Three main components guide my approach to teaching. First, I am a trained in and guided by The Missouri Method, which seeks to combine theory and practice as much as possible in my journalism courses. Second, I believe in modeling use of tools in order for students to have a framework for how to use tools themselves. Third, I believe in community; it spills over from my own research, but I also work to make sure that information is embedded in communities (and all types of them) as much as possible.
Theory and practice: My pedagogical approach is steeped in the Missouri Method made noteworthy by Missouri School of Journalism founder Walter Williams. He instilled in the world’s first school of journalism the notion that journalism education works best when students are taught how to integrate theory and practice. Whether it is teaching an undergraduate how to write or a graduate student how to research, it is vital for students to master the fundamentals that allow them to sharpen their skills. At the same time, it is important to teach students the theory or philosophy behind the practice of journalism. Undergraduate journalism students need to understand the theories that guide journalism so they can recognize how to do journalism even when technology changes methods or platforms. By combining theory and practice, students learn the principles that guide the use of practical skills. They become more agile in a changing world, and are able to adapt to technological change or new environments that are thrust upon them in the workplace. This flexibility requires an approach that says it’s safe to make mistakes as long as you are learning, and it communicates to students that I’d rather see effort when they try something new rather than expect perfection the first time.
Modeling: I specialize in new media, which makes use of interactive digital technology to produce a type of journalism better suited for the Web than traditional legacy platforms such as print or television. Because this part of my discipline is so new, you could ask a room of new media instructors their opinions about the best tools, what the best way to teach it is, or what the best approach is and you’ll get a lot of disagreement and a variety of answers. My approach, as I’ll explain in the next section, is that information in the context of community is key, and that means connecting the practice of community with the practice of journalism. For now, this means making heavy use of social media platforms because they represent the practical side of the fundamental shift going on in my field from publishing on platforms to the spread of information and news across networks. Thus it is vital my students learn not only how to use social media tools but also understand the culture that exists in these online spaces. The problem is that social media is impossible to teach if you don’t know it, or at least it’s impossible to teach in a way that feels more than superficial to students. My students have shown they are good at detecting when I’m not completely up-to-date on these tools. So part of my charge, and indeed my job as a professor, is to be sure I’m at the forefront of changes going on in media technology. But more important, to teach it effectively, I need to use it and not just talk about it. This means using the technology to learn the tools, but it also means showing them how it’s done by letting them see my own use. I consider Twitter, for example, an extension of my classroom. I teach them about proper ways to post links, reply to people, have conversations, and give credit. I answer questions and attempt to encourage them to expand their use. By using these tools together we are learning together. Asking them to use these tools without showing them how via consistent modeling has never been an effective strategy.
Community: I used to call this concept “open classrooms,” but my conception of community in teaching has evolved because of what I’ve learned through teaching Multimedia Reporting here at Lehigh. Initially this principle centered on the idea that classrooms should be safe and open places, free for discussion without fear of students attacking others rather than critiquing ideas, and respectful of diversity without losing individual identity. Essentially, a classroom is a community replete with the usual diversity of people, views, and faults (including my own). I still believe in this and practice it to the best of my ability. But my definition of a classroom has widened at Lehigh, also expanding my definition of community. Multimedia Reporting helped me build what I call a “classroom without walls,” an open learning environment in which students are learning from other types of communities that we call “tribes” as we seek them out: the Lehigh community, the local community, and so forth. My students engage these various “tribes” via social media, listen to them, and use what they learn to shape their perceptions of what is going on in these communities of interest (be they local geographical communities or online communities). These insights shape their reporting. I am gratified to say this has worked better than even my own lofty hopes. As a function of class requirements and social media use my students are meeting community leaders, and not just ones in political structures. By doing so they learn there is more to story building than talking with elite sources. They encounter and engage everyday people in social media spaces and in the real world every day as part of my classes. Local community members use my #J230 Twitter hashtag, which allows us to index discussion, in order to add tips and ideas for the students; essentially they become part of the classroom discussion in online spaces, and this is by design. A classroom without walls, in my view, is a classroom without boundaries and limits and in turn becomes a classroom that is rooted in community.
Applying Teaching Philosophy in Methods and Goals
Given the principles above, the methods and goals I use in the classroom are channeled toward those aims even as class sizes and course goals change the types of instruction I employ.
In COMM 30 Media And Society, I am more limited in what I can do in terms of modeling because the course is a large lecture-based course with anywhere from 35-to-70 students, but I find opportunities to creatively use my principles quite enjoyable in a larger course. I make heavy use of the principle of community by requiring group presentations in the course and emphasizing community-oriented discussion points in the material (in this case, the community being fellow students). I find this strategy not only breaks up the lectures but also gives students a chance to apply what they are learning. Groups of five or six students present each week about current issues related to a topic. For example, in the week we talk about radio students have presented on current trends in new media that are changing how we think about radio, such as Pandora or podcasting. Though I consider myself new-media savvy, I often learn about new things by hearing how they talk about the material, and students benefit from hearing classmates take a concept we’re discussing and apply it in a way unique to college-age students. We also have done a semester with term papers, with students offering up short presentations on their research at the end of the semester. Second, I make heavy use of theory and practice in this course. While it’s not a skills-teaching course, I use examples consistently to show how a concept connects to things many of them do every day. For example, when I talk about social networking I talk about how students use Facebook, and that is a gateway to talk about concepts such as libel and how it applies to their own media use. I want students to come away with some practical knowledge of how the big-idea concepts of that course relate to what they are doing now, and to what they will do in the future.
My JOUR 230 Multimedia Storytelling course is perhaps the best embodiment of my teaching philosophy. The course is hands-on, giving students an opportunity to learn how to do multimedia journalism by getting experience applying reporting methods using new tools and platforms such as video work, social media, podcasting, interactive maps, and Web building. This gives them a chance to combine theory and practice. Assignments increase in point value and students can revise, allowing them to learn from mistakes and improve as the semester goes along. Community is the backbone of this course. We engage with the local community via social media and the Lehigh community through interpersonal interaction and Twitter. Their microsite final projects are unique from their other journalistic experiences in classes in that I require them to cover issues of concern to the Lehigh Valley, not those at the university. The classroom itself becomes a tight-knit community as students learn the ropes together, and group projects add to this experience. Finally, there is a good deal of modeling on my part in that course. This is why I blog, tweet, use Foursquare, experiment with Storify, and create Xtranormal video introductions for my classes – all of these are newer interactive media tools, and just using them as part of the classroom experience is a signal to the students that they should be bringing their curiosity with them into the course. Some of this process is playing with the technology so I am familiar with it, but the other part of it is figuring out how to work it into assignments and labs so students learn how to use it. And then I engage students in those spaces. I post course reading links and announcements on Twitter, which requires them to be there. I reply to student tweets. I “retweet” (pass their messages on to my own network) and promote their blog posts so they see the value of information in the context of networks. I ask questions. I show my sense of humor. Students read my Twitter stream and learn as much about the culture of Twitter as they do about the functions. In turn, it gives them confidence to jump in and try it. Students often start out mimicking my voice but over time they learn to find their own. I consider this whole process part of the lesson plan.
Thus far my teaching philosophy and methods have resulted in successful completion of the course goals. My courses are engaged and vibrant atmospheres thanks in no small part to Lehigh’s unique students. My larger course has a great deal of discussion for a class that is supposed to be lecture-heavy, and students tell me they get a lot from discussions, even ones that feature sharp disagreements. In JOUR 230 I have found that students have enthusiasm for the work and embrace what I believe is a fairly heavy workload because they believe the material will help them improve and teach them new skills necessary for a journalism career.
While these observations are anecdotal, I believe my evaluations bear this out. Qualitative responses on my COMM 30 evaluations often include notes from students about it being the best class they’ve had at Lehigh or that it makes them want to study communication more as a minor or even perhaps as a major with us. While the response may reflect on me as well as on my teaching, I know it also fulfills a larger and more important goal, and that is to represent the relevance and benefits of studying journalism and communication to our Lehigh students. JOUR 230 remains a popular course that we have had to offer more often than we initially planned due to strong interest.
Contributions to Curriculum, My Department, and the University
All of the courses that I have taught at Lehigh were new courses to our department curriculum and ones that I designed entirely, and thus my main contribution has been to bring new curricular direction to our department.
As previously stated, students from outside my discipline and even outside the College of Arts & Sciences have reported they found my COMM 30 Media & Society course to be interesting and relevant, and thus I believe I have made a contribution to the University by adding a strong general elective course to the catalog of choices students have at Lehigh. In COMM 30, students learn about the media environment in which they are immersed and gain understanding of it in a way that will serve them in both their careers and lives after they leave as graduates. This is a class in basic media literacy, which I am becoming more convinced is a need for Lehigh students in general as we move toward a society in which communication is more and more heavily mediated. I find that students sometimes come to the class feeling like they are stuck in a torrent of media and unable to function. The class focuses on exposing them to what media are and equipping them with tools for more purposeful use.
My most innovative course at Lehigh has been JOUR 230, a new course we began offering in 2010 to expose our major students to multimedia. The early phases of this course was built around offering students a wide menu of multimedia production techniques, from web building to audio and video. Students also have learned how to work with interactive media tools such as custom maps, social media story building via Storify, and advanced video storytelling.
In recent semesters, the class as well as my brief stint heading up JOUR 24 Visual Communication has been more experimental with mobile. My colleague Jack Lule and I oversaw an application to the Lehigh Labs for experimenting with iPads in the course, and in Spring 2012 we used these devices throughout the semester to test the possibilities of media production. In fall 2012, I required a smart device (iPhone or Android phone, or cheaper iPod touch) to do similar testing via a smaller device. The results between the two classes have helped me test different types of teaching multimedia, but it also has helped me hone my approach for this vital area in our curriculum. It is my belief that mobile reporting, involving both the camera and installed apps, represent an important direction for journalism education and I am working to make sure we stay ahead of the curve. While my expertise in social media led to work that was seen as natural and somewhat obvious upon my arrival, mobile in particular has been a critical link because so much of what media communicators are doing with social media is done via mobile. We are the only class that I know of that is making mobile phones a standard part of the classroom experience in terms of content production (other classes are designing apps, and this is a possible collaboration opportunity for us down the road).
This fall we will be taking this a step further in the area of mobile. In spring 2013 I was notified that I was chosen for the Google Glass Explorer project, and we will be testing the possibilities of wearable mobile media in this fall’s JOUR 230 course. We are, to my knowledge, one of only three journalism departments in the United States that will have early access to wearable mobile technology.
Most important to me: In the short time I have been teaching social media in my classes, my students already are getting internships and jobs because they have social media and multimedia skills. They are getting immediate benefits from what they are learning in my courses, and that adds value to their Lehigh experience and ultimately to their degree.
I have used a variety of methods to ensure that students in our department know that new media is a part of our future here at Lehigh. This includes using social media such as Twitter and YouTube and my professional blog to publicize the class and chronicle what we are learning (my own attempt to model theory and practice for my students) and the creation of viral videos that spread the word about registration options and the new tools are students are using in the course. My methods are catching students’ eyes, but it’s also putting us at the forefront of this in our field. In 2009 the Chronicle of Higher Education did a story about me promoting courses using YouTube. This has led to a good discussion in my discipline about using the very tools we teach to get students interested and excited in studying courses in my field, and my invitation to speak at conferences and on an AEJMC teaching panel this coming summer is an indication that I am helping spread the word about Lehigh as a place for forward-thinking journalism instruction. I also have made myself available outside of class to students and groups that wish to talk about how they can use social media and blogging for either professional development or class projects. Finally, I’ve been involved in recruiting younger majors so that they are certain to understand that there is more to our major than writing for the newspaper. I am hopeful we are attracting new types of majors than we were when I first arrived because they see that journalism offers multiple ways to tell stories beyond the printed word.
Beyond courses, I have had an impact on curriculum on a department-wide basis. I was hired in part to help bring new media instruction ideas into the department, and I have made contributions in that vein by being available for feedback for other instructors and also by participating in ongoing curriculum revision discussions in the department. My JOUR 230 course has served as a helped us include topics such as video recording and editing, blogging, microblogging, podcasting, and using social media. Some of these modules have stayed in the class, but others have been moved into other beginning-level courses such as our basic JOUR 21 Writing for the Media class.