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“Beyond J-School 2011” is sponsored by the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism, which offers an intensive, cutting edge, three semester Master of Arts in Journalism; a unique one semester Advanced Certificate in Entrepreneurial Journalism; and the CUNY J-Camp series of Continuing Professional Development workshops focused on emerging trends and skill sets in the industry.

Teaching digital journalism sometimes feels like living on the slope of a volcano — you never know when some seismic rumble in the news industry will give your curriculum a tumble, or when a new technology will erupt and leave your tools up to their kit in hot lava.

At least that’s how it sometimes seems, taking the podium at the bleeding edge of the journalism business. Students and schools expect — rightfully or not — that you’ll be an expert in every new digital technique, even if it arrived milliseconds before. Digital faculty don’t have the option to brush off the same old class notes year after year, adding a couple of new cases, and coasting with a new crop of students. We have to reinvent our syllabi every term — sometimes it feels like every week — in order to help our students gain mastery of new tools, and, importantly, to put those tools in the larger context of journalistic practice.

Luckily, social media offers new opportunities to tap into those crowdsourced smarts. The Online News Association for instance, a year ago launched a Facebook group for its academic membership. Now 250-members strong, that collective conversation has blossomed in recent months into dozens of great exchanges over new tools, techniques, practices and principles.

I recently collected some 50 of those threads into a wiki-style document on the group’s page, and this group Q&A tracker reveals a great range of discussions. They’re generally focused around very practical questions, from the technical (the best tools to transcribe audio) to the practical (teaching image use and copyright) and the philosophical (what skills j-school students should know now that they didn’t need in 1990).

This column, the first in a planned monthly series, plans to plumb those conversations for pedagogical best practices, creative ways to work industry advances into the classroom, new technologies to advance the turf, case studies we can learn from, and more such insights.

Five Things My Colleagues Taught Me About Teaching

To start things rolling, I thought I’d share this sampler.

Here are the top five things I’ve learned from the ONA Educators Facebook group:

  1. You can use a rubber band, a string or a lamp to make an emergency tripod: One group member needed a web video cheat sheet of top do’s and don’ts for her newbies. The conversation was so useful, the thread originator used it as the inspiration for a Storify post, which pointed to a video tutorial that showed how, in the absence of a real tripod, you could stabilize a camera with rubber bands or string and a bolt, or even screw it onto the top of a lamp. Another smart takeaway about good video? It’s all about the audio! Share your own do’s and don’ts. This video came in handy for a do’s and don’ts list for newbies.
  2. Soundslides may be old-hat, but they can actually work on an iPad: Although in this thread on iPads and Soundslides, some profs feel the classic audio slideshow builder has outlived its usefulness, others laud its simplicity, its usefulness in getting students from audio to more complex video techniques, and that updated versions allow you to see your slideshows on the iPad. One user also pointed out a beta version that publishes HTML5 for the iPad. The thread also involved a fascinating side conversation about the pros and cons of teaching students HTML, CSS and Dreamweaver. Do you still use Soundslides?
  3. Welcome to my classroom — please tell me a lie: When a former-journalist-turned-academic was bracing for his first-ever class, he asked his fellow teachers for a bit of advice. One suggested an ice-breaker: Everyone shares three things about themselves, except one is a lie. Then everyone else tries to figure out which is which — a good exercise in sussing out your source! Lots of other helpful advice surfaced in the thread: Walk in smiling, be tough from the start, be entertaining and unpredictable, criticize the performance, not the person, and print the syllabus and write the day’s schedule on the whiteboard. Other teaching tips?
  4. You need to know you know less than you thought you knew: When ONA board member and education chair Jody Brannon asked for a list of cool new tools to share with post-graduate fellows in the News21 program, the many suggestions became the core of a document on the Facebook group called Interactivity, Cool Tools & More: Best of Breed & Sampler, which shared links and info for some 65 tools and sites. Commented one member about the list: “This is great — now I know I know less than I thought I did!” Got tools you want to add?
  5. Sometimes more is less: One member shared a StoryCorps project from the NPR.org site that had been produced both as an audio piece and as an animation. A classroom experiment yielded some perhaps surprising results — the students preferred the raw, stripped-down audio material to the highly produced cartoon. That suggests it would be an interesting exercise to have students compare other projects produced in multiple forms — News21 did this with an explore and compare feature with two dozen packages. Which approach do you like better?

Go ahead and join the conversation at the ONA Educators Facebook group, posting your own questions and sharing your insights. And let us know about topics you might want to read about here in this column. Whether it’s a rubber band or an HTML5 tool, if it makes your work in the classroom easier and more effective, we want to know about it and get the word out.

[NOTE: The ONA Facebook group is a closed group (at least for now), and so to join the conversation you need to become a member of the ONA. Last summer, I was asked by ONA to help find ways to glean information from the Facebook group into a set of FAQs or “best practices.” The wiki Q&A tracker and this column are a part of that effort.]

A. Adam Glenn is associate professor, interactive, at the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism, and a long-time digital journalist and media consultant. Connect with him on Facebook or LinkedIn, and follow his Twitter feed.

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“Beyond J-School 2011” is sponsored by the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism, which offers an intensive, cutting edge, three semester Master of Arts in Journalism; a unique one semester Advanced Certificate in Entrepreneurial Journalism; and the CUNY J-Camp series of Continuing Professional Development workshops focused on emerging trends and skill sets in the industry.