McDaniel College Department of Communication
Richard W. Dillman (

Contents . Calendar . Additional Sources . Assignments and Grading . Discussion Board . BLOG


This "Syllabus" Site Summarizes the Course

Use the Course Discussion Board To See Details and Current Information

This course is currently asleep.

IMPORTANT: Unless you tell me otherwise, I will use your McDaniel email address. You can use any email address that you want to but you must send me an email message from that address so that I can record it.

My email address is:



A broad historical and theoretical introduction to the study of human communication in the context of organizations and audiences. Homework and classroom participation put a strong emphasis on writing and speaking.


Mass communication involves the broad distribution of messages more or less simultaneously to very large audiences. Although mass communication is a fairly recent phenomenon, it is a major cultural component of current technological societies. This course looks at the basic nature of mass communication, the organizations that create it, the media by which it is delivered, and the audiences who make use of it.

We will consider the creation of mass communication by means of print in the 1800s, its evolution via radio in the early 1900s, it's explosive growth via television in the mid-1900s, and its extension to the Internet in the 2000s. We will look at how specific media such as newspapers, books, radio, TV, blogs, and virtual worlds help to shape our social reality. We will discuss the ways in which the people who have access to media production create and distribute their messages. And we will discuss how audience members attend to, use, misuse and ignore the messages that they encounter.


The course is divided into three sections as described below. See the Course Calendar for assignment due dates. Additional details will be posted to the Class Discussion Board as they arise.

The books are available in the bookstore or through various online stores. If you buy your books online, recognize that it may take a week or two for them to arrive. It is your responsibility to have read the assignment before we begin to discuss it.

In choosing texts for this course I have the avoided the large, expensive "smorgasbord" type of textbook in favor of smaller more specific texts. This gives a deeper, and I think more interesting, overview of mass communication, but at the cost of skipping over a few topics. If you are interested in a particular subject that we do not cover, let me know and I will point you to additional sources of information.

The first week is devoted to learning how to use the online discussion board. This also gives you time to read the material assigned for the discussion in week number two. (This reading material is free and online.) You can see the schedule for the entire semester on the Course Calendar page.

Communication and Mass Communication

Communication is a process that serves to connect senders and receivers of messages in space and time. Mass communication is a form of communication that creates and delivers messages to large audiences. The course begins with a discussion of these definitions. The following are required reading:

The Communication Process, Mass Communication and The Communication Environment — these can be found online at Happy Fun Communication Land.

Issues and Ideas

Beginning in mid-semester, we will discuss a set of issues and ideas that demonstrate the breadth and complexity of mass communication in our society. They also provide an overview of the areas of study that are available to communication majors. Included in the discussion will be: the Orson Welles "War of the Worlds" radio panic, how audiences understand texts, agenda setting and gatekeeping bias in the news, advertising and marketing as mass communication, media technology and social change, the effects of violent TV and video games, and the meaning of virtual reality.

The following books are required reading:

Outline of Topics for Discussion

  1. What Is Communication?
    While everybody communicates, most people spend little time thinking about what communication actually is. Before we can study "communication", we must define it.
  2. Mass Communication
    What makes "mass" communication unique? How do we tell "mass" communication from other kinds of communication?
  3. How Do People Study Mass Communication?
    Where do studies of mass communication come from? When did people first begin to study mass communication? What methods do they use? How do we know that we can trust their results?
  4. Current Mass Comnumication Theories
    What do today's experts think about mass communication?
  5. Violence in Television (2 weeks)
    Do portrayals of violence on television change our social behavior?
  6. Bias in the News (2 weeks)
    All "news" media are biased. How do these biases arise, and to what extent do they change the thoughts and beliefs of the audience?
  7. What Is Text?
    The "text" is a key element of any mass communication message. How are texts created, and how do audiences use them?
  8. Mass (Media) Culture (2 weeks)
    People who live in "high-tech" and "industrialized" societies are constantly surrounded by mass communication messages. These messages, and the ideas that they promulagate, form a large part of the reality of our everyday lives. What does this mean, and what are its implications?
  9. Advertising & Marketing
    "Public communication", or the attempt to sway opinion about a product, subject, individual or organization, is a major part of today's mass communication mix. Is this good or bad, and how does this kind of communication work?
  10. Virtual Worlds
    The newest form of mass media are found online and in personal computers in the form of "virtual worlds." Should we be interested in studying this kind of communication?
  11. Summary
    The final week will review and summarize the semester's studies.



This online course operates very differently from the way a "regular" classroom class operates. Please read all of the pages at this web site. Be sure to read the emails that I send you -- they contain important information about the class. And be sure to keep very close track of the messages that are being posted to the class discussion board.

See the Course Calendar for the list of class assignments and their due dates. Additional details about assignments will be posted to the Discussion Board as the class procedes.


The COM1103 Discussion Board is provided for the use of class members. You will have to give your ID code and password to be able to use the board. These will be distributed at the beginning of the course. Each week you will log on to the discussion board and post your observations and questions about the ideas that we are considering at the time. I participate in this discussion, too, and it serves as the main venue for the course.


During the class I maintain a "blog" for the course to which I post comments and notes, much as I would provide in a lecture in a traditional course. You can find the blog at: rDilCourseBlog.


Four Short Papers : 60 (15 each)

Online Discussion Board: 55 (5 weekly for 11 weeks)



(Yes, this adds up to 115. The extra fifteen points are "extra credit.")

See the Assignments and Grading page for a detailed description of the course assignments.



Statement of the Honor Code for this course.