Choreography and architecture – observing a fellow student’s teaching 2/6

I was really intrigued by the prospect of observing a peer’s lecture and was fortunate to be able to attend David Kreps’ introduction to HTML session very early on in the PGCAP course. In fact, the observation took place before I’d given my own first lecture of the term.
I think my students owe David a thank you!

In my previous career as a professional journalist, peer observation was woven into the structure of how we worked. We never called it peer observation, of course, but it was such a key part of our workflow it didn’t even need to be named. Newsrooms are big, noisy, open-plan spaces. Privacy is hard to find! Everything we write is checked by at least one other person and will almost always be “improved.” Every programme we make is broadcast on speakers across the room and we usually have de-briefs after a programme to discuss what went well, what went wrong, how could we make it less likely it would go wrong in future.

But when it comes to teaching at University, the situation is reversed and we work behind closed doors as Parker J. Palmer writes:-

“Though we teach in front of students, we almost always teach solo, out of collegial sight – as contrasted with surgeons or trial lawyers, who work in the presence of others who know their craft well. Lawyers argue cases in front of other lawyers, where gaps in their skills and knowledge are clear for all to see. Surgeons operate under the gaze of specialists who notice if a hand trembles, making malpractice less likely. But teachers can lose sponges or amputate the wrong limp with no witness except the victims.”
Palmer, P J (2007) The Courage to teach. Exploring the inner landscape of a teacher’s life, San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, p. 146.

But I was still unsure what David and I could get out of the process of peer observation. Whose benefit was it for? Could we conduct it in a way that enabled us both to learn? Simon Lygo-Baker, a senior lecturer in Higher Education at the University of Surrey offers this Food for Thought about peer observation.

What struck me in this film was the assurance that both observer and observed would benefit from the process – if we went about it in the right way. He poses an interesting question – how can the observer ensure the observed colleague has an opportunity to voice their thoughts on the observation.

But is peer observation guaranteed always to be a “transformatory tool?” – a topic explored by Deborah Peel (2005 ). She argues that simply watching another teacher teach is not sufficient to improve our own practices. Instead, the observer needs to recognise good practice; the observer needs to think about how to use the observation to improve own practice; even if we do change our practices following the observation, it’s not guaranteed that the changes will be for the better; and finally Peel points out that we come to peer observation with our own “theoretical baggage”

It subsequently became clear to me that observation of teaching is not sufficient to enhance teacher performance in the classroom. Other factors influence teaching competence. More than a behaviouristic learning process, learning depends upon individual perceptions, individual reflective capacity, and the potential creative use of personal insights. Further, these may need to be developed through cognitive strategies. Engaging with the wider literature and policy documentation thus became critical for me in order to enhance my teaching practices in the classroom. (Peel, 2005)

If my observation was to be beneficial, it needed to be part of an ongoing personal development that included the courage to challenge my existing practices and a determination to engage with theory as stipulated in UKPSF A5 (“Engage in continuing professional development in subjects/disciplines and their pedagogy, incorporating research, scholarship and the evaluation of professional practices.”) I also needed to ensure I was able to reflect on the observation and feedback discussion in a constructive way. Gibbs Cycle of reflection would help me construct value out of the peer observation.

Unfortunately, David and I did not have an opportunity to discuss his lesson beforehand so I had no idea what to expect. The first thing that struck me as I walked in to his teaching room was that this was a big, traditional lecture theatre with rows of seats, students scattered all around and David at the front. It felt very familiar from my own student days! I sat at the back so that I could observe the students as well as David. I immediately felt isolated and slightly uninvolved. I was also distracted by the sound and smell of a student just in front of me who was eating a hot dinner during the lecture, hidden from David’s view by a large bag placed on his desk!

It was a very powerful moment for me because I hadn’t really paid much attention to the architecture of our teaching spaces before and how it affects the relationship between students and teacher. I asked David whether he thought the architecture of his lecture theatre affected his teaching.

I thought a lot about this before my first lecture. I teach in a very large space which is designed to function as a newsroom during simulations. It works less well as a teaching space. Students sit in horizontal rows with two large computer screens on each desk so there are a lot of obstacles. Half the desks have their backs to the front of class. So, taking on board what David said, I was more assertive about getting students to sit where I wanted them to and fill the front rows – no hiding at the back. Getting them to work in groups also helped break up the architecture of the room by messing up the formal rows.


(Photograph by Rachael Pazdan CC)

And I discovered that actually I didn’t need to stay at the front of the room! I could go to the back and speak to them from there. Or sit on a desk in the middle of the room. Or just wander around. It felt much more “me” – I was a part of the learning group rather than apart from it. It ties in with UKPSF A4 (“Develop effective learning environments and approaches to student support and engagement”) by acknowledging that the teacher has a role in creating a positive, physical learning environment that enables all students to feel included.

As David’s lecture continued, several students wandered in late. This annoys me and I usually scowl at students arriving late. But David was very different. He welcomed them in with a smile! I asked him if this was a deliberate policy he’d developed over time.

This was so interesting! I realised I had just been copying behaviour I’d witnessed in classrooms myself as a student and pupil and was unquestioningly repeating it. Seeing David and discussing it with him made me see it in a whole new light. Yes, we all have stuff going on in our lives which sometimes makes us late. Why sour the whole session for that student with a thoughtless scowl when I could just smile? Like David said, they might have had an unpleasant experience which delayed them and the last thing they need is a scowl. So, observing and discussing with David certainly cast fresh light on this and made me engage with UKPSF Professional Values V1 (“respecting individual learners.” I need to keep in mind that they’re not just students filling my empty seats for a set time of the week but people with lives beyond.

However, if students are persistently late, how would I deal with that? It’s not a situation I’ve had to deal with this semester but I can see it would present a different challenge. I think my first step would be to discreetly discuss the situation with the student to find out the reasons for the lateness and explain why punctuality is vital in broadcast journalism.

Observing David teaching has had a profound effect on my own practice but it was the discussion and the reflection on the observation which achieved this rather than the simple act of witnessing. I found myself echoing Deborah Peel’s assessment of her own experience of peer observation. It “heightened my alertness, and stimulated my sensory perceptions of my own physical presence in the classroom, and the human value of the teacher as the principal ‘teaching aid’.” (Peel, 2005).

I really hadn’t paid much attention to the choreography and architecture of the teaching environment until I’d observed David and then discussed it with him.

The discussion following the observation enabled me to feed back my reflections to David to get his perspective. I think this then took us to another level of reflection where we could incorporate each other’s thoughts and restart the reflective cycle.
I am surprised how much the peer observation influenced my first lecture and I’m very grateful to David for his generosity. He’s coming to observe me in a few weeks time which is daunting but I’m also quite looking forward to it and expect to learn a great deal.


Palmer, P J (2007) The Courage to teach. Exploring the inner landscape of a teacher’s life, San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, p. 146.
Peel, D (2005) Peer Observation as a Transformatory Tool? Teaching in Higher Education, 10 (4) 489-504
¨Gibbs G (1988) Learning by Doing: A guide to teaching and learning methods, Further Education Unit, Oxford: Oxford Brookes University.

The Mixed-Reality Game…. 3/6

Camera Roll-396

With weather like this, it was definitely a day for sitting in a classroom, looking at slides.  Instead, we were gathered in central Manchester to play a game!  It seemed wrong but perhaps that’s part of problem based learning (PBL)?  The weather was part of the problem!

I have a tricky lecture in a couple of weeks’ time so this exercise probably comes at a good point for me.  I need to get the students to think about how to find good news stories.  They need to do this for all their assessments so it’s pretty important!  In order for them to find good news stories, they need to know what makes a news story good – in other words, they need to understand the concept of “newsworthiness.”  This is what I would define as a “threshold concept;”  it’s that piece of understanding which suddenly makes sense of the whole subject.


(Photo by Richard Rutter CC)

Meyer and Land (2003) describe “threshold concepts” as “a portal, opening up a new and previously inaccessible way of thinking about something.” (Meyer and Land, 2003 p1).  By understanding why certain stories are newsworthy and others aren’t, students are able to think “like journalists.”  Sarah Niblock defines news as “a record of the latest events, incidents and developments that in some way touch on the lives of a newspaper’s or magazine’s readers.” (in Keeble, R. 2005:75)  Although the first half of that statement suggests a tangible, graspable concept, the second half immediately introduces a dilemma.

The concept of “newsworthiness” is so subjective and varies greatly from one editor to another depending on the target audience, the political stance of the publication, the paymasters, the nationality amongst other things that it becomes very hard to give the students a simple set of rules to use.  Many academics and journalists have come up with lists of qualities that make stories newsworthy but all have their limitations.  Most editors simply say that good journalists have a “nose” for a story which, again, is unhelpful in a classroom situation.

So, I needed to find a more imaginative way of introducing this concept to students but I couldn’t imagine what kind of creative intervention might suddenly present itself as I wandered round Manchester in the rain.

I was paired with James Christian for this task and we began by discussing it over coffee.  Could we help each other?

To be honest, I wasn’t that hopeful of finding something for James.  We were too focused on finding a substitute for the technology required to demonstrate the phenomenon.  Was there a bigger picture we were missing?

Meanwhile, I was increasingly unhappy with the idea of bringing a random object into the classroom to explain newsworthiness.  The concept is so specific to actual events and real information sources that I didn’t want to stray away from that.  A colleague later (unwittingly) helped me crystallise that thought.  She suggested giving students a random object and challenging them to make it newsworthy.  It sounds appealing and would work brilliantly on a feature-writing or documentary course, but not on a news course where we need to deal with reality.  So that made me more comfortable with my eventual decision.

In my internet scavenging in the week leading up to the game, I’d come across a YouTube video produced by Rachel Zidon, a student journalist at the University of Northern Iowa and aimed at teaching 10th graders about the concept of newsworthiness.  It’s very amateurish, but there’s something very appealing about it (to me, at any rate).

I think these little stick men images will make a more lasting impression on my students than any of the lists of news values compiled by academics in scholarly articles I could get them to read.  The video is playful and has a limited amount of content.  But I am hoping it will encourage the sort of “narrow and deep” approach to the problem described by Roth and Anderson (cited by Ramsden 2003).  So now the video is the starting point of my teaching of the concept (I’ll get them to watch it at home before the session)

Now all I need to do is get them to apply that to a real life situation and a GAME might be the best way.

Green (1991:92) (cited in Cameron 2001) suggests that “simulations may be a particularly appropriate strategy for journalism education given the industry approach “of throwing people in at the deep end” (Green, 1991:92).  David Cameron in his article “Playing Serious Games in Journalism Classes” (2001) describes a culture in newsrooms of throwing rooky journalists in at the deep end.

The “sink or swim” approach of many newsrooms may be linked to the problem-based learning (PBL) approach to journalism education. This teaching and learning philosophy requires students to acquire knowledge as they tackle problematic situations, “thus reflecting the real way in which knowledge is generated in the world” (Meadows, 1997:98 cited in Cameron (2001)).

So simulations are already a part of most journalism modules even though we don’t usually refer to them as “games.”  “Simulation” sounds a bit dry and challenging.  So I would like to suggest that using the word “game” might be more appealing to students and encourage them to participate and actually enjoy the intended learning process.  Exploring this process would be in keeping with UKPSF standard concerning knowledge of “appropriate methods for teaching and learning in the subject area and at the level of the academic programme.”

So now I have a whole new approach to the problem.  My game is going to be a Dragon’s Den-type scenario!  Dragon’s Den is not entirely dissimilar from an editorial meeting where reporters pitch their stories and subject themselves to the scrutiny of an editor who only has a limited amount of minutes in his programme to bestow.  The class will divide into small groups to look for stories (I’ll set some kind of parameters to help them).  They choose their best story, decide if it’s “newsworthy,” research it, flesh it out to the point where they feel they can really sell it.  Then they pitch it to the whole class.  Other students have an opportunity to question them – “Why should my audience be interested in this?” “Who are you going to interview?” Have you checked these facts?” etc.  This should enable students to see the issue from both angles – the pitcher and the editor (the dragon!!)  Then we vote for our favourite story.

Dragon's Chi

(Photo by Erin Keller CC)

James and I decided we had to have a prize and chocolate which could be shared seemed like the best option.

Although the chocolate makes the game fun, I’m hopeful that the game environment will enhance the learning experience by encouraging students’ creativity.  Instead of me showing them slides with lists of news values and endless examples, they’re going to have to find their own way through that complex concept through playing the game.  I think this method is particularly well-suited to my subject area where creativity, resourcefulness, co-operation are all key skills which cannot be acquired through just reading books.  Journalism students need to solve complex, messy problems over and over again so it’s helpful to consider what Norman Jackson (2005) writes about fostering creativity in the classroom.

Negative views of the idea that creativity can be taught are based on transmission models of teaching where teachers attempt to transfer their own knowledge and sense-making to students through lecture-dominated teaching, where students’ engagements in learning are predominantly based on information transfer and are heavily prescribed and controlled by the teacher, and where summative assessment drives the learning process. Such conditions are less likely to foster students’ creativity than when a teacher acts as a stimulator, facilitator, resource-provider, guide or coach, and where students are given the space and freedom to make decisions about their own learning process and outcomes.  p18

Whilst there are times when I do think it’s appropriate to “transmit” knowledge to the students (how to use a particular piece of equipment or software, for example), I do agree that the role of a journalism teacher is to provide this kind of safe, playful environment where students can take risks without fear of being “wrong” and by doing so, come up with some interesting ideas which will show me that they have grasped this concept.  I’m hoping the Dragon’s Den game will fulfil this role.  This approach would comply with UK PSF A3 and A4 by enabling me to assess and give feedback to learners and develop effective learning environments.

But we still have to find a solution for James and we’re not having much luck.  The only bit of his explanation of the concept I understood was the word “patterns……”

Suddenly, James had his lightbulb moment!

I was definitely more excited about James’ success than I was about my own!  I had witnessed how the game took him on a journey and he ended up in a completely different place from that which he had expected.  I felt my own journey had been less dramatic.  I’d already partially formulated the idea before arriving but it was certainly clarified by playing the game.

I’m very interested to learn how my colleagues get on with their ideas in their teaching sessions in coming weeks.


Cameron, D., Playing serious games in journalism classes, Asia Pacific Media Educator, 11, 2001, pp141-149.  Retreived 17.10.12.

Norman Jackson, 2005 “Making higher education a more creative place.” In Journal for the Enhancement of Learning and Teaching

Meyer J H F and Land R 2003 ‘Threshold Concepts and Troublesome Knowledge 1 – Linkages to Ways of Thinking and Practising’ in Improving Student Learning – Ten Years On. C.Rust (Ed), OCSLD, Oxford

Keeble, R. (2005) Print Journalism: a critical introduction ) London Routledge

YouTube video – Rachel Zidon Retreived

First teaching session of the new PGCAP era

Finally, my academic year has started.  I did my first session last Friday 5th October and it was my first opportunity to put some of my PGCAP learning into practice.

I was really nervous.  There were so many new things I wanted to try but wasn’t sure I’d be able to pull them off.  Plus, I knew our students were deeply frustrated (in some cases, justifiably angry) about the confusion over their timetables which led to us delaying the start of teaching by one week.

I arrived early in the classroom and discovered that the AV wasn’t working!  Fortunately, IT sent somebody over really quickly and did a temporary fix so we’d just about got everything working before I went “live.”  I wasn’t looking forward to doing a 3 hour radio news session without being able to play students any audio at all.  I need to have a Plan B in future.

Last year, I shared the module with the module leader with us teaching 2 groups of students on alternate weeks.  This module, I’m teaching one group of students every week so I’m more “in charge” of the module delivery than before.  I can’t rely on a senior colleague to be a safety net for my poor teaching!

Getting to know you

As I wrote in an earlier post, I wanted to get to know my students by name really early on in the module.  So, I tried the sticky label approach.  It works!  I can probably recall at least half of the students’ names  after the first session which is MUCH better than last year.  I’ve asked them to upload their photos onto the Flickr site I created for the module but none of them have done that yet.  I’ll keep reminding them but I’m a little disappointed.

But I definitely felt more comfortable being able to address students by name so early on in the module.  It’s politeness, if nothing else!

Less is more

Last year, I felt I had to “teach like an academic” and fill every moment of my 3 hour sessions with “stuff” – me talking, me showing slides, me playing them radio examples.  I’d break it up every now and then with an exercise or discussion but mainly it was about me doing stuff at them.  As a result, preparing lectures took up a lot of my time – loads of slides, fancy transitions, pages of notes to remind me not to miss a single POINT that I had to make.

I did it very differently in this first lesson.  I used, maybe, seven slides.  I did have lots of notes I carried around but they were more of a crutch really – I didn’t look at them much.  Instead, I got students to find and discus the information I wanted to get across.  This was the introductory session of the module so I needed to make sure they could find their way around the module handbook and understand its role.  It’s not an easy read so I got them into groups to go through it on Blackboard and put a list of facts on the screen that I wanted them to find – a bit like a treasure hunt, I hoped (I was interested to see that Chrissi used the gaming approach to the module handbook in our Tuesday session!).  It seemed to work well.  They located the bits of information and once they’d fed back the answers (e.g. what are the ILOs for this module), I amplified it a bit by explaining how we use learning outcomes and why they’re important.

Choreography and Architecture


(Photograph by Rachael Pazdan CC)

I thought a lot about this before the lecture.  I teach in a very large space which is designed to function as a newsroom during simulations.  It works less well as a teaching space.  Students sit in horizontal rows with two computer screens on each desk so there are a lot of obstacles.  Half the desks have their backs to the front of class.  So firstly, I made students take up the front rows – no hiding at the back.  Getting them to work in groups also helped break up the architecture of the room by messing up the formal rows.

And I discovered that actually I didn’t need to stay at the front of the room!  I could go to the back and speak to them from there.  Or sit on a desk in the middle of the room.  Or just wander around.  It felt much more “me” – I was part of the learning group rather than apart from it.


I like playing with new toys and so I like experimenting with the different tools on Blackboard! I decided to set them a very informal (not scored) quiz about the radio environment as an alternative to standing at the front of the class and telling them what they should listen to and what role news plays in radio networks.  This quiz took me HOURS to build because I was learning as I went along.  It took them about 2 minutes to complete!!!  But if I do a quiz again, I’d do it a lot more quickly because I know how it works now.  The students seemed to enjoy the task and most chose to do it collaboratively.  They were disappointed not to get a formal score at the end!  But the questions were each designed to spark a discussion as we went through the answers and I think it worked well in that sense.

Of course, I don’t KNOW that these tactics worked.  What do I even mean by “worked?”  I guess I mean that learning was accomplished and the students went away thinking a bit about the audio environment – its strengths and weaknesses.  I also wanted the lesson to “work” in establishing a good relationship with the students and giving them an idea of what I expect from them – participation, questioning assumptions, listening to me and each other.  I don’t know how to measure these things accurately at this stage.  I just got a feeling it went OK.  Certainly, I felt really good at the end because it felt like I was being me rather than being the lecturer I felt I ought to be.

So here’s another thought that I had afterwards.  Remember we were asked to think about  how we teach by considering our teaching approaches through metaphor? (Apps (1991, 23-24))  Here’s another one I’d like to add to the list – DJ!

Crazy idea!  But I picked it up from a conference in Brussels last week (which I followed on Twitter) on Neo-Journalism.  One of the speakers, Mark Deuze, described journalists in the social media age – where anyone can create and distribute content – as News DJs.  (It’s not an entirely new idea.  NPR’s Andy Carvin who “tweeted the Arab Spring” describes himself as a news DJ too).  Alfred Hermida – another keynote speaker at the conference – blogged about Deuze’s speech and summarises its conclusions:

“A DJ needs to know and respect his source material, and people will respond to it.  A DJ like Tiesto is not beholden to any industry. He is a global brand with a record label that pulls in other artists, says Deuze. The DJ is a key node in a network.” (2012)

Are we a bit like DJs at times when we teach?  We rely on other people’s work a lot of the time.  We are not the gatekeepers to knowledge any more because students can access it on the internet any time they like (similarly, journalists are no longer the gatekeepers of information).  Instead, teachers need to act as nodes, pulling in the best information, repackaging it for the lecture room, creating something new, getting a response from the audience and responding back to it.

Dj Tiesto

(Photo by Wesley Vieira Fonseca CC)

It got me thinking anyway…. 🙂

UPDATE: Students have now started to upload their photos to the Flickr site – and very stylish they are too!


Apps, J. (1991) Mastering the Teaching of Adults, FL: Krieger.

Hermida, A. (2012) “Mark Deuze on rethinking the journalist as a DJ when we are all media.” Retrieved from

Educational Autobiography – 1/6

I have always enjoyed learning and have benefitted from good teaching throughout my education.  But my own approach to learning probably made it quite easy for my teachers to teach me.  I could self-direct my studies, delve deep into a subject with minimal guidance, absorb and apply information relatively easily.

As I start to reflect on my actions as a teacher and, perhaps, my “teaching style”, it’s useful to consider whether I have a specific “learning style” that predisposes me to teach in a particular way or to be more successful with some students than others.  Frank Coffield et al (2011) offer an interesting analysis of a range of “learning styles” in existing research.  But ultimately they remain sceptical of the usefulness of any exercise which attempts to categorise students in this way (although it can be very useful to those seeking to market ways to exploit “learning styles.”)  There seems to be no strong evidence to suggest that students learn better if they are taught according to their “style.”

As Frank Coffield et al (2011) describe, critics of “learning style” theory point to all the other influences that affect our ability to learn something.

Indeed, if we nail our colours to the “learning styles” mast, we cannot grow.  In the real world, we have to adapt our approach to learning to each new situation rather than expecting a situation to adapt to our style.

I strongly believe that, as we mature, we find many different ways to compensate for our weaknesses and exploit our strengths with the result that any signs of an innate “learning style” are hidden under layers of learning experience.

However, dismissing learning style theory does not mean we should assume all our students are the same and this is an important part of my journey on this module.

Because of my own experience of learning, I had assumptions about Higher Education as an exalted place of extreme learning.  I was actually quite disappointed with the reality.  People didn’t wander round with their heads in books or have erudite conversations around the tea urn.  I deliberately chose options on my course (Russian) that were deemed “difficult” because what was the point otherwise?  I would rather fail a difficult exam than pass an easy one.  So education was fun and pleasurable and always rewarding.  I received praise as a result.

BUT this experience actually left a very important gap in my education.  I never learnt how to fail well.  This  gap only manifested itself as a problem once I left academia.  If I made errors at work (inevitable) or found I wasn’t particularly good at something I needed to be good at, I found this very difficult to cope with.  I felt a total failure and all past academic achievements were meaningless and a cruel deception.  I had obviously never been any good at anything and never would be!

This is a completely emotional reaction and when I write it down I can see it is irrational but I find I do get stuck on the emotional element of the reflective cycle when things go wrong.  I’m unable to get past it to evaluate rationally, analyse and form an action plan as described in the Gibbs cycle of reflection.  I’m concerned this could be a problem as I reflect on my teaching and I need to work on a strategy.  I’m hoping peer support, practice and further engagement with the literature will give me the tools to do this.

So my own experience of education creates a contradiction now that I find myself in a teaching role.  It’s useful to consider it in the context of the “Robert and Susan Problem” as defined by John Biggs and Catherine Tang (2011).  I fully identify with the Susans in that I am “academically committed” (Biggs and Tang, 2011 p3) and I expect students at degree level to be like me.  I am therefore frustrated that I also have to find a way of teaching Robert who is “at university simply to obtain a good job” (Biggs and Tang, 2011, p3).

At the same time, I am slightly envious of the Roberts.  Robert understands failure as part of the process of achieving his goals.  I know many Roberts who have been highly successful in their professional lives precisely because of their rational, pragmatic approach.  So whilst I would like Robert to acquire some of Susan’s natural learning attributes, I also think he brings something of value to the learning space and we shouldn’t focus too hard on trying to transform him into a Susan.  I think this is an important part of respecting individual learners and the diversity of the learning community as defined in the UK PSF Professional Values.  The challenge for me is to learn and experiment with ways of engaging Robert and Susan.  Biggs and Tang (2011) argue that “teaching that requires active engagement by students decreases the gap between Susan and Robert.” (p.3)  I am already trying to incorporate more activity-based learning into my lesson plans and I will be keen to reflect on how those sessions go and how they compare with last year’s teaching.

Another problem for me as I started to teach rather than do journalism is that there is a certain prejudice in professional newsrooms against the idea of being taught journalism in a university.  “Journalists are born, not made.  You learn on the job” – is the prevailing attitude.  So there is a constant pressure to make my teaching relevant and valuable.  So I work hard to keep across industry developments in keeping with the Core Knowledge element of the UK PSF K1, 2, 3 by following key thinkers in the field, subscribing to blogs, following conferences online.  Similarly, I follow the work of key “hackademics” who are pushing the boundaries of what journalism education should be about in the social media age.  This is an ongoing process but as a result of the PGCAP, I am now inspired to learn about the underlying theories of HE education as well and find ways of applying that knowledge to help resolve the dilemmas of how one should teach journalists.

Another reason for the prejudice against journalism schools in some quarters is that journalism education itself can be highly conservative and protective. As Mark Deuze (2006) described it, “the status quo in the industry is the ideal one, hence newcomers only need to internalise what their senior peers already do” (p.21).

There is a call for massive change in journalism education, especially in the US.  This was explored in a series of articles from leading educators writing for the Nieman Journalism Lab (part of a project at Harvard University) at the start of this academic year.  The Knight Foundation’s Eric Newton contributed an article urging “creative disruption” in journalism schools.

“Universities must be willing to destroy and recreate themselves to be part of the future        of news. They should not leave that future to technologists alone. Journalism and communication schools must begin to change radically and constantly.”

(Eric Newton: Nieman Journalism Lab, Sep 2012)

All this is a huge challenge but it can be overwhelming.  I will need to constantly evaluate the extent to which my teaching meets the new demands rather than falling into comfortable routines.  But I am aware that I mustn’t lose sight of core journalism skills in pursuit of trendy gimmicks.

My ambition for my students is that they should develop a lifelong love of learning.  This is what I feel has been the main gift of education to me.  I love picking up new, useful challenges and, thanks to the positive skills I learnt during formal education, I am able to find and use the learning materials I need.  For instance, I recently started to teach myself JavaScript because programming is a big gap in my knowledge.  (Sadly, my attempts to learn code have been superseded by the demands of the PGCAP course!)

I find it hard to think of my strengths as a teacher at present because I am so new to the role.  I like to think that I bring enthusiasm.  I work hard to try to think of engaging activities.  I put a great deal of effort into individual feedback on course assessments which is focused to student needs.  I avoid saying “that’s wrong” and instead always suggest an improvement and tell the student what the difference is.  I feel I have gained experience in the first three Areas of Activity as defined in the UK PSF.

As I analyse my learning needs on the PGCAP, I think I need to really focus on the learning outcomes of the modules I teach and get students to do that as well. This will help me to guide my lesson plans and also operate as a sort of contract with the students – or a route map we travel together – which will take them to a clearly defined learning goal.  This should enable students (Roberts and Susans!) to evaluate their progress and learning needs throughout the module.

I need to work towards greater understanding of the Professional Values as defined in the UK PSF which I had not considered before.  This will be a key aim in these early weeks of the PGCAP.  This will enable me to constantly develop my teaching practice.

I realise I need to learn more from the relevant literature about how students learn and appropriate methods for teaching in accordance with the Core Knowledge requirements of the UK PSF.  Achieving this will help me evaluate my own practice and devise a variety of ways to engage students in learning.  This is important given the increasing diversity of the student cohort.

So, plenty to be getting on with!


Coffield F., Moseley D., Hall E., Ecclestone K. (2011) Learning styles and pedagogy in post-16 learning: A systematic and critical review.  Retrieved from

Biggs, J, & Tang, C (2011) Teaching for Quality Learning at University (4th ed), Maidenhead: McGraw-Hill/Society for Research into Higher Education/Open University.

Mark Deuze (2006): GLOBAL JOURNALISM EDUCATION, Journalism Studies, 7:1, 19-34

Nieman Journalism Lab (Sep 2012) : Eric Newton: Journalism Schools aren’t changing quickly enough.  Retrieved from

Pre-Observation form

Pre-observation Form
Form for recording details for your teaching observation


Observer’s Name Chrissi Nerantzi 


Date & Time 26.10.12.  11.00


Location Room 3.19 MediaCity


Module & Session title Radio News  – What’s the story?


Number of learners – 20 ish



Give a brief description of what you know about your learners.

These are first year BA Journalism students.  They are an engaged group of learners who collaborate well as a group.  Their first assessment is due on 9th November.


Learning outcomes to be achieved during the session

•Rate the newsworthiness of stories in a radio bulletin
•Discuss where to find news stories
•Find and pitch your own news stories

Brief session outline

  1. Analyse a news bulletins.  What makes each story newsworthy?
  2. Where do news stories come from?  Discussion
  3. Social Media v traditional sources.
  4. Dragon’s Den game.  Each group hunts for a story, carries out research, discusses how to pitch their best story.  They pitch to the rest of the group, the group can quiz them and we vote for our favourite.

Rationale for session

Include any details about teaching methods, resources, assessment & feedback strategies

This session is designed to build up to the practical element – finding news stories and pitching them to their peers.  The rationale is that they have to find a newsworthy story and understand the research they need to do in order to substantiate the idea so that they can really sell it.  But they also get to analyse their peers’ pitches and question them for detail and clarification.  I hope the two-pronged approach (seeing the problem from both ends) will help reinforce the learning from the first part of the lecture.


Are there any aspects of the session you would like the observer to focus on?

For example: interaction with students, use of resources, pacing, feedback etc.

Everything, really!  I felt this session wasn’t a huge success last year so I’m trying a much more practical approach.  I also hope the group work will enable students to collaborate – an important part of real life journalism.

Remember to send this to your observer as far in advance of the session as possible.