COM Stories

  • Sort Stories


Innovation HQ:
Dr. James Katz leads new division

Establishing a division offering two new graduate degree programs is a major undertaking in any discipline. But launching two of the first programs in an embryonic field of study is something more—an opportunity to shape the discipline itself. That’s what makes Boston University’s new master’s program and upcoming PhD program in Emerging Media Studies so exciting. And so important.

Professor James E. Katz, director of the Division of Emerging Media Studies (EMS), is unquestionably up to the task. He’s been a major force in the field of communications and new media for years as a scholar, author, educator, thought leader and sought-after speaker. You can hear his enthusiasm for his subject and the new COM division as he explains what the innovative degree programs are, and aren’t, all about.

For one thing, they’re not a crystal ball into future media technology. “No one has a good grip on the future,” says Professor Katz. “It’s not our job to futurecast, but to understand human processes that are fundamental. In many ways, these haven’t changed since the days of Socrates or Shakespeare. But the tools themselves and the way we use them change. They affect our interpersonal relationships and influence not only the personal trajectories of our own lives but also the destinies of nations.”

EMS students will learn the basics of communication technology and keep up with cutting-edge applications like Google Glass and Raspberry Pi computing. But they’ll focus primarily on new communication tools—and the ways people develop, deploy, market and use them to express themselves and interact with others.

Studying these processes requires a deep understanding of research methods and data analysis, the real meat of the MA program, beginning in the fall of 2014. “New techniques in data analysis are getting people really excited,” says Katz. “We’ll look at the latest approaches to data visualization, such as 3-D rotational data clouds. Students will learn techniques ranging from data scraping to sentiment analysis.”

Placing BU’s Emerging Media Studies division in a class by itself is the extended group research project, which Professor Katz calls the major learning forum of the master’s program. “It brings back to life the apprenticeship model,” he explains. “Students will work intensively with their professors on a real client’s problem over a full 12 months. They can learn to solve a problem—and learn from their mistakes—as part of a team in a controlled, supervised environment.”

Solving that unique problem will involve research, analytics and critical thinking, as well as collaborative team-building skills to ensure everyone pulls their own weight. At the end of the project, the team will present their solution to the client in a comprehensive report.

“Traditionally, students take a class, pass a test, and never have to look at the material again,” says Katz. “In the extended group research project, they’ll live, breathe, and think about the project for a year. It will become a part of them, and what they learn will become part of their intellectual toolkit.” The finished project will also provide an outstanding portfolio of individual and group accomplishments. With their experience and a highly professional product to show prospective employers, MA graduates will have a solid edge in finding jobs.

The PhD program, launching in the fall of 2015, will give doctoral students the knowledge and guidance to make an original, intellectual contribution to their field. Graduates will be sophisticated researchers, highly proficient in both theoretical and substantive aspects of emerging media. They will be well qualified to step into leadership positions as research directors or program planners for media companies, government agencies, nonprofits or any company interested in reaching consumers through new media. They could also fill key posts in academia. Master’s program graduates can expect to use their expertise in similar settings, and their exceptional training would likely make it possible for them to move quickly into leadership positions.

Professor Katz stresses an inherent strength of the new division: it draws from all three departments in the College of Communication—Journalism, Film & TV, and Mass Communication, Advertising & Public Relations. Each is recognized for its prominent, award-winning faculty. And each offers a different skill set to engage a student’s interest. It might be an elective course in digital game studies or video production. Or, with the approval an advisor, a broad selection of courses outside of COM, from archaeology to theater.

But access to the full intellectual resources of Boston University isn’t the only advantage for EMS students. “Boston is in many ways the center of the universe for big brains,” suggests Katz. “Besides the brains at BU, you can connect with people and activities at other universities, at industry leaders like Google and Microsoft Research, and even at the Berklee College of Music in Boston. All are intensively involved in pursuits related to social media and public engagement.”

Clearly, among those “big brains” is Dr. Katz himself. Since receiving his PhD in Sociology from Rutgers University in 1975, he has published more than 15 books on topics including US energy policy, the social consequences of internet usage and mobile communication’s role in society. His latest book, The Social Media President, is due for publication in late 2013. In it, Katz examines the achievements and the missed opportunities in the Obama administration’s use of new media.

Of course, we call social media “new media” at the moment—but only until some future technology displaces them. “There will always be a sense of emerging-ness about communications,” he says. “Our students will learn how tech-savvy people and ordinary users are constantly recreating and taking ownership of these tools. We use them to form and break relationships, deceive each other and collaborate with each other to build a better future.” After a brief pause, he adds, “Hopefully, more of the latter.”


digital communication, faculty, Social media

James Katz

James E. Katz, Ph.D., is the Feld Professor of Emerging Media at Boston University’s College of Communication. In addition, he directs its Division of Emerging Media Studies. The Division addresses the process of how new media technologies are created and introduced to users, the effects they have on users, and how technologies and the content they produce are molded, co-constructed and re-constructed by users.

Dr. Katz has devoted his career to analyzing the uses and social consequences of emerging communication technologies, especially the Internet and telephone. He explores how they affect social interaction and what their uses reveal about human nature and organizations and was among the first to demonstrate their pro-social uses. He also seeks to understand what the future holds in terms of society and communication technologies and works with others to explore ways in which society can best prepare itself to make the optimal use of new developments.