Skip navigation
All Places > The Communication COMMunity > Blog
1 2 3 Previous Next

The Communication COMMunity

39 posts

It is 11pm on a Tuesday night. Tomorrow morning is the big presentation you have been preparing weeks for and you makes moves for an early bedtime. You set your alarm on your phone and plop right into bed. The room is nearly pitch black as you begin shutting your eyes. You are on your way into rem sleep when suddenly...vzzzzzzt; a notification illuminates the room with a piercing flash of light. Fully awakened and tempted, you check that notification of a snapchat. But a snapchat turns into a google search, then a twitter check, an instagram gander, and before you know it, it’s 3am and you’re editing your Facebook profile picture.


Like many young adults and teenagers I have fallen prey to my own device-- it’s the Black Mirror Effect.


While the Black Mirror Effect is something I merely coined based off the technological dystopian British program Black Mirror, it describes our society’s current dilemma; we have become entranced by technology and slaves to our screens.


Here are some statistics:


  • 95% of all teens (13-17 years of age) are actively online.
  • In 2016, 81% of online teens have some sort of social media, which is up from 55% in 2006.
  • According to a recent study by the UK disability charity Scope, of 1500 Facebook and Twitter users surveyed, 62% reported feeling inadequate and 60% reported feelings of jealousy from comparing themselves to other users.




Online games, dating apps, and social media in particular have negative effects on the happiness of Millennials and the iGens. The increasing number of depressed,sleep deprived hypertexters measuring their self-worth by a Facebook post is frightening.  Adam Alter, social psychologist and author of Irresistible: The Rise of Addictive Technology and the Business of Keeping Us Hooked, mentions the effects of addiction on social media usage.


Featured in a recent TED Talk, Alter explains why screens do not make us happy. The info graphic below (taken from Alter’s TED Talk) the average work day is organized into time spent doing our daily activities. The red space in the personal section represents the amount of time we spend on screens during personal time and how it has increased in just ten years time. According to this chart, screen time has consumed almost our entire personal time.




Now do not misunderstand, screens are not the bane of existence. Screens have revolutionized the world. Calling friends and loved ones over video chats was not possible a few years back and today, we have opportunities to see a familiar face or “attend” an event. It’s quite incredible that our devices can be a remote, open your car, act as a GPS, count your steps, and even check your heart rate! There’s power in revolution, but the problem with too much power is the lack of self-control.


The true culprit behind these addictive behaviors is a common feature on many social media apps--endless scrolling. As Adam Alter suggests, with the lack of stopping cues we have the ability to indulge ourselves into an infinite amount of scrolling. Without an endpoint, it is harder to determine where and when to stop at any given moment.


So how can we put a cap on screen usage? Is legislation over the top? Believe it or not, there is indeed legislation dubbed “Cinderella Laws” already proposed and up for discussion in South Korea and China. With that still just a discussion, what can YOU do? Here are a few thoughts to consider:


  • Put it on airplane mode. That way notifications, texts, and emails are not on the radar.
  • When going to an event, such as a concert or festival, keep your phone in your bag. Challenge yourself to not snapchat or “go live” while you are at these events. Just live the experience without your phone.
  • Pick a time of day not to pull your phone out. Dinner time would be a great opportunity to put the phone down.
  • Set time restraints. If 11pm is your bedtime, 9:59pm should be the last minute your thumbs touch that screen.
  • Get an alarm clock. It may “old school” nowadays but using your phone as a bedtime alarm can prompt temptation. Nothing wrong with a good old fashion alarm clock!


There is bliss in unplugging yourself from the digital world and, as I have learned through my nights of sleep deprivation, getting a full eight hours will not not only save you from dark circles and zombie eyes, but you’ll ace that big presentation, improve your mental health, and open yourself up to "screenless" experiences. Go live without your phone, and live your life through your own eyes.





Abrams, Allison. “Mental Health and the Effects of Social Media.” Psychology Today, Sussex Publishers, 5 Mar. 2017, Accessed 21 Aug. 2017.


Alter, Adam. “Why our screens make us less happy.” YouTube, uploaded by TED, 1 August 2017,


Cottle, Julia. “Facebook and Mental Health: Is Social Media Hurting or Helping?” Mental Help, 15 Mar. 2016. Accessed 21 Aug. 2017.


Dreifus, Claudia. “Why We Can’t Look Away From Our Screens.” The New York Times, 6 Mar. 2017. Accessed 21 Aug. 2017.


MacMillan, Amanda . “Why Instagram Is the Worst Social Media for Mental Health.” Time, 25 May 2017. Accessed 21 Aug. 2017.

As the end of summer quickly approaches, many colleges will soon start their fall semesters. Some students may be returning back for another year at school, while others will begin as freshmen in the fall. On the first day of classes, students and professors alike may feel a variety of different emotions ranging from nervousness to excitement and everything in between.


To deal with these emotions and others, it’s important for students and professors to set clear goals to help them get through the semester. Through personal experience, I find that when I write out my academic goals for myself and keep the list in an accessible place to refer back to, I am more likely to actually achieve my goals. For professors, it might be harder to balance the responsibilities of teaching multiple classes and interacting with students, while also trying to reach the targets they set for themselves.


For the upcoming semester, I have personally set goals for myself and have expectations to complete them all. One goal I would like to make happen is to engage more with professors to benefit from their extensive knowledge and really learn from them. In the past, I haven’t tried to make strong relationships with professors because I focused more on balancing my social life with finishing coursework on time. Throughout the semester I will occasionally glance over my list of goals to make sure I keep working towards completing them. At the very end of the semester, I will go through my goals one more time to see which ones I was able to achieve. If I didn’t do something I would’ve liked to do, I will put it on my list for the next semester and continue to work at becoming a better student.


On the first day of class, it may be a good idea to set aside time during class for students to set goals for themselves. Setting goals will encourage students to strive to do their best right from the start of the semester. Another useful tip for professors is to have students make another list with specific things that they would like to get out of the class and any teaching techniques they would like the professor to use. Professors can collect the lists from students to develop their own objectives for the semester according to their own needs as well as their students’ needs.


As an instructor, do you set goals for yourself at the beginning of each semester?

What are some of the goals you set?

How do you stay on track to achieve your goals throughout the semester?

Do you have any tips for professors or students on what types of goals they should set or how to achieve their goals?



About the Author

Danielle Straub is the Communication Editorial intern this summer at Macmillan. She is a rising junior at Hunter College in New York City. Pursuing a bachelor’s degree in English, Danielle plans to go into publishing when she finishes college. Danielle enjoys spending her time traveling, cooking, reading, and volunteering.

Whether or not you watch Game of Thrones, you probably already know that the seventh season of the action-packed fantasy returned last month (to record-breaking ratings, no less). Maybe your friends held a viewing party, or posted about it on social media, or slipped “Winter is coming” somewhere into a recent conversation. Even if you’re behind on the show (three seasons behind, in my case), it’s unlikely that you’ll have to wait long before the events of the current season come to your attention (curse you, spoilers!).


In an age where countless varieties of television shows are available for your entertainment in a growing array of mediums – like Netflix, DVR, and various online streaming platforms – it’s rare to find one single show that captures such massive appeal and has an audience dedicated enough to tune in every week. Game of Thrones manages both, drawing in 16.1 million total viewers for the seventh season premiere, which includes 10.1 million who watched on the linear channel as the show aired (Variety). While not the only example of “consensus” or “appointment-viewing” television left, it is currently the strongest, growing in its last few seasons while other examples Scandal and The Walking Dead have seen viewership drop off (TIME).


Why, then, has Thrones been able to command not just viewers’ attention, but also their Sunday nights? Is it just the merit of the show itself, or is there a social aspect to it as well?


Game of Thrones is a prime example of communal TV - shows most enjoyed when we share them with others. Methods of sharing a TV viewing experience include physical watch parties or social media shares - Thrones fans use both.


In fact, so many people participate in Game of Thrones parties that The New York Times recently published an article asking “How Quiet Should You Be During ‘Game of Thrones’?”. Reactions from fans were mixed, preferring either total silence, some chatter during unimportant or dialogue-light scenes, and free talking throughout. Some fans need to fully immerse themselves in the show by watching it alone first, and others need to watch with others so that they can ask questions when they lose track of the plot. Fans from both sides cited “the shared experience” as part of their rationale, so which is it? Does the shared experience refer to quietly watching a show as a group, or does it mean talking as a group while watching a television show?


If you prefer to watch alone, you can still participate in the communal viewing experience through social media. Here, fans can share their opinions, reactions, and thoughts on the show without having others physically present. In an attempt to increase ratings, many shows have started to encourage (spoiler-free) live-blogging and live-tweeting by having cast and crew members participate. With Game of Thrones, it feels inevitable that as soon as an episode airs, the internet will become a minefield of spoilers for anyone who dares to watch the show later.


And that, in part, explains why Game of Thrones is one of the last appointment-viewing shows on television. Because of the communal experience, fans are all but required to view the show each Sunday night when it airs, either because they have agreed to watch with someone else or because they want to avoid having the episode spoiled ahead of time. While spoilers are difficult to avoid for most television shows, it’s particularly risky with Game of Thrones, where dramatic plot twists and power plays are infinitely more enjoyable to fans who didn’t see them coming.



Spoilers on Game of Thrones are so hard to avoid that Stephen Colbert introduced the “Spoiler-Proof Bucket” on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert. All you have to do is wear it on your head and you’ll be spoiler-free! (Image from


Overall, Game of Thrones is a fun show to watch with others – either electronically or in person – for a variety of reasons. With a large cast of characters to root for (or against), the frequent plot twists and shifting power dynamics compel viewers to tune in week-to-week. As someone planning to catch up to the show this month (to join a viewing party, of course), all I can say is: winter is coming, and it’s bringing communal television back with it.



  •     Do you watch Game of Thrones? If so, how do you watch it? Alone, with a group? Do you post your thoughts on social media?
  •     How do you think the communal viewing experience differs from the individual viewing experiences? Does it increase your enjoyment of the show, or decrease it?




‘Game of Thrones’ Season 7 Premiere Shatters HBO Ratings Records | Variety 

Game of Thrones' New Finale Record Proves It's Consensus TV |  

How Quiet Should You Be During ‘Game of Thrones’? Fans Disagree - The New York Times  

More often than not, college students are completely overwhelmed by the amount of work they have to complete. They often have lengthy lists of tasks they have to do from professors who seem to love to pack on the workload. Although this may be a generalization, the majority of students are exceptional procrastinators and will take the easiest way out when doing their work, trying to get the least amount of work done in the shortest amount of time. Students try to balance their academic studies with their social lives and sometimes the latter trumps the former.


A lot of times students start the semester off strong: being on top of their assignments, up-to-date with readings and reassuring themselves that this semester will be different from the last. They tell themselves that they’ll continue to be organized, study for exams, and get projects finished on time. By the middle of the semester, professors’ assignments are more frequent and students are suddenly faced with a daunting list of time-sensitive tasks to complete. This is the point when some students give up and start showing serious signs of sleep deprivation, procrastination, and overwhelming anxiety. Things like Netflix or going out to a party easily distract students and sometimes hinder their productivity. At the end of the semester, all hell breaks loose. Students are especially sluggish and seriously slacking with their work, and they may start scrambling to recover their grade in a class.


Many different factors influence whether or not students will be motivated to do work for a class. Most factors are situational: where they go to school, what professors they have, their upbringing, their economic background, and the state of their mental health and so on. Every student is different in how they work best. As stated earlier, some are great at time management and others are better at procrastinating, or some are a mix of the two. In the fall of 2016, the American College Health Association conducted a survey of over 30,000 university students that measured their physical and mental health. One specific section of the report found the biggest factors students reported that affected their individual academic performance within the past 12 months. 32.2% of students reported that stress was the biggest factor in their academic performance, followed by anxiety at 24.9%, sleep difficulties at 20.6%, and depression at 15.4%.

To ease students of their stresses, professors can take simple steps to encourage students to be more motivated in and out of class. As a college student myself, I find that when professors exercise these techniques, I, along with other students, are more likely to be interested in the class as well as more willing to work to receive a good grade. Some specific practices include:

  • Inform students on the value of a college education. A lot of students view college as something they have to do because their parents expect them to, rather than a time to be as invested as possible in their education.
  • Get to know your students. Students often need to be told what to do and need significant guidance during college. Giving students the opportunity to have a relationship with their professor is often extremely beneficial. Students are more comfortable to ask questions and are more motivated to excel in a class. Be flexible with office hours times and always be available to be reached by students.
  • Get students engaged in class by having class discussions frequently. If students are comfortable to speak in class, they will actually enjoy coming to class, participating, and being friends with other students.
  • Keep the information during lectures current by relating the topic to students’ lives. References to media and pop culture spark students’ interests and are easily identifiable for them. The more interesting the topic is to the student, the more they will want to learn about it.
  • Give students an incentive to do well. Giving them a participation grade, extra credit opportunities, or reward for a job well done will make the students appreciate you and motivate them to do well.
  • Treat all students equally. Students pick up on a professor who favors certain students and can dislike them for that reason, making them care less about the class.
  • Ask students for feedback on the teaching techniques that work and the ones that don’t. Give students choices on project and paper topics. If the topic interests them, the more likely it is that they will do well when graded.
  • For more tips on motivating students click here.



About the Author 

Danielle Straub is the Communication Editorial intern this summer at Macmillan. She is a rising junior at Hunter College in New York City. Pursuing a bachelor’s degree in English, Danielle plans to go into publishing when she finishes college. Danielle enjoys spending her time traveling, cooking, reading, and volunteering.

Throughout our lives, we meet many different people, each with different personalities. Sometimes we get along with people and are able to communicate well with them, while other times we don’t. Have you ever wondered why?


One of the biggest factors influencing our connection to other people is our personality. According to the American Psychological Association, personality refers to individual differences in characteristic patterns of thinking, feeling, and behaving.” It is clear by now that understanding who we are and how we perceive ourselves is crucial to interpersonal communication. Having greater insight into why we do the things we do and what personality type we are can improve the way we effectively communicate.


With the internet right at our fingertips, there are endless ways to dissect who we are and what personality we have. Facebook and Buzzfeed quizzes pop up every time we scroll and tempt us to find out which Friends character we are, what type of wine we are, or which ninja turtle we are by taking a pizza quiz. Some of the quizzes are simply for entertainment’s sake, while others can actually give us interesting feedback. In the world of psychology, there are personality tests that are backed by research and have taken years to perfect by highly respected individuals in the field. Some of the more well-known tests include, the Myers-Briggs type indicator test, the Rorschach inkblot test, and the Thematic Appereception Test.


One of the most trusted tests is the Big Five Personality test, based on the Five Factor Model of personality, which is the most widely accepted theory of personality today. The test consists of 50 questions, asking questions such as do you make friends easily or do you carry out your plans. At the end, you receive a score that measures a low, average, or high level of five traits:  

  • Openness to experience: Describes how open you are to think in complex, abstract, and creative ways. This measures how intellectually curious you are.
  • Conscientiousness: This trait describes a person’s ability for self-discipline and tendency to aim for goals.
  • Extraversion: This refers to a person’s inclination to seek stimulation from the outside world and from the company of others. It also describes a person’s degree of talkativeness, assertiveness, and sociability.
  • Agreeableness: This trait is used to describe how compassionate, kind, and cooperative a person is while interacting with others.
  • Neuroticism: Neuroticism is the likelihood a person is to feel negative emotions, including anger, sadness, and anxiety. This trait measures a person’s emotional stability and their ability to control the negative emotions they experience.


You might be asking yourself, how can the measure of these five traits determine how well we communicate? Those traits can influence the ways we communicate with others. Someone highly open to experience is probably someone who is always coming up with new ideas and isn’t afraid to share them with others. People who are highly conscientious are usually dependable, hardworking, and cautious. They might communicate well with others because they are honest and not afraid to go after what they want. Those who are highly extraverted exhibit enthusiasm, friendliness, and ambition. Extraverts communicate more easily because they know how to talk to people and are not afraid to tell someone how they feel. People who score high in agreeableness are very kind, compassionate, and sensitive to how others feel. They communicate well because they are very cooperative and typically put others before themselves. Neuroticism, the last of five factors, is the hardest to measure. Most people experience negative emotions from time to time although it happens more often to some. People who score low in neuroticism usually have a good handle on their emotions, don’t let those emotions cloud their judgment, and don’t let stress take over their lives. On the other hand, people who are highly neurotic can be sometimes unstable and overly reactive. In these instances, these people can be difficult to communicate with due to unpredictability in their words and actions.


Exploring our personalities in depth by taking personality tests can give us insight into who we are. By beginning to understand ourselves and others, we can better understand how we communicate the way we do. Whenever you are in a situation where you are communicating with others, you can be mindful of how the other person is speaking or acting towards you. Whether you know the person well or not, you will be able to gauge what their personality is. From there, you can adapt accordingly to the conversation. If you encounter someone with a personality conflicting with yours, you can try to improve your communication skills by adapting to be sensitive to their personality. If you’ve scored low in agreeableness and want to aim to improve in that area, you can try to be more easygoing when communicating with others and more willing to cooperate. Effective communication in relationships starts with understanding the various aspects of personality and using that knowledge to adapt to day-to-day interactions.


Find out your results by taking the Big Five test here.



About the Author 

Danielle Straub is the Communication Editorial intern this summer at Macmillan. She is a rising junior at Hunter College in New York City. Pursuing a bachelor’s degree in English, Danielle plans to go into publishing when she finishes college. Danielle enjoys spending her time traveling, cooking, reading, and volunteering.


Spring in New England is a glorious time.  The ice and snow of winter are finally melting, flowers are poking their heads up, and the population of the city of Boston seems to double as people come out of the woodwork to ride bikes, take walks, cheer on marathon runners, and enjoy the outdoors without having to wear six separate layers of clothing to stay warm.


I fully appreciate the rebirth and energy that comes with the change of seasons, and trust me – I'm going to get out there to experience it soon.  I must admit, however, that I also love spring for a reason that’s a lot less about fresh air and a lot more about couch time: the considerable joys of spring television viewing.  As a self-diagnosed TV junkie, I can officially say that – when it comes to high quality TV – spring is the new fall. 


While many of the network shows are drawing to a close, with finales just around the corner, there are a number of other programs that are just now making their debuts. In particular, I have two cable networks to thank for occupying so much of my time these days: AMC's fascinating character study/Breaking Bad prequel Better Call Saul is just back for its third season, and FX's thoughtful-yet-brutal spy drama The Americans has returned for its fifth season.  Both of these shows feature top-notch acting and writing, which has led critics like this one and this one to christen them among the best dramas on TV.  (Spoiler alert for these links if you're not caught up to the current season.)  But in addition to overall high quality, both of these shows have internalized an important TV lesson that helps them stay fresh: When it comes to prestige dramas, less can actually be more.  Saul has only 10 episodes per season and The Americans only 13 per season, which keeps the shows humming along.  Before you know it, the run is over and you are left mentally calculating how long it will be until the next anticipated season debuts. 


Image from TV show The Americans

(Image from:


This "less in more" approach is certainly not unique to these two shows – in fact, when it comes to cable, premium cable, and streaming services, shorter seasons are the new normal.  FX's perfectly pitched Fargo (which also begins this month) is another short and sweet series of just 10 episodes per season, while Netflix's breakout show Stranger Things, an ode to 1980's spine-tinglers, is only eight episodes long.  And juggernaut Games of Thrones (normally another show with an April debut, though its penultimate season has been pushed back to a summer start) usually runs just 10 episodes long.  (The upcoming seventh season will be further truncated, with just seven episodes.)


The power of the short and sweet season is a lesson that all not showrunners have internalized – perhaps to their own detriment.  AMC’s The Walking Dead, for example, just wrapped up its seventh season with a total of 16 episodes. In the grand scheme, 16 episodes is not overly lengthy (the latest seasons of network shows NCIS and The Big Bang Theory had 24 episodes each), but even a few extra episodes can drag a show down and ruin its pacing.  As my husband and I made our way through 6.5 seasons of The Walking Dead – only to abandon it, finally, at the midpoint of season 7 – we found ourselves remarking time and again that certain "filler" episodes felt sluggish, unnecessary, and just downright boring.  Apparently, we were not the only ones who jumped ship, nor were we the only ones to describe a show about the zombie apocalypse – which should have you on the edge of your seat – using the "b" word (big-time spoilers here). We can't help but wonder if the later seasons would have done a better job of holding our attention if the showrunners were more brutal in the editing room.


Meme of The Walking Dead that says "We're Goin' to War, But We're Gonna Talk about It for 3 More Episodes First" 

(Image from:

Of course, just because a show's season is shorter, that doesn't guarantee that it will be good: Though Season 2 of HBO's True Detective ran for only eight episodes, it was considerably less interesting (and less well-acted) than the atmospheric and arresting Season 1 (also eight episodes). Generally, however, when it comes to quality dramas, short and sweet seems to be a step in the right direction. I, for one, am glad to see some of my favorite shows return – and I’m just as glad that they won’t be overstaying their welcome.


Have you found yourself experiencing the joys of spring TV over the last few weeks?  Have your students?  What are the qualities in a TV show that keep audiences coming back for more, and what types of decisions can writers and producers make that ultimately cause ratings to slide and attention spans to wane?  Feel free to share your own thoughts about television viewing in the comments section below, including recommendations for any must-see shows and spring debuts.  Happy watching!



“Image from”


The latest in the series of Disney’s planned remakes, 2017’s Beauty and the Beast stirred up controversy prior its release over the filmmakers’ revelation that this adaptation would feature a Disney movie’s first “exclusively gay moment” with the character LeFou, played by Josh Gad. This decision correlates with Disney’s wider efforts to increase inclusivity in representations of modern gender roles and sexuality in order to appeal to a wider contemporary audience; recent films in the Disney brand exemplify this strategy, such as Tangled (2010), Brave (2012), and Frozen (2013) with their proactive heroines who reject the damsel-in-distress archetype often foisted upon fairy tale females and instead, display character traits that subscribe to contemporary Western feminist values.


Disney’s relationship with the Beauty and the Beast tale has always been progressive on issues of gender representation. In TIME magazine, Eliza Berman hails Belle as Disney’s first feminist princess, and attributes that to the efforts of the 1991 animated film’s screenwriter, Linda Woolverton, the first woman to write a Disney film. The article also details the challenges Woolverton faced in attempting to realize her vision of Belle, whom she was determined to make “a new kind of Disney heroine,” one more active and intellectually curious than her predecessors.  2017’s treatment of Belle, played by Emma Watson, furthers the portrayal of modern sensibilities on gender roles and juxtaposes current gender politics with those of the indistinct eighteenth-century time period of the film: Belle, rather than her father, is the inventor (she applies this trade to the domestic chore of laundry through the invention of a rudimentary washing machine), her bookish quality is expanded to include a scene of her teaching a young girl to read (an act met with hostility against female literacy), and her father describes her as a woman ahead of her time when she voices concern that the townspeople find her odd.


In her introduction to Beauty and the Beast: Classic Tales About Animal Brides and Grooms from Around the World (Penguin Books, 2017), Maria Tatar points out that while different cultural iterations of Beauty and the Beast still feature the heteronormative romance as their centerpiece, their variations express cultural  and generational differences in ideas about social issues. Disney uses the version of the tale published in 1756 by Jeanne-Marie Leprince de Beaumont as a foundation for their adaptations, but brings its themes into the twenty-first century by eschewing de Beaumont’s moral of virtue to convey a message of acceptance. The 2017 adaptation distinctly underlines the concept of self-identity to resonate with a diverse contemporary audience. This emphasis on being true to one’s self is particularly appropriate for the filmmakers when navigating representation of gender and sexuality in a time of shifting attitudes on these subjects. LeFou may remain a supporting character, but his character arc is updated to reflect the movie’s themes of self-discovery and acceptance. According to the film’s director Bill Condon, “He’s confused about what he wants. It’s somebody just realizing that he has these feelings [...] And that’s what has its payoff at the end”.


From oral storytelling to film adaptations, fairy tales endure because of the manner in which they reflect a shared set of cultural norms and values. Disney’s latest Beauty and the Beast adaptation continues that tradition by expanding the film’s inclusive representations of gender and sexuality to reflect the changing cultural landscape.

I am fascinated by storytelling. I am a Moth podcast junkie and am a regular at story slams around Boston. Something about hearing other people’s stories helps me place my own experiences within a meaningful context. They have the power to help me empathize with other people’s perspectives. They can inspire and teach me.


Recently, I’ve been reflecting on why storytelling holds such power. In a three-part series on Fast Company, Jonathan Gottschall, author of The Storytelling Animal: How Stories Make Us Human (Mariner Books, 2013), talks about the ubiquitous, powerful nature of stories and their influence on us and our culture. He begins by illustrating how storytelling infiltrates many aspects of our human experience:  


"Humans live in a storm of stories. We live in stories all day long, and dream in stories all night long. We communicate through stories and learn from them. We collapse gratefully into stories after a long day at work. Without personal life stories to organize our experience, our own lives would lack coherence and meaning."


Storytelling isn’t new. As a social and cultural activity, storytelling predates writing and began as an oral tradition. It is a distinctly human endeavor that serves to share and interpret experiences, teach, and entertain. We are drawn to stories for a good reason. Turns out, we are wired for it. “Stories powerfully hook and hold human attention because, at a brain level, whatever is happening in a story is happening to us and not just them,” Gottschall writes. You see our desire to tell and consume stories in our love of television, movies, and books as well as our fascination with social media. Telling stories shapes how we interact with others not to mention well-constructed narratives are often behind compelling initiatives in advertising, business, and journalism.


Storytelling is woven throughout all aspects of our media and culture and is evolving as we do. With the digital era, we are also seeing our increased ability to participate in and have an effect on the stories being told.  Though the exact extent to how much media can change our society and vice versa is still unknown, storytelling's capacity for creating empathy and shifting cultural attitudes is an interesting phenomenon to look at. While trying to convince somebody to change a belief is largely ineffective, telling them a story with characters they can empathize with can be more persuasive. For example, Gottschall argues that social scientists believe that storytelling might have had an impact on shifting American attitudes on homosexuality over the past 15 years with television shows such as Will & Grace, Glee, and Modern Family. That's some powerful stuff!


With storytelling being such a huge part of the way we consume media, teach, and learn, I suspect we will continue to talk and hear a lot about storytelling in the coming years. Want to learn more? Gottschall’s interesting three-part series on storytelling is available to read here:


The Science of Storytelling: How Narrative Cuts Through Distraction Like Nothing Else

Infecting an Audience: Why Great Stories Spread

Story 2.0: The Surprising Thing About the Next Wave of Narrative


How has storytelling impacted your life? Have you changed a perspective on something because of a well-told story? How do you think storytelling will evolve in the future? Feel free to share your thoughts below!

A while ago, I wrote a bit on COMMblog about the idea of "one perfect shot" that encapsulates a movie perfectly (or just looks really, really nice). That's been on my mind again as I finish up helping the authors of The Film Experience with the visual program for our new fifth edition of the book, which is coming out this fall. Editing lots of different types of books is fun, but I can say confidently that the visual side of editorial work is most fun with film books. The authors and I are constantly looking for examples to illustrate technical concepts (related to editing, cinematography, and, trickiest of all, sound!) as well as broader categories (like genre or narrative).


We want some examples that students will know immediately -- often this involves looking at a list of the highest-grossing movies of the last year or two, and then trying to figure out which of those are most likely appeal to a wide-ranging "college student" demographic that can include teenagers, adult learners, and plenty of people in between (it helps if they're good movies, too). But we also want examples that come from classic movies, or obscure titles that students may not know right away, but should. We've heard from film instructors that they have similar struggles in the classroom: Trying to teach concepts through instantly recognizable movies but also trying to expand students' horizons and include movies from -- get this -- before they were born! 

Here's a little preview of just a few of the images we're going to include in the fifth edition:


Ghostbusters wasn't a huge hit last summer, but it's a good go-to example because it includes comedy (including good examples of comic framing, as in the frame below), special effects, four excellent female leads, and "intellectual property" from the past that so many studios are desperate to mine.



Of course, there are always superhero movies. No matter how you feel about them, at least a couple images from them will make their way into an intro to film book these days. The first frame below is from X-Men: Apocalypse, which I admit wasn't the biggest hit in terms of recent superhero movies, but on the other hand, has this really cool shade of purple in this scene. Contrast with Captain America: Civil War, a very entertaining movie that, as you can see, has far less purple. I may sound flip, but that's also part of our consideration: How these images will look and catch students' eye on the page, be it in print or on an ebook reader.




Not everything has to be super-current, either. In the Cinematography chapter, the authors use a series of images from Carrie (1976) to show different points of view within the same sequence. This overhead shot is one of my favorites.


A box in the book's final chapter on writing about film discusses the creation of a video essay on Touch of Evil, which has similarly striking images to choose from. A lot of students supposedly don't watch black-and-white movies so it's especially important to choose memorable images to get them interested in the form.



Finally, sometimes when a movie is being used for an example that's not 100% shot-specific, you can suggest particular shots that you just love. These images from God Help the Girl (2014) and It Follows (2015) perfectly convey aspects of their genres (musical and horror, respectively); it doesn't hurt that they're two of my favorite recent films.



Don't you want to see those movies now, if you haven't?!

The Film Experience will be out in the fall with literally dozens more new shots like this. In the meantime, I'd love to hear from any film or media instructors who have favorite frames or other visual cues they use for teaching!

Recent reports from Common Sense Media revealed that American teens spend an average of nine hours per day using media, excluding time during school or for homework. If you think that's a lot, additional reports state that parents, too, spend about the same time. When generations young and old are spending more than one-third of their day using media, it's no wonder that Steve Barrett, Editor-in-Chief of trade magazine PR Week, called media literacy "the social issue of our time."  In the wake of the 2016 Presidential Election and the controversy surrounding "fake news," media literacy has become a buzzword for educators and journalists alike, who now see the need for media consumers to be able to understand not only what "fake news" is, but also the importance of knowing where they're getting their news, what biases are possible in the news they're consuming, and what message this piece of news is trying to send.


So, in case you missed it, here are a few places where we can see media literacy gaining traction around the country:



Are any media literacy initiatives occurring at your school, in your state, or in other communities? Leave a comment below!

Kate George

The Reality of Fake News

Posted by Kate George Employee Nov 29, 2016

Since the very beginning of the 2016 election, the media have been a key player. Donald Trump was able to use his star power and his active social media presence to breeze past his opponents and win the Republican nomination with very minimal advertising spending. He publicly fought with media personalities, such as Megyn Kelly, and entire news media companies, like the New York Times. Even now, as the President-elect, he continues to tweet his thoughts and feelings on a daily basis.


But as the election came and went, its relationship with the news media has, if anything, become more complex. In recent weeks, Internet news has been brought into the spotlight, and many people are questioning what impact “fake news” had on the outcome of the election. In a time when a quick Google search or a scroll through your Facebook newsfeed can return thousands of “news” stories, ranging in quality from extremely well researched and reputable, to utter lies, those who are not critical media consumers may take any “news” story that passes through their Facebook feed as fact, without verifying the validity of that particular story. A recent article in the New York Times explores how both Google and Facebook are looking into their algorithms and trying to weed this fake news out of their sites to ensure that only reputable news is being spread.


As the generation who is most heavily immersed in social media, but at the same time is less practiced at the art of determining a credible source from a bogus one, your undergraduate students may be even more susceptible to these fake news stories than their older counterparts. As your communication students study the news media, how can you guide them in the right direction? One instructor at Merrimack College has compiled a list of fake, misleading, clickbate-y and satirical news sources that has been shared many hundreds of times and can be a great starting point for a discussion.


Have you incorporated a more in-depth study of fake news into your classes since the election? What ideas do you have for helping students become more critical of their news sources?

Media examples are crucial when teaching a mass communication course. Luckily, LaunchPad for Media Essentials has a wealth of samples available for your students to view so that you can practice convergence in addition to teaching it!


LaunchPad for Media Essentials has over 50 video clips with accompanying short answer questions to help students think critically about the topics discussed. We have several clips per chapter, organized by chapter, so it’s easy to assign based on what you’re teaching in class that week.


Our videos range from interviews with the chairman of the FCC to learn more about Media and Democracy and Net Neutrality, to clips from Pop Culture including Saturday Night Live, Transformers, or the music video for Uptown Funk. These videos give a behind the scenes look at media and issues that will help students understand how the media works.


In addition to our video library, you can also upload any video or audio clip saved on your Computer or embed a video from YouTube using our video assignment tool, which allows for time based commenting.

Additional suggested videos are available in the Instructor Resources Manual, which can be found under the resource button in LP.


LaunchPad for Media Essentials also includes our game-like quizzing tool LearningCurve to motivate students and adapt to their needs based on their performance. LearningCurve includes reporting tools and metrics help teachers get a handle on what their class knows and doesn’t know. There are also two pre-made traditional quizzes for each chapter, which can be used in conjunction with LearningCurve.


If you’re interested in seeing LaunchPad in action, please view the brief screencast below, and be sure to schedule a demonstration with Learning Solutions Specialist Heather Halter



You can access LaunchPad for Media Essentials here: To get access, enter your email address in the box that says “Request Instructor Access.”


Just because A Pocket Guide to Public Speaking is a bargain priced book, it doesn’t mean that we cheap out on the resources! Our LaunchPad contains priceless tools to help your students become better public speakers.

As a former public speaking instructor myself, I found that videos are a great way to connect students with the presentation process. LaunchPad contains over 200 videos, many of which also have multiple choice questions associated with them to create a well-rounded Activity.


Our videos feature real students, presenting real speeches, which are shot professionally. Simply type a term in the search box on the LaunchPad homepage to find one that will be perfect for your students. Great examples of full length speeches include topics on Preventing Cyberbullying and Becoming a Socially Conscious Consumer.


Not only do we have full length sample student speeches, we also take those videos and cut them down into smaller segments, so that you can focus specifically on a particular part of a speech. Talking about instructions? Use our clips on Attention Getters, Thesis Statements, and Previews. Lecturing on delivery? Assign students our Speech Clips on Effective Eye Contact and Effective Gestures.


We take our videos one step further through our “Needs Improvement” clips, which demonstration what NOT to do during a speech. For example, see speeches with Logical Fallacies, or a student using too many Vocal Fillers and Not Enough Eye Contact. While showing great sample speeches is certainly helpful, I found that students internalize these clips more; they don’t want to make these mistakes in front of their peers or when a grade is on the line!


All video clips can also be incorporated into a Video Assignment, which allows for time based commenting and rubric grading functionality. Click here for more information on how to build these activities:


In addition to our large video library, LaunchPad for A Pocket Guide to Public Speaking also contains an interactive version of James McCroskey’s PRCA and PRPSA to assess Communication Apprehension, A Relaxation Audio Download to help those apprehensive students, plus Speech Outlining guides and  templates, and tutorials on Presentation Software and Avoiding Plagiarism. Of course, LaunchPad also contains our ever popular LearningCurve adaptive quizzing.


If you’re interested in seeing LaunchPad in action, please view the brief screencast below, and be sure to schedule a demonstration with Learning Solutions Specialist Heather Halter


Bettina Fabos, an award-winning video maker and former print reporter, is an associate professor of visual communication and interactive media studies at the University of Northern Iowa. She is the author of Media & Culture: Mass Communication in a Digital Age, 2016 Update, and Media Essentials: A Brief Introduction, 3/e. 


Q: What courses are you teaching this semester?

BF: Digital Culture and Communication ( is a class about the major issues facing us today with regards to the Internet. Interactive Digital Communication is a foundation interactive digital studies class that combines web development with design and some digital citizenship.  


Q: What has been your favorite course to teach and why?

BF: I loved to teach Mass Communication and Society, especially assigning students our oral history project towards the beginning of the semester, where they interview a person in their 70s or older about the way they grew up with media, so we can integrate their histories in class throughout the course of the semester. I don’t have a chance to teach it right now because I am very active in our Interactive Digital Studies (IDS) program, and my favorite course there is probably Digital Culture, which has some connections with Mass Comm and Society. I also like to teach Interactive Digital Visualization, and I love to teach the foundation IDC class, too. This is when I see students discover they are really good at code or design, and that’s pretty thrilling.


Q: What advice do you have for other instructors who teach this course?

BF: I would say help students make connections with their own personal and family histories as much as possible; I would say show a LOT of videos and play a lot music; bring in current events with each class; try to make the radio chapter—which can be tough (why should students care about radio networks?) but so important—interesting by helping them visualize what it was like to live in the 20s, 30s and 40s, and make comparisons between radio and the Internet, since there are so many comparisons.


Q: What are some of your research interests?

BF: I study digital archiving, interactive timelines, public memory, critical literacy and I pull all this together through creative digital projects, like the Hungary timeline I’m working on right now. It tells the story, over 16 online chapters (filled with photos and animation) of how my Hungarian family emerged from serfs to become successful farmers, and how they survived the calamitous 20th century.


Q: What do you think is one of the biggest challenges students face now when they enter college?

BF: I think one big challenge is getting to know the students in their own classes, because students come today with their phones, and are immersed in their little personal bubble before class, and don’t reach out to each other, so I have to work extra hard to build community in my classrooms.


I think another big challenge is that Universities are underfunded. Students often have to work longer hours to pay for college, and are strapped financially. Universities are also putting too many students in classes, and hire so many adjuncts who are underpaid and don’t have time to schedule office hours. Ultimately this kind of “that’s the way it is” and “we all have to tighten our belts” environment affects learning and students. I don’t believe this has to be the future. Our society needs to invest in education.


Q: What motivates you to continue teaching?

BF: My students are so amazing. I love being the first one outside their family to tell them that – just a simple comment like that can ripple through them their entire lifetime, and I’m completely aware of the impact I have on my students.   I’m taking my four student collaborators to Hungary next June to present our Hungary project to the U.S. Embassy, the Fulbright Commission, and the Central European University, and two of them have never been to Europe before. So this is incredible, being able to introduce them to things they would have never done before.


On a personal note...

Q: How do you spend your time when you're not teaching?

BF: I love reading just about anything well written. I like to cook and have dinner parties. I play the violin and I have lots of musician friends and we play chamber music together. I LOVE to hike in Switzerland (I have Swiss citizenship), and getting inspiration from traveling. I grow lots of flowers, and I make cakes for friends. I do yoga but I’m sadly inflexible: I still haven’t even perfected “Downward Facing Dog”!


Q: If you hadn't pursued a career in higher education, what career path do you think you would have chosen?

BF: I could have made documentaries (that was my path before I met my husband Chris – my goal at one point was to travel around the world making interesting travel documentaries); written children’s books or teen novels; owned a café…I could have fixed up houses and flipped them. Sometimes I worry that I spend way too much time in front of a computer screen!


What’s your favorite TV show or movie of the year so far?

BF: I like Swedish police dramas like The Bridge. I’m into Stranger Things. This year I have not had time to see one movie—I go for TV series over movies these days! I have watched Spotlight three times though!  


Q: What was the last book you read?

BF: In the Darkroom by Susan Faludi.


Q: What book has influenced you most?

BF: I would say a series of interviews by Bill Moyers called A World of Ideas. I was a failed journalist, living in Switzerland, working as a secretary for a nonprofit foundation, and I picked this book up (it was a fortune in Geneva’s one English bookstore), and it changed my life.


Q: Where is one place you want to travel to, but have never been?

BF: I would love to go to Buenos Aires.


Q: When you sit down to listen to music, which artists or genres do you go to most?

BF: Indie music like Kishi Bashi; early, early baroque like Monteverdi; anything my daughter Olivia tells me to listen to…she is such good influence on me!


Q: What is something you want to learn in the next year (Communication-related or otherwise)?

BF: I’d like to learn more JavaScript, and become a better gardener. We live on a prominent corner in Cedar Falls so the pressure is on.


Q: What is one thing people would be surprised to learn about you (i.e. What's your "fun fact"?)?

BF: I’m pretty shy, and I don’t like to speak in public!  Teaching, actually, is difficult for me for that reason. I don’t like to be considered “an expert” like some people, because I always consider myself a work in progress. My husband, Chris, is such an amazing public speaker and gives radio and TV interviews all the time. I am much better as a behind-the-scenes person.

With the 4th edition of Reflect and Relate comes the first time we’ve had a full media package to accompany the text. That means that you now have access to LaunchPad for your Interpersonal Communication course, which contains carefully selected and custom curated content for each chapter of the book.


The resources available in LaunchPad truly do live up to the title of the book. Students work through reflection activities such as journal entries and self quizzes, and then relate to the material with our flagship offering – Making Relationship Choices case studies, featuring “The Other Side.”


Making Relationship Choices activities immerse students into a situation they’re likely to experience in real life – Choosing Between Friends, Struggling with Family Transitions, and Dealing with Mixed Messages. Students are provided with a communication concept for background, then are presented with the “Case Study,” which lays out the scenario. Then, they are taken to “Your Turn” – 5 short answer questions that require reflection on the situation. Next, we see “The Other Side,” a video in which the other person involvedtells his or her side of the case study story. As in many real-life situations, this video shows information which wasn’t available when crafting a response to the Case Study. The video reminds students that even when we do our best to offer competent responses, there always is another side to the story that we need to consider. Lastly the student is asked to take an interpersonal competence self-assessment to evaluate their previously submitted responses and is given a chance to think about what he or she might have done differently.


Other resources available in this LaunchPad include Journal entries for topics such as Ineffective Listening Behavior and Self-Assessment Quizzes that look at skills such as Evaluating Empathy. Our video library contains over 75 clips that show communication concepts in action, such as “I” Language and Power Distance. Of course, we also have afull test bank, pre-made multiple choice and true/false quizzes, and our popular LearningCurve adaptive quizzing is available with this book for the first time.


If you’re interested in seeing LaunchPad in action, please view the brief screencast below, and be sure to schedule a demonstration with Learning Solutions Specialist Heather Halter