CAMP 2016: Five tips for teaching digital education on a shoestring

JAWS CAMP 2016 l
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Jessica Langlois, Teresa Puente and Sarah Pollock

Story by Shahla Farzan, 2016 JAWS Fellow | Photo by Erica Yoon, CAMP photographer

As journalism evolves into an increasingly digital profession, college professors must expand their courses to include a new set of skills. For instructors in smaller academic programs with limited budgets, it can be particularly difficult to get equipment and technical support.

A panel of three college-level professors shared their strategies for teaching multimedia journalism. The panelists, Sarah Pollock of Mills College, Teresa Puente of Cal State University Long Beach and Jessica Langlois of Loyola Marymount University had these tips:

1. Assess your students’ strengths and weaknesses at the beginning of the semester.

Each semester, Jessica creates a simple questionnaire on SurveyMonkey to assess her students’ skills. She uses this information to tailor her curriculum and ensure that all students have a strong foundation in basic reporting.

“Don’t assume that students are experts in everything just because they’re millennials,” Jessica said. “Find out what their strengths and weakness are, then form groups that represent their strengths.”

2. Don’t be overly ambitious.

When designing a curriculum, less is often more. Sarah said she made the mistake of trying to fit too much into her course. Rather than inspiring her students, she overwhelmed them with too many options.

“I thought the scattershot approach would get them to grab whatever interested them. But I think it made them a little dizzy. In the future, I would reduce the scope, the number of assignments and programs I asked them to do,” she said.

3. Focus on the story, not just the technology.

The panelists stressed that all students must understand the fundamentals of journalism. In smaller institutions, journalism students often come from a variety of backgrounds and may not understand how to frame a story. These students may try to hide behind media tools or use them as a substitute for on-the-ground reporting.

4. Try using one social media platform in several ways.

Teresa uses Twitter in her classes to help students engage with the public and other journalists. Every week, she asks her students to tweet about news stories to help build news literacy and awareness of current events. She also uses Twitter as a “micro-reporting tool.”

“With early reporting students, I have them interview people, then tweet out a quote, photo and their full name. This reinforces best practices for reporting,” Teresa said.

5. Use class time to experiment and take risks.

In Sarah’s courses, a surprising number of students were intimidated by new technology and often unwilling to take a risk. She suggests setting aside some class time for students to experiment with new tools and learn from fellow students.

In an effort to empower her students, Sarah says they are all actively learning how to use new media tools (herself included).

“I decided to model idiocy from Day One. If there was something I didn’t know, I was really clear about that. Not knowing how to do something shouldn’t be an impediment to learning how to do it,” she said.

Frequent advances in technology also means the learning process is never complete, Jessica said.

“I tell them, we all have to learn things on the fly. If you want to be a journalist, you’ll have to do this all the time,” she said.

Check out the resources from this CAMP session at members.jaws.org.