While technology has long been a presence at the School of Journalism, fall semester has seen professors and lecturers increase their use of new tools to connect students with professionals, mentors and one another.
The free Internet-based video tool, Skype, joins video teleconferencing and courses taught entirely online as ways students are learning without leaving their classrooms or dorms. Yet, at the same time, they are expanding their skills and networking with visiting professionals in greater numbers than ever before.
Photo by Nick Demille. Students in one of assistant professor Hans Ibold's classes chat with a guest speaker via Skype, just one of the tools used to connect students to resources.
Skype provides conversation
Skype requires only three things: the free Skype program, a webcam and an Internet connection. Available to anyone, Skype provides an easy way to have a face-to-face conversation with guest speakers and mentors.
Assistant professor Hans Ibold Skypes with guest speakers in nearly every one of his classes. For example, he recently invited the author of the textbook he uses in J110 Foundations of Journalism and Mass Communication to Skype with his students.
“Skype guest speakers allow the classroom to have a conversational feel,” Ibold said. “Sometimes guest speakers literally Skype in their pajamas, which allows a barrier to come down as well as allow students to not be intimidated.”
Not all is so casual, though. Ibold sets up the talks in advance so that the speaker has an idea of the course and subject matter, and he sends the speaker a class syllabus.
J155 Research Techniques for Journalists, required of all journalism majors, and J201 Reporting, Writing, and
Photo by Nick Demille. Adjunct lecturer Steve Higgs developed a research course that students complete online.
Editing II, an elective, are taught online, with students completely reliant on technology to converse with their instructors, upload assignments and discuss topics with one another.
Adjunct lecturer Steve Higgs developed J155, an eight-week research class, in 2002. Students meet only twice on campus, once for an orientation and again to take the final test. After an orientation, students are responsible for delivering seven lessons by deadline.
Having an online class has benefits as well as some bumps in the road, according to Higgs. For example, journalists face deadlines throughout their jobs and this class allows students to have a taste of what it’s liked to have an assignment due every Friday. Some students can handle it and some can’t, Higgs said. About 10 percent of his students every semester discover the challenges of working on deadline, with their grades suffering.
But many students enjoy the autonomy. Senior Misty Collins said she liked the convenience of working on the assignments on her own time. She said the course taught her research skills that showed her how to find different kinds of information.
“J155 was the kind of class that would have been pointless in a classroom setting because all the students would be reading verbatim off of the slides,” Collins said.
With the School of Journalism’s Indianapolis-based sports journalism program growing, teleconferencing has provided a way for students at IUPUI and IU-Bloomington to be virtual classmates.
Using a telephone, video and microphone, instructors can teach two classes of students: one on location and one via this Video Bridge system.
Lecturer Marty Pieratt has taught J261 Intro to Sports Journalism: Controversy, Conflict and Characters in Bloomington to both the IU students and the students at IUPUI. They see Pieratt on screen and participate in discussion with the Bloomington students. Several times during the semester, Pieratt drives to Indianapolis to conduct the class in person with those students, with the Bloomington students as on the long-distance end.
“I like the idea of a class that connects students at different universities,” Pieratt said. “It’s good for students to get out of their comfort zone, and it creates a great, lively debate each class period.”
The system also allows more students access to guest speakers, who can address both groups of students from one location.
Pieratt said technology is working because it’s a way to save money and time for the universities, and serve more students in the process. There are challenges, he said. Technology won’t replace being able to see and hear a professor in person, but advancements can create positive experiences when used with traditional classroom practices, such as engaging conversation and sharing of ideas.
“Technology in classrooms should complement an already solid academic experience, not compensate for it,” Pieratt said.
Tech learning curve
Many classes now are dependent on technology because the field of journalism uses new tools. Lecturer Bonnie Layton, who teaches J303 Online Journalism, said she makes sure she keeps up with industry developments in equipment and software in order to effectively teach students, but she also relies on support staff.
Photo by Nick Demille. Lecturer Bonnie Layton, left, teaches students to use a variety of equipment in her classes. She encourages them to be familiar with all types of technology to prepare for careers.
“The School of Journalism at IU is really great at helping with technological problems,” Layton said. “We have a splendid technical staff.”
In addition to technology director Dave Ernst and Web programmer Andy Koop, that staff includes multimedia lab director Allen Major, who spends much of his time supporting instructors in the classroom. Instructors often ask Major to their classrooms to give tutorials on using equipment or software, and he and his student staff in the multimedia lab often work one-on-one with students who use the lab to complete class projects.
The collaboration of instructors, tech support and professionals visiting students either in person or virtually combine to give students tools to shape their careers. Layton said student journalists must understand the technology used in the media today, or they won’t be ready for the job market.
“My advice is to not be at arms length from technology,” Layton said. “Get familiar with video, microphones, cameras, and take advantage of the classes and professors making this technology available.”