How to Survive Comm Law at American University

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Sometimes we wish we had a survival guide for those tough classes that make us want to cry or die in a hole. For a lot of communication majors at American University that class is Comm Law. Just the name of the class itself is intimidating. Comm law is the intersection between the two fields, and how our legal system resolves violations of the law in media companies. A lot of people worry about the dreaded term project, the group assignments and the required attention to detail. All of the demands of the course can seem staggering at first, and the professor might seem a little rough around the edges, but the class really isn’t all that bad.

Stop fearing Comm Law, because we’ve got you covered with this survival guide.

Step 1: Take The Class With Professor Chris Simpson

There are several AU professors who teach comm law, but this guide focuses on Professor Simpson and students who have taken the course with him. As much as Comm Law might sound like a dull class, rarely does Professor Simpson allow for a dull moment. He keeps students talking, both with him and with each other. He grades fairly, offers extra credit and always welcomes questions. “As a professor, he was helpful in offering extra credit and the chance for everyone who wants to do that! He also obviously knows a lot about the subject, so in researching term projects he has a lot of information,” said AU senior Lauren Beesle.

Step 2: Participate

Showing up to class is half the battle. Professor Simpson passes around a signup sheet every class. You might not think he knows your name, but odds are he does. The easiest way to get points is to show up to class and make sure your name gets on that signup sheet. Raising your hand and offering comments in class can only help from there. If students aren’t raising their hands, Professor Simpson will continue to encourage and re-word his questions to generate involvement. Even if you are unsure, don’t be afraid to offer an opinion or an answer—Professor Simpson will not shut you down.

Step 3: Read the Textbook and Learn the Vocab

Ah yes, who actually bothers to read textbooks? However, reading the textbook will actually help you a ton. “Looking back, I would have told myself to prepare a little more for quizzes, because it was relatively easy if you had read the material,” said Beesle. Beyond that, several of the class meetings are devoted to another assigned text, Chasing Gideon, which you’ll want to read. “Actually reading Chasing Gideon was helpful in understanding that structure that he wants you to see. It is also very interesting and worth reading on its own,” said AU senior Shayna Cook.

Thankfully, though, you just need to know where to find the textbook’s info. The class’s short quizzes and midterms are all open book and open notes. As long as you know how to work with the textbook’s index, you’ll be able to correctly respond to many of the exam questions.

In addition, Professor Simpson recommends keeping up with law-related vocabulary so that students can more easily understand concepts. Knowing the difference between a public figure and a private figure can be helpful when Professor Simpson presents a hypothetical case that you have to argue in class.

Step 4: Make A Friend in the Class and Sit Next To Them

Professor Simpson encourages a lot of dialogue in class. He often asks students to break into groups for in-class assignments, or to chat with the person next to them about their term project. You are more likely to share that you’re struggling to find a primary source with someone you are comfortable talking to. Who knows?  That person might be able to point you in the right direction. One of Professor Simpson’s unspoken philosophies: We can help each other a lot more than we think.

Step 5: Pick A Topic for Your Term Project that Actually Interests You

You don’t want to be stuck writing a paper the whole semester on a topic that you don’t care about. Pick something you’re passionate about. Examples of popular topics in previous semesters included Melania Trump’s lawsuits against the Daily Mail, and NOMI Technologies vs The FTC. Many students chose court cases as their topics and describe the type of comm law involved, the background and precedents, and how the case unfolded in relation to topics discussed in class. The term project has a 15-page minimum requirement.  If you chose a boring topic, you will struggle to come up with 15 pages worth of discussion. Make the paper worth your while.

Step 6: Don’t Put Off the Term Project

Before the first class, Professor Simpson emails term project topics to the class. Take time and highlight any topics that sound interesting to you because topics are assigned on the first day of class, and deciding who gets which one is a free-for-all. Raise your hand high. There is no system for selecting topics other than Professor Simpson calling on students. When you leave class on the first day, your topic should always be in the back of your mind.

When it’s time to research, Simpson advises students to get to business and to not put it off. “Even a basic Google/Wikipedia search is a good start. Actually read the stuff you gather. That is like one evening’s effort. Be sure to read relevant basic stuff in the textbook. Use the book index or ask the professor to help you find it,” said Simpson. “Then use the weekly comments assignment to do follow-up reports & comments on your subject. RESULT: By the midterm, you’ll already understand the basic legal issues, controversies, and ‘insider’ analysis of your project. That makes writing up the term project about 500 percent easier and faster.”

Step 7: Don’t Let The Requirements Overwhelm You

Comm Law has a lot of requirements.  At least six specific URLs, at least four major sources, at least three primary sources, two appendices and a bibliography—and that’s just for the term project. The class itself also requires a court visit with a written analysis, a YouTube copyright analysis, several in-class group projects, weekly blog posts, quizzes and the midterm. All of this sounds like a lot.

But don’t stress. Everything is spaced out in a way that allows you to get it all done. “The class is okay as long as you’re on top of the regular every-week tasks like blog posts, which is an easy way to get full marks on that section of the class,” said Beesle. During most of the class meetings, Professor Simpson even writes a timeline on the board to let students see what they have to remember to do in the coming weeks.

Step 8: Do As Much Extra Credit As You Can

Professor Simpson offers up to 12 points of extra credit, and there really is no reason not to go for as many extra points as you can. He’s even flexible with what you can do in terms of extra credit. You can even do an extra credit PowerPoint presentation that outlines your term project— which is extremely useful in planning your project. Now you really have no reason to not pass.

Step 9: Go To Office Hours

If you need any help with anything in the class, go to office hours. “Visiting during office hours makes it MUCH easier for the professor to learn your name, understand your questions and in general to recognize you as an individual human being with thoughts and dreams of your own. This is true in ANY course you take,” said Simpson. “It also makes it much easier for you to ask questions during class when the professor starts rambling on about confusing or seemingly pointless stuff.”

Step 10: Give it Your Best Shot

Even if you find yourself struggling with some aspects of the course, don’t give up on getting a good grade. “Make sure you take good detailed notes on the precedents; about 50 percent of this class is knowing the precedents to the current laws and rulings. Also recognizing that those precedents indicate a structure in how he wants you to learn law,” said Cook. As long as you give the class a good amount of effort, you really have nothing to worry about. Don’t fret—Comm Law is not as scary as it appears.

I am a junior studying broadcast journalism at American University. I am obsessed with my dog and would die to see the Mets win the World Series.

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