Assignment Remix: Intern-preneurs and Building Bold Thinking
Remix is a new segment of education content on MediaShift, featuring interesting and innovative journalism assignments, courses and curricula. Writers will detail their ideas and work and, where possible, provide links and materials, so other educators can adapt them in their own programs. If you’re interested in sharing your approaches to be remixed at other schools, contact education curator Katy Culver.
Every now and again, I get a serious case of educator envy. I’ll look at some cool initiative at another journalism school and a small glisten of drool will materialize on my teacher chin. “Ooooh, I wish I could do that here” … “Man, if only I had the time or resources” … “Wow, that would be so much fun.”
Two years ago, a prof named Dan Gillmor was the source of my jealousy. I’ve been a Dan Fan for quite some time – from his book on grassroots journalism to his recent praise for “factivism.” But when I saw what he was doing as the Kauffman Professor of Digital Media Entrepreneurship in the Cronkite School at Arizona State University, out popped that green-eyed monster. Through the Knight Center For Digital Media Entrepreneurship, he was firing students up to dream big, pitch new media ideas and work toward funding and developing them.
I became the Girl Who Wanted to be Dan.
But as always happens with my educator envy, when the drool dries, I get a little sneaky. I would have neither a named professorship, nor a center to back my work. But I could fashion entrepreneurial exercises in my courses and inspire the qualities central to a startup mindset.
I have a good friend who earned success from his own entrepreneurial mentality and now splits his time between golf courses, new startups and angel investing. He helped me distill qualities my students need to be the inventors of the next must-have media platform, app or service:
- collaborative spirit
- no fear of failure
- incredible work ethic
I emphasize these in every course I teach, including advanced concepts classes, such as law and ethics. I also try to build in opportunities for students to dream up an idea and learn to develop and pitch it. Here’s one example you may be able to adapt for your own purposes.
Students in our journalism school have the option to take internship credit. They work at the internship and partner with a faculty member to do academic work related to the internship. When I began teaching, my interns would generally write papers on their experiences. I didn’t mind reading them, and they never really complained. But I couldn’t help thinking I needed a better way.
I now assign interns to use their experience to identify a problem or gap related to their internship in some way and propose a new service, business, website, mobile app, device, platform, etc., that helps solve the problem. The internship connection can be fairly loose. For instance, a student interning at a PR firm with a hotel chain client could propose an app that lets people map trips across the U.S. and rate hotels along the way.
I’m on my third outing with this approach, which I’ve now expanded into my magazine course, as well. My main measure of success is the palpable engagement from the students. They seem nervous at first, unsure about taking the risk I’m asking them to take. But once we get through our first group feedback session, they seem excited to roll. (We do these sessions via Google Hangout because students are far-flung at internships, especially in summer.)
Former student Molly Reppen took what she learned in an internship focused on e-learning and envisioned “MyGroupStudy” — an online space for students to share notes, discuss projects and crowdsource their learning.
“The entrepreneurial pitch for internship credit allowed us to take what we learned from our internships and create something unique,” Reppen said.
All my intern groups heartily endorsed leaving behind the term-paper approach. “Students write papers for every class, and it gets repetitive,” Reppen said. “Rather than allowing a semi-OK, bland paper on what they learned at their internship, why not allow them more exposure to be hands-on with their work?”
Drawing on personal passions
One of the students who forged an idea through this assignment is developing it for an actual pitch to angel investors. His idea — a trade secret I can’t share — fills a gap he identified through personal experience. I’m excited to see where he takes the idea, but his case is the perfect example of where I tell students to always start: a passion point in your life.
Entrepreneurs identify with the work. They invent and innovate because it connects with who they are. Students should be encouraged to do the same. If you’d like to build this kind of pitch exercise into your own internship advising or other courses, please feel free to adapt and remix my materials in any way you like.
Kathleen Bartzen Culver is an assistant professor in the School of Journalism & Mass Communication at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, teaching and researching at the intersection of ethics and digital media practices. Culver also serves as associate director of the Center for Journalism Ethics and Education Curator for PBS MediaShift.