Remix: 11 Ways You Can Innovate in Your Courses in 2016

    by Meagan Doll
    December 29, 2015
    Photo by Dan Mason and used here with Creative Commons license.

    Remix is a segment of education content on MediaShift, featuring interesting and innovative journalism assignments, courses and curricula. Writers will 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 we wrap up our year at EdShift, we asked some forward-thinking educators to share ideas, assignments and projects the rest of us might want to adapt for our own classrooms in the new year. Many thanks to all those who responded. We hope you can put their ideas to good use.

    "At the same time, students were able to better understand the ethical, legal, and social aspects because they had some hands-on experience with the technology. This, we believe, produces more informed citizens and more responsible innovators." -Avery Holten

    Real-Time Coverage Simulation

    Aaron Chimbel, Texas Christian University Bob Schieffer College of Communication [email protected]


    In my Introduction to Journalism class, I wanted to allow up to 70 students to experience what it is like to live cover news via Twitter or a live blog. This in-class exercise, which can be used in classes of almost any size, is designed to help students understand the challenges of reporting in real-time. Students are forced to juggle the demands of listening to, processing and reporting information – all at the same time, which can be difficult for new reporters. This exercise is designed for one 50-minute class. When the class begins, students are instructed to log on to Socrative chat using their phone, tablet or laptop. I then lead a brief overview and discussion of live-covering an event, with a focus on accuracy while multitasking. Then, examples of professional and student work are shown. Then, two browser windows are pulled up. One is the live chat and the second is the video of a press conference. Before starting the press conference, students are instructed to post a brief overview with information known before the presser. All students post about the same press conference and are able and encouraged to post simultaneously, as if they are all independently covering the event. Once the presser begins, students post as the information warrants. After about 10 minutes, I stop the presser and we discuss the experience before continuing, while leaving a few minutes for wrap-up. Reporters who cover all sorts of beats are expected to report in real-time. It’s part of the job, and in many cases, there is no backup, no editor and no training. This reality is important to expose students to, both as news producers and news consumers. Students need to understand the challenges they will face doing this type of coverage and need to understand how easily incorrect information can be shared. Students are often surprised by the demands of live covering an event. Many say they now realize how easy it is for mistakes to happen. Students also say this activity makes them more critical and understanding of work they read.

    Experimenting with Sensors, Scholarship, and Scissors

    Robert Gutsche, Jr., Florida International University School of Journalism & Mass Communication [email protected]

    Student-centered research and engagement projects at Florida International University can be (and have been) replicated to reduce obstacles of time and money , while leading to great results. Images courtesy: eyesontherise.org, Robert Gutsche, Jr., and Lillian Abreu.

    Student-centered research and engagement projects at Florida International University can be (and have been) replicated to reduce obstacles of time and money , while leading to great results. Images courtesy: eyesontherise.org, Robert Gutsche, Jr., and Lillian Abreu.


    Readers of this website have been exposed to amazing examples of innovation and experimentation over the past year. And while many of them indeed influence learning, teaching, and practice, many (including some I’ve posted) have been related to funded research that can make innovation a bit more accessible. Here, I want to break out some of the most exciting experiments that I’ve been lucky to be a part of this year and to provide some tips on cutting costs in time and money to make them work in other classrooms. Consider trying these ideas:

    • Use sensors to create original datasets. At Florida International University, a team of faculty and students worked with affordable, hand-made water sensors from Public Lab to perform “crowd hydrology” and sensor journalism related to sea level rise. Tip: Create an online community to gain insights on lesson plans, assessments, and low-cost alternatives to analyzing data from other classrooms and instructors.
    • Engage students as participants in media research. Students involved in the sea level rise project helped develop and participated in focus groups with J-School and high school students to assess media coverage and meanings of their local environmental communication, which led to an academic publication that appeared this year. Tip: Get started on Institutional Review Board approvals immediately and allow the staff to guide both your innovation and research aims. This is especially important to protect student participants and to get the most out of the experience — especially if on a shoestring budget like we were.
    • Make students scholars. Earlier this year, I wrote about the need to encourage more journalism research in practical courses. This coming year, one thing is sure: At the very least, we can all help students interpret research as practice, as five of my undergraduates started doing this fall in developing a white paper and academic article about women in communication. Tip: Build your classes around research projects even if they may not appear to be directly connected. Even slightly coaxed collaborations lead to rich discussion and involvement, with few added costs.
    • Encourage creative research. Students in my classes this fall (and again in the coming semester) are working with my fellow teammates to examine long-form multimedia journalism. In my classes, students help develop and pilot focus groups and paper prototyping, putting scissors and markers in their hands to develop interfaces for mobile multimedia storytelling that then are executed by the research team. Tip: Don’t look only for funded projects to get going. Try to have fun with what’s in your closets and in what’s lodged in your students’ creativity.

    Turn your classroom into a newsroom in a few steps

    Kate Nash Cunningham, University of New Mexico Communication and Journalism Department [email protected]

    Creating classrooms that are set up like newsrooms has become popular among journalism educators in recent years. It might sound like a lot of work, but setting up a structure and a plan to make that work doesn’t have to be tedious. I tried a newsroom setup this semester with a 200-level writing and editing for multimedia class, and I plan a similar approach again with a 300-level multimedia journalism class in the spring.

    Photo by Dineshraj Goomany on Flickr and reused here with Creative Commons license.

    Photo by Dineshraj Goomany on Flickr and reused here with Creative Commons license.

    This class met three days a week, with a lecture on Mondays and part of Wednesdays. The other time was used as a lab, when students got individual attention on their stories as they prepared them for publication. In short, students learned by doing, and by seeing at least some of their classmates get published in the independent student newspaper and another student news site. To bolster the lecture, I used a NewsU course pack that students completed outside of class. At the end of the semester, several students said their favorite part was going through the newsroom editing process, as it taught them about writing as well as editing. To mimic a newsroom as much as possible, students had to:

    • Find a beat and pitch three stories by the second week of class. This got them thinking right away about what they would be covering and the types of stories they could write. I used Google forms to collect pitches into a single database.
    • Learn how to use a simple news budget to communicate what they were working on. I created one using tables in Google docs. It’s not fancy but it got the job done.
    • Work with me and/or editors from student news outlets during labs to prepare their stories for publication. We used Google docs for this as well, and I used the comment function in the document to ask questions and make edits and suggestions. Students had to make corrections before getting a grade for the story, requiring them to look up AP style elements and change their errors before submission for publication.
    • Produce a mid-semester beat memo detailing what they had learned about their beat, naming the sources they had met and listing several new story ideas. This pressed students to keep in contact with key people and be on the lookout for news.
    • Maintain a professional social media presence through the semester (three tweets a week on their beat, using class hashtag) and use Storify to make a curation.
    • Create a basic WordPress.com site and publish three stories written for the web.

    See the syllabus for details.

    Taking discussion off the page: Incorporating an oral exam

    Erica Salkin, Whitworth University Department of Communication Studies, [email protected]

    In my speech law course, I’ve added an oral exam to assess students’ ability to identify issues, ask the right questions and deal with changes or complications in the moment. The process:

    • Students start by pulling a question from the “Question Basket” (often also stocked with chocolate).
    • The clock begins: 15 minutes. Oral exams are open note/book, and students can spend as much or little time as they want preparing their answers. They know, however, that using too much time on preparation will impact their grade.
    • When ready, I ask permission to record and the student explains his/her answer. Then we spend the rest of the time in discussion. I’ll probe, push and sometimes play the extreme devil’s advocate to see if the student can support his/her answer.

    Recording the session makes a world of difference – it lets me be present during the conversation rather than focused on notetaking. Afterward, I’ll listen to the recording again as I grade on the following:

    • Did the student actually answer the question? (It’s not uncommon for an unprepared student to wander away from the question in an effort to fake it.)
    • Was the answer grounded in law or in personal opinion?
    • Was the law stated accurately?
    • Did the student respond in a thoughtful manner to my questions?
    • Was the overall session clear and cohesive? Did all the ideas/arguments relate?

    After doing this twice, I’ve learned that students are nervous at the idea, but most enjoy the actual experience. More importantly, there is no BS-ing when you’re face to face – no padded answers and no incomprehensible gibberish. Students know that they’ll have to look me in the eye if they can’t answer a question, and that’s powerful motivation to prepare. Plus, three words: no chicken-scratch handwriting. Yes, it’s a time investment and it takes a little longer to grade, but it’s remarkably effective. Happy to chat with anyone interested in examples: [email protected].

    Beyond Google: How to Help College Journalists Develop Better Sourcing

    Leigh Landini Wright, Murray State University, [email protected]

    Today’s college students have a wealth of information accessible at their fingertips. Open their laptop or turn on their tablet or smartphone and instantly surf the Web for resources for reporting. However, even with this explosion of information at their fingertips, I began noticing that students in my sophomore-level advanced newswriting class lacked basic research skills beyond typing in a series of words in quotation marks in Google and finding a result that may not be credible. Or worse, their Google skills seemed to involve asking a question, much like how they ask Siri a question on their phones. Some students skipped the research all together and concentrated on finding three or four people to quote.

    Photo by Berto via Flickr and used with Creative Commons license.

    Photo by Berto via Flickr and used with Creative Commons license.

    I turned to help from our department’s research and instruction librarian to infuse critical thinking and research skills into the class. We devised a four-session lesson plan for a 75-minute class and a two-part project that would help the students to:

    1. learn how to use Google more effectively with advanced search techniques;
    2. better evaluate online information for effectiveness in reporting
    3. use the university library to find scholarly and trade publications and produce an annotated source list
    4. use a variety of online and library sources, along with interviews, to write a news story or an in-depth blog post.

    For source evaluation and Google, we produced in-class exercises and a lecture that tested their thinking skills. After that session, we took students to the university library for an in-depth session about how to effectively use the library’s website to find scholarly, trade and other publications and then use those search terms to create an annotated 12-source list in either MLA or APA format. The list asked them to come up with a mixture of primary, secondary and interview sources, including one at the national level.

    By providing an annotation of their sources, they had to think critically about why this source would be the most valuable for their story. Students seemed to struggle with coming up with search terms to return the best variety of results last spring when we first did this assignment, so we concentrated on helping them craft better search strategies in the fall class. They also struggled with MLA or APA formatting, so we provided several linked tutorials in the Google Doc assignment sheet.

    My fellow instructor and I divided the grading between us based on our expertise. We both had to approve the story topic to begin the assignment and offer guidance on how to either broaden or condense their source list and story. We graded the annotated source list with this rubric through submissions in Google Docs and the news story with this rubric. We provided students with several examples including the one shown here. We concluded the assignment with a reflection to help us craft the project more effectively for the next semester. The assignment was not without challenges, but we believe students are now much more engaged with finding and evaluating sources. I saw the sourcing assignment improve their reporting skills with each story (a mobile media package and a multimedia story) throughout the semester, and they began to become more critical consumers of news content. They asked questions about the veracity of databases and studies in news reports as we talked about current events in class. I believe this collaboration will continue to pay off with students thinking and writing more critically. For more information, email us: Leigh Wright, [email protected] or Elizabeth Price, [email protected].

    Solving Problems through Shared Reflection

    Rebecca Blatt, Arizona State University’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication, [email protected]

    Part of the mission of the Cronkite Public Insight Network Bureau is to pursue new approaches to community engagement, collaboration and revenue generation. In order to push students to seize opportunities for innovation, I have them post weekly reflections in a shared Google spreadsheet. Each student must answer five questions:

    •       How are you feeling about your work in the PIN Bureau overall?
    •       What was the highlight of your week in the PIN Bureau?
    •       What was your biggest problem or frustration of your week in the PIN Bureau?
    •       How can we address this challenge or frustration?
    •       What questions do you have about your work in the PIN Bureau?

    At the end of each week, we discuss the posts – focusing on challenges and what we can do the following week to address them. This gives me a good sense of whether I need to make any adjustments in the bureau. More importantly, it ensures that identifying problems and implementing solutions is an ongoing process throughout the semester. For instance, when students found that it was taking a long time to orient new newsroom partners, they produced how-to videos for clients to use as introductions and refreshers when needed. When student teams found it difficult to keep track of the many details of each client project – especially when students were in the bureau on opposite days – they experimented with a variety of collaboration tools, ultimately implementing a hand-off process using Basecamp to-do lists. While I designed this exercise for students in a professional immersion course, it could be adapted to a more traditional seminar or lecture. Students could identify problems they see in news coverage or in a particular community and then suggest solutions. I’m happy to discuss this more with anyone interested. If you do something similar, I’d love to hear about your experience. Email me at [email protected].

    Developing a Digital, Short-Course Series

    Cindy Royal, Texas State University School of Journalism and Mass Communication, [email protected]

    Cindy Royal demonstrates to students how to control the Particle Photon sensor with the smartphone app. Image by Kristen Redwine

    Cindy Royal demonstrates to students how to control the Particle Photon sensor with the smartphone app. Image by Kristen Redwine

    This semester, we developed a digital, short-course series to introduce cutting-edge concepts and skills. The purpose of the series is to quickly add courses on new topics, provide students with an introduction to the most current material and to begin developing curriculum that could be the basis for future courses or modules to be added to existing classes. The series included three, one-hour courses students could take individually or in combination. The topics covered this semester were:

    • Digital Ethics: This course was delivered completely online, over a three-week period. Students had video instruction, readings, quizzes and case study assignments in applying ethical standards in a digital environment. Taught by Jon Zmikly; see course materials at digitalethics.jonzmikly.com.
    • Drones and Sensors: This course was delivered with a series of online modules over two weeks, culminating in a one-day workshop in which students got experience flying a drone to record video and wiring a sensor perform task including motion detection and temperature measurement. Taught by Cindy Royal and Dale Blasingame; see course materials at dronessensors.cindyroyal.net.
    • Coding Workshop: This course was also delivered online over two weeks, culminating in a one-day workshop in which students got hands-on experience doing a coding assignment. The students were introduced to the concepts of HTML, CSS, HTML Forms and JavaScript and learned the coding techniques to make an interactive quiz. Taught by Cindy Royal; see course materials at codingworkshop.cindyroyal.net.

    The series presented some challenges. Here are a few elements to consider in developing a short-course series.

    • Developing Courses: We developed three course numbers that we could use each semester to apply to different topics. The general courses were Digital Concepts, Digital Tools and Skills and Coding Workshop, but we’ll be able to tweak the specific topics each semester.
    • Scheduling: Scheduling presented a challenge, because some of these courses did not start until later in the semester. Some started after the drop date. Some students wanted to add the course after registration was over. We handled each scenario as it came up, but we need to work on more formal processes. We also encountered a problem when university classes were cancelled due to flooding on the day of one of our workshops. Since it was the only day we were to meet, we had to reschedule. Due to students’ busy schedules, we ended up doing two separate workshops to accommodate everyone. We offered a different short course in each month of the semester (September, October and November), so that, if desired, students could take more than one course and not have overlapping timeframes.
    • Topics: Our goal, as we continue, is for faculty to develop short courses in their expertise areas, applying a digital angle on topics including media history, law, public relations, advertising and more. This will allow for broad participation and application of digital issues across a range of subjects.

    You can learn more about this series, including photos and student impressions, here.

    Bring Learning to Life through Podcasts

    Nicole Kraft, The Ohio State University, School of Communication, [email protected]

    In our Media Law and Ethics class, we want students to do more than just memorize court cases, names and facts. We want them to be able to incorporate and apply what they have learned to real-world situations and share that knowledge with others in a way that is both consumable and comprehensible. To that end, we brought together the “justices” of the Supreme Court and podcasting technology. Our assignment, “You be the Justice,” lets each of our 45-54 student to select a Supreme Court justice from one of six pre-selected cases. They are then instructed to extensively research that person and their judicial philosophy, as well as the First Amendment-focused case. Instead, however, of a sterile and formulaic research paper, these students are given the option of “becoming” the justice by recording a podcast in character.

    Photo by Marcie Casas on Flickr and reused here with Creative Commons license.

    Photo by Marcie Casas on Flickr and reused here with Creative Commons license.

    To prepare, students are taught podcasting technology and techniques, including recording and editing of audio in GarageBand, and they listen to numerous podcasts to get a sense of style and quality. They also sign up for a SoundCloud account on which to post recordings. They then start researching the justice’s history, judicial philosophy and significant cases of which they have been part. They examine personality traits, hobbies and characteristics. They then examine the assigned case, the justice’s role in determining the decision, and look at ways to apply the precedent cases they have learned earlier in the semester. Students next craft a script that allows personality and character to co-mingle with facts and cases in a narrative form. Often students craft that narrative into a themed podcast, such as “Just Chat,” “Let’s Get Judicial” and “Chief Chat, the only podcast dedicated to discussing Supreme Court Decision with justices past and present.” All podcasts are judged on the following criteria:

    •      Character development
    •      Character’s history
    •      Judicial philosophy
    •      Justice’s significant cases
    •      Understanding of this case
    •      Precedent cases
    •      Maintaining character
    •      Script development
    •      Quality of citations
    •      Quality of recording and posting success

    For instructions and grading rubric, visit: https://nicolekraftosu.wordpress.com/you-be-the-justice-final-project/ Here are some examples:

    Embrace Engagement in the Storytelling Process

    Todd Milbourn & Andrew DeVigal, University of Oregon’s School of Journalism and Communication, [email protected] and [email protected]

    This past year, we saw an increase in the number of jobs focused on audience engagement. We will no doubt continue to see growth in these newsroom jobs as our industry better understands how audiences are consuming and navigating through content. This role, however, would be more aptly called audience development. After all, engagement is relational, NOT transactional. In 2016, we will shift our focus away from audience and toward community.  We believe this engagement model can not only help restore public trust in journalism, but empower communities to take action and thrive. Inspired from our recent Experience Engagement gathering, we aim to make engagement a vital part of the storytelling process at Flux Magazine, our school’s award-winning student magazine. This year, the 16 student staff members are interested in exploring complex issues of race and identity on campus. In order to approach these topics in a thoughtful way, we’re reworking the journalistic process. We’re making diverse communities more than the subjects of our reporting, as in the traditional model, but an integral part of the process. Here’s how we’ll do that:

    • Start the process of journalism by purposefully bringing together the collective and representative voices most impacted by the issue;
    • Facilitate the community conversation through Appreciative Inquiry, a process to collectively search for what works and create space for new possibilities to emerge;
    • Authentically listen to learn and NOT listen to tell;
    • Honor the stories of and from the community to spread knowledge and lessons learned.

    Through this process, we aim to:

    • Encourage people who don’t normally talk to each other to come together;
    • Push student journalists to get out of their comfort zones;
    • Cultivate trust and build authentic relationships;
    • Reimagine journalism that is radically more connected, more participatory, and speaks truth to empower.

    Our plan is to then celebrate the publication of Flux by holding a public event at the end of the term. The event will underscore our notion that the product of journalism isn’t just the journalism itself, but the conversation, connections and trust it inspires.

    Approach Innovative Technologies With Critical Hands-On Entrepreneurship  

    Avery Holton with Sean Lawson, Department of Communication, University of Utah, [email protected] and [email protected]

    In our Innovation with Drones course, we encouraged students to consider the ethical, legal, and social aspects of drone use in fields such as journalism. We provided them with resources for consideration and then opened up critical, and often heated, debates about a variety of issues.

    Photo courtesy of Flickr user John Mills.

    Photo courtesy of Flickr user John Mills.

    Once students had thoughtfully evaluated various uses of drones, we then asked them to work within groups to present business plans for the development of innovative drone uses. Drawing on their critical analyses as well as their own interests, they developed business models and then put those into action, working together to build fully functional drones and prototypes of their ideas (we supplied them with kits similar to these from 3D Robotics). Along the way, students also interviewed influential actors in areas critical to drone advancement, developed maps of drone use and drone curriculum in the United States, and provided journalistically insightful stories on new drone developments and companies. They posted many of these to a student-led blog, Drones & Society. A special consideration when incorporating drones into the classroom is the safety and regulation issues involved. In our class, we made sure that students understood the safety issues involved in using this technology, that we operated in accord with current FAA regulations, and with the permission of our university administrators. The outcome of the course was providing students an experience that helped them to innovate with drones in a way that was informed by a broad understanding of the ethical, legal, and social aspects of this technology. At the same time, students were able to better understand the ethical, legal, and social aspects because they had some hands-on experience with the technology. This, we believe, produces more informed citizens and more responsible innovators.

    Create An Organic and Collaborative Mini-MOOC

    Avery Holton, Department of Communication, University of Utah,  [email protected] and Robert Quigley, School of Journalism, University of Texas at Austin, [email protected]

    Massive Open Online Courses, or MOOCs, often help bring otherwise inaccessible knowledge to the masses, welcoming hundreds or thousands of students to participate in a single course. However, MOOCs have struggled to remain sustainable, suffering from mass desertion and low completion levels in part due to a lack of engagement or collaboration. In an effort to try and help solve that issue, the University of Texas at Austin and the University of Utah offer a collaborative mini-MOOC focused on social media’s role in journalism. Though more than 1,300 miles apart, more than 125 students help run four news channels across five social media platforms as part of the Social News Network and Social News Network Utah. while receiving one-on-one feedback from two professors, two teaching assistants, and one another. By limiting the number of students, both professors help to offer hands-on training and live, or nearly live, feedback that helps students learn organically and apply their skills within a social setting that may be native to some but that hasn’t necessarily been mastered as a news tool. This semester, students from both campuses combined to produce more than 7,800 pieces of content across all channels, often with an engagement reach of several hundred users per post (students also learned and tracked engagement analytics). Students alternated collaboratively between shifts on Snapchat, Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, and Pinterest, formulating journalistic identities. You can sneak a peek into some of our students’ work by following one of our four channels on Twitter: SocialNN, SocialNNUtah, SocialNNEnt, and SocialNNSports.

    Meagan Doll is a senior at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, studying journalism. She is an intern for the EducationShift section at MediaShift and an undergraduate fellow at the University of Wisconsin-Madison Center for Journalism Ethics.

    Tagged: Arizona State coding Cronkite school digital drones engagement entrepreneurship google innovation MOOC newsu novel podcast research sensor journalism social news texas state university university of new mexico

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