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Academic Year: Fall/Winter 2014/2015

Term: 1

Day/Evening: D

Instructor: Dr. Alex Sevigny


Office: Togo Salmon Hall 304

Phone: 905-525-9140 x 27661


Office Hours: MONDAYS & THURSDAYS 11:30-12:20

Course Objectives:

Course Description

How do humans communicate with one another? What is the basis for the way we perceive and understand one another? How do humans receive and interpret messages delivered via mass media? How do artists communicate their ideas, emotions and vision to others via performance? How does the artist’s work influence popular culture?

Students will examine fundamental concepts in communication studies and the effect of language, performativity, mass media and the internet on socio-cultural and cognitive processes. There are two textbook: (i) the first (Understanding Human Communication, 2nd Canadian Edition) provides a practical, skill-building and methods-oriented perspective on cognitive and socio-cultural processes underlying human communication; (ii) the second (Introduction to Communication) provides an overview of the great theoretical debates on-going in communication studies from both critical and administrative perspectives.
Invited speakers from the communication industry and academe may give guest lectures.

Theoretical Objectives    

Students completing the course would be expected to achieve three main learning objectives:

  • Understand fundamental concepts in communication (mediated & interpersonal);
  • Understand how different disciplinary approaches have woven together over time to form the discipline of communications.
  • Become acquainted with the Communication Studies Program at McMaster University.

Practical Objectives    

Students completing the course would be expected to achieve six main learning objectives:

  • Learn about interpersonal, group, mediated and mass communication strategies;
  • Learn about the role of language in communication (socio-cultural and cognitive);
  • Learn about the effects of mediated communication on society and the individual;
  • Learn about how performative acts affect communication for society and the individual;
  • Learn how to start and maintain an online presence (LinkedIn);
  • Learn the basics of how to write and create compelling audio-visual documents for public relations and media.

Textbooks, Materials & Fees:

  • Sévigny, Alexandre. (2013).  Introduction to Communication 3rd Edition. Dubuque, OH: Kendall-Hunt. *** do not buy the 2nd edition
  • Adler, R., Rodman, G. & Sévigny, A. (2011). Understanding Human Communication, 2nd Canadian Edition. Toronto: Oxford University Press.


Method of Assessment:

List of Grade Percentage Values for Assignments, Participation and Final Examination

  • 05%    Article Summary                       (DUE: 23:59 on Sunday, October 12, 2014)
  • 10%    Tutorial Participation                 (DUE: In Tutorial, On-Going Through Term)
  • 10%    Tutorial Presentation                 (DUE: In Tutorial, On-Going Through Term)
  • 10%    Video Rant                                (DUE: 23:59 on Sunday, October 26, 2014)
  • 10%    Media Release                          (DUE: 23:59 on Sunday, September 28, 2014)
  • 10%    LinkedIn Site                             (DUE: 23:59 on Wednesday, November 19, 2014)
  • 15%    Op-Ed Piece                             (DUE: 23:59 on Sunday, November 23, 2014)
  • 30%    Cumulative Final Examination  (Scheduled during regular examination period.)

Brief Descriptions of Assignments and Final Examination

PLEASE NOTE: Detailed descriptions of each assignment, including a grading rubric will be posted to A2L.

Tutorial Participation (DUE: In Tutorial, On-Going Through Term)

Tutorials have been designed to help you understand and make sense of the course readings and lectures. There is ample evidence to show that students who attend and actively participate in the weekly tutorials do better on their assignments, exams and the overall course. The secret to obtaining a good participation grade is by doing the readings and actively engaging in the sessions.

Tutorial Presentation (DUE: In Tutorial, On-Going Through Term)

You will present a 10-minute presentation in groups of three, explaining the highlights of one of the weekly readings from either of the textbooks assigned in this course: UHC2 or Introduction to Communication. These presentations will be rolling weekly as the term continues at a rate of one or two per tutorial.

Media Release (DUE: 23:59 on Sunday, September 28, 2014)

You will write a media release about an upcoming event or cause from a community (Hamilton, Mississauga, etc.). For example: a speech, a student gathering, a media gathering, a protest, a concert, a club or bar opening, a gallery opening, an environmental campaign, a citizenship ceremony, a community gathering, a town hall meeting, a sports event, a celebrity event, a festival, a cultural event, the release of a new book or CD. Remember, you are not writing a news story, rather a media release.

Article Summary (DUE: 23:59 on Sunday, October 12, 2014)

You will be required to submit one (1), one-page summary.  The summary must be based on the required or recommended reading list provided in the syllabus. Your summary must be submitted exactly in the prescribed format of absolutely no more than a single page. An example summary can be found on the last page of this course outline.

Video Rant (DUE: 23:59 on Sunday, October 26, 2014)

You will record a 120-second video rant on a topic of social, political or economic interest/concern. You must express yourself in a compelling, persuasive fashion. You should model your rant on Rick Mercer’s rants.

LinkedIn Presence (DUE: 23:59 on Wednesday, November 19, 2014)

You will fill out a LinkedIn page for yourself, effectively representing your curriculum vitae. You will be given examples of good LinkedIn profiles and pointed to online tutorials on how to build an effective LinkedIn page for yourself.

Op-Ed Piece (DUE: 23:59 on Sunday, November 23, 2014)

Please see the assignment description for the opinion editorial for a detailed grading rubric. You will write an op-ed piece meant to be submitted to one of the following: Hamilton Spectator, the Financial Post, the Toronto Sun or the Globe and Mail or other mainstream newspaper (Waterloo Region Record, Ottawa Citizen, etc.). Your Op-Ed piece will express a thesis about a pressing issue relevant to Hamilton, to McMaster University, your hometown, or to federal or provincial current affairs. You should write about an issue that is important to you – it will improve your Op-Ed significantly. You should read a number of op-ed pieces published in your target newspaper to get a feel for the tone and style you need to write in for your op-ed to be accepted. Then you should write your op-ed in that style. Remember you are trying to write an op-ed that might be published. This is not just an academic exercise.

Final Examination

Students will be given a list of questions on the last day of class, of which a selection will comprise the final examination. The will be two hours long and will take place during the official examination period.

Policy on Missed Work, Extensions, and Late Penalties:

Late Work

  • Late submission of an assignment will result in a grade of zero.

  • You must post each assignment to its A2L dropbox.

  • If you have not made any prior arrangement with your TA, assignments not submitted to the digital dropbox on A2L will be considered late and will result in a grade of zero for the assignment. Any special arrangements with your TA concerning the submission of an assignment must be agreed upon at least 24 hours before the due date.

  • Late submission of assignments will not be penalized for legitimate certifiable reasons such as illness or the death of a close family member.

    • You must provide evidence for your reason (doctor's note, death certificate).

    • MSAF will only be honoured if official supporting documentation is provided within 2 days of the filing of the assignment due date to your TA and the instructor.

    • Official documentation must be scanned and submitted as an email attachment to an email sent to the instructor with your TA cc'd on the email.

  • PLEASE NOTE: Computer problems or last minute issues uploading an assignment to A2L are not legitimate reasons for late submission of an assignment. Presenting these reasons as an excuse for late submission of an assignment will result in a grade of zero for the late assignment. 

McMaster Student Absence Form (MSAF)

This is a self-reporting tool for undergraduate students to report absences DUE TO MINOR MEDICAL SITUATIONS that last up to 5 days and provides the ability to request accommodation for any missed academic work. Please note, this tool cannot be used during any final examination period. You may submit a maximum of 1 Academic Work Missed request per term. It is YOUR responsibility to follow up with your Instructor immediately (NORMALLY WITHIN TWO WORKING DAYS) regarding the nature of the accommodation. If you are absent for reasons other than medical reasons, for more than 5 days, or exceed 1 request per term, you MUST visit your Associate Dean's Office/Faculty Office). You may be required to provide supporting documentation. This form should be filled out immediately when you are about to return to class after your absence.

Accommodations For Students With Disabilities

If you require special accommodation for learning or have any special needs please let me know of them as soon as possible in order that arrangements can be made. Students with disabilities are encouraged to register with Student Accessibility Services ( 


Please Note the Following Policies and Statements:

Academic Dishonesty

You are expected to exhibit honesty and use ethical behaviour in all aspects of the learning process. Academic credentials you earn are rooted in principles of honesty and academic integrity.

Academic dishonesty is to knowingly act or fail to act in a way that results or could result in unearned academic credit or advantage. This behaviour can result in serious consequences, e.g. the grade of zero on an assignment, loss of credit with a notation on the transcript (notation reads: "Grade of F assigned for academic dishonesty"), and/or suspension or expulsion from the university.

It is your responsibility to understand what constitutes academic dishonesty. For information on the various types of academic dishonesty please refer to the Academic Integrity Policy, located at

The following illustrates only three forms of academic dishonesty:

  1. Plagiarism, e.g. the submission of work that is not one’s own or for which other credit has been obtained.
  2. Improper collaboration in group work.
  3. Copying or using unauthorized aids in tests and examinations.

Email correspondence policy

It is the policy of the Faculty of Humanities that all email communication sent from students to instructors (including TAs), and from students to staff, must originate from each student’s own McMaster University email account. This policy protects confidentiality and confirms the identity of the student.  Instructors will delete emails that do not originate from a McMaster email account.

Modification of course outlines

The University reserves the right to change dates and/or deadlines etc. for any or all courses in the case of an emergency situation or labour disruption or civil unrest/disobedience, etc. If a modification becomes necessary, reasonable notice and communication with the students will be given with an explanation and the opportunity to comment on changes. Any significant changes should be made in consultation with the Department Chair.

McMaster Student Absence Form (MSAF)

In the event of an absence for medical or other reasons, students should review and follow the Academic Regulation in the Undergraduate Calendar Requests for Relief for Missed Academic Term Work. Please note these regulations have changed beginning Fall 2015. You can find information at If you have any questions about the MSAF, please contact your Associate Dean's office.

Academic Accommodation of Students with Disabilities

Students who require academic accommodation must contact Student Accessibility Services (SAS) to make arrangements with a Program Coordinator. Academic accommodations must be arranged for each term of study. Student Accessibility Services can be contacted by phone 905-525-9140 ext. 28652 or e-mail For further information, consult McMaster University's Policy for Academic Accommodation of Students with Disabilities.

Academic Accommodation for Religious, Indigenous and Spiritual Observances

Students requiring academic accommodation based on religion and spiritual observances should follow the procedures set out in the Course Calendar or by their respective Faculty. In most cases, the student should contact his or her professor or academic advisor as soon as possible to arrange accommodations for classes, assignments, tests and examinations that might be affected by a religious holiday or spiritual observance.

Topics and Readings:

WEEK 01    

Thursday, September 04 (Lecture 01)

  • Orientation & Introduction to Class Assignments
  • ++ Detailed Description of Tutorial Presentation Assignment

WEEK 02    

Monday, September 08 (Lecture 02)

  • UHC2, Chapter 1

Thursday, September 11 (Lecture 03)

  • N. Carr, “The Shallows: The Vital Paths"

WEEK 03    

Monday, September 15 (Lecture 04)

  • UHC2, Chapter 2

Thursday, September 18 (Lecture 05)

  • H. Innis, Minerva’s Owl
  • ++ Detailed Description of Media Release Assignment 

WEEK 04    

Monday, September 22 (Lecture 06)    

  • UHC2, Chapter 11: Professional Writing Workshop
    • How to write a Media Release
    • How to write an Op-Ed

Thursday, September 25 (Lecture 07) 

  • M. McLuhan, “The Medium is the Message”
  • M. McLuhan, “Playboy Interview: A Candid Conversation with the High Priest of Popcult and Metaphysician of Media”

WEEK 05    

Monday, September 29 (Lecture 08)    

  • UHC2, Chapter 3

Thursday, October 02 (Lecture 09)    

  • S. Pinker, “Chatterboxes”
  • S. Pinker, “Mentalese”
  • ++ Detailed Description of Article Summaries Assignment

WEEK 06    

Monday, October 06 (Lecture 10)    

  • UHC2, Chapter 4

Thursday, October 09 (Lecture 11)    

  • G. Lakoff & M. Johnson “Metaphors We Live By"
  • ++ Detailed Description of Op-Ed Piece Assignment

WEEK 07    

*** Monday, October 13 (Thanksgiving Day - No Lecture) ***

Thursday, October 16 (Lecture 12)    

  • UHC2, Chapter 5

WEEK 08    

Monday, October 20 (Lecture 13)    

  • Turing, “Computing Machinery and Intelligence”

Thursday, October 23 (Lecture 14)    

  • UHC2, Chapter 11: Persuasion
  • Sevigny & Flynn, “A Reflection on the Evolution of the Field of Professional Communication”

WEEK 09    

Monday, October 27 (Lecture 15)    

  • G. Le Bon, “General Characteristics of Crowds”
  • G. Le Bon, “The Ideas, Reasoning Power and Imagination of Crowds”

*** Thursday, October 30 (Fall Reading Week - Enjoy Responsibly. No Lecture) ***

WEEK 10    

Monday, November 03 (Lecture 16) 

UHC2, Chapter 6

Thursday, November 06 (Lecture 17)    

UHC2, Chapter 7

WEEK 11    

Monday, November 10 (Lecture 18)    

G. Longford & B. Crow, “From the ‘Electronic Cottage’ to the ‘Silicon Sweatshop’"
++ Detailed Description of Video Rant Assignment

Thursday, November 13 (Lecture 19)    

V. Alia, “Technology and the Circumpolar Village…” 
M. Gillespie, “Cool Bodies: TV Ad Talk”

WEEK 12    

Monday, November 17 (Lecture 20)    

UHC2, Chapter 8

Thursday, November 20 (Lecture 21)    

C. Dornan, “Printed Matter: Canadian Newspapers”
D. Estok “Paywalls”
E. Hughes, “Book Publishers Scramble to Rewrite Their Future”

WEEK 13    

Monday, November 24 (Lecture 22)    

C. Lasch, “Revolt of the Elites”
C. Lasch, “The Lost Art of Argument”

Thursday, November 27 (Lecture 23)    

M. Bowden, “The Story Behind the Story”
N. Silver, “Are you Smarter than a Television Pundit?”
C. Waddell & C. Dornan, “The Media and the Campaign”

WEEK 14    

Monday, December 01 (Lecture 24)

T. Sorensen, “Relationship with JFK”
T. Sorensen, “Epilogue: Reflections, Regrets and Reconsiderations”
++ General Examination Review Session

Other Course Information:

Class Attendance.

Attendance is simply mandatory. This class will cover a great deal of material, much of which is very technical. Missing even one class will set you back.  If ill, please contact the instructor for further assistance on missed material.

Emails to Faculty
It is the policy of the Department of Communication Studies and Multimedia (CSMM) that all email communication between students and instructors (including TAs) must originate from their official McMaster University email accounts. This policy protects the confidentiality and sensitivity of information and confirms the identities of both the student and instructor. CSMM department instructors will delete messages that do not originate from McMaster email accounts.

Electronic Learning Environment

In this course we will be using Avenue2Learn – our learning management system Students should be aware that, when they access the electronic components of this course, private information such as first and last names, user names for the McMaster e-mail accounts, and program affiliation may become apparent to all other students in the same course.  The available information is dependent on the technology used.  Continuation in this course will be deemed consent to this disclosure.  If you have any questions or concerns about such disclosure please discuss this with the course instructor.

Course Modification

The instructor and university reserve the right to modify elements of the course during the term. The university may change the dates and deadlines for any or all courses in extreme circumstances. If either type of modification becomes necessary, reasonable notice and communication with the students will be given with explanation and the opportunity to comment on changes.  It is the responsibility of the student to check their McMaster email and course websites weekly during the term and to note any changes