About the Course


This course examines the history, theory and practice of propaganda. Prerequisite: COM 383 and junior standing or permission of instructor.


Order the required readings:

Holiday, Ryan (2013). Trust Me, I’m Lying. New York Penguin.

Welch, David. (2013). Propaganda: Power and Persuasion. London: The British Library.

Rationale. Today, the rise of propaganda is inescapable. We see it everywhere, in the context of globalization, in the workplace and in politics, in consumer culture, entertainment and leisure. In the post-9/11 world, propaganda was used skillfully by the U.S. government in promoting a “war on terror” which led to an expansion of war from Iraq to Afghanistan. Since then, Al Qaeda and other extremist groups use martyrdom videos and other sophisticated appeal to recruit supporters, as terrorism has itself become a form of propaganda.

The rise of social media, which enables the easy sharing and viral spread of ideas is combining with increased distrust of mainstream media to create what some have called a “post-truth society,” where debate is framed largely by appeals to emotion that ignore, dismiss or trivialize facts and information. Activists, politicians, businessmen and public relations specialists make repeated assertions by using “talking points” – simplistic and emotionally laden phrases – thus avoiding or bypassing the truly democratic practice of reasoned dialogue and discussion. Some critics believe that the result has been increased polarization and apathy, which can be exploited by those in power.

But propaganda can also serve beneficial purposes. The U.S. government spends $1 billion annually on public relations activities, including publicizing how to avoid risks caused by the Zika virus, public service campaigns against texting while driving, and how college students can apply for student federal aid.

Critical thinking about propaganda and understanding propaganda’s intent are crucial responsibilities of citizenship in the 21st century. Entering into a discussion about contemporary propaganda invites us to think about the power of communication and our responsibilities as authors and audiences. It raises questions about the use and potential impact of new media and technologies. In this course, we consider the past, present and future of propaganda in order to understand the complex role in plays in our lives.

Real World Connections

This course is designed to prepare you for any of a number of careers and professions that involve real-world skills of problem-identification, research, analysis, synthesis, and creativity. As independent learners, you will have the opportunity to customize your learning experience depending on your own interests and professional goals.

  • Creatives will imagine and implement ways to express ideas through creative multimedia products, using print, visual, sound and digital media, learning how to use a variety of communication strategies that attract and hold the attention of the target audience to help increase awareness and knowledge.
  • Organizers will exercise the skills of time, task and project management, developing leadership and collaboration skills by communicating with key stakeholders, ensuring that problems are resolved and that teams are working effectively to meet goals.
  • Researchers will identify and understand the needs of the target audience and gather information through research and synthesize of key ideas.

Learning Outcomes. These learning outcomes are expected for every participant. You will:

  1. Gain knowledge about propaganda and understand the historical lineage of the concept
  2. Learn to recognize the many forms of propaganda in everyday life
  3. Strengthen skills of interpretation and critical analysis, considering how context shapes how messages are understood and acted upon by audiences
  4. Reflect on diverse interpretations of media messages in ways that promote understanding of and respect for other perspectives
  5. Strengthen research and collaboration skills through activities that require the synthesis of divergent ideas, information and concepts.
  6. Advance communication skills including interviewing, writing, performance and media production skills that require creativity and professionalism.
  7. Gain problem-solving skills in project management, focusing the scope of an inquiry, establishing goals, and executing under tight deadline pressure.
  8. Gain skills in using digital tools, texts and technologies, including social media, for learning, collaboration, communication and advocacy.
  9. Reflect on how changing media and technologies reshape information, education and society.
  10. Gain sensitivity to the ethical responsibilities of being a communicator in the digital age.


Educational Philosophy. This fully-online asynchronous course is based on the assumption that (1) learners are engaged and self-directed, able to make strategic choices in order to maximize all available learning opportunities. Another key assumption of this class is that (2) people learn best by making and doing things. A final assumption of this course is that (3) reflection is an essential literacy component that can be activated through social interaction in a challenging and supportive community where there are high levels of respect and trust. For the best learning environment possible, we will depend on every student to respect and apply these fundamental design principles.

Format of the Course. This is an online learning experience so you’ll have an intense experience that will require self-direction and independent learning.

  • Online Community. We will use a combination of video face-to-face, threaded discussion, text messaging and other online tools to build and sustain a learning community. Each week, you will be expected to participate in a 60-minute synchronous video conference at a regularly scheduled time at a time that’s best for most class members. If you are unable to attend the synchronous class, you will watch the recorded video and post a video comment to receive class participation credit. Other non-synchronous informal learning assignments (counted as Class Participation) will be assigned each week.
  • Creating media is a powerful form of learning. The instructor will provide, in writing, specific description of the LEAP assignments with expectations and criteria to be used for evaluation. Assignment materials for each of the assignments listed below will be available under “Assignments” on the course website. After completing each assignment, you will receive written feedback through email.
  • Reflection Matters. Learning works best when learners engage in self-assessment and reflection. You will be expected to notice what you are learning this semester and compose a reflective essay to summarize and synthesize key ideas using a combination of language, image and multimedia.

Open Network Learning Environment. The design for this course is a form of open network learning environment. Instead of keeping learning behind the walled garden of a learning management system like Sakai, learners participate in a variety of online creative and collaborative endeavors, using a variety of digital tools and technologies on the open Internet. The skills you learn by doing this directly transfer to your work as an engaged citizen. In an open networked learning environment, your work is visible and public, and you share your learning with the world.

A Note about Technology Competencies. Everyone is on the journey of a lifetime: learning to learning new technology tools, as our cell phones, tablets, laptops become essential part of leisure, work and citizenship. But we all don’t begin this course with the same kinds or levels of skill. Many of the apps and digital tools we explore may be new to you. Others will be quite familiar. Some examples include: MUUT, YouTube, WordPress, FlipGrid, Puppet, Screencast-O-Matic, Padlet, Opinion and Google Docs. You can learn from others and teach others by supporting your peers by being a helper, coach, mentor, colleague, collaborator, and critic. Each of these roles promotes learning.


What’s Public and Private. In an open-network learning environment, you are expected to maintain a public identity as a learner, as the course aims to develop competencies that directly apply to your emerging identity as a leader in digital literacy education. For the work you create in this course, you may choose to use existing digital tool accounts you already own or create new accounts using a pseudonym. Class members give and receive public feedback in an authentic and responsible manner; instructor feedback and grading is privately provided via email.

Deadlines. There are no make-up opportunities for missed homework, papers or other assignments. Please do not ask for an exception. Because media businesses rely on strict adherence to deadlines, this course employs a deadline standard similar to most print and TV newsrooms. Work submitted later than 7 pm. on the due date will not be evaluated or counted for course credit.

Accommodation for Disabilities and Special Needs. Any students who have a need for accommodation based on the impact of a disability should contact me privately to discuss the specific situation. Contact Disability Services to coordinate reasonable accommodations for students with documented disabilities at 330 Memorial Union, 401-874-2098, http://www.uri.edu/disability/dss/

Plagiarism. Students are expected to make use of remix creativity in this course and produce original writing and creative work. It is expected that you will be the author of all the work you submit. Students should use the American Psychological Association (APA) citation format for identifying all materials used for reference and information gathering. Penalties for plagiarism may range from a reduced grade on an assignment to failing the course.

Copyright and Fair Use. Human creativity depends upon the ability to summarize, use, and rework the creative contributions of others as part of our own learning experience. It is expected that you will carefully select images and multimedia to illustrate, contextualize and comment on ideas. Learn more about how to evaluate when your use of copyrighted materials is lawful.