Taking Notes

The idea behind this blog is that it can serve as a place to keep my notes, observations and ideas about teaching. Mostly what I teach concerns online journalism. I also teach about the Internet as a communication medium and about technologies of communication in general.

I have just finished the fall semester, and my grades are in. I completely restructured my course called Reporting and Writing for Online Media, and the students’ work is all online.

How did it go? Okay, I think. One thing that may have contributed to however successful the class was: On the first day, I told them I expected them to act like journalists. They are juniors and seniors, they’ve completed their intro courses in journalism, and I don’t care if they don’t want to BE journalists — in this course, they must behave as if they are journalists.

Another thing that worked was a combination of non-redundant materials. I used Jim Foust’s book Online Journalism: Principles and Practices of News for the Web (Scottsdale, AZ: Holcomb Hathaway, 2004) and gave them a quiz on the reading almost every week. For the most part, this ensured that they read the assigned pages. Sometimes I assigned sites or packages online, then quizzed them on those. (Luckily, I had a graduate student to grade those quizzes for me.) Then in class, I would show them examples (mostly multimedia work) that were not mentioned in the book. We even had some pretty good discussions.

Several of the students have e-mailed me with some compliments about the course.

So what I have learned, I think, is to always approach the class as if all the students really might go into multimedia and online journalism (even though I know very few of them want to do so). With that in mind, I chose examples of today’s best practices and urged them to think about what works well and what could be improved. I required them to gain experience with tools (cameras, audio recorders, editing software) so they at least know how people go out and make these packages.

In all their other courses, they learn the rote steps of traditional journalism. In this course, now I figure it is my job to try to get them thinking about how journalism could change for the better.

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