Empowering Students to Engage Hands-On 

  • Jake Batsell, host and reporter
  • Mansour Abdur-Rahim
  • Carole Carmichael
  • Daniela Gerson
  • Rodney Gibbs
  • Claudia Lopez
  • Mark Kellman
  • Amber Rivera

Jake, who teaches journalism at SMU in Dallas, began with a mea culpa of sorts — even though he wrote the book “Engaged Journalism: Connecting with Digitally Empowered News Audiences” – http://j.mp/engagedj – he has struggled in finding ways to incorporate hands-on engagement into the structure of his classes. He assigns his students to “tweet with purpose” at least twice per week (more on that at https://smudigitaljournalism.wordpress.com/powertweet/ ) and has had some isolated success with interactive data projects and directed studies with students especially interested in engagement and digital journalism. But he’s looking for new ways to get more students to interact with an actual audience as part of their journalism education.

Carole, the former assistant managing editor for community engagement at The Seattle Times, said she has been approached with opportunities to teach and is creating a short course. But it’s imperative that any class she teaches must be outward-facing: “I’m going to teach what I want to teach, not Journalism 101.”

Mansour, who works with special needs middle-school students in San Diego, said he’s been hearing a lot at this conference about creating platforms for people to create their own stories and “radicalize how news is told.”

Mark, the engagement editor for UO’s The Daily Emerald, discussed how professors in his strategic PR and social media classes require students to blog twice a week, create a strategic social media calendar, cultivate influencers, and even live-tweet large lecture classes.

Rodney, chief product officer at The Texas Tribune, described the Tribune’s internship and fellowship programs but also the student program at the annual Texas Tribune Festival, where university students volunteer to work in exchange for the chance to network with fellow students, elected officials, festival speakers and sponsors. The student program has its own #TTFstudents hashtag to share tweets, photos and videos during the festival and a chance to be reposted by the Tribune to its 120,000 social media followers.

Daniela, who teaches journalism at CSU-Northridge, described two techniques she uses to introduce engagement in the classroom: 1) She contacts a journalist before class and asks if her students can tweet at them, to foster a real-time class conversation; and 2) For class projects on topics ranging from the sanctuary campus movement to Black Lives Matter to school integration issues, she has students create a social video to circulate Google surveys that have sometimes drawn more than 100 responses.

Amber, the engagement editor for CPB’s “Inside Energy” project, said she’s looking for ways to connect and collaborate with journalism classes: “I have lots of work for students to do — I just would like to connect in an organized way.” Which led to this moment of realization for Jake, who serves on the Gather steering committee: LET’S SOMEHOW BUILD A FORUM IN GATHER THAT CONNECTS EDUCATORS WHO TEACH ENGAGEMENT WITH NEWSROOMS WHO NEED WORK DONE AND ARE LOOKING TO COLLABORATE.

Claudia, who is graduating from Xavier University in New Orleans and works for Listening Post, said her exposure to engagement during college came mostly through internships. She credited her professor for making the introduction that led her to Listening Post, but she said she thinks educators should reconstruct their classes to provide more hands-on engagement opportunities. She also thinks engagement should be implemented into the curriculum as early as possible, not just into capstone classes during a student’s senior year.