hand, the focus on mass communication as visibly seen in newspapers, TV, and the Internet, and, on the other hand, interpersonal communication, or the study of how human beings relate and communicate with each other face to face. This course covers the first of these. We look at the creation and development of modern media technologies. (The second area is covered in Communication 202.)

We are the first generation in more than 100,000 generations that have lived on this planet to spend more time in a mediated landscape than in real nature. On average we spend about seven hours with the TV set per day. How did this come about? Obviously, the social implications of this are enormous. We study mass media and media technologies because they are huge elements of our lives—to the point where we simply cannot live without them (try going without Internet for a few days!)

This is not mere academic interest; the study of mass communication (or mass media, or media technologies—all three terms refer to the same elemental process) provides important clues about the nature of our society at this given moment.

Please note that this is a survey course; it gives a broad overview of various elements in the field. For closer inspection, please consider any of the upper division communication courses available.

Lesson Format

Reading Assignment

There are two types of readings: the book (Communication in History) and the supplemental readings. Specific chapters and/or parts of chapters are assigned from the textbook for each lesson, with the exception of Lesson Three, which has supplemental readings. Please be aware of the difference between the two types.


In each lesson you will find an opening paragraph or two giving an overview of the content of that lesson. The overview focuses your attention on important concepts from the assigned reading.


You will find in each lesson a list of learning objectives related to one or more key concepts. These are integral to your understanding of the material presented in this course: each lesson asks you to master the key concepts by way of the objectives and then to reflect on these in an essay in which you practice using the key terms and concepts.

Key Terms and Concepts

Communication 201 asks you to master new vocabulary. Why is this important? These technical terms will help you understand the communication field. They reduce its complexity. For example, when someone speaks of diffusion of innovation, they are referring to a set of social and individual acts that combine to produce change in the social arena. By labeling this complex process with a technical term, they intend to make it comprehensible to anyone studying in this field.

Each lesson contains a list of such technical terms and concepts. Being clued in to these terms in advance of the readings will help you to comprehend the material better.

Online Commentary

You will notice online commentary in each lesson. The goal here is to give you a theme and/or social context in which each communication technology is discussed. The commentary tells you what to look for in the assigned readings and provides the necessary background for the written assignment that accompanies each lesson.

About the Lessons and Assignments

Written assignments in each lesson give you the best training to understand mass media. You must complete the first 10 assignments, in Lessons One through Ten, before taking the final exam in Lesson Eleven.

Lesson One: The "Beginning" of Communication

To better grasp the nature and scope of modern media technologies, we begin by looking at the development of the alphabet and writing. It is worth noting that the alphabet is really a technology, although not an obvious one. The shift from an oral to a written society had profound impact, particularly in Greek culture where the phonetic alphabet was developed to its "modern" form.

Lesson Two: Books—the Power of Ideas and Invention

Not only did books unleash a tremendous interest in all things written, but in doing so they also affected the nature of how "things" are produced. Books were mass produced like "widgets." By "mass," we mean the capacity to reach several million people. People bought books and took them into their homes, just like they do today. In that sense, we may have much in common today with book readers in the late 1400s.

Lesson Three: Newspapers—Commercialism and Information

Newspapers have gone through an evolution since their early development; in the United States, as the reading indicates, we went from a partisan press not supported by advertising to one overwhelmingly relying on advertising to sustain it as a business. It is on this last part—"business"—that we need to focus here, since in our democratic capitalist system, our press is not supported by government subsidies, but must rely on sales and ads. How does this influence the type of news we receive?

Lesson Four: Telegraphy and Recurring Themes of Media Technologies

There are two questions that are important to discuss in this section. First, to what extent can we say that the influences on society by one communication technology are repeated by other communication technologies? If this point is for the most part true, what can we say about the nature of communication technologies and their relationship to society? Second, consider nineteenth century American society: to what extent did the "separation of communication from transport" (Carey 2007, 152) influence our perception of information?

Lesson Five: Telephones and the Rise of Industrialization

We can truly say that industrialization 'r' us. Can you conceive of life in a world without industry? Nineteenth-century Americans could easily imagine it. Many of them experienced it. Could nineteenth-century Americans have invented telephones without the rise of industrial capitalism (mass production, financing, banking, and so on)? On the other hand, did the telephone play a role in the rise of industrial capitalism? On a larger scale, what is significant is the way society and its inventions relate.

Lesson Six: Photographs in a Written Society

It is difficult for us to imagine living without photos, but most of the world did until the mid 1800s. Then society started becoming flooded with photographs. When newspapers first took the invention they created photojournalism, which remains with us today. What is not so apparent is the relationship between photography and mass society—the use of photos in advertising that sells ideas and products to a mass society. Are you a member of the mass society?

Lesson Seven: Motion Pictures and Advertising—the Rise of Mass Media

By the time motion pictures came about in the 1890s, humans were ready for them—after centuries of shadow shows on walls, the first movies provided a jump in realism that was at first difficult to swallow. People moved on a screen—that was amazing! What is also amazing is that motion pictures attracted huge audiences to movie theaters. Advertising developed at the same time as movies and relied equally on mass audiences. Thus it may not be coincidental that movies and advertising grew into major industries around the same time.

Lesson Eight: Radio and the "Need" for Entertainment

Suddenly we arrive at mass home entertainment. Radio, as the textbook reveals, was invented to be a "wireless telegraph," then as a "wireless telephone," and only eventually did it emerge as a major entertainment medium. Radio's impact on American culture cannot be underestimated; from the panic-inducing broadcast of Orson Welles's War of the Worlds to the World War II broadcast reports of bombs falling on London, radio became a very personal medium. Radio revealed, like motion pictures, a great truth about American culture: we wanted to be entertained!

Lesson Nine: Television—the Global Village Begins

Does television make us into "global citizens?" Television was not the first technology to spread American culture around the world—that trend began with U.S. movies after World War I. Television did, however, make the "global village" possible: national boundaries began to break down and today we may all be "dual citizens" whether we know it or not.

Lesson Ten: The Internet and the Power of Networking

"The Internet and the Power of Networking" provides a different view of media technology than previously discussed—namely, how the Internet combines many functions of communication technologies that previously remained separate. The Internet, much like the evolution of cell phones today, combines many different elements—it both distributes mass media content and also allows individuals to communicate in social-network fashion. This may be the way of future media technologies, to merge more and more into one.

Lesson Eleven: Preparing for the Final Exam

"Preparing for the Final Exam" takes a holistic approach to the previous 10 lessons and offers a practice exam. The practice exam combines multiple-choice, true/false, and short-essay questions. Prior to the practice exam, you will have some sample questions to answer, with an answer key provided and an explanation of the answers.


How to Succeed in this Course

Students who do well in this course tend to be punctual, follow instructions well, and keep up with the reading. The goal of the course is to give you insights into communication technologies, yet do it in such a way that if you simply keep up with the assignments, you also gain more confidence in the material presented. Those students who do the work and properly express themselves in essays typically do very well in this course.

It is not a question of whether the material is "easy" or "hard"—that is not how this course is designed. Rather, does the course present the material in a way that makes sense? That is our goal. Take time to read the material and the online commentary carefully. If there is something that you still don't understand, e-mail me.

The written assignment for each of the first ten lessons should be three to five pages, double-spaced, and have a bibliography listing all the sources you used.

After completing the ten written assignments, the last part of the process is the final exam. Lesson Eleven will help you prepare for the final by offering you a sample test before you must take the actual exam.

Criteria for Evaluating Written Assignments

Two rules should guide your written essays:

Your writing should be clear, thoughtful, and cogent. Don't feel compelled to use "25 cent" words, ones that you haven't really used before. Fancy words only bring attention to the words and not to the thoughts. It is best to use words that you normally use; the important element of your essay is the thoughts behind it.

There are many books to help you to write better. One of the oldest and most useful is William Strunk, Jr., The Elements of Style—see This book gives you a way to express your thoughts so they make sense and don't get lost in the words. Your readers will more easily understand you when your writing is free of entangled constructions.

Back up your statements with evidence. Assuming it's true that the purpose of college is to make you think critically, then it follows that college should demand that you make good arguments. Evidence is the difference between critical argument and mere opinion. Citing sources and finding quotes and facts to back you up make your argument credible (it doesn't make it necessarily true, but that's not the issue here). You must cite the source of each quote and other borrowed material and provide a bibliography, or reference list (like the one at the bottom of this Web page), listing all authors cited in your essay and all relevant bibliographical information.

To see how to cite sources and create a bibliography, go to

Or, if you prefer, use any of the other citation guides listed at

For how to cite online sources, see

Assignment Submission Guidelines

To submit assignments lick on the "Upload this file" button at the bottom of the assignment.

Be sure to keep a copy of what you submit.

Late Policy: To receive full credit for assignments, they must be submitted on time. If an assignment is late beyond the agreed-upon time, your score on that assignment will be reduced by 50%. In other words, a perfect paper worth 30 points will instead receive a grade of 15 points. Three days after the agreed-upon time, the assignment will not be accepted and will instead receive 0 points. Any excuse for a late submission must be a documentable emergency.

If you have questions about scheduling or rescheduling the proctored exam, click here: About Scheduling Examinations. You are required to make all arrangements to take the exam. You need to schedule the exam no more than two weeks after submitting Assignment 10. Any extensions are at your instructor's discretion but please note: it is to your advantage to schedule the exam as soon as possible following the completion of all assignments. You simply have retained more of the information. No exam will be scheduled more than a month after the last assignment is turned in, unless for documentable emergency reasons.


10 assignments @ 30 points each

300 points

(75% of course grade)

1 final exam @ 100 points

100 points

(25% of course grade)



Each assignment will be graded according to the 30-point scale, with scores of

  • 27–30 representing an "A,"
  • 24–26 a "B,"
  • 21–23 a "C," and
  • 18–20 a "D."

A score of 17 or below represents a failing grade.

The Final Exam is worth 100 points, with scores in the

  • 90s representing an "A,"
  • 80s a "B,"
  • 70s a "C," and
  • 60s a "D."

A score below 59 is considered failing.

Written Assignments

To score the maximum number of points, be sure that in each essay you do the following:

  • Identify any or all portions of the question(s) that relate to material found in the reading.
  • Formulate an answer to the question based on the material and your own thinking about the question.
  • Synthesize as much material from the reading as possible to include in your answer.
  • Cite from the reading whenever possible.
  • If a question asks you to make an argument, be clear about what points you are making and offer evidence to back up the points.
  • Edit your writing so that it is clear, thoughtful, and cogent.

Final Exam

After you have completed all 10 assignments, you will take a proctored exam. You cannot take the exam unless all 10 assignments have been submitted. The final exam is comprehensive and draws on the readings (textbook and supplemental) as well as lesson commentaries. Please note: The exam is closed book and it is worth 100 points—a quarter of your final grade. You will have two hours to complete the exam. If you finish early and hand in the exam, you may not request additional time later.

Course Grade

Maximum number of points possible: 400.

The grade breakdown is as follows:



































































A score between 223 and 219 yields a 0.7, which is the minimum passing grade. A score of 218 or below yields a 0.0 for the class—a failing grade.

Please note: You must attempt all 10 written assignments before being eligible to take the exam in this course. If you do not turn in all 10 written assignments, (a) you will not be allowed to take the final exam, and (b) you will receive an "Incomplete" for the course grade.

Study Tips

Nature of Assignments

Assignments 1 to 10

  • are associated with specific sections of the textbook or the supplemental readings and as such
  • ask you to apply key concepts raised in each of the 10 lessons and answer specific questions within each lesson.

The questions raised in each lesson ask you to take material from the readings and think about them in a broader social context, while also relating them to other instances in society involving the introduction and spread of communication technologies. The goal is to apply the readings to real-life social instances. The key terms provided in each lesson give you a clue about what this knowledge entails and how to apply it.

Study Tips for Assignments

Assignments start with a question. (It is important to note that you must answer all questions in a given lesson.) Let's take an example: the rise of special interest groups who use the Internet to cheaply and quickly send their messages to vast number of recipients. How might this use of a very powerful communication technology change the way groups "sell" themselves to the public?

Begin by reading the question carefully and understanding what it asks. In each lesson, questions are prefaced with certain philosophical assumptions relating to media technologies. Make sure you understand what these assumptions mean. After you've done this, look at the assigned reading for that lesson to begin to formulate answers.

You might, in this example, relate the concept of "networking" on the Internet, a desire for groups to sell their message to the public as cheaply as possible, and our own desire to know what is going on in the world.

In this case, these three elements come together. The Internet is powerfully used by some groups because it allows easy access to spreading their message. If it was once expensive to get a group's messages to the public (advertising on major media is expensive!), the Internet has made message selling cheap, easy, and effective.

You can illustrate this point by offering evidence gleaned from the textbook reading. Citing such sources indicates not only that you read the material, but also that you are grappling with it in a way that hopefully promotes good learning.

A Practical Way to Think of Mass Communication

A goal of this course is to deepen your understanding of media technologies; an identified objective for the class is to put theory into practice. Communication scholars use a variety of theories to understand how and why human beings have become so reliant on communication technologies. We can appreciate this reliance on mass media by conducting an exercise borrowed from Professor David Domke of the University of Washington.

Imagine that by some stroke of fate suddenly media technologies in your house have vanished. There's a snowstorm outside and you can't leave the house; this snowstorm may last for several days. You have plenty of food, so that is not a concern, and you are living alone. Family, friends, spouses, children have all gone for vacation to sunny Aruba. What do you do for fun? List the activities below (you can copy and paste this into your word processor and print it out from there).

Activity A: ____________________

Activity B: ____________________

Activity C: ____________________

Activity D: ____________________

The four spaces above may actually be more than you need. What did you write down for activities not involving mass media? Did you say read a book? Well, books are mass media. Did you write watch a movie? Well, that's mass media. So what can you do that does not involve mass media? Play cards? Well, that involves printing which is considered to be part (however small) of mass technologies. What about playing a game like Monopoly? Well, that's printing, too, which we just said is part of mass media. So what can you do? Well, you can make a sandwich or, if you are adventurous, make s'mores in your garage (how you build a fire there, however, is not something we can go into at the moment).

Rather than torture you further (and for some, removing media technologies really is torture!), let's reverse the game. Mass media technologies have returned to your house magically. What are your favorite mass technologies?






Now consider how much time you spend on each communication technology. Is it explained in minutes or hours? Chances are you spend several hours per week on your favorite technologies. Now consider the ways you organize your life around these technologies. In the communication field (as well as other fields, and increasingly in society) we speak of "lifestyle" pursuits; by that we mean that media technologies reflect and influence your lifestyle. And think of whether you spend time alone with this communication tool or conduct and/or use this media technology with others (not just with others present, but interacting with others with the tool). Probably there is some combination of both—you may be sitting alone in your room but IMing with someone on the Internet in another city.

If the theory is true that media technologies come to reflect and create our lifestyles, it must be true that these lifestyles, stretched across the vast expanse of society, will profoundly impact that culture. Consider why this might be true. How does your Internet use, for example, explain changes in our entire society? What you do, unless it is very unusual, is more than likely very representative of society. Media use is common across all social strata, education levels, regional influences, ethnic groups, and any other demographic category you can imagine. It is even (surprise?!) universal. If we visited all the homes in the world— Brazil, Zaire, China, Canada, Turkey, Japan—do you think we might find a TV set in most of them?

Communication tools have been with us since prehistory, even before humans began to communicate in some rudimentary form of language about 40,000 years ago. But only in the past fifty years have communication scholars realized the value of studying the relationship of these tools to our lives and to society. Scholars were at first willing to believe that mass media have powerful effects on individuals and society. But we have since modified our views; there may still be powerful effects—few discount that—but these may not always be regular or predictable, at least not with everybody. It turns out we may not be "sheeple" after all.

The textbook presents opinions about this relationship between media and society; it does so in an historical fashion, but with a keen eye to inferences that are rooted not in history but in impact—for example, how books unleashed a reading public, which raised the importance of education in society. Now inference is not the same as influence. Influence refers to the impact of something on the individual and society. Inference refers to factors in the general relationship between society and media technology that we can see repeated across time—that the telegraph, for instance, created "chat rooms" just as the Internet has. Think of the difference between an iPod giving you pleasure (influence) and how music is distributed in a social and economic sense (inference).

In this course we focus primarily on inference, although keep in mind that this inference is based on influence. The textbook makes us aware that increasingly society is organized around media technology. Many of us like iPods, and this mass liking affects both how companies produce such devices and also how music is distributed (for example, you can buy individual songs and not be forced to buy an entire CD!).

It may be useful to think of ways your own use and the pleasure you derive from a single media technology can play out in the larger social arena. It turns out you are connected with the rest of society (and the world) simply because you share broad lifestyles. This fact may not be surprising, but it is useful in understanding the world we—you!—live in today.

About the Course Developer, Dr. Taso G. Lagos

There is some irony in the fact that I am the developer of this course. When I grew up in a tiny village in Greece, there was only one telephone (in a village grocery store cum café), no television and hardly any newspapers. Our only connections to the outside world were a small Japanese transistor radio and the gossip brought by relatives who had returned from the large city on the island or from Athens itself. I tried to imagine what the world looked like beyond the imposing mountains surrounding the village but I could not. When my family immigrated to the United States, I was eight and the first night we arrived I watched my first television—Leave It to Beaver. It was thrilling. I made up for lost time after that, indulging in hours and hours of TV, only to give it up when I entered college as an undergrad and to regard it with a keen but critical eye ever since. I like to think that the first eight years of my life when media were in short supply in the village gave me a view of the world that hardly exists today, but to which I can reflect about the difference with modern reality.

When I got to graduate school, I had some experience as an independent filmmaker. Thus my background has given me the ability to critique mass media from the point of view of one who has produced it. I come to the communication field, in other words, as a consumer and as a producer. I hope this gives me a unique perspective. I appreciate the awesome power of media technologies but I also understand that it was not always like this.

My areas of research involve the concept of "mediating commons," or places that encourage the diffusion of new communication technology. I am also keenly interested in the use of digital technologies like the Internet by activist groups such as Greenpeace and Amnesty International; I and some of my colleagues call this "parallel society" (Alix et al. 2005).

Reference List

Alix, Avery, et al. 2005. Parallel society research collective. Poster presented May 17, 2005, at the Univ. of Washington, Seattle.

Carey, James W. 2007. Time, space, and the telegraph. In Communication in history: Technology, culture, society. 5th ed., edited by David Crowley and Paul Heyer, 150–55. Boston: Pearson A and B.

Couldry, Nick. 2001. The hidden injuries of media power. Journal of consumer culture 1 (no. 2): 155–77.

Crowley, David, and Paul Heyer, eds. 2007. Communication in history: Technology, culture, society. 5th ed. Boston: Pearson A and B.

Strunk, William, Jr., and E. B. White. 2005. The elements of style. New York: Penguin Press.

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