By Angela Paradise
Dept. of Communication
When I first began teaching COM 419 (Mediated Communication Theory–one of our Department’s capstone classes), I structured this course around a semester-long research proposal assignment. I soon realized that this project felt rather anti-climactic as a capstone experience; in fact, I recall students commenting in my course evaluations that the theory-driven material was “dry” and “boring.” As a result, I began working with Professor Ron Leone (who also teaches sections of this course) to develop a community-based learning (CBL) component that combined media theories, media literacy, and young people from outside the Stonehill community. What evolved from this shared vision was a CBL component through which our students currently serve as media literacy facilitators at local afterschool programs. Since the Spring of 2009, my CO419 students have volunteered at Davis Commons, an after-school program in Brockton where they serve as “media literacy facilitators.” This partnership requires my students to create and lead lessons and activities with young people between the ages of 7 and 16, with the goal of encouraging the afterschool students to think critically about media messages. There are several components of this CBL project, which I briefly describe below.
A Closer Look at the CBL Project
First, as noted above, each week my students prepare lesson plans and activities that guide their visit at Davis Commons. Their lesson plans relate to topics covered in our class (e.g., gender portrayals in media, television violence, deceptive advertising, Internet safety, etc…). Our CBL program lasts ten weeks and I typically have three groups of Stonehill students visiting weekly for a total of 30 visits per semester. We spend considerable time in the beginning of the semester discussing age- and topic-appropriate lesson plans. It is the responsibility of the entire group to give careful thought and consideration as to the preparation and facilitation of their weekly lesson plan. Each group is required to turn in their weekly lesson plan, as well as a reflection/evaluation of their performance each week.
Second, throughout the course of the CBL project, my students create a media product that documents their experiences at Davis Commons. In the past, CO419 students have created videos (one documentary; one mock newscast) that have fulfilled this requirement. Incorporating a media production component has several benefits. Not only does it allow my Stonehill students to gain hands-on skills in the area of video production, but it also tends to spark the interests of the Davis Commons youth and motivates them to be active participants in our media literacy partnership. Further, since I am not on-site at Davis Commons with my students, having them create a video project that chronicles their experiences allows me to see first-hand the wonderful work they are accomplishing at Davis Commons.
Third, a project of this nature requires consistent reflection and evaluation, both through written work and oral presentations. Throughout the course of the semester, students reflect on their CBL experiences and connect them to course readings and discussion. This comes in the form of lesson plan evaluations, a media literacy critique paper, a final self-evaluation document, the media production group project, and consistent participation in class discussions.
Finally, as a way to celebrate the students’ capstone experience, the class coordinates an on-campus end-of-the-semester celebration for the youth of Davis Commons. This event typically involves a campus tour, a film screening of the CO-419 video, and a pizza party. The CO-419 students are responsible for carrying out the necessary event-planning tasks. In the past, this event has truly served as a “capstone” experience, whereby all involved (my students, the Davis Common youth, the after-school program coordinator, and myself) are able to celebrate our collective accomplishments and the benefits derived from our CBL partnership.