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Bringing student communication research to the digital age

In many universities, the second semester is the time for many communication students to rush their thesis proposals.  It brings a lot of anxiety and panic attacks to many students and frustrations to professors, like me. Regardless of the range of communication thesis topics I suggested in about four posts in Devcompage, I was quite amazed that very few of the thesis topics were picked up by my students.  As readers have seen, the Thesis/Research Coach service in this blog is being used only by readers outside our university.  It is a resource that has remained unused by my students.  What a waste! As the Malaysians and Filipinos would say, “Sayang.”

So what thesis topics have they come up with?  Most of the thesis topics belonged to the much-abused realm of  knowledge gaps, knowledge, attitudes and practice or information needs assessment, perception studies,  etc.  My immediate reaction was:  “Since many of you are into social media with your Friendster, Facebook, and all, why don’t you work on those new topics which have not been addressed yet? All you need to do is introduce a development element from any of the eight MDGs for your thesis to qualify as Devcom?”  Silence.

Yet today, I came across an account of the 2nd Communication Research Student Conference organized by the UP College of Mass Communication, my alma mater,  in September 2008.  In the conference poster, here’s an interesting line-up of student research presentations that did me proud of my old school (Viva UP Diliman!):

  • Subscribing to info:  The portrayal of news on mobile phones
  • You are invited to join: A comparative study of Yahoo! Groups by UP Mass Communication and UP Engineering students
  • Multiply: The blog as the stage for self-presentation
  • Love in the time of SMS
  • How unlimited texting shapes the perceived closeness between and among members of a barkada
  • Unli ka ba? Metro Manila college students’ reactions and utilization of unlimited texting services
  • She’s the man? A quantitative study on the influence of men’s magazines on female university students’ concept of masculinity

To this list, let me add my own:

  1. Love in the time of the webcam: Gender exploitation in online dating
  2. Use of SMS for livelihood:  The case of market retailers
  3. Appropriation of mobile phones for livelihood improvement: The case of small rural enterprises
  4. Reaching students through mobile phones
  5. Forming impressions of other cultures through Korean telenovelas
  6. Kahit Isang Saglit as a vehicle for learning about two Asian cultures

Any student interested?


How to choose a development communication thesis topic

My last three posts on communication thesis topics elicited more queries and emails from students than I had anticipated. Some of the emails were:

“Hello ma’am, i’m thinking of fraternities for thesis topic. what do you think about this? how students react towards it? why did they join? how it affects their studies? what is their perception on this? and im also thinking of call centers maa’m, ano ba yong perception ng mga students sa mga call centers ngaun? what do you think maa’m pwede ba to? my problem maam is i dont know how to state this for titles. and im also interested in this topic maam “Mobile Phone Text Messaging Overuse among Developing World University Students” the one youve posted  in Devcompage. I  really need your help maam and suggestions on my proposed ideas.”

“Ma’am, if at all possible, could you suggest possible topics related to economics (macroeconomics)?  My sister is doing her thesis as well this semester.” 

“What if ma’am i make i study on the students’ preference of research reference–internet or library. It’s all about their access and what they trust most. I hope ma’am it’s ok.”

“Here are our proposed thesis topics:

Student A
Effectiveness of concept notes or note taking alone in the process of learning
Effects of social networks in the  communication skills of the youth today
What pushes or urges the youth to contribute  or share their life stories in teens’ books (chicken soup for teens, chocolate for a teens’ dream).

Student B
Perceptions of the youth towards homosexual relationship
Effects of alcohol towards the youth in handling their problems
How does internet addiction influence the youth of today?

While the emails indicated an openness to consult the teacher, they also elicited an exasperated response from me. The list of  U.S. mass communication and journalism thesis abstracts is meant to give research ideas to the student. It is absolutely not to be copied and pasted in toto as there are Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) issues involved.

A student can take one current issue (e.g., melamine contamination in milk, methathione controversy, climate change, farm waste management, mining) and come up with any of these topics : 1) framing of the issue online, 2) framing of the issue in national newspapers, 3) mothers’ risk perceptions of melamine in milk, 4) rural mothers’ awareness of food safety issues, 5) information needs on each of these issues, etc. Based on these variations, one can  have 25 possible thesis topics to choose from and discuss with the thesis adviser.

We used this approach in our DC198 class and I was amazed at the list of acceptable thesis topics that my students discussed with me. Indeed, it helps to read up on the current issues of the day to get ideas for thesis topics. Creativity has no boundaries.

Hint: Readers should read the comments in Thesis/Research Coach of Devcompage as it is a rich source of thesis topics.

More communication thesis topics


Student interviewing a Vietnamese farmer

Survey field work in Laos

Students in survey field work in Laos

My students say that their biggest challenge is to come up with thesis topics. My view is that if students read widely — theses, journals, books and the web —  they can think of new ideas or adapt previously done research.  To my horror, I find that many students are defeated by their lack of web searching skills. For instance, a visit to the website of the Association for Education in Journalism & Mass Communication or to the Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication of Indiana University will enable one to read the journalism and mass communication abstracts which are organized by level and year starting from 1996 for the Masters and 2002 for Ph.D.  From the abstracts and articles, one can adapt some of the topics to the current situation and match it to one’s interest. The simple rule is to choose topics that one is passionate about.

For instance, from my visit to the AEJMC website, I thought of these possible topics and students can spin off many other relevant topics. Just off my head, here they are:

  • The Framing of A Food Safety Controversy: How Newspapers Covered the China Melamine Contamination in Milk Issue
  • Rural-Urban Differences in Risk Perceptions of the Melamine Milk Contamination Issue
  • The Framing of A Climate Change Effects: Newspaper Coverage of Climate Change Stories
  • Rural-Urban Differences in Knowledge Gaps on Climate Change
    Content Analysis of Scientific Evidence For Herbal Remedies Presented in National Newspapers
  • Social Comparison and The Effects Of Advertising Images of Ideal Female Beauty

Read the abstracts for thesis ideas

Thesis topics on communication technology

Data processing in Indonesia

Data processing in Indonesia

In the “Thesis/Research Coach” I often get requests for thesis topics and I have evaded that by suggesting a roadmap instead. The roadmap reflects my mantra – read, read, read.  With the semester well on its way in our part of the world, communication students are under pressure to come up with a worthy thesis topic. I always remind my students that a  thesis need not be a masterpiece as it is done only to demonstrate understanding of the scientific method.

The following list of research titles presented at the 2007 Convention of the Association for Education in Journalism & Mass Communication could give some clues to students:

  • Effects of secondary internet use on people’s time-efficiency
  • Mobile Phone Text Messaging Overuse among Developing World University Students
  • Gatekeeping: From Inception to the Internet
  • Gatekeeping Journalists’ Weblogs: The Influence of Media Organizations and Individual Factors Over Journalists’ Perceived Autonomy
  • Internet Use and Political Empowerment
  • Comparing Audiences’ Responses to Real versus Virtual Human Product Endorsers on an E-Commerce Site
  • Choosing is Believing: How Web Gratifications and Reliance Affect Internet Credibility among Politically Interested Users
  • Are You Searching or Surfing? : The Effects of Searching vs. Surfing
  • Does the Internet add value to traditional print products? An analysis of newspaper Web sites and their relationship with the print version
  • Perceived knowledge, emotion, and health Information use: Exploring antecedence and consequence of patients’ worry
  • From Have Nots to Watch Dogs: Understanding the Realities of Senior Citizens’ Use of the Internet for Health Information
  • “Why do you read blogs and update your Facebook page so much?”

Read more …