USC Annenberg to partner with UPenn to research communication in the Zoom era

Dr. Sarah Banet-Weiser will direct the Annenberg Center for Collaborative Communication.

Zoom was born “from a crisis moment.” But for Dr. Sarah Banet-Weiser it was also “a moment of opportunity, a moment of possibility.”

After nearly a year of pandemic-induced online learning, Dr. Banet-Weiser will use hybrid learning with the goal of “reimagining and potentially revolutionizing how communication can be used to address complex issues” such as health care, data privacy, gender and racial equity and justice.

USC Annenberg and the University of Pennsylvania’s Annenberg School for Communication announced a new partnership to establish the Annenberg Center for Collaborative Communication on March 29.

Dean of the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism Willow Bay wrote on Instagram that the center “will enable our faculties and doctoral students to think and work across institutional, geographic and disciplinary divides to reimagine how communication can be used to address some of the world’s biggest challenges.”

Dr. Banet-Weiser, who will be the center’s inaugural director, spent 20 years at USC Annenberg before becoming the head of the Media and Communications department at the London School of Economics. Her previous teaching and research topics include feminist theory, race and the media, youth culture, popular and consumer culture and citizenship and national identity.

Once she joins the faculty of the Annenberg School at the University of Pennsylvania, she will become the first professor to work between the two schools. Her efforts, she said, will be spent thinking about the ways she “can connect and or facilitate connections between faculty and students” at both institutions.

She currently intends to spend half of the year at each institution, and online learning allows students to work with her from either coast should they be interested in taking a course not offered on their campus that term. The first year of the program will focus on PhD students given that they “already have in place some programs,” such as USC Annenberg’s joint degree program with the London School of Economics (LSE), or the Annenberg School for Communication at Pennsylvania’s program with their university’s Department of Political Science and cross-university programs with Fudan University and University of Cape Town.

Potential areas of the center’s efforts will be collaborative research between both schools, a joint M.A. program focused on a common research area, “study abroad” semesters at either institution and a methods summer school co-hosted by each institution.

Banet-Weiser will teach a course on feminist media in [the summer] in-person at the University of Pennsylvania and will also offer it online. She feels hybrid learning benefits both students in-person and online, despite stigmas that suggest otherwise.

“There’s been a kind of stigma about online that it’s not as good as face-to-face [learning]” she said. “I think we’ve done a pretty good job at blowing that up because we’ve worked super hard to figure out how to be creative and engaging.”

Banet-Weiser added that hybrid courses attract certain students, particularly those who want to “experience an institution that also has shared similarities with their home institution.” She hopes that the hybrid model can be utilized with other professors so they can teach across schools and institutions and could potentially function as a way to study “abroad” even if it is just between coasts.

The Annenberg Center for Collaborative Communication will officially launch under Banet-Weiser’s leadership on July 1, 2021.