The longer I teach online journalism, the more I understand about how students learn best. They crave ownership of the learning process, and that ownership can help promote mastery of essential skills and content knowledge. Owning their learning is also significantly more meaningful than having me—or any other teacher for that matter—tell students exactly what’s expected of them.
I prefer that students experiment with the learning, setting and holding themselves to their own high standards, while always striving to improve.
This fall I gleefully watched my journalism students launch a television news broadcast to accompany The Gator, the online student newspaper I advise at Brimmer and May. I marveled at how access to exciting communication technology, when coupled with an eagerness to share quality work, generated powerful student-driven learning.
Admittedly, as a veteran of print journalism, I knew very little about video production. I had experimented with it earlier, but I fumbled by not initially trusting my students to do the work themselves.
Sure, the final product looked good enough. But it reflected more of my efforts than that of my students, highlighting my shortcoming as an adviser. From the third broadcast onward, as much as possible, I removed myself from the equation. From the sidelines, I observed my students relying on each other to work through roadblocks to produce better and better segments, as they recognized and learned from missteps.
My overinvolvement had deprived students of the learning process. Only when I relived control did the team jump at the chance to put all the moving pieces together, and Gator Nation News really took off.
Experimenting with Tools
In October, Brimmer opened a new media lab as part of a larger construction project. With an entire wall painted in chroma key matte green; a suite of new MacBook Pro’s loaded with Final Cut Pro X, 4K Sony video cameras; and two Parrot teleprompters, the editors of The Gator hit the ground running. By and large, they put all the pieces together themselves, with minimal direction from me.
My students used Vimeo to host completed broadcasts, which were then embedded in The Gator. Unlike YouTube, Vimeo requires a paid subscription, but the platform rejects advertisements, and I also appreciate how its niche market caters to the education sector. Moreover, the actual video player is sleeker than those of its competitors, and it’s easy to adjust privacy and control settings.
Next year, in addition to airing pre-recorded broadcasts, the Gator Nations News team wants to explore going live. To begin this process, the newsroom recently purchased a subscription to Livestream, which reporters also used to offer live coverage of end-of-year events, including commencement. In the fall, students also hope also to conduct live interviews around campus before moving production to the media lab.
Cultivating Real-World Work Environments
As in any work environment, disagreements occurred—especially early on. Students would argue, sometimes heatedly, about what deserved coverage, or whether colleagues had completed their jobs in timely and effective fashion. Occasionally, students did not think before making well-meaning but potentially hurtful comments about the sub-par quality of a shot, uneven sound levels, or poor execution of some other sort.
I trusted the student editor in chief with telling me when to butt out. During a particularly tense recording session, she respectfully asked me to leave the media lab. My intervention was only slowing down production, and from her I learned that no matter what I teach, there is a lot to be said for letting students work out struggles on their own.
With this in mind, I did my best to let the students sort out their own problems, wary of depriving them of the important development that comes from overcoming hardship without adult intervention. I’m proud to report that no matter how big the dispute, students found a way to move on, learn from their mistakes, and call on me only when necessary.
It’s only the start of summer, but I can’t wait to see what my budding journalists will drive themselves to accomplish next.