Convergence plan for those looking to rewrite curriculum or just rethink their classes

empty classroom photo

Subject: Revise curriculum

Question: “If you had a chance to revise your whole journalism curriculum what would you do?  We are in the thinking stage of doing this at our school to include convergence.  Currently we have one teacher teaching one hour each semester of newspaper and Intro (mainly about newspaper) and another teacher with one hour each semester of yearbook and photojournalism (mainly about yearbook photography).  We would kind of like to throw everything out and start new.  We would still have two teachers available for 4 hours. Open for suggestions.”

The first step involves convincing your administration and department chairs that the proper way to teach 21st century journalism means moving away from the traditional one-teacher-one-classroom-one-hour model of instruction.

A modern multimedia newsroom shouldn’t be compartmentalized in such a way, and neither should journalism education, whether it’s at a high school or a university. In fact, universities – both in their student media operations and in the classrooms and labs – have done what they can to incorporate team teaching and multimedia instruction into their curricula.

It doesn’t mean you can’t meet your administrators half-way, though; thus, this modest proposal (no cannibalization required).

Assume the following courses that in which students can be enrolled:

Multimedia Journalistic Writing (it used to be Introduction to Journalism)

o One teacher

o One hour of the day

o One semester

o Teaches writing across the media – print, Web, broadcast

Multimedia Electronic Production (it used to be Photojournalism)

o One teacher (a little more technically oriented)

o One hour

o One semester (usually after the writing course, but could be taken concurrently)

o Teaches photojournalism (still and video), basic Web production in an easy-to-use Content Management System (such as WordPress), audio and video editing

Intermediate Multimedia Journalism/Advanced Multimedia Journalism (these are your “publications” staffs; two courses – Intermediate and Advanced – allow students to enroll two consecutive years)

o Two teachers

o Two hours (consecutive or not)

o Year-long course (Students may enter by passing the previous two courses or through a rigorous application process in which they prove they have skills valuable to the publications/programs produced in this course – Web, newspaper/magazine, yearbook, broadcast news programs)

o Teaches more advanced journalism production skills, including publications design, sales, reporting and ethics

o Requires dozens of individual plans based on student interests and skills.

Multimedia leadership

o Same two teachers as above

o Same two hours as above, based on individual student’s schedules, if you’re lucky

If you’re not lucky, you’ll have to create another hour for these students to meet

o Year-long class for seniors who have taken the key leadership roles for your publications

o Teaches advanced editing and leadership skills

So, assuming you have a traditional schedule, you’ll need two teachers to handle journalism courses: one teacher (we’ll call her Ms. Tarbell) to teach the writing and traditional journalistic skills, and another to teach the more technical aspects of multimedia production (Mr. Jobs).

The schedule might look something like this:

First period: Multimedia Journalistic Writing (Tarbell) 20 students (I know, it’s Dreamland HS)

Second period: Multimedia Electronic Production (Jobs) 20 students

Third period: PLANNING for Tarbell and Jobs

Fourth period: Intermediate/ Advanced Multimedia  Journalism (Tarbell and Jobs) 40 students

o Multimedia Leadership (Tarbell and Jobs) 20 students

Fifth period: Intermediate/ Advanced Multimedia  Journalism (Tarbell and Jobs) 40 students

o Multimedia Leadership (Tarbell and Jobs) 20 students

Sixth period: PLANNING for Tarbell and Jobs

Seventh period: COCKTAILS for both Tarbell and Jobs

Both Tarbell and Jobs will be teaching journalism during only three periods but doing a 3-for-2 during the two-hour period in the middle of the day, so they’ll have the four-course availability/responsibility you mentioned earlier. (Don’t ask me how this works in a block schedule; hopefully you understand the intent.)

In short, yearbook/newspaper/online/broadcast combine into a two-hour, two-teacher multimedia newsroom with teams of students working on projects for all media: specifically Web and print.

The “newspaper” would be a Web-first publication with either specialized publications (targeting specific audiences at different times of the year) or just a best-of once-per-semester publication for feature meastro stories. Your Web site would include that which makes for great Web journalism, including photo slideshows, audio slideshows, video of all types, breaking news, multimedia packages, notes, briefs, blogs, two-way conversations with your readers, etc.

The “yearbook” would be what it is and always has been, but that staff could contribute photography and other work to the Web and any publications you might have.

The workflow could be daunting based on rolling deadlines (you want your Web site updated regularly, not just monthly) and some students could be working on multiple projects at any particular moment (I’m filing a next-day Web story on tonight’s football game, and I’m working on a yearbook spread for homecoming and adding a sidebar story to somebody else’s teen angst story that’s due in a week? Wow), but that’s what we’ve always done anyway. And if you have experienced students in the class who know how to produce, then the classroom becomes a workspace every day, and they’re there to learn while doing their jobs.

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Author’s Note: Jeff Browne is the Lecturer/Director of KSPA and KJI William Allen White School of Journalism at the University of Kansas.

Aaron Manfull

Aaron is in his 20th year of advising student media. He is currently the Director of Student Media at Francis Howell North High School in St. Charles, Missouri. He is the Journalism Education Association Digital Media Chair and co-Director of Media Now. He created The Next 26 and is a former Dow Jones News Fund National Journalism Teacher of the Year. He is one of the authors of the textbook "Student Journalism and Media Literacy." You can find him on Twitter and Instragram @manfull and on Snapchat as aaronmanfull. He's a proud father. A transplanted Iowan. And an avid Hawkeye Fan.

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