Tips from the AEJMC Teaching Committee

Using Research to improve Teaching Skills

s200_catherine.cassaraBy Catherine Cassara
AEJMC Standing Committee on Teaching
Associate Professor
School of Media & Communication
Bowling Green State University


(Article courtesy of AEJMC News, November 2014 issue)

Some of the most telling lessons I have learned about teaching have come from the findings of other scholars’ research listening to students.

I am thinking about these studies particularly now because I was reminded how reluctant we are to listen to our students as members of my university faculty learning community were brainstorming topics for the year.

Our community’s focus is learning technologies and I suggested we might get student input. By the time all the topics were listed on the board, mine was not because “we have grad students in the learning community,” the facilitator said. We do have graduate students and they are very nice people who are already in the classroom our side of the student/teacher divide when it comes to discovering how students view what succeeds or fails in the classroom.

Since teaching “assessment measures”—however they are envisioned—can only be operationalized according to our teacherly understandings of how class dynamics work, they cannot measure things if we do not we address things we do not comprehend. We cannot listen to students or find out what’s there unless we are asking if other researchers have already taken it on.

Two particular threads of research have rocked my world. The first showed up as a reading assignment in a faculty learning community I participated in several years ago. Another study showed up when a graduate student brought in an article about grading writing as part of a weekly assignment in a media & communication pedagogy course I teach. I will tackle them in this order.

The Project Information Literacy surveys of undergrads on 200 campuses are always insightful, but the one that had the most impact on me was the 2009 report, where students told researchers they found library research “daunting.” They reported that because they did not understand the assignment and did not know where to start, they put off their work until the night before the paper was due. (In addition to surveying the students, the researchers review the assignments they received, but that’s another story.)

“Many students reported that they often had little or no idea how to choose, define, and limit the scope of a topic found in the library,” the PLI researchers recounted. As a result, students reported that Wikipedia served as a unique and indispensable source because it helped them obtain both the big picture on their topics and the vocabulary they needed just to begin a keyword search.

At first I relaxed, thinking that my students were better off because I always make sure they have a training session with a librarian. But, unfortunately, the students told the PLI researchers that going to the library for research training was helpful, but by the time they needed to use the information they could not remember what they had learned.

In one of the later studies, when researchers met with students in focus groups, the students revealed another reason they delayed completing the assignment until the last minute— something that would never have occurred to me. They delay deliberately in order to increase their own interest in and motivation to complete the work. A looming deadline makes an assignment much more interesting.

The research article the doctoral student shared was Still and Koerber’s 2010 article from the Journal of Business and Technical Communication that studied student reactions to an instructor’s comments on written work. In a state-of-the-art lab, the researchers watched, listened to and recorded their student research subjects as they attempted to follow the corrections on a graded assignment in return for a possible better grade.

The students are frustrated by the comments telling them a section is awkward, or marks and lines on the paper that signify something that is not clear; given their frustration, they move on to work on the easier corrections of spelling, grammar and mechanics where it is easy for them to identify what the problem is and fix it. The students were willing to correct what they understood to be the most serious problems with their work; they just did not understand what the instructor wanted.

I encountered that article several years ago. A friend had already told me that students don’t read comments so she taped comments, but given that I grade writing, that did not seem possible.

When I grade on paper — AP quizzes, etc. — I try to be neat. For stories and papers, however, I do not grade on paper. I have started grading in Word — using comments, etc. — and I have started using simple rubrics that allow me to write individualized comments. I expect that there is still frustration on the other end, but I hope the typing is an improvement on the scrawl my handwriting turns into when I am tired.

Of course, I had to be careful the first few times I used Word’s track changes function, because if I made the changes students had the option of just accepting everything except what I put in comment boxes. But since I always download all the stories or papers just to have them before I start, I knew where they started and what if anything they had done themselves to rewrite which is the point of the rewrite option.

Teaching Corner

Brian Williams NNED Video

2014 Mini Workshop

Knight News Challenge Bridge Grants

Bringing the Knight News Challenge into Your Classroom (AEJMC Montréal Conference)

Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation

Moderating/Presiding: Jennifer H. McGill, executive director, AEJMC

This mini-workshop, held Thursday, August 7, 2014, provided tools and tips for using Knight News Challenge products in your classroom. Click on links below.

Reporting from the Storm: Mobile Weather Reporting

Julie Jones | University of Oklahoma


Inside the @iPadJournos Newsroom: Mobile and Social Media Reporting in a Capstone Course

Jeanine Guidry and Marcus Messner | Virginia Commonwealth University


The Crooked River and Public Lab: Exploring Open Source Investigative Tools

Susan Zake | Kent State University


Using Mapping Apps to Tell Interactive Stories about Health Issues

Scott Parrott | University of Alabama


AzteCast: Developing a University-wide Website

Extras: 15 Tips for J-Educators: Building a Mobile App, Lessons Learned from AzteCast [PDF]

Amy Schmitz Weiss | San Diego State


Bridge Grants

2014-15 Project Winners

Knight News Challenge Bridge Grants

Feed Alabama

Using Knight-supported Ushahidi, a mapping tool.

Chip Brantley and Scott Parrott | University of Alabama

Incorporating Public Lab into JMC Classroom Environmental Reporting: Applying Open-Source Tools to the Crooked River Project

Using tools from the Knight-funded Public Laboratory for Open Technology and Science.

Susan Kirkman Zake | Kent State University


Bridge Grants

2012-13 Project Winners

Knight News Challenge Bridge Grants

Using Spot.Us to Develop the Next Generation of Public Records Journalists

Craig Freeman | Louisiana State University (Spot.Us)


OpenBlock Campus technology with SeedSpeak

Kristin Gilger | Arizona State University (OpenBlock)


Telling the Story of Our Community:

Jonathan Groves | Drury University (LocalWiki)


Distributive Journalism – a project using DocumentCloud

Sarah Maben | Tarleton State University (DocumentCloud)


@iPadJournos: Preparing the Next Generation of Mobile Multimedia Reporters via Stroome

Marcus Messner | Virginia Commonwealth University (Stroome)


NewsCloud software/platform developed to develop and sustain an interactive Website for campus and surrounding community

Anthony Moretti | Robert Morris University (NewsCloud)


Houston Eats: An Online Platform Mapping the Rich Culture and History of Food in the Nation’s Most Diverse City

Temple Northup | University of Houston (DocumentCloud)



Cindy Royal | Texas State University (Ushahidi)


Capstone Students Using Ushahidi and Mobile Media Toolkit to Train New Generation of Black Press

Ingrid Sturgis | Howard University (Ushahidi)


Bridge Grants

2011-12 Project Winners

Knight News Challenge Bridge Grants

Adopting Ushahidi for Crowdsourcing and Data Visualization: New paths for Event-mapping in Chile

This project will train journalism students into crowdsourcing and data visualization techniques and increase user engagement by adapting the Ushahidi platform into Km Cero, Chile’s most important non-profit, college-produced news web site. Run entirely by students and faculty members at Pontificia Universidad Catolica de Chile’s School of Journalism, Km Cero strives to produce high-quality online journalism geared towards young people by employing innovative news formats and content. The Ushahidi platform, thus, would allow our news outlet to reach those goals by enabling citizens and journalists to report and map important news events that take place in Chile, including street protests, natural catastrophes and crime. We seek funding to train students in the use of Ushahidi, customize the platform into Km Cero, and develop new journalistic projects based on the this Knight News Challenge project.

Ingrid Bachmann and Sebastian Valenzuela | Universidad Catolica de Chile High School News Feed

The proposed project will establish a high school news and advertising feed on, the University Daily Kansan (UDK) website. The news feed will use Printcasting and FeedBrewer, which were developed with Knight New Challenge funding. The feed will: Provide readers with niche local, youth-oriented coverage from around the state; Broaden high school journalists’ audience and exposure; Stimulate mentoring relationships between UDK student and professional staff, and high school journalism programs; Generate ad revenue for participating high school journalism programs; and Provide with valuable audience data.

Peter Bobkowski, Assistant Professor | University of Kansas

CityCircles Light Rail Job Classifieds

This intention of the student collaborative project is to create a hyperlocal model that will support the future sustainability of the CityCircles mobile app. Arizona State University students have often expressed to educators that they must find a job along the light rail due to transportation constraints. Phoenix is geographically spread out, which creates challenges for people dependent upon public transportation. Thus, an app that focuses on job classifieds along the light rail will serve as information service and a potential future revenue stream for CityCircles.

Serena Carpenter and Nancie Dodge, | Arizona State University

Reporting from the Storm

We will use Ushadidi’s software platform as the end distribution tool for students covering the Oklahoma 2012 tornado season. This is a classroom — centered initiative that has the potential to spread into Oklahoma’s communities, weather institutions, and mass media outlets. Three journalism courses will be involved: Advanced multimedia journalism, community journalism, and a special topics course on mobile reporting. However, the purpose of the grant will target the development, implementation, and pedagogical support needed to bring Ushadidi into the advanced multimedia class. Community journalism students will develop the sources among Oklahoma communities and the storm chaser network already established in the state. This will provide the foundation of crowdsourcing that will make this effort meaningful to Oklahoma citizens. The advanced multimedia class will bring this information into our news website Oklahoma Routes. The mobile reporting class will provide news reports throughout the semester that will be presented within the website using the Ushadidi software.

Julie Jones, Associate Professor and John Schmeltzer, Engleman/Livermore Professor in Community Journalism | University of Oklahoma

OpenBlock Campus

OpenBlock Campus will bring hyperlocal news resources to Kent State University college campus. The OpenBlock software will be adapted to the main campus of Kent State University. Because Kent State is a public university, we will obtain much data in addition to the local information seen on OpenBlock. We plan to develop scrapers unique to the campus, ones that can find news articles and blogs mentioning Kent State, as well as data linked to campus classrooms and offices, such as professor schedules, curriculum vitae and course evaluations.

Jacqueline Marino, Assistant Professor | Kent State University

In-depth Reporting of Methamphetamine Production and Abuse in Oklahoma

The School of Media and Strategic Communications at Oklahoma State University would like to allow students a new, in-depth reporting platform that should greatly enhance their learning experience. We would like to use DocumentCloud to help students produce a series of stories on Oklahoma’s longtime, growing problem with methamphetamine production and abuse. We plan to work in conjunction with Oklahoma Watch, a nonprofit organization that does in-depth reporting. It has board members from across the state, and Jaclyn Cosgrove, one of its leading reporters, is a recent OSU graduate. OSU’s faculty also has strong ties to the Tulsa World and The Oklahoman, the state’s largest newspapers that also are involved with Oklahoma Watch.

Ray Murray, Associate Professor | Oklahoma State University

Telling Stories with Data: Life at a Hispanic Serving Institution

This project will develop a platform to support an ongoing course that focuses on data storytelling and visualizations based on the Knight-funded VIDI project. The initial project during its first semester would focus on the changing nature of the enrollment of Texas State University and it’s status as a Hispanic Serving Institution.

Cindy Royal, Associate Professor, and Jacie Yang, Assistant Professor | Texas State University

LarryvilleKU: Web and Mobile Application of OpenBlock to The Kansan

LarryvilleKU iTunes App | LarryvilleKU Google play Android App

This project utilizes OpenBlock, a hyper-local news and data platform developed through the Knight News Challenge. The purpose of this project is three-fold. First, the investigators propose to develop innovative ways of applying OpenBlock to The University Daily Kansan (the Kansan), a self-supporting, independent, student-run media operation at the University of Kansas. Second, the investigators aim to help other campus media that might be interested in incorporating OpenBlock to their sites by sharing via GitHub final computer code developed under this grant. Lastly, the investigators will develop a theoretical model identifying factors predictive of people’s participation in OpenBlock as well as an evaluation matrix to assess the application of OpenBlock to campus media. Thus the practical application of OpenBlock to the Kansan will generate scholarly papers on OpenBlock for campus media operations. This research team is well positioned to cover both practical and research aspects of the topic, as it includes a journalism professor whose research focuses on social and digital media and the General Manager and News Adviser, Sales and Marketing Adviser, and Web Editor of the Kansan.

Hyunjin Seo, Assistant Professor | The University of Kansas

Photojournalism and Social Engagement Tablet App

The College of Journalism and Mass Communications at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln (CoJMC) has just started a planning process to create a mobile tablet app to display its work, particularly its photojournalism. The college has an endowment to send students around the world to photograph the stories of people in need. The app will make these stories be more than photo stories; it will be information that prompts viewer action and engagement, using the capabilities of tablet applications. The app will be used to teach viewers about the problems of people in need around the world, and then help them engage with one another and with legislators who could help the people depicted. The app will enable the user to find Congressmen whose voting records show they want to help the people who are the subject of the photo stories. The online photo and story layouts will then be turned into an ebook and a premium print book.

Adam Wagler | University of Nebraska-Lincoln

@SDSU – Where’s the news?
Mobile Application for Mapping Civic and Public Service Issues on Campus and Beyond

AzteCast iTunes App | AzteCast Website

Tips for Educators from AzteCast — Here are some tips for making it work on your campus >>

The @SDSU ( mobile news application is an innovative way of bringing civic and public service issues to a university campus and its surrounding neighborhoods. The application focuses on the importance of mapping the information of what is happening on campus to a specific geographic location. Specifically the information is focused on items that are important to a campus community (e.g. traffic, weather, crime, power outages, crises, violence, health pandemic, public safety, food safety, campus elections, campus events, etc.). The @SDSU mobile news application will be built off of the Knight News Challenge Ushahidi platform. The power of the Ushahidi platform is its ability to allow people to mobilize during a crisis using a mobile channel to provide information and map it to a specific area. The @SDSU mobile news application will use the Ushahidi platform to provide important information to students, faculty, staff and citizens living in nearby neighborhoods adjacent to the campus. Journalism students will use this tool for newsgathering and reporting of campus events but more importantly, use this as a tool to verify the information that is coming through the mobile application. A university safety committee (already in place) and journalism students will verify the information that is submitted into the system.

Amy Schmitz Weiss, Assistant Professor | San Diego State University


Bridge Grants

Tips from the AEJMC Teaching Committee

Enroll in Online Courses to Improve Teaching Skills

Leslie Jean ThorntonBy Leslie-Jean Thornton
AEJMC Standing Committee on Teaching
Associate Professor
Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication
Arizona State University


(Article courtesy of AEJMC News, September 2014 issue)

Class had begun when I’d clicked the “play” arrow a while earlier. The professor, an esteemed and personable scholar at a top-tier university, was making a complex and considered argument about an intriguing subject. Her words, though, were slipping by. I stopped the video several times, went back a few sentences, replayed, then replayed again.

I took notes to focus my attention, but… No. Not happening. I had to figure something out before her points stood a chance of sticking, and it wasn’t an abstruse point that needed clarification. It was something painfully mundane, in fact. Was her blouse buttoned incorrectly? Was the collar poorly constructed or was it supposed to look that way? Maybe the crookedness was an optical illusion? Fortunately, I could pause and ponder: chalk one up for recorded pedagogy. But first I did the equivalent of passing a note in class: I took a screenshot of the professor and her odd blouse and sent it to a friend.

Although I’m a professor and happily so, last semester I completed four MOOCs – Massive Open Online Courses – as a student and I’m enrolled in three more. It’s safe to say I’m impressed and, perhaps, addicted. Much of what I’m learning, however, has less to do with mastering subjects than gaining insight into how I react as a student. By extension, I’m learning things to do and not do as a teacher. For starters, in my professor role, I’ve vowed never to wear puzzling clothes to class.

The anonymity of the MOOC plays to my dual-agenda advantage, freeing me to relate to the course simply as me, not as someone responsible for keeping up a public persona. In me-to-monitor sessions, unobserved, I am allowed degrees of focus that would be freaky in person. As a result, I can become intensely aware of my professors and the settings in which they are teaching. I’m free to acknowledge frustrations and distractions – to say “Argh!” out loud when needed. In the public forum “discussions” with fellow enrollees, a feature of many MOOCs, I can lurk as well as participate to get an idea of how the course is being received. Is my cohort on track or splintered into la-la land? I saw both, and I saw reasons for both.

I’ve gained a greater respect for students’ need for recognition. Over the years, as grading and feedback fatigue takes its toll, individual notice can recede – it takes concerted time and effort. As a MOOC student, I found myself yearning for attention, and that need awakened the professor side of me. If I had the choice now between making more assignments, thereby lessening the chance of feedback, or going for fewer and paying more attention, I’d go for the latter. I’m going to increase the number of “extra credit” assignments, too.

Here are some of the other top lessons I’ve learned from being in MOOCs:

Be highly aware of distractions. What’s written on the board or projected on the screen behind you? Are there hallway dramas visible from the class? Is the sun pouring in and hampering students’ ability to read your face as you speak? Is someone smacking gum? Don’t be so intent on your presentation that you allow such things to highjack or hamper your students’ progress.

Attention cycles matter. Timing matters. Emphasis matters. I was lucky to take a “bootcamp” in pedagogy when I began teaching at Arizona State. Ten years later, I remember what an instructor told us: after 45 minutes of listening nonstop to a lecture, learning goes in reverse. Alas, after one of my MOOCs, I truly believe. Take breaks. Diversify delivery. Emphasize points with something other than your voice – write on a board, hold something up, change where you stand. Take breaks, and encourage students to do the same. At home, plugged into my computer, I was nevertheless free to walk around while listening and set my own breaks. This helped me absorb the material. See what you can do to give your students absorption time, too.

Make-work assignments are deadly. Sure, they can reinforce a lesson point, but they build in resentment and demonstrate a lack of respect for the students’ time and effort. If a solid review of the material is necessary to bring a point or a skill home, or if simple practice is needed, at least say that. Better yet, try to incorporate that work into a meaningful assignment.

Once a bond breaks, it’s not easy to get it back. Attend to momentum. The best classes made me eager for the next ones by showing me I’d learned something and would soon be building on that knowledge. Connecting the classes is as important as connecting students to the classes. I don’t know how yet, but I’m going to be super attentive to what I teach just before and just after Thanksgiving break this year. No need to lose them in the home stretch.

It pays to switch perspectives. I recommend enrolling in a MOOC or two; you don’t have to finish… and you might discover a newfound appreciation for useful handouts, accessible material and inspirational professors. Oh, yes – and you might find inspiration itself.

Teaching Corner

NNED Breaking News

Journalism Educators use Tragedy in Ferguson, Mo. as Teachable Moment to Commend the Press, Condemn Arrests of Journalists and Remind the Public of the First Amendment’s Power

CONTACT: PAULA POINDEXTER, Texas-Austin, 2013-14 President of AEJMC • August 27, 2014
As the shooting death of an unarmed black teenager by a white police officer moved from a crime scene in the middle of a Ferguson, Mo., street to a secret grand jury comprised of nine whites and three blacks who will determine if the police officer will stand trial, the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication (AEJMC) commends the press for performing its watchdog role, condemns the Ferguson, Mo., police for abusing the press’ First Amendment freedoms and reminds everyone, regardless of color, education, age, gender, status or political affiliation, that the First Amendment safeguards the press’ right to report and citizens’ right to access news they should know.

The fatal shooting of 18-year-old Michael Brown by Officer Darren Wilson was one of the biggest stories of summer 2014, certainly in terms of sustained 24/7 news coverage and social media postings. Those who followed the news witnessed events as they unfolded, from images of Brown’s body lying for hours in the street to peaceful protests that erupted into violence and vandalism, to local police wearing gas masks and pointing assault weapons as they sat atop armored vehicles that one might expect to see in news reports about war-torn areas—not middle-America suburbia. And, among the many disturbing words and images from Ferguson were reports of police arresting, confining and threatening journalists for doing their jobs. After the first arrests of journalists from the Washington Post and Huffington Post, CNN’s media critic and host of “Reliable Sources” reported that Ferguson police had arrested 11 journalists.

When police officers in Ferguson arrested journalists, they were not just interfering with journalists’ First Amendment rights, they were also interfering with what the authors of The Elements of Journalism described as information citizens need to be “free and self-governing.”

Only because of journalists could the tragic events in a poor and mostly African American St. Louis suburb, population 21,000, command the attention of the nation, the president, and the attorney general. That’s the power of the First Amendment and why it should never be obstructed by law enforcement or other government officials. The First Amendment both protects journalists’ freedom to report and makes it possible for citizens to have access to news from multiple sources. Even when the news is about tragic events like the shooting death of 18-year-old Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., the news is ultimately empowering because it is information citizens living in a democracy need to be “free and self-governing.”

For more information regarding this AEJMC Presidential Statement, please contact Paula Poindexter, President of AEJMC, at

AEJMC (The Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication) is a nonprofit, educational association of journalism and mass communication educators, students and media professionals. The Association’s mission is to advance education, foster scholarly research, cultivate better professional practice and promote the free flow of communication. To find out more about AEJMC, visit


AEJMC 14 Keynote Address

Montreal Keynote