How do we organize what we know? How does that organizational structure affect what we can know? How can those structures be used and how are they used against us? This past Thursday evening, Dr. Jimmy Davis of the Department of Communication Studies challenged the Scholars to be more aware of the frames that control our thinking. After a few minutes of chatting about his life and experiences, He asked scholars to connect all the dots in the grid he drew on the board–using only four straight lines.
To successfully connect the dots, the Scholars had to think outside the implied frame of the grid. Dr. Davis used the exercise to introduce the concept of frames, which, according to Stephen D. Reese, ” are organizing principles that are socially shared and persistent over time, that work symbolically to meaningfully structure the social world.”
Dr. Davis then put the Scholars through a scenario that demonstrated how we use frames to fill in the gaps in the stories we hear. He discussed ways in which companies had tried to market healthier eating to middle school students, and how various frames interfered with the initiative until they were understood and the message revised. He argued that Communications Studies is often about advocacy, and frames can be both useful tools and harmful barriers to communicating effectively.
Next, Dr. Davis broke out his famous “sticky wall” as the Scholars got some practice at framing messages themselves. He asked them to think about how to market a new high school to potential students. He started by asking them for words to describe high school to an eighth grader. After putting them on the board and grouping them into various categories, he had them boil down their list of descriptors into mission statements and bumper stickers.
The Scholars enjoyed the hands-on experience, and now they all have a better sense of how to use the idea of frames to be critical consumers and producers of the messages that come their way every day.