Teaching Examples


Whatcha teachin’ them kids?
April 11, 2007, 10:49 pm
Filed under: education, journalism

An opinion about journalism education:

There might be pockets of resistance or some innovative projects here and there, but overall the focus of students is to follow in the same footsteps as their professors: Start your career at a podunk daily newspaper and work your way up to the big metro papers, and end up in academia.

Nowhere do students get the inkling that the metro paper might not exist by the time they get there — at least in its current ink-stained format. Nowhere do they learn the ins and outs of being a freelancer, even though they are living in a free agent nation, almost assured of being downsized out of a job at some point. Nowhere do they learn what it takes to moderate an online community, to do outreach into a community and work with citizen journalists and bloggers. The blog, in academia, is looked at by faculty as something to disdain, a lazy way out of doing real journalism; and by students, it is looked at as a leisure time activity, pointless and fun.

That’s from Mark Glaser, writing for MediaShift earlier this week.

I’d like to point out that some journalism professors (cough! cough!) hold no disdain for blogs.

Meanwhile, at E-Media Tidbits, Mac Slocum posted his two cents:

These days, all journalism students should be introduced to research and organization techniques. Show them how to use a feed reader, show them how to stay on top of a specific trend via e-mail alerts and search feeds, show them how to develop source relationships through blogs, instant messaging and e-mail.

Some journalism teachers — myself included — tend to overestimate the Web skills of the current generation. We mistake technological comfort with research expertise. However, there’s little transferable skill between a well-managed MySpace profile and online research.

What can we glean from these opinions?

  1. Make sure students know what the current state of the journalism field is: Print on the decline; online on the rise. Plus the economic (and social) implications of that.
  2. Give them practical experience in moderating and interacting with online communities.
  3. Make them “do outreach” in a real geographic community.
  4. Connect them with citizen journalists and bloggers.
  5. Teach them how to use a feed reader and create assignments that show them the benefits of doing so.
  6. Show them how to stay on top of a specific trend via e-mail alerts as well as customized search feeds (like this one).
  7. Show them how to develop relationships with sources through blogs, IM and e-mail.
  8. Teach them how to write a respectful e-mail that represents them as professional adults (for example, it doesn’t begin with “Hey”).

In the comments on a post at his blog, Ryan Sholin added these (he was talking about journalists already on the job, but the same principles apply):

  1. Introduce students to community management by getting them to interact with the readers leaving comments on their blogs.
  2. If there are local forums, posting and interacting in local forums is the next step.
  3. Does the local newspaper or TV station have a community site of its own? Get into the conversations about movies, TV, local bands, local restaurants, and local hiking, camping and other recreation.

And here’s one more: Has Craigslist come to your town? A lot of students will be on it. Those who aren’t need to know what it is and why it is popular. People use Craigslist like a watercooler in some respects. Get in there and figure out why.

Finally, for an overview on how any journalism department can begin to update its curriculum, see this.

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5 Comments so far
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The more I look around in the news business, the more I see something that makes just as much sense for school as it does for work:

Change starts either at the top or the bottom — either your department’s leadership needs to be sold on online journalism, or your brightest students need to create change on their own.

For lack of a less trite piece of inspirational poster copy: Be the change you want to see in your j-school, or newspaper, or, uh, world.

Comment by Ryan

Thanks for the quote, Mindy!

Your point about well-written emails is something that should *certainly* be harped upon. In fact, full written communication can be a great way to distinguish yourself (to peers, to sources, to potential employers). It’s amazing, but full sentences and complete thoughts are pretty novel on the Web.

Comment by Mac Slocum

As a journalist who didn’t go to J-school (aside from some grad-school classes in an interdisciplinary program), I admire the intent here but have reservations about the particulars.

I see some skills here that journalists should have, but I don’t see skills worth taking up valuable class time. I’d give students assignments that depend in part of their abilities to use RSS readers and so forth, and I’d ask them to stop by and see me if they have no idea where to start.

Forum moderation is probably impossible to teach in a classroom because every forum is different. When you’re out in the real virtual world moderating a forum, you’ll be doing it according to the standards set by the forum’s operators. Those standards may or may not be subject to debate. If you’re debating it, the last thing you want to say is that Prof. McAdams taught me to do it this way.

Not that any of this is new. I recall in my page-design days that recent J-school grads often had trouble conforming to the style of a paper because their professors had insisted upon different rules. Those of us from a liberal arts background just learned the style of the paper and went to work.

Comment by bdure

Beau, that’s a great point about teaching skills. Some people think that teaching students “how to” means showing them every button to push in some software program.

I think some of the most effective teaching is done via homework assignments. I feel obligated to give the students enough in-class instruction so that they have the basic idea of how to get the assignment done, but part of what they need to learn is — how to teach themselves!

However, I don’t want the newbies in the class to spend hours Googling RSS information when I can give them the quick-and-dirty in 10 minutes. Plus, in those 10 minutes, the experienced students chime in and share what they already know. I think that helps the newbies realize that they need to catch up!

Comment by Mindy McAdams

I forgot to come back and comment on this post. A little less than a month ago, I answered a request for moderators for a Web site forum. To my surprise, I was accepted. Now everyday, I log in, reply to new posts and try to come up with a new thread when things get stagnant. Luckily we’ve got a great group of people communicating so I haven’t had to do any wrist-slapping yet. ::knock on wood::

Comment by Megan Taylor




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