communications project

Project Details

“It’s the Children!”

Almost all media forms present questions—and usually raise concerns—about their effects on children. Throughout the twentieth century, and even before, every new medium provoked questions about its effects on children’s use of time, learning, social interactions, behavior (e.g., violence), and much more. In this assignment, you’ll examine how one pre-1990 media technology actually affected children, how people thought it did, and societal responses to the perceived effects.


This assignment has several goals. It’s designed to help you view people’s engagement with technologies in the past from their perspectives. In other words, the assignment is structured so that you can use your imagination to immerse yourself in an historical moment: What did people—in this case children—do with media technologies in the past? And what did they, their parents, and society think about the technologies and their effects, to the extent that we can recover this? What did society do about it, if anything? You should get some sense of how issues and controversies surrounding media technologies then are the same as, or different than, the issues and controversies surrounding the technologies now. You are not required, however, to compare the past with the present; focusing on your assigned time period is enough for this project.

COM 442 counts towards the Department of Communication’s methods requirement. Thus, this assignment is designed to sharpen your skills in digging out information from a variety of sources, especially primary materials, and using them critically in crafting your project.

Note: I’ll occasionally update this project description to address questions that arise. The basic requirements, however, will not change.

For purposes of this assignment, we’ll define children as 17-years old or younger.

The Technologies

Following are the technologies eligible for this project. I’ve divided most into time ranges—you’ll pick just one time period. I’ve also indicated the degree of difficulty for each—difficult, moderately difficult, relatively easy—a factor in evaluating your project.

  • Telephone
    • 1876-1940 (difficult)
    • 1940-1970 (moderate)
    • 1970-1990 (easy)
  • Recorded music
    • 1880-1940 (moderate)
    • 1940-1990 (easy)
  • Motion pictures
    • 1895-1920 (easy)
    • 1920-1960 (easy)
    • 1960-1990 (easy)
  • Radio
    • 1890-1950 (easy)
    • 1950-1990 (easy)
  • Comics
    • 1920-1950 (difficult)
    • 1950-1970 (moderate)
  • Broadcast TV
    • 1920-1950 (moderate)
    • 1950-1970 (easy)
    • 1970-1990 (easy)
  • Cable TV 1940-1990 (moderate; be certain to distinguish from broadcast TV)
  • VCRs 1970-1990 (easy)

Issues/Questions to Consider

You have quite a bit of leeway in what you examine, but most projects should consider a mix of the following. For each media form you might ask

  • How did children use or consume it?
  • How did it change, if it did, children’s communication experiences? In other words, did the new media form replace or modify some earlier communication practice?
  • What were the (actual and perceived) benefits or advantages to children of using it?
  • What were the (actual and perceived) dangers or disadvantages of children’s use of it?
  • What were the public discussions (found in media) surrounding children’s experience with the media form?
  • What where the informal rules—social conventions, etiquette—that applied to children’s use of it?
  • What were the formal rules—policies and laws—that applied to the media form that had special relevance to children? You can consider both proposed rules and those actually adopted.
  • How did the business interests or industries that produced/operated the media get involved in controversies about children’s use of the technologies?
  • Were there any research studies about the effects of a media form on children?

Research Methods and Sources

We’ll talk a lot about sources of information throughout the quarter. The communication and history librarians have created a wonderful web site that guides you to resources. Whatever your topic, you should use a wide range of sources, including some from the time period you’re studying—that is, primary sources. As appropriate, find visuals or audio materials. Here are some types of sources that you should consider checking:

  • Advertisements
  • Etiquette books
  • Children’s magazines
  • Academic studies from any discipline
  • Child development publications
  • Education magazines
  • Law and policy materials:
    • Court cases
    • Law review articles
    • Policy papers
    • Congressional hearings, reports, and debates
  • Industry trade journals
  • Articles in the popular press (mainly magazines)
  • Movies, radio broadcasts, TV shows

Working Individually or in a Group

You’re welcome to work individually or in groups of up to three persons. The scope of your project should expand with the size of the group. You can divide the work any way you see fit (e.g., in a three-person group, two people find the information, one person designs a web site).


You’re encouraged to present your project to the class, but it’s not required. Presentations can run no more than 10 minutes maximum, or 15 minutes for a three-person group–longer presentations will be penalized. Students who present can earn an extra 01.-0.3 points for the assignment. That is, I’ll grade your assignment and then add 0.1 to 0.3 points, depending on the quality of the presentation. Thus, you could earn up to a 4.3 on this assignment, which would be averaged with your exam grades to yield a grade for the course. Depending on the number of presentations, they will be scheduled for the last one or two class periods.

“Deliverables”–What You’ll Produce

“Deliverables” is the term businesses use in dealing with consultants and others to indicate precisely what should be produced and submitted. The following guidelines should help you understand exactly what you should be producing for this project.

You’ll produce a paper, a web site, or PowerPoint report—your choice. Your project should briefly discuss any developments in the technology that had particular implications for children. Beyond that, you have a lot of choices, but the basic goal is to examine issues that arose in connection with children’s use or exposure to your media form.

Paper—roughly 6-8 double-spaced pages per person, including notes or references. Any note or reference style is fine as long as you are consistent.

PowerPoint or Website—Incorporate visuals along with about 1500 words of text per person. For a PowerPoint project, you can include, and count toward the 1500 words, script or text that doesn’t appear on the slides but, instead, is added to the notes function of PPT or accompanies your PPT as a separate script. You should use some form of notes or references to document your sources. You don’t need to use a lot of production bells and whistles for your PPT or web site, but do take advantage of their visual capabilities.

No matter which format you choose for your project, you’ll need to document your sources and briefly indicate how you found them. We’ll talk about this in class.


I’ll use the following criteria in evaluating your project:

  • Difficulty. I’ll keep in mind the relative difficulty of the task you set for yourself. That is, if you tackle a difficult topic, I won’t apply the other criteria as stringently.
  • Do you examine several relevant dimensions of a technology’s implications for children?
  • Incisiveness and originality of observations. How original and acute are your observations, especially those about the role of communication technologies in children’s lives and society’s reactions to the technology?
  • Variety and appropriateness of sources. Do you use a good variety of appropriate sources or just easy-to-find materials? Do you have good primary sources? Do your sources provide a variety of perspectives on your topic? Generally, I would expect to see sources from at least three of the categories in the list above (more from a group of two or three persons).
  • Quality of writing and presentation. Although this is not a traditional term paper, the writing is important. This includes organization, clarity of expression, spelling, and grammar. If you present your findings on a web site or as a PowerPoint, the evaluation will focus largely on the textual content but you should adhere to basic principles of good PPT/web design.
  • Your contribution to the group’s effort. Each person working in a group will have the opportunity to evaluate the contributions of the others.

As noted above, if you choose to present your project in class, I will add 0.1 to 0.3 points to your grade for the assignment. For example, if you earned a 3.4 on the project and did a good (but not great) job of presenting it to the class, you would get a 3.4+0.2=3.6 for the assignment.

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