Getting to know… Nancy Jennings
Associate Professor and Director
Children’s Education and Entertainment
Research (CHEER) Lab
Department of Communication
University of Cincinnati
What are you currently working on?
As a general practice, I have multiple projects/studies that I am working on, hopefully, in various stages. Sometimes, it doesn’t always work that way, but I try! Currently, in collaboration with Maya Goetz and Andrea Holler, I just finished a data collection on the representation of men and women in music videos with 13-15-year-olds. This study not only gathered the voices of teens on their impressions of music videos, but also offered a media literacy lesson by asking the participants to analyze music videos to explore depictions of sexuality within these music videos. I look forward to diving into the data analysis and also making cross cultural comparisons with the data collected in Germany.
I am in the midst of data collection with 14-18-year-olds concerning the representation of LGBT characters in the media. I am conducting one-on-one interviews with teens and sharing with them an edited video story of Cole, a transgender character on ABCFreeform’s The Fosters. The video tells the story of Cole as he transitioned and relays the challenges and triumphs of his journey.
Finally, I am also about to launch a study of young children’s responses and reactions to virtual reality in collaboration with our industry partner, JJ Johnson and Sinking Ship, and colleagues in Education, Communication, and technology development. We will be exploring children’s experiences with a virtual reality game based on Dino Dana with 6-8-year-olds.
What has been your most memorable project so far, and why?
My most memorable project so far has been my faculty-led study abroad. For 5 years, I have taken undergraduate and graduate students on a 10-day study abroad program to Ireland and Germany. I started the program with just 7 students and by my last trip in 2017, I had 25 students!
The program is called “Children’s Media Around the World” and takes an interdisciplinary approach to exploring children’s media from print to video in different cultures. I have collaborated with colleagues in Education, and we have taught students from a variety of different backgrounds and majors including Communication, Education, Psychology, and Nursing. We have made informative visits with children’s media producers including Sixteen South, Brown Bag Films, and RTÉ in Northern Ireland and Ireland. One year, we were honored to attend and transcribe discussion sessions of industry practitioners at the Prix Jeunesse Fesitval in Munich.
It has been such a pleasure to lead these visits and watch the students grow in so many ways. I also cherish the industry visits and follow their development and progress through the years. For me, this has been one of the most meaningful projects I have been able to do as a children’s media scholar. It helps me to bridge the gap between industry and academics while sharing the passion and commitment to the betterment of children we both share with the next generation.
Which achievement are you most proud of, and why?
I am most proud of my students’ achievements, both personal and professional. I once had a student who overcame her fears while on our study abroad program which influenced her belief in her own strength. I had another student who finished her undergraduate and Master’s degree in our program then went on to complete her law degree. I have helped another student as she struggled with homelessness, and I’m so pleased to say she was recently able to complete her undergraduate degree. I feel privileged to be a part of their achievements and proud that I could help them grow, learn, and prosper.
What is an important question from parents and practitioners that we as academics cannot provide a good answer to yet?
When I talk to parents, it seems like they want black and white answers to their children’s media use. Should I let my infant watch TV? How much is too much screen time? At what age should I let my child have a smartphone? Parents often get very specific direction from their pediatricians about diet, exercise, and sleep for their children. However, when it comes to media, there isn’t one universal answer for all children in all families and cultures. The “it depends” answer is the best one we can provide, and we need to be able to find ways for parents to be comfortable with that.
What would be your work motto?
Can do! This applies to so many areas of my work (and my life). I like to try new approaches to teaching and research, to keep pushing forward, and to serve my discipline, department, university, and community. I face new opportunities and challenges with a “can do” attitude, to persevere and keep going.
Which of your publications is your favorite, and why?
My first book, Tween Girls and Their Mediated Friends, is one of my favorite publications. It gave me the chance to use a new research method and analysis of qualitative interview data. It also allowed me to hear the voice of tween girls and has led me to do more of this type of research. I realized I am a good listener, and I can use that to hear and share the voices of others, particularly youth who may not be heard in other ways.
Another publication that I’m fond of is a book chapter on Advertising and Consumer Development in Children and television: 50 Years of research edited by Norma Pecora, John Murray, and Ellen Wartella. This publication has quite a history for me. As an undergraduate student at the University of Illinois, I actually did some of the initial research on this publication, assisting Dr. Wartella with the bibliography for this book. I remember digging through the library looking for books written on children’s media and making photocopies of articles for the bibliography. Years later in graduate school with Ellen as my mentor, I did more bibliographic work for the publication and became quite familiar with reference software. Just as I was starting my first teaching position, I wrote the chapter on advertising with Ellen from the extensive bibliography that I had helped build. Little did I know when I was just an undergraduate that I would actually be working on a project that I would later co-author as a PhD!
If you had unlimited resources, what kind of project would you want to do and why?
Unlimited resources would be a dream come true! I would want to do a multi-method project across academe and industry that incorporates both qualitative and quantitative approaches to better understand children’s interactions and connections with on-screen characters, and if/when these parasocial relationships and interactions can be beneficial for children, particularly with marginalized youth. I would like to know if children make and maintain eye contact with characters, particularly those that engage in parasocial interactions, but I also want to hear from the children about how they experience characters to make sure their voice is heard. Most importantly, I want to be able to convey these findings to content producers as they create and imagine new projects and characters for children and youth.
If you had to give one piece of advice to young CAM scholars, what would it be?
Look for connections between your research, teaching, and service. We are all asked and expected to do each of these in our careers. Finding the opportunities for intersection of these roles make doing each of them more meaningful and more enriching. I have done quite a bit of service in my career. Often, others have questioned that decision. For me, the service helped me to make a variety of connections locally, regionally, and internationally that give me new perspectives, inspire new directions for research and teaching, and make me a better scholar, teacher, and mentor.
Who would you like to put in the spotlight next, and why?
I would like to hear from Mariska Kleemans to learn more about CAM’s first Top Reviewer.
To download a copy of this edition of CAMmer in the spotlight click here.