Emergent Journalism

Reports from the front line of journalism instruction

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Crossing the threshold to online instruction (sorta)

The smart folks at MediaShift from time to time assemble a special series of posts of interest to journalism instructors on a themed topic such as data journalism. Often, such a series goes up around the time we’re all gearing up for going back for a new school year.

I’ve taken a keen interest in the current selection, which addresses online instruction. That’s because I’m going to be teaching a largely online course this fall, my first such foray into this field.

Unusual offering for our school

Unlike some institutions, our school has not gone very deeply into online courses. Only a small fraction of courses across the school are taught online, although a couple of areas of the college (the schools of business and nursing) have been more active in this area than other parts of the college. In the School of Arts and Sciences, where the Department of Media and Communication is housed, the offerings have been practically nonexistent during the regular school year. (A&S does have a good number of online offerings in summer, for the convenience of students who live on campus during the school year but live at home some distance away during the summer.)

So I am approaching the task of offering a mostly online course during the fall semester with a mix of excitement and trepidation. Excited to be doing something new and different and potentially valuable for the department and the college, yet fearful of the unknown because it will be entirely new for me, and likely for most if not all of the students.

Infrastructure to build upon

I feel as well-prepared as possible under the circumstances. It’s a course in multimedia content presentation that I developed and have taught in traditional mode every semester since we introduced it 3 1/2 years ago, so the content is very familiar. I have taken the Fundamentals of Online Instruction seminar offered by our college’s educational technologist, which covered best practices — many of which I’ve seen mentioned in the MediaShift posts.

The nature of the course means that even in the traditional setting all of the deliverables are done online, via blog posts, social media, Google Docs and other formats.  Plus, for the face-to-face sections I already use a “flipped classroom” model with first contact for most of the material in the students’ hands via readings and required reading-response papers for nearly every class session. Then, classroom time is devoted to reviewing the pre-reading assignments and doing exercises that put them into practice. So I have an infrastructure of online assignments to draw from, rather than create from scratch.

The main body of work required to shift the course online is to turn the discussion and exercise elements that are done in the classroom into online versions of themselves, along with creating elements that help build a sense of classroom community. What stands out to me most from the seminar in online instruction is the importance of that to a successful online experience for the students and the teacher. The face-to-face version of the course doesn’t have extensive lecture anyway, so while I may put a few video lecture pieces together, they aren’t going to comprise much of the instructional time in any case.

Ace in the hole: hybrid rather than fully online

One final thing I have going for me is that the course will not be fully online. Rather, it is a hybrid that will have a few mandatory meetings during the semester — four of them, to be precise — and some optional sessions as well. That will help me get to know the students, and them to know me, as well as provide a safety valve opportunity for assistance for anyone who is really struggling.

Overall I am more excited than fearful and am looking forward to what I hope will be a good experience for the students and for me.