Propaganda & Persuasion

Featured Sessions & Speakers

The conference will be fully online on Friday and Saturday, January 13 - 14, 2023 via Zoom. The conference schedule will include sessions featuring experts in the three key issue areas; open forums to allow for community building, networking, and the opportunity to grapple with new or challenging ideas; and an opening and closing plenary to identify common themes and cross-purposes across the conference strands. Presenters will model best practices in the use of digital texts, tools, and technologies for teaching and learning.

Why Focus on Propaganda and Persuasion?

With the rise of so-called fake news and concerns about disinformation, a hierarchy of genres has emerged in media literacy education. Educators and librarians generally see informational genres as superior to persuasive and entertainment genres. Because English teachers focus on logical reasoning and argument, students may not acquire the competencies to deal with non-rational, emotional, us-vs-them messaging. Teaching “persuasion knowledge” helps learners understand how persuasion works in advertising, public affairs, and in social media. Teaching about political advertising in the context of elections and democracy can also help push back on the “propaganda is bad” framing. But when and how should educators focus on the dark side of propaganda - including extremist discourses? What happens when media literacy educators try to tackle propaganda that sows racism, white supremacy, etc? How are hierarchies of credibility shaped by business models? Most importantly, how do we teach about propaganda without resorting to indoctrination?

Renee Hobbs, Moderator

University of Rhode Island


Fear of Persuasion: What We're Not Teaching

David Fleming

University of Massachusetts Amherst

Teachers of reading and writing have framed argumentation as an exclusively "logical" form of discourse in which personal and emotional appeals are excluded. Although we might be sympathetic to pedagogies that privilege "facts" over "opinions" (as the issue is now often framed in the schools), this has been a mistake, one with enormous potential consequences. Persuasion is an inescapable and vital motivation for human language use and the central discursive end of the rhetorical tradition. Why should we reconsider our current fear of persuasion? How can the study of persuasion and propaganda re-invigorate the English language arts, K-16?

David Fleming is Professor of English at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, where he has been on the faculty since 2006 and has served as director of the University Writing Program and Undergraduate Studies in English. His research spans the field of composition-rhetoric: he has published essays on the history of rhetoric, argumentation theory and practice, writing in the disciplines and professions, and the history and pedagogy of first year composition. His article “Fear of Persuasion in the English Language Arts” (College English) won the 2019 Richard Ohmann Award from the National Council of Teachers of English. You can read more about him at

How Storytellers Shift Culture

Romain Sepehr Vakilitabar

Pathos Labs

Entertainment media provide messages about current issues in ways that may be simultaneously informative and persuasive. How can the stories, characters, and conflicts of popular film and television help increase public awareness and change minds about the most important social issues facing society? Learn more about how writers and showrunners are interacting with experts on disinformation, propaganda, and polarization. PopShift brings Hollywood's leading storytellers with the country's most insightful minds, and fascinating people in a series of virtual 1-on-1 meetings, to inspire new creative ideas, and to help Hollywood storytellers tell more nuanced, specific, and accurate stories.

Romain Sepehr Vakilitabar is the founder of Pathos Labs, a non-profit laboratory focused on exploring ways in which entertainment and media can rewrite harmful narratives, and change culture. One such project is PopShift, an initiative which convenes Hollywood’s leading TV writers with the country’s leading experts to determine how television can help catalyze new prosocial behaviors and attitudes. Romain was awarded the "Erase the Hate" fellowship from NBCUniversal in 2018 for his efforts to eradicate hatred in America. He spoke at one of the world's biggest TEDx events, has been featured in the books "2 Billion Under 20" and "Compassionate Careers", and in journals such as UC Berkeley's "Othering and Belonging".

Persuasion Knowledge in Civic Education

Michelle Nelson

University of Illinois, Champaign-Urbana

In a democracy, political advertising should offer truthful information so voters can make informed decisions about candidates. Given changes in political advertising (digital media, regulations), voters may not have the requisite political advertising literacy to critically scrutinize and evaluate political messages, leading them to be persuaded by false advertisements. Michelle Nelson has helped students of all ages learn about advertising and persuasion. What forms of persuasion knowledge about advertising are most relevant in the lives of Americans today? How can persuasion knowledge best be advanced, in and out of schools?

Dr. Michelle R. Nelson is Professor at the University of Illinois in the Department of Advertising and Institute of Communications Research. Her research and public engagement focus on persuasion knowledge and media literacy. Nelson has partnered with Illinois Public Media and the Boys and Girls Club of Danville in a media literacy project to expose adolescents to nature and create public service announcements. She has collaborated with Illinois Extension and teachers in a Chicago-area school district to integrate food-focused media literacy into curriculum.

Strategies for Teaching about Propaganda and Persuasion: What Works

Renee Hobbs

University of Rhode Island

Media Education Lab

Why does propaganda need to be taught in a way that does not demonize it? What kinds of shifts in attitudes and behaviors occur when students learn about historic and contemporary propaganda? What strategies help students appreciate the role of propaganda as a form of social influence that is part of the democratic process? How do teachers explore the power of dangerous propaganda without causing harm? Hobbs shares insights from her experience teaching undergraduate students as well as secondary teachers in a week-long program at the National World War II Museum. Participants analyze and discuss samples of undergraduate student work to consider the unique challenges of teaching about this “most mischievous” word.