Teaching Examples

Arizona State comes in first in Hearst Awards
June 14, 2007, 3:36 pm
Filed under: awards, education, journalism

Overall top-scoring schools in the 2006-2007 Hearst Journalism Awards Program — the Pulitzers of college journalism:

  1. Arizona State University
  2. University of Missouri
  3. University of Florida
  4. Western Kentucky University
  5. University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill
  6. Pennsylvania State University
  7. University of Nebraska-Lincoln
  8. University of Montana
  9. Syracuse University
  10. University of Kansas

Arizona State! I’m disappointed that the Gators are No. 3, but I’m very proud of my colleagues down in Tempe!

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Visual literacy in multimedia journalism
May 25, 2007, 2:43 pm
Filed under: education, graphics, ideas, storytelling

Building on my earlier post: How do we tell stories visually?

Let me begin with still photos. I know that many photographers like to put up a photo as a stand-alone, a work that answers to itself. In an art gallery, I can appreciate that. But it’s not a story, any more than a painting is a story all by itself. There’s a story in it, but it’s not told by the image alone. (You can infer a story from a single image, but that’s usually as far as it can go.)

Move on to the photo story, an established story form in journalism (Kenneth Kobré traces its origin to Life magazine in 1936 and the form we know today to 1948). Page layout contributes much to the print photo story, but it must also have words. Not necessarily a lot of words — but it’s just not a story if we don’t understand what’s going on in the images.

I’d like to ask you to think about comic strips, comic books, manga and graphic novels. In their more detailed sequences (more detailed, that is, than a photo story), they do occasionally tell a complete story without using any words at all. But only occasionally. (Manga do this especially well.)

My point: It’s hard to tell a story without words. The visuals do a lot of the work in storytelling, but rarely can they carry the full weight of the story without help.

When we add motion, however, some of our reliance on words can be eliminated.

I was thinking about this last night as I watched Martin Scorsese’s The Departed. The early scenes are so short, with so few words — it’s the kind of opening that leaves you totally lost when you’re a kid. (You ask your parents, “What’s happening?” and they say “Shh!”) But as you learn the grammar of film, you get more out of such terse scenes.

Then I went back to the list of seven visualization types (sketches, diagrams, images, maps, objects, interactive visualizations, stories) and started mulling over each one of them. I was thinking, for example, “When is an interactive visualization not a story?” I was thinking, “Doesn’t a diagram tell a story?”

That’s when I arrived at this idea about completeness, or fullness, of a story. Go back to a single photograph, alone on a wall, without any caption. There’s probably a story there. But I don’t know what it is.

This brings me to maps. A map alone doesn’t tell a story. Some words are needed. But an animated map can tell a story — with very few words, or maybe no words at all.

A chart or graph can tell a story with very few words. An animated graphic can sometimes tell the story more effectively. Why? It leads you through a sequence of events (Update: That link needed to be replaced). It begins with a small amount of information and builds on that. It can end with an obvious climactic event (such as a steep plunge in the stock market, or a large increase in toxic gases) that illustrates a result, a conclusion. (Learn more from one of the great online infografistas, Alberto Cairo, in an OJR interview.)

I arrived at some questions we can ask when we are planning to tell a story:

  1. Can I use any kind of images or graphics to tell this story?
  2. Can motion help tell this story? Does any kind of motion — in space, or in time — play a part in the story?
  3. How many words are really necessary? (Let’s cut out as many words as possible without losing clarity.)

Do not underestimate the role of motion in visual storytelling. Do not overestimate the role of words, whether in text or in audio.

Let’s work on editing our multimedia the way we edit a text story: Omit unnecessary words. Get to the point. If establishing a mood or a scene helps advance the story, then do it. Anything that doesn’t contribute to the actual story you’re telling right now — cut it out.

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Visual literacy: Do you have it?
May 25, 2007, 4:27 am
Filed under: education, graphics, ideas, storytelling

There are seven visualization types, according to a demo tutorial at the Visual-Literacy.org e-learning course:

  1. Sketches
  2. Diagrams
  3. Images
  4. Maps
  5. Objects
  6. Interactive visualizations
  7. Stories

I found this interesting because I am fond of telling people there are five online media types:

  1. Text
  2. Photos
  3. Graphics
  4. Audio
  5. Video
  6. User interaction

(Yes, I know that’s six, but user interaction might include any or all of the others, while any of the others might exist without any significant interaction. So, um, call it five plus one.)

From my point of view, graphics can be either animated or static. Video and animation are not in the same class, as I see it. Neither do video and still photography overlap — you might disagree, but I find them to be opposites. Video is moving and alive, immersive, fluid; photography is a way of freezing the world, stopping time, making us appreciate a single instant that otherwise we might never see.

As I continued poking around at Visual-Literacy.org, I found a Breeze presentation (how I hate those!) in which a lecturer listed six “static” visualization fields:

  1. Art
  2. Advertising
  3. Graphic design
  4. Visual communication
  5. Information design
  6. Film

He went on later to list “interactive” visualization fields:

  1. Interaction design
  2. Game design
  3. Geographic Information Systems (GIS)
  4. Medical visualization
  5. Scientific visualization
  6. Computer graphics
  7. Information visualization
  8. Human-computer interaction (HCI)
  9. Virtual reality
  10. Augmented reality
  11. Storytelling
  12. Knowledge visualization

As you might imagine, the presentation degraded after this list. Having two lists is one thing, and not a bad idea. Having 12 things on one list is not going to help people learn very well. (Talk about a need for good information design!)

In an online text called Literacy in the Digital Age, I found this —

Students who are visually literate:

1. Have working knowledge of visuals produced or displayed through electronic media

  • Understand basic elements of visual design, technique, and media.
  • Are aware of emotional, psychological, physiological, and cognitive influences in perceptions of visuals.
  • Comprehend representational, explanatory, abstract, and symbolic images.

2. Apply knowledge of visuals in electronic media

  • Are informed viewers, critics, and consumers of visual information.
  • Are knowledgeable designers, composers, and producers of visual information.
  • Are effective visual communicators.
  • Are expressive, innovative visual thinkers and successful problem-solvers.

If you’re wondering where all this is leading — so am I. But I can tell you, it’s those last three I’m very concerned about. I think the college students I see every day are pretty savvy visual consumers, but they’re not the producers I’d like them to be. They can stick things on a MySpace page, but they can’t necessarily conceive and execute a visual project. They write, but they don’t sketch.

You may want to tell me this is my job — as a journalism educator, I need to get them up to speed on this visual stuff. I won’t say you’re wrong. But they can’t even sketch.

I have no solutions yet. I’m thinking about it. Any ideas?

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Journalists can apply for Fulbright grants
May 18, 2007, 1:28 pm
Filed under: education, international, journalism, journalists

This is off-topic, but I feel so strongly that international experience is one of the best things you can ever give yourself — I hope you’ll excuse the interruption.

Journalists (who are not educators) are eligible to receive Fulbright funding to go abroad to selected countries. You must be a U.S. citizen when you apply. The deadline for applications is August 1, 2007. Check the Guide to Awards Open to Professionals: 2008-09 and look for journalism. I found 24 different countries that are seeking professional journalists.

There are also up to nine lecturing, research or combined lecturing/research awards for journalism educators during the 2008-09 academic year in Algeria, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Egypt, India, Israel, Maldives, Syria or the West Bank. Go to this page and start by choosing either a country or a discipline.

The application form is long, but you can complete it in little bits and pieces. It is all online, and you can save it safely many times as you work through it.

I went to Malaysia on a Fulbright (lecturing/research) from November 2004 to July 2005, and it was absolutely one of the best and most wonderful things I have ever done. Do I speak the Malay language? Sadly, no. Many Fulbright grants are open to people who are fluent only in English.

You can apply for only one grant per year, so you must select the country and the award that interests you most and apply for that one. Awards are tied to specific countries.

The deadline for U.S. students applying for a Fulbright is Oct. 19, 2007.

For journalists, what could be a better way to go abroad and research and produce the story of your dreams? You would be funded, and you’d be your own boss.

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Symbiosis of communication and technology
April 19, 2007, 2:42 pm
Filed under: education, future, tools

I love thinking about the ways in which humans invent and modify new technologies, only to see the use of technology in turn modify us and the way we do things.

My colleague Lauren sent me a link to this CNet story about declining emphasis on teaching cursive writing in primary school. The reason:

[A]s states re-evaluate the standards that dictate to schools what students need to know — including the seemingly universal addition of requirements for computer literacy — there is a lot of discussion of whether cursive should even be taught. If it’s removed as a requirement, many of today’s new teachers, brought up in the computer age themselves, will probably decide against teaching cursive handwriting …

The article gave me flashbacks to the terrible boredom of penmanship class when I was in third and fourth grade. I was so bored, I just could not be bothered to form perfect letters. And yet, I felt sadly inferior to the blond girl who always got a gold star pasted on her penmanship exercise.

But writing by hand will not soon disappear:

Printing is still one of the main teaching methods for reading and writing. Educators call it “writing to teach.” Handwriting, which has evolved into a hybrid of script and print, should stay around for quite some time.

Don’t miss the interesting illustrations (especially No. 6) that accompany this story — they show how our Western writing practices are changing.

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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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If 37 percent say they want more training, what training do they need?
April 9, 2007, 2:28 pm
Filed under: education, jobs, journalism, multimedia, newspapers, online, teaching, training

In a survey of 435 managing editors and editors-in-chief of regional, local, national and international newspapers (conducted by the World Editors Forum), 37 percent of respondents said they would train journalists in new media skills; 23 percent would recruit more journalists; 19 percent would retrain in traditional skills.

Being in the journalism education business, this is not big news to me. But something new has recently started to sink in: These managing editors and editors-in-chief don’t know where to start.

I’m sometimes contacted by editors and journalism organizations who would like me to come and do some training for them. As I’m busy with my day job, my first question is always, “What do you want?” If I were a full-time trainer, I suppose I would have a take-out menu and they could choose one from column A, one from column B, etc.

Last year, people were replying to my question this way: Come and do 90 minutes, or three hours, and give us kind of an overview of multimedia.

This year is different. They’re replying: Everything. Anything. What should we do? You tell us.

I’ve been a little bit thrown for a loop by this. I don’t know what YOU need, because every newsroom is different.

When I press them, many of these folks ask me to come and teach them Flash. Now, nothing makes me happier than teaching Flash. But most newspapers do not need more than one person who’s good at Flash. Let’s say maybe you want to have three or four people doing Flash … you want to fly me somewhere to do training for four people? What are you thinking?

Like Koci says:

Soundslides or Flash? Put it this way, if you don’t know what Soundslides is, then there’s no need to even think about Flash. And if you haven’t mastered Soundslides (meaning, brought someone to tears with your two minute Soundslide) there there is no reason to be thinking about Flash.

He is so right — with one exception. Your news graphics desk. Those people should be learning Flash. They should not learn Soundslides. Your photographers should learn Soundslides (like, yesterday). But your news graphics artists — you do have more than ONE, don’t you? Don’t you? — should start learning Flash today.

And there’s the biggest problem: The newsroom does not know what it needs. Why not? I think it’s because everyone is so busy with work overloads brought on by staff cuts, they don’t have time to look at the great stuff people are producing online. They hear that the photographers should start learning video, but how much online video — video that was really produced for online, and for journalism — have they looked at? If you were looking at what’s out there, you’d have such a better idea of what training you really do need in your newsroom.

You do need training in your newsroom — you’re right. And you should spend some money to get it — that’s a fact. But before you go throwing money at a perceived problem, please first take a closer look at what your problems are.

You need at least one good full-time staff artist. For heaven’s sake, if you have no original information graphics in your newspaper, no wonder circulation is falling. How do you explain anything nowadays without graphics?

You need to get audio equipment and Soundslides for your photographers.

You need to train the reporters in how to shoot video and WHAT to shoot — if you’re giving them cameras.

You need to fix your pathetic content management system so that your online people can do nice work for your Web site instead of spending hours cleaning up the mess made by the lousy CMS.

Yes, I know, you DO NEED training. But all the training in the world won’t improve your news organization if you don’t even understand what kind of training you need — and what kind of staffing you need — and what kind of equipment and software your people need. And yes, you can hire a consultant to come in and help you with that. (That’s not what I do — that’s a little longer-term than I have time for. But there are people out there who can help you figure out what you need, and how to go about getting it!)

Let’s get our ducks in a row. Training — yes, absolutely. Which training, and for whom? You need to work on that answer.

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