Earlier this month, a colleague sent me this piece about LeBron James from Grantland as a sample to use in a course three of us teach in the journalism school at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. It’s an introductory skills course in multimedia journalism and strategic communication. We think of it as “boot camp.” The students sometimes call it “death march” (lovingly, mind you).
The Grantland piece is a great example of:
- using data to tell a story
- converting complex numbers into digestible infographics
- drawing visuals from an interview, via animated GIFs
- the expanding array of people engaged in producing journalism (the author is a cartographer and geography professor)
The piece clearly demonstrates the vast array of storytelling opportunities digital media present to us. But it illustrates something else to me: the tremendous expectations we have of journalism students and educators to keep up with these skills and tools.
It’s a dizzying world in journalism education right now. We’re often told programs haven’t kept pace with a changing industry, yet key innovations are coming right out of journalism schools. We have some funding opportunities, yet no consistent system of continuing education to keep up. We hear clarion calls to challenge and change, yet we’re locked within glacially slow bureaucratic structures. At times the questions feel boundless, yet the answers few.
PBS MediaShift would like to flip that sentence. Seeded by support from the Knight Foundation and in conjunction with the release of Eric Newton’s “Searchlights and Sunglasses” digital book, we are embarking on creating a new space: EducationShift. We hope to build off our existing education content and form a community that truly serves journalism education.
We want students, educators, professionals and funders to see EdShift as their hub. We want to provide actionable content and a diversity of voices. We want to spark conversation, answer questions and engage innovative thinkers. We want to be the fuse that lights a fire of change in classrooms.
I hope so. In my dozen-plus years as a reformer in journalism education, I’ve seen tremendous achievements forged through the combination of bold goals and hard work:
- a simple observation in an ethics class led Stony Brook University to create the well-known nationwide news literacy movement
- breaking news gave Boston University the chance to dig deep and offer expansive coverage
- a small library grant enabled my own students to create the one of the early college magazine iPad apps in the country*
The principal aim of EducationShift is to share that winning combination broadly. Some of our content ideas are:
- assignment innovations: engage with instructors taking an assignment or project and breaking it down, offering insights into successes and failures, as well as adaptable materials like troubleshooting guides or grading rubrics
- funding flows: hear from grant recipients about their projects, how they found funding and how to make applications work
- curated news and opportunities: read the latest news about journalism education and link to training resources
- community conversations: join the #EdShift Twitter chat for biweekly, focused conversations on critical issues facing our classrooms and curricula
- student perspectives: learn from current and recent journalism students about what they need and how we can collaborate to provide it
- transforming work: view a current project and discuss how it might be adapted for classroom use
We’re pushing toward a February deadline to debut a revamped EdShift site, and we’ve already sailed with our first #EdShift Twitter chat. The Twitter feed will get further distribution as a built-in part of the Searchlights and Sunglasses digital book. As we work on development, we’d love to know more from you.
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I cannot pretend I would be able to replicate Grantland’s outstanding work in an intermediate reporting class. It was, after all, done by a data and mapping professional who has created his own software for spatial analysis in basketball. But I can draw insights from it and consider assigning students to:
- use free online tools to create animated GIFs for their stories
- create a simple infographic using a tool already installed in our labs, such as Adobe Illustrator
- view a TED talk on the power of visualization
EdShift aims to take ideas like these and build a community around them. My thinking shouldn’t end in my office and the innovations shouldn’t end in my classroom. Through sharing, discussing and testing, we can expand the impact of small ideas and enable larger changes.
We hope you’ll join us.
*CORRECTION (12/20/13): An earlier version of this article said that the students created the first college magazine iPad app in the country, when it was really one of the earliest ones. We apologize for the error.
Kathleen Bartzen Culver is an assistant professor in the School of Journalism & Mass Communication at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, teaching and researching at the intersection of ethics and digital media practices. Culver also serves as associate director of the Center for Journalism Ethics and Education Curator for PBS MediaShift.