Muhlenberg College Spring 2019

About Doc Research

COM 231-03 Spring 2019
Course Time/Place:
T/Tr 9:30-10:45, Walson 115
Instructor: Dr. Lora Taub-Pervizpour 
Office: Walson 101        Office Hours: T/Tr 11-12

Course Description

This is a course about doing documentary work.  This semester, our documentary work will focus on one theme: a sense of place.  You will become documentarians, researchers, recorders, producers and makers of true stories about place and its opposite, placelessness.

Doing documentary work is more than “recording facts.” It is a reflexive process in which we confront what renowned scholar Robert Coles calls the “moral underpinnings of social inquiry” (Coles, 1997, p. 6).  Documentarians–whether writers, filmmakers, photographers, artists–face the challenge not only of learning about the experiences of fellow human beings, but also finding ways to render those lives (in images, words, sounds, fragments, traces) so that others will connect with their stories, care about their stories, and perhaps even be moved to action.

The course provides an overview of documentary practices, traditions, landmark projects and emerging ideas in documentary.  Our focus is primarily American social documentary, with an emphasis on the ethical dimensions of representing “the real.”  How do we know what we know? How can we really know about and understand the lives of people different from ourselves? And how can we best represent what we have learned so that others may also broaden their understanding? These are the questions we will grapple with as you research, plan, and produce your short documentaries.

Our focus is on the American tradition of social documentary, stories that bring to public attention experiences that otherwise would not be heard in the corporate media environment.  As we look at examples, we’ll consider the possibilities of documentary media to raise awareness, the role of documentaries in community life, and consider the differences between documentary and other forms of media (including journalism and public relations).  We will also consider the increasing significance of digital technologies in doing and distributing documentary work.

This course builds on the critical habits developed in Media and Society, where you learned to look at the storytelling and selling institutions and systems of global mass media and culture critically and systematically.  In this course, you gain a deeper understanding of how media is made and the implicit and explicit ethical choices that shape media production.  Thus, as it explores the link between critical media analysis and ethical media practice, this course builds the foundation for further coursework in the major. Please see this list of specific course objectives, aligned with the Media and Communication major.

The course is scheduled to meet 3 hours per week. Additional instructional activities include the doc research labsdigital media workshops, film screenings, lectures, field work, library instruction, and other relevant events that contribute to course learning objectives. 

Documentary Labs

To support students in developing effective documentary production skills, a required lab accompanies this course. Labs are taught by Tony Dalton, Digital Cultures Technologist, and begin March 15, 2019 and run through the end of the semester.

Lab Dates

  • March 15
  • March 22
  • March 29
  • April 12
  • April 26
  • May 3

Lab Objectives

  • Demonstrate file manage practices for accessing, organizing and storing files.
  • Demonstrate basic photographic techniques for use in video.
  • Demonstrate comprehension and application of Creative Commons, copyright and public domain options in digital story-making practices.
  • Apply basic image editing skills with Photoshop.
  • Demonstrate introductory editing skills with We Video.
  • Determine when and how to give back to Creative Commons.

Course Materials

Coles, R. (1997). Doing documentary work. NY: Oxford. Required.

Various readings, podcasts, and videos online and available in Canvas.

Domain of One’s Own. If you don’t already have a web domain on, you will sign up for one in the first week of class. This is your own corner of the web where you will write and reflect and share your work.

Course Activity

The work of this course involves attending class twice a week, reading course texts, watching documentary films, listening to audio documentaries, looking at documentary images, writing informal blog posts and formal academic essays, researching and producing both a short and a longer documentary project. 

The activities for each upcoming week will be posted on this course website no later than the previous Friday. Each post will clearly outline the week’s activities, requirements, and assignments.

participation and engagement

This course requires your active and informed participation and engagement. In documentary work, we pay close attention to diverse voices and perspectives, and we will practice these values daily in class. Your commitment and presence in class is especially critical in a discussion-based class. Perfect attendance is not a guarantee of a perfect participation grade –full participation credit is reserved for students who attend and contribute thoughtfully to class discussion and help to create a lively, respectful intellectual community during class. Please note that I recognize participation is not limited to speaking in class.  There are various ways to engage and contribute your voice to the course community, including via your blog.  If you are concerned about the participation and engagement expectations of the course, please come have a conversation with me.

Here are some things that contribute to effective participation and engagement:

  • Complete the assigned readings/listenings/viewings before class.
  • Take careful notes on course materials and bring your notes to class.
  • Annotate key passages and be prepared to point to specific examples from the text(s) during class discussion.
  • Bring your thoughtful questions about the readings to class to raise during class discussion.  For each week, ask yourself: what’s the muddiest point? 
  • Always bring your readings to class for close readings.
  • Limit computer use in class unless you need it for an assignment we are doing. Turn off notifications for the 75 minutes. Hold yourself accountable. Same applies to your phone. 
  • Be present. Do what you can to remain in class the entire 75 minutes. Use the bathroom beforehand, bring a beverage or snack. I will do my part to keep the course engaging and interactive. If you are getting bored in class, please let me know so we can discuss other ways to engage.



This is a writing intensive course. Writing in this course will take three primary forms: 
  • 3 documentary analysis essays (including a revision)
  • short blog reflections on readings and films
  • documentary narratives/scripts

media making

You will make two documentaries in this course: a short 30 second documentary and a longer 3-4 minute project. Both will be produced using WeVideo, a cloud-based digital media editing platform that you will gain access to in Tony Dalton’s media lab.



Attendance is required. Your presence throughout the full 75 minutes of class is expected. Absences will negatively affect your ability to make progress in this course and its related components. Please see me or email me if you anticipate absences.

Late Policy

Media and communication is a deadline driven field. I expect work to be completed and submitted on time. Life happens and we get behind–if you require an extension, ask in advance of the due date. Be accountable for your work and your goals for your learning.


Documentary is fundamentally about close listening, observation, and paying attention. I expect that we will practice these values in class and collaborate to shape an inclusive, welcoming, respectful learning environment. See my note about computers and phones above. You will be sharing your work with each other this semester and develop the skills of offering thoughtful feedback and critique. Listen and speak to each other respectfully–you are learning as much from each other as from me.

Academic Integrity

 Please review the Academic Integrity Code Recognize that any act of plagiarism and/or collusion, at minimum, will result in a grade of F (0) on any individual assignment and is sufficient grounds for failing this course. If an assignment isn’t clear, or if you need more time to complete your original work, bring it to my attention.

Students with Disabilities and special needs

Students with disabilities requesting classroom or course accommodations must complete a multi-faceted determination process through the Office of Disability Services prior to the development and implementation of accommodations, auxiliary aids, and services. Each Accommodation Plan is individually and collaboratively developed between the student and the Office of Disability Services. If you have not already done so, please contact the Office of Disability Services to have a dialogue regarding your academic needs and the recommended accommodations, auxiliary aides, and services. 

Basic Needs Statement

Any student who has difficulty affording meals, or accessing sufficient food to eat every day or who lacks a safe and stable place to live, and believes this may affect their performance in the course, is urged to contact the CARE Team in the Dean of Students Office for support at 484-664-3182.  Furthermore, please notify me if you are comfortable in doing so. This will enable me to provide any other resources or guidance I


Your grade in this course is comprised of the following:


  • Participation
  • Lab
  • Essays
  • 30 Second Documentary
  • Extended Documentary