Due to the Corona virus education methods or examination can deviate. For the latest news please check the course page in Brightspace.


nl en

Foundations of Media & Communications Theory




Admission Requirements



Communication Science is a relatively new and interdisciplinary field in the social sciences – drawing on literature, studies, and theories from mathematics, computer science, sociology, political science, psychology, and philosophy. Scholars in communication science itself often lament the lack of a coherent theoretical structure in the discipline.

In this course students engage with fundamental concepts and approaches to communication theory, as well as its applications to understanding the role of mass media in democratic societies. The course is, broadly speaking, divided into two parts.

The first part focuses on the fundamentals of information and communication theory. In this part of the course we will build from the foundational definitions, ideas, and theories about the nature of information and communication.

The second half focuses on theories of mass media effects. Much of mass media theory links explicitly to concerns and ideas grounded in the first half of the course. Mass media research will be framed with classics of mass media scholarship in an effort to give students a mental map or model of how communication works in human communities. Thus, modern applications and developments about how mass media affects public opinion, politics, and policy-making will be given special emphasis.

By design, this course is a broad survey touching on the foundations of communications and mass-media studies while engaging in more speculative topics on the role of new electronic media on society. Thus, by definition it is a limited slice of a broad and complex topic.

Course Objectives

  • Develop a more exact and sophisticated view of the nature of information and human communication. Students should be able to develop a model of communication that suits their own views, and that could be evaluable with evidence.

  • For students to learn to critically and systematically evaluate both media and social communication.

  • For students to develop an appreciation for the immense direct influence and subtle complexity that media signals have on social and political life.

  • For students to hone written, verbal, and (optionally) multi-media communication skills.

Mode of Instruction

Class sessions will be – on average – evenly divided between lecture and guided discussion and debate. Some sessions will have more discussion than lecture, while the converse may be true during other sessions. Students are expected to participate (preferably vigorously) in planning and participating in classroom discussions and debates. Active engagement with the ideas of the course is key to student success.


Assessment: In-class participation in and preparation of discussions
Percentage: 25%
Deadline: Ongoing Weeks 1 – 7

Assessment: One research proposal term paper utilizing readings (~2000-3000 words)
Percentage: 25%
Deadline: Research Papers due by end of Week 8 23:59

Assessment: Choice of one take-home essay exam question out of two to be completed over one weekend
Percentage: 30% (10% for lowest grade, 20% for highest)
Deadline: Due by the following Tuesday after essay exam assigned: Weeks (3) & (7) at 23:59

Assessment: One 10-15 minute oral presentation or multi-media presentation on course readings
Percentage: 20%
Deadline: Varies by individual appointment


Students must have their own copy of the following books:
Heath, Robert L. and Jennings Bryant. 2000. Human Communication Theory and Research. 2nd Ed. Routledge: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Necessary readings will either available for photocopy in my office, at the CDH library reserve desk, or via reader that may be available for purchase. Students are always expected to have a physical copy of readings for class.

For those particularly interested in thinking more deeply about information and communication I recommend James Gleick’s book The Information: A History, a Theory, a Flood.

Contact Information

Dr. Brandon C. Zicha at b.c.zicha@luc.leidenuniv.nl

Weekly Overview

Week 1: Introduction to Communication Science
Week 2: Information Theory
Week 3: What is Communication?: Communication vs Persuasion?
Week 4: Mass Communication
Week 5: Media Effects: Agendas, Frames, and Primes
Week 6: Media Effects: Interactions and Outcomes
Week 7: “New” Media?
Week 8: Reading Week and final project/paper

Preparation for first session

Students are required to read chapters 1 – 5 of Walter Lippman’s 1922 classic, Public Opinion available at http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/6456 for free. Get a free kindle e-reader here: http://www.amazon.com/gp/feature.html/ref=kcp_ipad_mkt_lnd?docId=1000493771

The instructor recommends reading as much more of the text as is possible. It is an excellent text at the very foundations of modern scientific examinations of social communication.