Category Archives: Engagement

Transmedia Aproach: Entertainment Storytelling Techiniques

In my multimedia storytelling class this semester, I decided to apply the transmedia philosophy to journalism. I shared what I learned at the Journalism Interactive conference. Henry Jenkins, collaborative genius and educator, developed the term as a way to describe how stories tentacle across platforms. The transmedia approach is practiced primarily in the entertainment industry. Franchises such as Harry Potter, True Blood, and How I Met Your Mother reflect best practices. I seek inspiration from creators outside the field of journalism (entertainment, public relations, ed tech to guide me in the development of my classes. Journalism teachers can apply this approach if they want to challenge students’ media routines and understanding of what is considered news.

As a result of this experiment, I became more in touch with what I should be doing as a teacher. It is challenging to get them to think differently. Here are important points and potential assignments that can be applied in your classroom:

  1. Multiple creator world: Many people post and remix their own content (not just journalists). Jigar Mehta and Yasmin Elayat created a collaborative documentary about “18 days in Egypt” during the uprisings in Egypt. They asked people experiencing the event to submit their media and provide information about it. One emerging role of journalists is to help people make sense of large streams of information.
    • Ask students to create a story using other people’s content. They could create a local story using content from Facebook community sites, TweetsNearby, G+ communities, Banjo, Storify, etc. This exercise could also teach them to how to verify information.  And how to ethically attribute such information: 1) be clear about the image(s) or posts you wish to use, 2) explain how the image(s) or posts will be use, and clarify how the person wishes to be credited (name, username, etc., keeping in mind that in some cases they may wish to remain anonymous)
    • Ask them to collaborate with a student from another university to create a story focused on the same topic. Rural America is a cooperative series created by photojournalists all over the United States.
    • I would also like to see a website that aggregates syllabi, lectures, useful MOOCs, and tutorials. The Open Syllabus Project is an example of this movement. ForJournalism and many MOOCs exist to teach storytelling, web scraping, data journalism and privacy principles. And Cindy Royal received a fellowship to create an open-source platform for teaching coding and data skills to journalists. However I have not found a site that houses these education materials.
  2. Relationship cultivation: Magda Konieczna studied the MinnPost finding that one emerging business model requires journalists to understand how to cultivate relationships with community leaders and members in order to fund important journalism projects. In the beginning of the semester, I required my students to create content for a small local non-profit organization. The logic behind the idea was to teach them about serving their community, being accountable, and learning about business models.
  3. Experience first: Steve Jobs said one reason for his success is that he thought about experience first. Content produced for each platform, online and offline, should reflect the communication behaviors and preferences of the people loyal to that platform (e.g., Reddit, YouTube, Instagram, Pinterest). Many of us who teach technology-focused courses repeatedly say students are not as digitally literate as people assume. But they are consumers. They will often identify the weaknesses of their content if you ask them to critique their content from the perspective of a visitor to a specific platform.
  4. Loyalty: Journalists often produce episodic content. It is difficult to build community when traditional news media websites feature episodic content, in which stories are framed as examples of discrete, disconnected events and topics. To encourage them to think differently, I asked them to create content a web series for a YouTube channel. They struggled with conceptualizing a web series. This means they are trying to develop a loyal following around their multimedia content. From an information perspective, students can serve the public by creating educational and artistic videos for a particular group of people.
  5. Visual engagement: Journalists want to have impact. To have that impact, they must understand visual communication principles. In a visually saturated society, we need to teach students how to cut through information flood by understanding basic visual communication principles. Basic tips include shooting faces, smiles, and close-ups. I find that students often post very detached photos. To connect, shoot eyes and learn the visual dissonance principle. For their non-profits, students were required to apply visual engagement principles when producing visual content for a platform reflecting one overall communication goal.

Social Media News & Info syllabus

I spent the past few weeks sifting through online literature to include in my syllabus for Social Media News & Information for our new master’s curriculum in the School of Journalism. I teach the class in Spring 2014. I found some great popular press readings from the Nieman Journalism Lab, Poynter, First Monday, The Atlantic, The New York Times, and Mediashift.

I also decided to test Google Sites to create the website for the syllabus. The tool was similar to using Gmail compose box. So very simple.

The Hero Project: A media engagement experiment

Many student journalists choose the field of journalism and public relations because they want their life to have an impact. And teaching about engagement can help them in their desire to create change.

Research examining engagement tends to fall in three areas: 1) civic engagement, 2) student engagement and 3) employee engagement. Research definitions of engagement tend to reflect the aim of helping people to develop identity, learn how to participate and flourish as a community.

  • “…having both a behavioral component, termed participation, and an emotional component, termed identification” (Finn & Voelkl, 1993; p. 249).
  • “Civic engagement is any activity where people come together in their role as citizens” (Diller, 2001, p. 22).

In the field in journalism, educators have been criticized about teaching students about newsroom socialization rather than teaching them to tailor information to encourage citizens to participate. The intent of a liberal arts education was designed to nurture students to be problem solvers, creative thinkers, and critical scholars (Higginbotham 1961; Wick & Phillips, 2008).

As educators, we should critically evaluate whether our teaching efforts are helping to empower students to create public action and awareness. When teaching engagement, students should be asking themselves whether their efforts reflect a world they want to make and whether their efforts accurately represent people. Engagement has the potential to create a sense of connectedness and self-efficacy among humans, which can lead to loyalty to an individual and organization.

The cultivation of intellectual and critical thinkers starts with encouraging them to connect to people outside their usual social circles. Several organizational leaders are encouraging news reporters to connect their social media identities to stories, post requests for story ideas on social media channels and meet with online community members in a F2F environment.

The line between public relations and journalism is blurring. Both fields recognize the importance of relationships for future sustainability, however many public relations professionals understand the significance of relationships better.

Journalists often view themselves as serving specific communities. Researchers have often referred to community as a physical location. However, a community can refer to a geographic area or refer to a group of people with similar interests. The process of sharing information allows journalists to be more aware of the diversity of communities that exist.

It is important to have a plan in mind when crafting exercises that teach students about media engagement. I had spent fall semester 2011 structuring assignments for my spring 2012 honors Online Media class. I hope that sharing my plan will help or inspire other people to experiment.

In my Online Media class at Arizona State University, I taught social media, visual communication and coding… and time constraints would not allow the full experiment to take place. Time constraints are a common problem for educators who are digitally literate. In this post, I will discuss how I envisioned the assignment, what actually happened, and what how I would like to expand upon this experiment in the future.

The class final project theme centered on examining the meaning of hero. I specifically wanted students dissect the construct of hero. The group discussed and focused on nine sub-themes: 1) the philosophical dissection of the construct, 2) why we needs heroes, 3) superheroes, 4) video games, 5) children’s definition of heroes, 6) how other cultures define heroes, 7) musicians, 8) celebrities and 9) villains.

Plan for Engagement Experiment

First Day
I asked the mostly sophomore-level students to post their thoughts and reactions about The Hero Project to a Tumblr blog. I envisioned students sharing their personal thoughts on this blog throughout the semester. Blog posts can encourage classroom community and topic reflection. And I planned to share this blog on the final project website.

Second Week
Each student was to be responsible for a social media channel and one person was responsible with commenting on sites related to our niche. They were required to set up a social media profile, market the project, create content, connect with others with similar interests and promote the project following publication via their assigned channel. The setup portion of the assignment was to be due during the second week of the semester. The social media sites chosen were Tumblr, Twitter, Facebook, G+, Pinterest, Quora, Flickr, Delicious, and blog comments.

Third Week
On the Tumblr blog, each student shared the best practices for engagement related to their social media channel.

Sixth Week
We discussed the creation of a promotional video related to the project. I showed examples of videos in class for inspiration: Jacob’s Story, Will it blend?, Free Hugs and Bad Project. Based on Jacob’s story, the students thought it would be engaging to bring a white board to the streets asking people who their hero was and why. Two students did shoot the slideshow, however it was created at the end of the semester.

Eighth Week
The class of nine students was required to create a multimedia piece summarizing the effect their personal hero had on them. They were asked to interview their personal hero and/or interview themselves talking about their hero. I graded them on creativity and focus, rather than production quality. You can view their videos on their class Tumblr site. The majority of the class members voted that this were their favorite assignment of the semester. Here is some of their feedback:

  • “Making this personal hero video was a very cathartic experience … I think it communicates the message I was going for and I would love to make it longer.”
  • “We don’t often get the chance to express ourselves personally in journalism class, and I enjoyed being able to tell my own story for a change. I can’t wait to share this video with my dad. He had no idea while working on this that I was calling him my hero.”
  • “No matter what grade I get, this will probably end up being my favorite assignment of the semester. It was deeply personal, and dug at the core of what makes who I am.”

I encourage educators to allow at least one assignment that challenges students to apply a different or more personal lens related to the class focus.

Fifteenth Week
The crew coded and created a website called The Hero Project. And they posted their final thoughts about the project on the Tumblr blog. Ideally, I wanted them to interact more in social media spheres, however I am quite proud of what they did accomplish.

The Future

Ideally, I would like to teach a class called “Engaging Communities.” In such a class, I would like teaching crowdsourcing/curation, engagement, search, alternative forms of storytelling, verification and much more.

My students did begin to understand that they need to learn how to connect their content to people in the online environment. I wanted students to post suggested hashtags, live Twitter feeds, live chats and Ustreams, social media share buttons near stories and create a resources page and sidebars to encourage people to engage the content offline and online.

I have accepted a position at Michigan State University’s School of Journalism for fall 2012. I am co-teaching and helping design a journalism capstone class in this department. Based on my experience with this experiment this past Spring semester, I am inspired to continue. Here are some of my plans for the fall semester course:

During the first week students, students will search social media channels and search engines for story idea inspiration around an assigned theme. Sites could include:

Students will pitch their ideas on a G+ class circle. They will then vote (+1) and comment critically on the ideas. They will be required to observe and create content for niche communities throughout the semester. Team members will also be required to create crowdsourced stories, experiment with storytelling and engage in niche communities throughout the semester.

When I taught at Bloomsburg University in PA, I noticed that students would grow creatively and intellectually when given the opportunity to express themselves. Several academic studies show that the desire to be creative is a top reason why many journalism students choose the major of journalism. This fall semester, I am assigning every student to visually summarize their interpretation of the team’s topic using multimedia. The multimedia piece could be a montage of feet or it could be them expressing their thoughts to the camera about the niche topic. The more creative projects will receive higher grades. They will embed the SEOed video on the team’s Tumblr blog. And I also plan to still have them create promotional videos.

My goal ultimately with these assignments is to send a message that I want them to approach journalism from different angles. Many educators spend a great amount of time telling them what is and what is not journalism. In my class, I want them to take risks that reflect their desire to inform, help and motivate people. Research in political communication and other fields has shown that mobilizing efforts do influence positive behavior within individuals. Thus, I want them to also think about how they can mobilize the public for civic good. To find inspirational examples of mobilizing efforts, one should look at historical newspapers of the underground press in the 1960s.

Some syllabi suggestions would be to: 1) assign a social media editor to team projects, 2) require research of a social media channel and formulating story ideas within the channels, 3) assign a crowdsourced assignment, 4) embrace personal expression and interpretation and 5) require public and private reflection.

To learn more about engagement, I suggest reading posts from Steve Buttry, Knight Foundation’s Engagement Commons or Howard Rheingold. And of course, here is my presentation and visit my teaching page for updates on my classroom experiments at Michigan State University.

And if you have questions or comments, please comment or email me at And I want to thank the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication public relations and communication technology divisions for the speaking invitation (#AEJMC12 #prprofs) and my co-panelists @PRvolsProf, @jizaks, @abbylovett, @marcusmessner, @RedClayHound, Charles Lubbers and moderator @Gallicano.

The effectiveness of Google+ Hangout office hours

I experimented with Google+ Hangout office hours this semester. However, the success of the experiment was lukewarm. I video chatted with a total of two students over the semester. I don’t believe new students feel comfortable video chatting with teachers. I think that there may be a greater likelihood that I will chat with former students more often than my present students.

But many students were logged into their Gmail accounts. Many students regularly text messaged me through GChat. They would ask about assignments or about my day.

Andrew Lih, a journalism professor at the University of Southern California Annenberg School of Journalism, uses Google+ Hangouts for weekly story meetings with students. He also speculated that interactions with students were minimal because the service was so new.

Here is some advice on how to Hangout:

1. First, you will need to set up and label a circle for your class.

2. Sharing your circle with your students is the easiest way to connect with the class which includes yourself. Students will have to label the shared circle.

3. Select “Start a hangout.” A post in the G+ feed will appear that indicates you are hanging out. You can control which circles of people you engage while hanging out.

There is a newer feature called “Hangout with extras.” You can add a document from Google Documents or Share a Screen from your computer. The Documents feature has potential because student teams or teacher and a student could edit a document together while they video chat.

Other academic uses for G+ Hangouts include requiring your students to hangout with niche communities related to a professional interest. I hear photographers regularly use G+. If you click the hangout icon on the left side panel, you can see that public hangouts exist. gphangouts also lists permanent and future hangouts.

Students could also embed an On Air broadcast adjacent to a story or blog post because they can record and upload a hangout to a YouTube account.  You could critique their interviewing skills with this exercise.

I will try Hangout office hours in the future. But I believe students prefer to meet in person when it is an issue of serious concern and they prefer to text when it is not.

A letter to my students

I have accepted an academic position at Michigan State University in the School of Journalism, and I am excited to engage with the professors and students intellectually.

I am saying goodbye to the past five years at Arizona State University, but I most sad to say goodbye to my students. My students handed in their final projects last night.

This is a note to them:

As a teacher, I have several goals for you: increase your confidence, help you find your creative self and understand the importance of relationships.

Most students do not believe at the beginning of my class that they can handle learning social media, multimedia and coding. At the end of the semester, many of you were teaching students in other classes.

Each person is able to do anything if they work for it. You will discover that skills are only a small part of your future success; the most important part of the equation for your future is developing a work ethic.

In the future, I plan to develop more exercises that allow students to tap into their creative selves. Through this exploration, you better discover your many sides and potential. I hope that you will continue to experiment and challenge ways to share and communicate information.

Most teachers at ASU are only able to work with students during one semester. This means that students are less likely to develop relationships with potential mentors. I want you to seek out people who will challenge and critique you. It is the most efficient path to professional success. It is important to develop relationships with people in the administration, with leaders at your jobs or internships and with other professors.

Many of you have learned that your classmates are resources as well. Remember, the bonds developed in my class do not have to end. You can connect with your classmates again to create another product together.

My professors are the reason that I became a professor. They helped me see my potential. I owe them so much for their kindness and time. And I am still here to help you.

I saw many of you became teachers in this class and previous classes, which means you are leaders. And I hope that with what you have learned you are better able to follow your passions and be happy. I firmly believe you can have it all.


The philosophy of Brian Storm, a visual storyteller

Journalism is struggling to find its place. Brian Storm of MediaStorm challenged the rituals of journalism. Brian does not care whether you call his craft journalism. He says his organization is a media company, “I don’t even know what journalism means, but I know I am a storyteller. There is nothing revolutionary about stories.” Brian Storm visited my Online Media class throughout the semester. He feels he has a special responsibility to represent the voice of people.

People naturally are conditioned to connect with other humans. Storm wants to tap into that wiring. He argues people are unmoved by data and reporter narration. The idea that communicators should not push for change counters their desire to make a difference. He says, “Success for us is more about whether a project educates people about the issues we are trying to tackle. And does it call them to action and inspire them to create change?”

Journalism and mass communication information providers should embed within online communities. His organization uses YouTube, newsletters, Facebook, iTunes, blogs, etc. because he wants it picked up by the “statusphere.”

He tells artistic stories that are rooted in visual logic. Brian forces you to defend your choices — choices of edits, choices of sources, choices of music, etc. He says by not relying on narration he has chosen the most challenging method of storytelling. “People will write the story for you. It is the hardest way because it is subject-driven. You need to get closer to the human condition and to your subjects.”

Brian Storm says, “Students must learn to learn.” A lesson I try to teach. I also hope that I am helping build confidence within them. I want them to challenge and move the field forward.

I wanted to share some of his philosophy on serving other people through his work:

  • “The audience is not apathetic. It is us in the newsroom that are apathetic. The work will be shared if you focus on quality.”
  • “The challenge is to do quality content. Don’t be the noise in the middle. The noise is reporting on stories that are not going to contribute anything meaningful to a community.”
  • “We pick projects that we think have a timeless value to them, that are universal, that speak to the human condition, which I know is a cliche, but that is what we are trying to find and share.You are trying to connect to the character and feed the issue at the end. We care about other people. Don’t lead with issues. Lead with character. If you cannot make a connection, then you cannot make a difference.”

Motivating students to continue blogging

Students are required to create a WordPress blog for their first assignment in my Online Media class. A blog is beneficial because it can help students establish themselves as an expert on a topic. As a learning tool, it teaches my students how to publish and connect information online.

My hope is that they will continue their blog following the class. A small portion of my journalism and mass communication students continue their blog past the four required posts in my class. Eleven out of my 37 Fall 2010 students continued their blog.

The most effective way I have found to encourage students to continue their blog is through feedback in the form of metrics and user comments, not my feedback :). I have students embed Sitemeter onto their blogs. This free metrics tool helps them see what keywords were used to find them, the location of their visitors, and how often people visit their site. Sitemeter code can be embedded in a text box widget. You can’t use Google Analytics with free WordPress. I feel that they should be able to understand a little about metrics by the time they finish my class. Most people are not aware of how effortless it is to track online behavior.

Students are also amazed that people will comment, and most often, comments are supportive of their work.

One student, Emily Timm, created a blog on spinning. She averages 70 to 100 views a week. She discovered people were finding her because she understood SEO and Google. People asked her to contribute more often on her blog. She says, it was “something she definitely wasn’t expecting.”

Cronkite student Julia Tylor was the surprise hit of the semester with her blog on taste-testing weird food products. It was always a pleasure to read. After two months, she received more than 11-thousand visits. She blogs weekly because she has received overwhelming feedback and “because it is a lot of fun.”

Kelsea Wasung decided to use her blog to discuss the broadcast news industry. Her blog led to an opportunity to write for School Video News, an online magazine for K-12 students.

It is important to encourage them to write about a passion or hobby. Lia Steinberg decided to share to tips on geocaching. She found that blogging has helped her to see that a large number of people have similar interests. Lia was cited in an article about traveling.

Other motivated student bloggers posted on living gluten-free, helping young writers, the Arizona music scene, conservative and Hispanic views of politics, spirituality at ASU, and life as a foreigner living in Arizona.

Students should publish now, rather than waiting for a class assignment or an assignment editor’s approval.

Some requirements of blog assignment include:

  1. Their full name on the blog
  2. Text box explaining the purpose of blog
  3. A picture of themselves on an About or Contact page
  4. An email address on an About or Contact page
  5. Allow people to comment on their posts
  6. Each post must contain at least one meaningful link
  7. One-to-three sentence paragraphs
  8. At a minimum, the post should be educational and/or entertaining
  9. Use both tags and categories
  10. Use keywords in the headline

Facebook fan pages as a classroom tool

Facebook fan pages are usually used by businesses for promotional purposes. However, I decided to experiment with fan pages for my Online Media classes this past semester.

I was unsure of how to best use it for pedagogical purposes. After students “liked” my class fan page, I tested it by posting class announcements. However, I could not be sure that they received the announcements, and they never interacted with these messages on the feed because they were interpreted as one-directional. Email is the most dependable tool for reaching students outside of the classroom.

As the semester progressed, I discovered the best classroom use for the Facebook fan page was building community among the students. I would ask students to post their lab assignments to the fan page. Students quickly logged onto Facebook to view their peers’ work. After intensely scrolling down to view their classmates’ posts, they would begin discussing how they fared compared to other students with their neighbors. I also found students from previous classes followed the fan page feed.

Fan pages are simple to create. Here’s a video tutorial. After 25 people have “liked” your page, you can change the URL to a vanity URL. And you should tell students to not worry that you will be stalking them on Facebook. According to FB, “Pages cannot see peoples’ profiles, only their profile photo and name. Pages do not receive a News Feed with information about what people who choose to connect with them are doing. Pages can communicate with their audience through updates, but they have no access to your personal information. Page admins, however, will be able to see anything you’ve made available to Everyone on your profile.”

If you are a teacher, I would suggest testing it if your class has a notable number of assignments or lab projects. It is an effective way to share students’ work with other students. Another benefit is that students will not be clogging your email with their projects.

Encourage students to comment

My students started their own blogs. This is a typical assignment I have them do every semester in my Online Media class, however this is the first semester I required them to comment on other blogger’s blogs related to their topic. So far, I have found it a valuable addition to their blogging assignment because through their comments they are driving traffic to their site and exchanging comments with other fellow bloggers, which builds community. This comment assignments helps them more quickly understand the blogosphere and the norms of the blogging community.

Comments assignment
You must comment on other blogs related to your blog topic. Comments must add value to the post and invite reflection/conversation. Comments should not just say  “good job” or “nice post.” Comments must be on recent posts within a one month period. On the date of when each blog post is due, you must email me: 1) the blog post URL and 2) your actual comment.

Online journalism classes to consider adopting

There are several controversies related to teaching newer media and journalism, one of which is that schools focus too heavily on teaching skills. I can teach a student online and broadcast skills that give them an edge when applying for a position. However, have I prepared them to become a leader in that changing field? Journalism graduates burn out quickly because pay is low and hours are long. This means that there is a good chance that future graduates will question their future.

I believe that we should teach them enough skills to understand how to use technology to engage people through words, social media, and visuals. However, we must also cultivate leaders who continually inspire change. I don’t just want to teach them a skill so they can emulate it. Because all they will know is how to follow, not lead. The abilities to think, be flexible, and problem-solve are traits that make employees invaluable to an organization. I want my students to be creators, not consumers. If they lose a job, I want them to think about starting their own companies or be wise enough to look to other types of organizations for work. I want to train my students to adapt and think of journalism as a career for life. This is why I believe journalism programs should expand beyond skill-building to provide classes that connect technology to bigger issues. So I spent this evening instead of grading thinking of ideas for new undergraduate classes not always found in journalism programs.

Digital Sandbox (freshman)
The class encourages students to express their creativity by using whatever digital technology they have to tell stories in text and in visuals for online display. Friend and colleague Bonnie Bucqueroux invented this class concept as a way to encourage learning through structured play, before students are exposed to rigorous journalism school training. De-mystifying technology by focusing on fun also helps reduce pressure and stress on students.

Online Multimedia Journalism (sophomore/juniors)
This class teaches students to understand how to communicate visually, how people process information in the visual and online realm, and how to create visual content for the web. If the digital sandbox class was adopted, students would learn to express the skills they acquired at a professional level.

Entrepreneurship and Online Journalism (juniors/seniors)
Prerequisite: Online Multimedia Journalism
This class teaches students how create a Web site, develop a business plan for that site and use social media tools to market the site. The class would encourage students to work together to launch one or more Web sites into the marketplace.

Online Organizational Behavior and Change (juniors/seniors)
Prerequisite: Online Multimedia Journalism
This class teaches students to view journalism from an organizational perspective. Students would be teamed with information organizations to identify the problems they face and develop a plan to address those problems. Students would not only have the opportunity to job shadow, but they would be participant observers in helping organizations make the most of the online environment.

Citizen Journalism (sophomores/juniors/seniors)
Students in this class would each be assigned to cover one community.  Students would use online media to report on a community and would also recruit members of that community to contribute content to the site on issues facing that community.

Data Mining, Creation and Visualization (juniors/seniors)
Students in this class learn how to mine the internet for information. They not only learn how to find, evaluate, and aggregate sources of information and data, but they also learn how to present information graphically and visually. The class encourages students to do more than present information visually, but to also think critically, select samples, and to use social science research methods. This class reflects some elements of a class designed by Phil Meyer called Precision Journalism.

Defining and Envisioning Journalism (juniors/seniors or masters)
The class would address fundamentals such as the history of journalism, how journalism has evolved, how journalism functions to promote or limit democracy, what journalism is and who journalists are, news quality, and constraints on journalism. The class would also encourage students to envision how the field can retain the best from the past as we move into a digital future.