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.
(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
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. http://ro.uow.edu.au/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1107&context=apme
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 http://youtu.be/0NLfjlP5Fxc