Wednesday 24 May 2017

Media Studies workshop for students on coding research conference abstracts and exploring academic impact

This post describes a short workshop with UCT Honors and MA in Media Studies students. They are taught to code a local communication conference's programmes according to their team's research keywords. The academic impact of select conference papers are also coded and explored.


Today’s workshop focuses on exploring what presenters at the South African Communication Association (SACOMM) annual conference have shared there since 2011. In the first half (phase 1), you are going to review at least two program in teams with a similar research interest (or theme) to yours. I trust that your team will find local presenters whose focus resonates with yours. In the second half, you will explore whether there was any dialogue between the papers you coded or other forms of academic impact. The workshop is intended to help you to develop a better understanding of SACOMM's papers, which could be added to the literature reviews you need to do for research. At best, you’ll identify some important gaps at SACOMM and be inspired to think how your end of year project(s) could address these and what types of academic impact that could make.

> phase 1
2pm Introduction, split into teams and linked research coding scheme discussion
2.20 Teams code two SACOMM programmes (or more!) and explore links related to their focus
2.45 Teams define what they found in a document, discuss what they found across conferences and email it to me
> phase 2
3pm Coding research impact discussion
3.15 Teams explore research impact of shortlisted papers
3.40 Teams prepare a document on the the impacts they found and share key insights with us

Professor Keyan Tomaselli has suggested that the outputs of the workshop be used in a plenary session at SACOMM 2017, hence the importance of each group emailing me their findings in a document. Please include your names in it for acknowledgement.


SACOMM is an interdisciplinary conference that offers an opportunity to learn about the philosophies of communication science, critical communication studies, or cultural and media studies and how these engage with each other (Tomaselli, 2005). It is the sole functioning local disciplinary association for these studies and can offer a valuable forum for the disciplines and paradigms represented by its epistemologically diverse membership.

SACOMM’s program typically represents four areas of interest: Media Studies and Journalism (1), Film (2),  Corporate Communication (3) and Communication in General (4). The four interests may be elaborated or expressed differently at each conference. For example, this year’s conference ( includes streams for: Screen Studies (5), Communication education and curriculum development (6) and Communications advocacy and activism (7).

N.B. For more on SACOMM’s history and development, please read Professor Keyan Tomaselli’s Internationalising Media Studies: The South/ern African Communication Association (2007) and Ideological contestation and disciplinary associations: An autoethnographic analysis (2016) 

> Split into teams
Let’s split into research teams that match the interest group areas of the class. Just checking that these are..: Media Studies and Journalism (1), Film (2), Screen Studies (5) and Communications advocacy and activism (7)?

Please would the “ones” raise their hands and move to the far left. “Twos” move next to them and so on, so that we can have a good idea of how big teams 1, 2, 5 and 7 are, ta (and if there are "teams of one")! Being an inter-disciplinary researcher, I appreciate that some of your work may bridge categories, so please bulk up a team on your second choice if you can. Each team can collect a SACOMM annual conference program from this desk, now.

> SACOMM (& IAMCR 2012) schedule and programs (2011 - 2016)
For those keen to reference the digital files, please note that there is no central archive of SACOMM’s programmes before 2014. Here are links to what is available on SACOMM’s site from 2014. Plus, I’ve uploaded 2013 and 2011 to my Google Docs, which are public:

2016 schedule/programme

2013 schedule/programme with abstracts

 SACOMM absorbed into International Association for Media and Communication Research conference at UKZN- schedule/programme with abstracts
A significant observation from the Durban IAMCR conference is that there were double the number of paper proposals from SA based communication scholars than when SACOMM's conference was not twinned with an overseas organization!

2013 schedule/programme with abstracts

Those using CAQDAS may want to classify the source data by (year), conference (type) and type of document (programme or schedule).

> Define your interests
Your team’s researchers may have very different research interests. To create a shared list, each of you should write up to three keywords that are essential to your end-of-year project and number each by priority. For example, my Google Scholar profile lists five: creative producers (1), digital identity (2), habitus (3), infrastructure (4) and e-portfolio (5). These concisely describe my research focus and are ordered by priority. Each team should shortlist its most commonly chosen keywords. It must then formulate the coding index for your team’s foremost shared interests and share that with us.

> Coding the programs/schedules and abstracts and linking them to your research focus
Our next step is for each team to apply its coding index to a schedule. As you’ll notice when comparing the conference documents, most are extensive in providing a schedule and the abstracts. However, 2015’s only shows you the schedule. Here, you’d need to base your judgement of a link solely on the paper’s title. Given time constraints, your group might choose to focus only on titles and go through all 5 programs if you struggle to find research that resonates. Those teams that find strong resonance for several keywords may rather choose to do a detailed review of two conferences’ abstracts when searching for links.

It is easiest to code manually on hardcopies with highlighters. Alternatively, if you have experience with computer assisted qualitative data analysis software (whether it be NVivo, one listed under or another) you can import the relevant document (see links below) for coding. There’s always Excel, too!

Once you have completed the section(s) that match your interest, move onto the next program and code it. Since the programmes have been printed single-sided and are not stapled together, I trust you will be able to share different sections of the same programme between teams with contrasting foci. 

> Nothing to code?
Should you find no matching ‘keywords’ in your section; you could change your keyword coding index as a “Plan B”. Or Plan C would see your team rather focus on papers whose methods or research tools link to those you plan to use in future research.

The Media Studies field in South Africa is small and there is limited resourcing to cover what potentially is a huge, rapidly evolving field. You may find that speakers seldom address topics outside traditional institutional ones (such as online gaming) or bleeding-edge methodologies (such as large-scale quantitative analysis of social media via big data). Such developments may be perceived to be outside the scope of the local field, but would be covered in those countries’ conferences where Media Studies is far better resourced. Plan D is to describe what themes/topics/methods were absent from the programme and identify which communication conference(s) do cover them (i.e. IAMCR working groups, National Communication Association, World Communication Association, Association of Internet Researchers, International Communication Association and International Conference on Information & Communication Technologies and Development). Lastly, a Plan E could be a meta-analysis that identifies the main themes of SACOMM papers in one section and how these change between conferences.

> Each team member describes an aspect of what the team found
Although part of a shared interest team, its members may be interested in very different research topics. Please reflect this in each team member’s (sentence-long) feedback and email me your team's.


> Coding research impact discussion
Like many Humanities conferences, the quality of its papers can vary greatly. SACOMM does not result in an accredited publication. Rather, its conference papers may translate into: 
  • Academic dialogue at the conference {and between them}; 
  • Growth in personal academic visibility (Google Scholar,, ResearchGate and other profiles); 
  • Networking that supports conference papers being developed into research papers for journal publication, namely -
    • Communitas
    • African Communication Studies (see especially the Research Panel edited by de Beer, following the 2004 NMMU conference, to which  members kept referring in later years)
    • Communicatio
    • Many corporate communication journals
    • And least, Critical Arts (one highly viewed paper by Pieter Fourie)
  • Chapters in books and other forms of academic publication.
          Your team should discuss which academic impact(s) you want to focus on for developing the next coding index. This should include the <source> and <type of impact output> plus a classificatory schema for the <output>. You may also want to track the sources you used in searching and the types of searches you did (i.e. keyword combinations and Google Advanced search syntax <download guide at>).

          > Teams present on research impacts related to their keywords
          Each team member should describe at least one research impact and how it relates it to his or her research focus. Email me your overview, ta.

          N.B. Your research may point to limitations shaping local Media Studies research and SACOMM
          Culture and media studies do not have a long history in South Africa. Historically, SACOMM has been driven by the communications departments of Afrikaans universities focused on good business communication and PR. Such an agenda’s focus conflicts with the strengths of other Universities (for example, Rhodes journalists would be expected to find out the “bad” PR side!) English and historically Black universities kept their distance from the conference before 2005. There may still not be great compatibility between University departments with dissimilar interests/philosophical backgrounds (i.e. Marxist studies) versus SACOMM’s orientation towards business communication. Let's close by discussing the enablers your exploration revealed as well as any other constraints it suggested?

          Thank you
          I greatly appreciate the assistance of Dr Julie Reid, Associate Professor Tanja Bosch, Professors Herman Wasserman, Keyan Tomaselli and Marion Walton. All helped with sourcing the SACOMM and IAMCR schedules and/or providing additional background regarding local conferences.

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