Course Remix: Adding Twitter to Editing Classes
Remix is a new segment of education content on MediaShift, featuring interesting and innovative journalism assignments, courses and curricula. Writers detail their ideas and work and, where possible, provide links and materials, so other educators can adapt them in their own programs. If you’re interested in sharing your approaches to be remixed at other schools, contact education curator Katy Culver.
As audiences move to digital platforms for news and information, editing jobs are evolving. Today’s editors must know how to use digital tools, including social media. That makes it essential for educators to use those tools in their editing classrooms.
For students or even pros trying to sharpen their editing or writing skills, Twitter is the perfect tool for digital learning.
Twitter demands conciseness in a 140-character tweet, and it mimics headline writing.
Students in an editing class at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln said using Twitter reinforced traditional journalism skills while teaching them about new methods of news delivery.
“I learned a lot about how Twitter has changed journalism,” student Whitney Carlson wrote in a paper after the Twitter assignment. “People want concise, easy-to-read headlines. They want news to be updated throughout the day with new and changing events.”
Distribute the same story to a classroom of editing students. Ask students to write a headline for the story in less than 100 characters so it can be tweeted along with a link to the story itself. Tell students good headline writing rules apply: The tweet must accurately reflect the story and make readers want to know more.
— Caitlin Hassler (@cee_hass) September 23, 2013
— Ben Malotte (@benjammin785) September 23, 2013
Each student must post his or her headline on Twitter, using a class hashtag and a link to the story. That makes it easy for the instructor to pull up all of the tweeted headlines for the class to see. Students can vote on the headline they think best tells the story and pulls in readers. The instructor can critique what works and what doesn’t in each tweeted headline.
Following Your Passion
After creating Twitter accounts, students are assigned to follow 20 to 25 Twitter accounts of experts in their field over the course of several weeks. In an editing class, this might mean following professional journalists, editors, editing professors, language experts or grammar gurus. Students must tweet three stories each week that they found by following the Twitter feeds of their experts. In each tweet, the student writes a headline about the story, credits the person who originally tweeted the link, and provides a link to the story.
The assignment provides both headline writing and Twitter practice. It helps students understand how journalists use Twitter professionally, learn proper attribution techniques, and write concisely. And it’s an easy way to ensure that editing students learn more about the career they want to pursue. In essence, students are following their passions.
This assignment easily can be adapted in other ways. For instance, in a reporting class students might follow Twitter accounts that focus on their beats or assigned topics.
Many editors have become content curators. They’re culling information from a variety of sources, assessing its value and providing audiences with links to the best information. In other words, they help readers navigate the overload of information on the Internet.
In an assignment that helps students become effective curators, students create Twitter lists on their assigned topic. As an example, students may be asked to pull together information on a hotly contested legislative race during an election year. The students create Twitter lists of anyone who might be tweeting information pertinent to the race — the candidates, political parties, other reporters covering the race and other sources.
Over the course of several weeks, students use the lists to find information that would be helpful to audiences interested in the race. They bookmark interesting links they’ve found thanks to their Twitter lists. The students organize and compile the best links. They write short headlines and summaries describing what a reader will find in each link. They learn to provide appropriate attribution for the content. Finally, they publish the curated content on a website.
Tweeting Tips for Language Lovers
Students create Twitter accounts and are asked to follow editors, journalists, language lovers, style guides and grammar junkies.
They also follow several news sources and each other. Each week students must tweet two to three links or photos that pertain to editing or language. They use a hashtag so the tweets are easy to find.The tweets can be links to interesting stories about language, screen grabs of gaffes or typos, nuggets of editing advice, or grammar and style tips.
At the end of the assignment, students write a short paper briefly describing what they learned from their Twitter experience. They also cite the favorite tweets they saw because of the assignment.
The assignment requires students to write tightly and to read more about editing and language. They also learn that the value of Twitter really depends on whom you follow.
Any of these approaches would be an easy remix into editing classes or other courses in journalism curricula. Feel free to adapt them for your own use and send questions if you need help.
Associate Professor Sue Burzynski Bullard, a former newspaper editor, teaches editing, reporting and multimedia classes at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. She is on the executive committee of the American Copy Editors Society, whose national convention in March 2014 offers several sessions on learning digital tools for professionals and students. You can find her on Twitter @suebb.