Muhlenberg College Fall 2019

About Doc Research

COM 231 Fall 2019
Course Time/Place:
T/Tr 11-11:15, Walson 115
Instructor: Dr. Lora Taub 
Office: Trexler B06        Office Hours: T/Tr 10-10:50

Course Description

A syllabus is available for printing here.

This is a course about doing documentary work.  This semester, our documentary work will focus on one theme: the social life of technology.  You will become documentarians, researchers, recorders, producers and makers of true stories about the place of technology in your own lives and in the life of Muhlenberg College, now and in the past.

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 –but not exclusively — on the traditions of 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.

Documentary Research pays critical attention to 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 analytic 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 labs, digital media workshops, film screenings, lectures, field work, library instruction, and other relevant events that contribute to course learning objectives. prim

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

  • October 18
  • October 25
  • November 1
  • November 8
  • November 15
  • November 22

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 second 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. In our structured and unstructured discussions and dialogues, we also will have many opportunities to explore some challenging, high-stakes issues and increase our understandings of different perspectives. Our class dialogue will mirror and enact the values of doing documentary work. Our conversations will be challenging; we may struggle and make mistakes in our speaking and our listening; we will need patience or courage or imagination or any number of qualities to engage our texts, each other, and our own ideas and experiences. Our ability to become ethical documentary researchers and makers requires that we attend to our facility with the sometimes difficult conversations that arise inside issues of social justice as we deepen our understandings of social location. 

Presence in class and participation are highly important in this small, collaborative, seminar-style environment. I am committed to my role in making class as inviting, interactive, and lively a space as possible.  If you must be absent because of an emergency or illness, please make every effort to speak with me about it beforehand, if possible, or after the next class.  When possible, let me know in advance of absences due to religious observance or College sporting events as soon as you can.  Keep in mind that more than two unexcused absences will begin to affect your final participation grade.

I am committed to the principle of universal learning. This means that our classroom, our virtual spaces, our practices, and our interactions be as inclusive as possible. Mutual respect, open-mindedness, and the ability to listen and observe others carefully are crucial to universal learning. Active, thoughtful, and respectful participation in all aspects of the course will make our time together as meaningful, productive and engaging as possible. If you have concerns or questions about your participation, please let me know.

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 meaningful presence 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 and phone use in class unless you need it for an assignment we are doing. Turn off notifications for the 75 minutes of class time. Hold yourself accountable. 
  • Be present. Do what you can to remain in class the entire 75 minutes. Use the bathroom beforehand, bring a beverage or snack. 



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

Managing several documentary projects and multiple writing assignments demands skillful time-management and planning. Due dates in this course are established intentionally to help you keep on track with the multiple projects you have in this course, in the context of your busy and full lives as students at Muhlenberg. Life happens and we fall behind–if you require an extension, please don’t hesitate to ask in advance of the due date. Be accountable for your work and your goals for your learning. I want to help you develop the habits of timely meeting due dates and goals that will serve you well beyond this course and into your future.


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. 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 an assignment isn’t clear, or if you need more time to complete your original work, please come see me or email me to discuss the situation. More often than not, plagiarism occurs when students feel under pressure and out of options.  You always have options. You are never stuck. I promise you that any conversation we have about your need for more time, instructions, or whatever, is going to be less difficult than a conversation about plagiarism and other practices that don’t uphold the academic integrity code.

Resources for support

Everyone needs help at some point (and typically at multiple points) in their academic journey. When you do, here are some campus resources (besides me) that can help.

Academic Resource Center

Writing Center

Digital Learning Hive Trexler B06

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

If you are experiencing financial hardship, have difficulty affording
groceries or accessing sufficient food to eat every day or do not have a safe
and stable place to live, and believe this may affect your performance in
this course, I would urge you to contact our CARE Team through the Dean
of Students Office for support. Their website is 
Muhlenberg has established a student run food pantry with food, personal hygiene and school supplies in Seegers Union called The M.U.L.E. (Muhlenberg Useful Living Essentials) Community Cabinet.  This is available for any Muhlenberg student.
You may also discuss your concerns with me if you are comfortable doing so.


Your grade in this course is comprised of the following:


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