Two objectives are the core of my teaching philosophy, and I put them into practice in my interactions with students in the classroom and as a mentor in a variety of ways:
Just do it
Communication industries are in a continual state of change as professionals incorporate new methods and strategies of connecting with others, and my students learn how to communicate across a variety of platforms by practicing the skills they learn in the classroom. As the subhead indicates (and borrows from the well-known Nike slogan), they just do it. And they do it a lot.
Students learn the most about the craft of journalism by practicing it. Today’s converged media environment requires journalists and other media professionals with specialized skills who can tell stories across mediums. My goal is to help students develop a foundational knowledge of these techniques. They need to be strong writers and editors regardless of the medium, and they need to know how to fulfill those roles in any medium. As an educator, my job is to act as a guide and mentor for students, creating opportunities for them to learn the fundamentals of the craft and the technical skills associated with it. I infuse this learning-by-doing principle throughout my curriculum.
For example, students in my Multiplatform Journalism class apply the core journalism skills they have learned in previous classes, such as News Writing, to newer forms of media. They learn online writing skills by sharing examples and comparing online writing principles to more traditional news writing practices. They choose from a “menu” of technology tools to determine the most appropriate platforms for their storytelling. Each package is published on their blogs, and packages might include online writing, online news videos, broadcast news videos, photo slide shows, or audio stories. At the end of the course, students create online portfolio websites that showcase their work from Multiplatform Journalism as well as other communication classes. (New for 2014-2015, I received a grant for iPad minis and the class projects focus on helping the students learn to produce packages using a variety of apps on a single device.)
In my courses with a focus that reaches beyond journalism, such as the Media & Society class required of all communication majors and minors, students practice communication skills in a variety of ways. I don’t approach the Media & Society course as a “lecture class.” Although I do lead class discussions of topics related to the book chapters, the class centers on allowing the students to practice verbal communication skills through small-group and class-wide discussions. Students also use blogs to publish writing assignments tied to each chapter; the assignments are designed to engage students in deeper reflection of the topics covered in class and we discuss their writings as a class.
Again borrowing from a well-known and award-winning promotional campaign (this time from Apple in the 1990s), this slogan reflects my belief that the application of journalism and communication skills is but one part of the learning process. Students must grasp why nurturing those skills is important—important for their careers, important for the profession, and important for society at large. Journalism is more than just the craft of telling stories. It is a profession with shared ideologies about the value of a free press, autonomy, objectivity, ethics, and public service. It is a field that is in flux. Small-group and class-wide discussions in my courses include examining how these changes affect what we are learning in the classroom and what is happening in the industry. I stress “we” in this process because I believe learning is a lifelong process. Teachers should learn from their students, and students should learn from each other in discussions that engage everyone in sharing ideas.
In my News Writing classes, for example, I create Facebook groups in which the students post news stories relevant to each week’s topic. Students write a brief analysis of the materials they found as those items relate to the weekly topic and then engage each other in an online discussion about their items. That conversation is then carried into class and we spend time examining the examples they found and discussing whether those materials are “good journalism,” how they could be improved, and how the story could be told differently.
In the Media & Society class, students complete online quizzes that cover the material from the book, which enables me to move away from textbook-based lectures and instead enrich the classroom experience by covering topics related to each chapter and facilitating small-group discussions during class time. Each student prepares a short presentation on a topic of his or her choosing during the semester that relates to course material and leads a discussion on the material. In doing so, students are pushed to think beyond the textbook material to how it applies in their life and the lives of others—to think more broadly and with greater insight.
The graduate course—Contemporary Issues in Media—offers another opportunity to engage students in ways to “think different.” Beyond writing weekly response papers that are designed to help students critically analyze the readings and make connections to other materials they have studied, students are asked to pose new hypotheses and research questions based on the materials we have read at the midpoint of the semester and again at the end of the semester. Such exercises benefit students in further developing their ability to assess the findings of previous research, to construct their own well-reasoned research ideas, and to aid them in looking across topics and disciplines to see the points at which they build upon each other.
In my courses, I strive for a seamless integration of learning skills, developing journalistic principles, and recognizing we must be lifelong learners. Journalism requires journalists who have a natural curiosity about the world and the people in it, which is fostered by the continual learning not only of issues and topics but of the technical skills needed to tell those stories. To that end, I hope to foster a “think different” mindset in students that they carry with them throughout their lives. I want my students to live the mantra of Apple’s “think different” campaign: “They change things. They push the human race forward.”