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  Course Summary

Course Number: COMM ST 395
Winter 2010
Lecture: TTh 2-3:30pm
  Room: Searle 1-421
Lab: Thursdays 6-8pm

Professor Justine Cassell
Office hours: by appointment

TA: Zeina Atrash
Office hours: by appointment


This course is intended to place current debates about childhood and children's media technologies within their larger contexts. Students will examine children's culture (and the myths adults construct for and about children) from psychological, sociological, anthropological, historical, critical, pedagogical and technological perspectives. We will also critically engage with key examples of books, films, television programs, toys, and digital media artifacts aimed at children. Our goal is to gain insights into the nature of children's lives, their culture, their relationship to the media, and the social institutions they confront. An intrinsic part of the course will be to reflect on (and engage in) the activity of creating new media for children, and to think through recurrent efforts by adults to regulate children's culture and play.

Two discussion/lecture periods; a weekly lab session which combines screenings (film, TV, Web, etc.), hands-on interaction with children's artifacts (toys, games, videogames, etc.) and discussion.

Course Requirements:

Class participation: This is not a lecture class and so your participation is invited - nay, expected. But note the definition of class participation: being willing and able to speak intelligently in class about the topics under discussion. Clearly, in order to be able to speak intelligently about a topic, you will need to have done the readings and attended the lab for that topic. You will also need to be physically present and alert, both for class and for the lab sessions. Students who facebook, write emails, or sms will receive horrifyingly low grades for attendance/participation.

Interpretive questions: Before each class meeting students are required to submit at least two interpretive and motivated questions for the readings assigned for that class. Since the point of the questions is (a) to demonstrate that you have done the readings, and (b) to give the instructor a roadmap for class discussion, your questions cannot be both about the same reading. You can write one question for each of two different texts, or one question that compares two texts, and one question on a third text, or two questions that compare three texts, and so forth.

Questions must be posted to Blackboard on Monday and on Wednesday by noon (24 hours before the class meets), so that the instructor can base her discussion of the readings on the questions submitted. To get to the question, log into Blackboard ( https://courses.northwestern.edu/ ), go to the class and then choose "Communication" from the menu on the left-hand side of the page. From there, choose "Discussion Board" and you will see some dates. Click on the date of the question you are answering today, and then choose "thread". Write a subject, a message and then click <submit> and your answer will be posted under the question. Phew! Occasionally I may cancel the question requirement in favor of another equally straightforward and non time-consuming assignment.

Observe a child (due January 14th): Find some real children, watch them engaging in some activity, and write up an transcript of your observations. You can either structure your observations around a topic that interests you (such as, "differences in play patterns between same-sex and mixed sex peers", or "how children actually use action figures") or an interesting children's activity (such as "juice time", "storytime", "bedtime"). Note that the goal of the assignment is (a) to get you to distinguish between observation and interpretation; (b) to give you some data on real children. Thus, your goal is to observe everything that goes on and write it down without interpretation (a tape recorder or videocamera will help a lot!). Read: Dorothy H. Cohen, Virginia Stern, Nancy Balaban, "Observing and Recording the Behavior of Young Children."

What to turn in: The transcript of your observations (what the kids said & did) and 1-2 pages on how you interpret their behavior based on one or more of the class readings.

Analyze a children's artifact (due February 11th): Choose a game, toy, program, book, or other artifact for children and analyze (in 1-2 pages) the representation of childhood that it explicitly or implicitly conveys/ instantiates / relies on; a 3rd page should provide an annotated bibliography of a minimum of 3references that influenced your interpretation (grad students are to supply 6 references). You will be bringing the artifact in to share with the class.

Critical Essay (due January 28th & February 25th): Undergraduates (7-10 Pages); Graduate Students (15 Pages). Students should develop a topic in consultation with the professor which allows them to apply some of the theoretical and conceptual materials from the course to explore some aspect of contemporary children's culture.

Produce a children's artifact (due Februar 18th & March 11th): Produce/construct/implement a game, toy, program, book, or other artifact for children. Examples include: writing a children's story, implementing a video game, building a children's toy, filming a segment of a children's show. Then write 3-4 pages about the underlying assumptions about children/childhood that are pre-supposed by your artifact, along with an bibliography consisting of at least 8 references (grad students are to supply 12 references) that have influenced your development of this artifact. You will be bringing the artifact in to present to the class.

The assignments must be turned in on paper in class, and must also be sent by email to Justine and Zeina before class.

Required Books:

We have made links to all necessary books on Amazon.com (our recommendation for new books and used books) and Half.com (our recommendation for inexpensive and reliably-delivered used books). Profits from course books sold from these pages will be used to buy pizza, etc. for class.

Sigmund Freud, Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality at Amazon or Half.com
Henry Jenkins (Ed.) The Children's Culture Reader at Amazon or Half.com
Joseph J. Tobin, David Y. H. Wu, Dana H. Davidson Preschool in Three Cultures: Japan, China, and the United States at Amazon or Half.com
Neal Stephenson, The Diamond Age at Amazon or Half.com (optional)

The remaining readings have been scanned and linked to the website so that you can choose to read them on your computer, or to print them out.

Grading Policy:

Interpretive questions and class participation will be graded with a check mark for each class meeting, to indicate that the requirement was met. Late interpretive questions will be accepted once during the semester, no questions asked, provided they are turned in before the following class meeting.

This class depends vitally on participation, and really suffers from absences and lateness.  And, because the quarter is so so short, every absence or late arrival really makes a difference in how much you will each take away from the class.  And yet we understand that sometimes things happen that are beyond your control.  That is why we have instituted the following policy: If you are late to two classes, I won't bat an eye.  However, starting with the third time, each late arrival lowers your grade by one half grade. Likewise, for absences, you may be absent twice without consequences.  However, starting with the third absence, your grade will be lowered by one half grade for each absence.  This year, we have also instituted a reward for full participation: if you have no absences and no late arrivals, then we will bump up the grade of your lowest assignment by one half grade.

Other than this, please note that all work must be turned in on time, no late work will be accepted.  Do not even think of asking for an extension in the following cases: 1) you have a lot of tests or papers in other classes that week; 2) you will be away on the day the assignment is due, 3) a last-minute emergency. Assignments are given well in advance, and just because you planned to write the paper the night before but got food poisoning is not an excuse for not turning in your paper on time!

The other assignments will be assigned letter grades. The term paper and final children's artifact are each worth 25% of your grade. The children's observation, and analysis of artifact are worth 15% of your grade each. The interpretive questions and class participation are worth 10% each (and may also serve to bump up or down grades that are on the edge).

The critical essay will be graded on both content and form. Content means the originality and interest of the research question, nature of the methodology used to investigate the question, plausibility of your interpretations. Form means the organization, clarity and quality of the writing, and the scholarly use of conventions such as citations and footnotes. An 'A' quality term paper finds an interesting research question in contemporary children's culture, makes use