Two objectives are the core of my teaching philosophy, and I put them into practice in my interactions with students in the classroom and as a mentor:
Just do it
Communication industries are in a continual state of change as professionals incorporate new methods and strategies of connecting with others, and my students communicate across a variety of platforms by practicing the skills they learn in the classroom. As the subhead indicates (and borrows from the well-known Nike slogan), they just do it. And they do it a lot.
Today’s converged media environment requires journalists and other media professionals with specialized skills who can tell stories across mediums. My students learn storytelling techniques that are in demand in communication industries that include journalism, public relations, advertising and marketing. In addition, I help empower them to teach themselves the skills and platforms that will evolve throughout their careers. As an educator, I act as a guide and mentor, creating opportunities for students to learn the fundamentals of the craft and the technical skills associated with it. I infuse this learning-by-doing principle throughout my curriculum.
For example, students in my Multimedia Journalism class at Texas State apply the core journalism skills from previous classes, such as Writing for the Mass Media, to newer forms of media. The tools taught change with each iteration of the class but the digital storytelling principles do not. Students produce online packages that incorporate elements including text, photos, video and infographics and publish them on their blogs. They use social media to develop their personal brands and examine analytics to refine their strategies.
In my courses with a broader focus, such as the Media & Society class at Saint Louis University that is required of all communication majors and minors, students used blogs to publish writing assignments tied to each chapter that engage them in deeper reflection of the class topics and we discussed their writings as a group.
Again borrowing from a well-known and award-winning promotional campaign (from Apple in the 1990s), this slogan reflects my belief that the application of journalism and communication skills is but one part of the learning process. Students must grasp why nurturing those skills is important for their careers, the profession, and society. Journalism is more than the craft of telling stories. It is a profession with shared ideologies about the value of a free press, autonomy, objectivity, ethics, and public service. It is a field in flux that retains its deep impact on our ability to be an informed society. Small-group and class-wide discussions examine how these changes affect what we are learning and what is happening in the industry. I stress “we” in this process because learning is a lifelong process. Teachers and students should learn from each other in discussions that engage everyone in sharing ideas.
In my Journalism News Writing classes at SLU, for example, students used Facebook groups to post news stories relevant to each week’s topic. They wrote a brief analysis of the materials they found as those items related to the weekly topic and then participated in an online discussion. That conversation is carried into class as we examined their examples for whether those materials are “good journalism,” how they could be improved, and how the story could be told differently.
In the Media & Society class at SLU, students completed online quizzes, which enabled me to move away from textbook-based lectures and enrich the classroom experience with topics related to each chapter. Each student prepared a short presentation on a topic of his or her choosing that related to course material and led a discussion on the material. In doing so, students were pushed to think beyond the textbook material to how it applies in their life and the lives of others—to think more broadly and with greater insight.
A graduate course—Contemporary Issues in Media—at SLU offered another opportunity to involve students in ways to “think different.” Beyond writing weekly response papers that critically analyzed the readings and made connections to other materials they have studied, students posed new hypotheses and research questions based on the materials we read. Such exercises fostered students’ ability to assess the findings of previous research, construct their own well-reasoned research ideas, and aided them in looking across topics and disciplines to see the points at which they build upon each other.
In my courses, I incorporate the findings of my research when relevant and I strive for a seamless integration of learning skills, developing journalistic principles, and recognizing we must be lifelong learners. To that end, I hope to foster a “think different” mindset in students that they carry with them throughout their lives. I want my students to live the mantra of Apple’s “think different” campaign: “They change things. They push the human race forward.”