In the spring term students choose three academic option modules each lasting half a term. In addition, students undertake a group project module.

Creative group project

Students work in small groups to make a cultural product or practical piece of communication which explores the theoretical ideas introduced in the core academic modules. The module gives students the opportunity to develop their group working skills, to consolidate their understanding of the theoretical concepts covered in the core modules, and to reflect on the relevance of theory to the production of creative projects.


Academic options

Documentary

Documentaries show us situations and events that are recognisably part of a realm of shared experience: the historical world as we know it, or as we believe others to encounter it. It is this status of documentary film as evidence from the world that legitimates its usage as a source of knowledge. But while documentaries offer pleasure and appeal, their own structure remains virtually invisible, their own rhetorical strategies and stylistic choices largely unnoticed. Documentary films raise a rich array of issues: legal, philosophical, ethical, political, historiographic and aesthetic. This module looks at these issues within the context of viewing and discussing some of the seminal works in the history of the documentary film. It also brings a critical eye to recent developments in factual TV—video diaries, Reality TV, docu-soaps—which raise, in particular, questions of subjectivity, embodiment and privacy in the public space of television.

Ethics

Science communicators regularly encounter ethical issues in their dealings with science and with the media. This suggests that science communicators need expertise in weighing up, and reporting on, moral issues. This module presents a number of case studies and contemporary controversies in order to introduce some of the main movements within ethical thought, including utilitarianism, deontology and virtue (Aristotelian) ethics. Topics include research ethics, perfecting the human, naturalism, and vivisection.

Narrative

Story-telling lies at the heart of nearly all communication. Even ‘objective’ genres of media communication, such as news, are all about telling stories and these narrative structures construct and constrain the way we see the world. This module introduces key concepts from narrative theory in order to inform students’ own narrative writing as well as raising important theoretical issues. Examples are drawn from a range of all genres and media, from TV documentaries to fairytales, and the module also explores the extent to which scientific discourse is itself narratival.

Science and Communication for Development

This module critically examines perspectives on international development and the issues these raise for science communication. We will deconstruct the notion of development, looking at the language, terminology and culture of development activity. The course will challenge commonly held perceptions of development and offer the opportunity to re-imagine the role and nature of science communication in this complex context.

The module introduces both historical and contemporary aspects of development, as they relate to science communication. It will challenge existing perceptions of development, and there will be an opportunity to critically analyse existing communication material in this arena. Undertaking this module will equip you with a theoretical background with which to approach communication in a development context.

During the course we will examine the terminology and framing of development, the development of knowledge, communication cultures and heritage, public health initiatives and community participation and engagement.

Science and Display

This module explores the issues surrounding construction of meaning in visual and spatial media. It examines the relationship between viewer, author, object and narrative using museums as an example. Themes include the meaning of artefacts; politics and institutions; questions of interpretation and the consequences of choosing a single narrative; the problems of presenting complex and controversial science.

Science and Innovation Policy

This module looks at the relationship between communication, science and policymaking in the UK, the US and the countries of the developing world. Questions the course addresses include: How is public policy determined? To what extent is knowledge and research a factor in policymaking? To what extent is the process a function of politics and power? What is the role of communication and the mass media? How do these processes compare across a range of countries? The module focuses on three case studies: issues around climate change, and in particular the background to the Stern review on climate change; the nuclear ambitions of India, Iran and Pakistan; the relationships between science, industry, environmentalism, media and money in Africa, with a specific focus on biotechnology and genetically-modified agriculture.

Sounds, signs and meanings in radio

This module begins with a brief history of radio from Marconi to podcasting and then turns to the analysis of the medium’s primary code (speech) and secondary codes (non-speech sounds such as music, sound effects and silence). How the codes and conventions of radio convey meaning is explored further through the analysis of radio drama and the devices producers employ to create a sense of space and depth. Radio is a highly trusted medium and yet it is also one of the easiest to fake. The module finishes by considering this apparent contradiction and the ethical difficulties programme-makers face as advocates for the audience.


Note: the modules listed here are those offered in 2017-18. The programme is substantially the same from year to year but there may be some changes.