How I Try to Foster an “Experimental Mindset” in My Journalism Classroom

I believe that the future of journalism education must be about innovation. That’s easy to say, but hard to achieve.

Academic institutions can be more resistant to change than legacy news organizations. Curriculum overhauls can take years. And even the best students are afraid of taking risks that may affect their grades.

So how can we create space for more experimentation in the journalism classroom?

Here are a few things I’ve tried in my decade of teaching undergraduate journalism courses.

Study the Innovators
If I want my students to explore new technology, platforms and storytelling techniques, then they need a steady diet of groundbreaking digital journalism. One way I’ve done this is to use the annual Online Journalism Awards as the one of the primary reading texts in my courses. Each week the students explore examples of award-winning journalism, we discuss and debate, and then I urge my students to imitate the approaches that inspire them.

Encourage Students to Be “Early Adopters”
Whenever a new reporting tool or platform emerges, I urge my students to try it out, and then we discuss the potential and pitfalls of using it for journalism. I don’t care that they become of fan of a particular technology. I want them to realize that they must continually adapt.

Make Space in the Syllabus
Teachers have a tendency to pack as much content into a semester as possible. But experimentation requires time for brainstorming, false starts, and collaboration between students and instructor. Each semester when I’m planning out my syllabus, I make sure to set aside multiple class periods with no lecture or structured activities. Instead, I ask students what they need at that point in the course.

Reward the Risk-Takers
Grades can be one of the biggest barriers to experimentation. Students want to know exactly what is required to achieve a grade and aren’t inclined to try something they haven’t done before. So when it’s appropriate, I build an assessment of risk into my grading rubric. In some cases, an ambitious and imperfect project can earn a higher grade than a safe and well-executed one. I always require multiple drafts and reward those students that revise and revamp.

Challenge Students to Rethink the Campus Newspaper
Like legacy news organizations, campus media outlets have their established traditions, platforms and revenue models. That means they are hard to change, but also the best places for students to innovate. Each semester, I have my students reinvent the editorial workflow of a typical campus newspaper. I ask them to articulate who their audience is, what the audience wants, when the audience wants it, and how they are going to reach them. Then I send students out to try to cover a typical campus story in a totally different way.

Invite Interdisciplinary Collaboration
When engineering and journalism students at my university worked together on sensor journalism projects as part of a 24-hour Hack-a-Thon, they accomplished things I could never have orchestrated in my classroom. I’m always looking for ways to connect journalism students with other disciplines.

Model Failure
I can’t expect my students to innovate if I don’t do the same in my own teaching. Each semester, I try to push beyond my own knowledge and skills. It can be scary and disorienting. And occasionally a lesson plan will bomb, and I crash-and-burn in front of my students. When that happens, I do my best to model an appropriate response to failure. I acknowledge when things don’t go as planned. I articulate what I learned. I restart and try again.

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On hiatus for Fall 17

Note: I’m not teaching Online Journalism II this semester. Until I return to it, this site won’t be updated. In the meantime, you can see what we’re doing in my Data Journalism course.

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How I integrate the Online Journalism Awards into my digital reporting course

I’ve been teaching undergraduate online journalism courses for a decade. It’s a non-stop quest to keep up with emerging technology, publishing platforms, storytelling techniques, and news outlets — and to figure out how best to integrate them into a traditional classroom.

As part of this effort, I began using the Online Journalism Awards  as the one of the primary “texts” in my digital reporting course.

I’ve found it a simple, yet effective, way to help keep my course content current and to expand my students’ news diets.

Here is what I do.

Continue reading

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Final Deadlines for Spring 17 Semester

Monday, May 1 – Final Class Period

Course evaluation

-Return quiz

-Group work – Posting Assignment 4 and share it to my mbg.rowan email address.

Assignment 4: Issue Story is due at 11:59pm on May 1. Note: This is not a rough draft. It must be complete.

Tuesday, May 2  

-Forum on “Future of News in South Jersey” on May 2 from 7:00-9:00pm at South Jersey Tech Park – RSVP here

Finals Week – May 2 to May 7

-I will review each project and then respond via email with suggested revisions. Revise your project for May 8.

-On Sunday, May 7, I will send out a short online form for you to fill out regarding your participation and teamwork on Assignment 4.

Final Exam period, Monday, May 8 from 10:15am-12:15pm

-I will be in Room 205 during our final exam period from 10:15am to 12:15pm. Attendance is optional, but I will be there to assist you if you need help. If your group has questions about revisions, needs technical help, or if you want to review your grades to date, this is the time for those things.

-Your online participation form for Assignment 4 is due by 12:15pm on May 8.

Revised Assignment 4: Issue Story is due at 12:15pm on May 8.

May 9 – 12:30 – Pizza lunch for graduating journalism majors – 301 High, Room 216

May 10 – 10am – CCCA Commencement

Sometime between May 10 and May 15, I will email you with all of a grade on Assignment 4, all of your assignments and attendance/participation and your final grade for the semester. If you have questions, get back to me ASAP.

May 16 – Final Grades submitted

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Week 14 – April 24 and 26

In Class:
End-of-the-semester quiz. Will cover anything we’ve discussed in class. Week 1 through Week 13 (Worth 2 points)
No class on Wednesday, April 26. Reporting day. Work with your group on Assignment 4: Issue Story

Assignment 4: Issue Story due Monday, May 1

Note: Schedule for the final weeks of the semester

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Week 13 – April 17 and 19

In Class:
Schedule for the last four weeks of the semester
Issue Story Reporting Plan due Monday, April 17 at the end of class
Explanatory Feature review
Assembling an Issue Story
Posting an Issue Story

End-of-the-semester quiz on Monday, April 24 will cover anything we’ve discussed in class. (Worth 2 participation points)
Assignment 4: Issue Story. Complete draft due Monday, May 1. Revised draft due Monday, May 8.

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Assignment 3: Explanatory Feature review

My thoughts:

  • Great variety of presentation and media
  • Curation AND original reporting/content
  • Visual > Text
  • Required elements: Attribution, links, expert, logical structure
  • Creativity
  • Useful/Informative/Worth Sharing

Your projects:


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Schedule for the last four weeks of the semester

Week 13
Monday, April 17
Issue Story Reporting Plan due Monday, April 17 at the end of class

Wednesday, April 19
-Assignment 3: Explanatory Feature review
-Assembling an Issue Story
-Posting an Issue Story

Week 14
Monday, April 24
End-of-the-semester quiz. Will cover anything we’ve discussed in class. Week 1 through Week 13 (Worth 2 participation points)
-Work day with group

Wednesday, April 26
-No class. Reporting day. Work with your group on Assignment 4: Issue Story

Week 15
Monday, May 1 – Last day of class
-Workday for Assignment 4: Issue Story
-Completed Assignment 4: Issue Story story due TBA

-I will email each group with suggested revisions.

Finals Week and Graduation Week
Monday, May 8
-Revised Assignment 4: Issue Story due via email at 12:15pm. You do not have to attend the exam period.

Tuesday, May 9
-12:30-2:00pm – Lunch for Journalism graduates in Enterprise Building, Room 406.

Wednesday, May 10
-CCCA Commencement

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Week 12 – April 10 and 12

In Class:
Issue Stories (continued)
Issue Story Reporting Plan
-Wednesday is workday for Assignment 3: Explanatory Feature. I’ll look at your work in progress.

Assignment 3: Explanatory Feature. NOTE: Deadline has been extended to 11:59pm on Thursday, April 13
Issue Story Reporting Plan due Monday, April 17 at the end of class

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Issue Story Reporting Plan – Due at End of Class on Monday, April 17

Each group must send me an email answering the following questions for Assignment 4: Issue Story
(Worth 1 point toward Assignment 4 grade)
Due at the end of class on Monday, April 17

1. Clearly articulate the issue.
What is the issue? Why is it important? Why should people care?

2. Localize the issue.
How are you going to narrow down the issue? What angle? What location? What community?

3. Identify key facts and statistics
List five (5) key things the audience should know/learn about this issue?

4. Identify key players in the issue
Who is affected by this issue? Identify at least four (4) kinds of people or groups.

5. Strategy for locating key players
Where/how are you going to find people to talk to? Come up with a plan for interviewing each of the “key players” you identify in Step 4.

6. Activities/Events/Locations
Where does your issues play out in real life? What activities, events or locations can you visit as part of your reporting? What do you expect to observe?

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