Engaging Communication Technologies of the 1950s

| March 5, 2014

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Purpose
In this assignment, you’ll recreate some of the experiences of a person who was involved with communication technologies in the 1950s. (Involved with covers a lot of territory, as you’ll see from the examples below.) You have considerable choice in terms of your topic and the form your project takes.
This assignment has several goals. It’s designed to make concrete people’s engagement with technology: What did people a half century ago do with media technologies? And what did they think about them? Thus, you’ll be looking at technologies from a specific perspective. Also, you should get some sense of how people’s experiences then are the same as, or different than, people’s experiences today. The assignment should also sharpen your skills in digging out information from a variety of sources, especially primary sources. And the assignment is structured so that you can use your imagination to immerse yourself in an historical moment.
Examples
The following examples suggest a range of possibilities. Remember, though, that these are examples; you are free to use them, modify them, or come up with your own. Imagine that
You’re a suburban teenager in the 1950s: What communication media do you use to share personal information with your friends (other than by talking)?
You’re a reporter for a TV station in Seattle (or New York, or a small town): What media technologies affect the way you work?
You manage a small office in Chicago: What office technologies do you use to prepare messages and communicate with clients or customers?
You’re president of NBC television’s entertainment division: What technologies affect your programming?
You’re a candidate for U.S. Senate: What media technologies do you use for your campaign?
You’re a twenty-something professional beginning a career in New York City: What media technologies provide entertainment for your after-work fun?
You work in a New York City advertising agency (like Mad Men): How are changes in media technology affecting your work?
You’re one of two telephone operators in a small Oregon town: What was your workday like?
You’re a reporter for the New York Times covering Asia: What technologies affect the way you write and transmit stories back to the States?
You’re a motion picture producer in Hollywood: What technologies affect the latest film you’re producing?
You’re a budding rock ‘n’ roll singer: What technologies affect your performances and recordings?
You’re an activist in the PTA (or a child psychologist) who’s concerned about the effects of TV on children: What evidence is there about the consequences of children’s exposure to television? What proposals would you make to protect children?
You’re the head of research for a TV network: What evidence is there, and what arguments would you make, to prevent government from regulating television because of its possible effects on children?
Dimensions of Your Topic
The examples above, and the ones you develop, all have multiple dimensions related to media technology in the 1950s. Your project does not have to explore every imaginable dimension, but it should address more than one. The scope of your project should expand with the size of your group if you’re not working alone.
Some dimensions that you might consider as you develop your topic:
People’s use of a technology varies by geography (urban/rural, East/West), income, race, language, age, and more. Consider these variables as you select a person’s perspective–the vantage point from which you view the technology–and your topic.
Technologies—and everything else—changed during the 1950s. So you might note what changed in this time period with your technologies.
Rules govern technologies. And rules come in different kinds. Some rules have the force of law behind them (e.g., government regulation of technologies). Others are industrial or business rules. Still others involve professional conventions or social rules—what’s appropriate behavior?
People have expectations of technologies.
Significantly, almost no technology works alone and many are systems with different components. All the examples above (and your project) involve two or more technologies. Although you might focus on one technology or technological system, you should also consider complementary and competing technologies.
What You’ll Produce
You’ll produce a paper, a web site, or PowerPoint report—you choose. Your project should briefly describe the type of person—location, general age, etc.—from whose vantage point you’re examining the technologies. One paragraph is enough. Your report should then briefly sketch the state of the relevant technologies in the 1950s (maybe noting major changes during the decade). After that, you have a lot of choices, but the basic goal is to recreate the experience of a person engaging with the technologies: their purposes, advantages and disadvantages, costs, rules, content, and anything else that’s relevant.
What You’ll Produce
You’ll produce a paper, a web site, or PowerPoint report—you choose. Your project should briefly describe the type of person—location, general age, etc.—from whose vantage point you’re examining the technologies. One paragraph is enough. Your report should then briefly sketch the state of the relevant technologies in the 1950s (maybe noting major changes during the decade). After that, you have a lot of choices, but the basic goal is to recreate the experience of a person engaging with the technologies: their purposes, advantages and disadvantages, costs, rules, content, and anything else that’s relevant.
Deliverables”
“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.
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.
Evaluation
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.
Thoroughness. Do you examine enough relevant dimensions of a person’s engagement with the technologies?
Incisiveness and originality of observations. How original and acute are your observations, especially those about the role of communication technologies in people’s lives? What can you tell us about the technology and its social context?
Variety of sources. Do you use a good variety of sources or just easy-to-find materials? Do you have good primary sources?
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.
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Problem Solving (Computing and IT)
Write an evaluation of new technologies or online resources currently available for Mandarin Chinese language learning.

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