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


3 thoughts on “The Mixed-Reality Game…. 3/6

  1. Wow, Liz, this is such a rich reflective account of your experience and learning that happened during this game. I can see clearly that that this game made you think deeply about your teaching practice and I am really pleased about this. You investigated also the literature, generic and subject-specific and make reference to the UK PSF. This is really good! I would like you now also to become more critical of what you read and include your own thinking. Because somebody says something it doesn’t mean you have to agree with this. What is your perspective and why? Good to see that you found Norman Jackson’s work around creativity. What do his words mean for your practice? Remember when quoting it will be important to link/contrast what somebody else is saying with your experience, perspective and practice. The why you include it, is very important.

    You really embraced this game and saw it as a valuable learning experience. You experimented with different media and identified opportunities to re-shape aspects of your own practice as a result of this game. Very very pleased. Take the above comments in considering to finalise this already good and rich reflective account. Well done so far!

    Chrissi, your LTHE tutor

  2. Pingback: The Mixed-Reality Game…. #lthesep12 by Liz Hannaford | PGCAP News Blog

  3. Last one! All the way through your blog I’ve been constantly amazed at how effortlessly you seem to be able to fold PgCAP ideas into your teaching! So I confess to being sneakily quite pleased that you also found the game difficult :-). While the chocolate reward is a bit contrived (but probably no more so than my toy animals), I thought the YouTube video you found illustrates ‘newsworthiness’ brilliantly. And there’d be no problem using that example in a swanky and AV tooled-up MediaCity classroom :-).

    I like that you’ve drawn attention to the non-academic side of learning, too. Key skills such as resourcefulness, and co-operation, I agree, are things that simply cannot be gleaned from books and papers (what’s that old proverb… Knowledge is knowing a tomato is a fruit. Wisdom is not putting one in a fruit salad). This is one of the reasons why, in Physics, we do shedloads of group-based laboratory work. Creativity is a bit different – my own view is that you’ve either got it or you haven’t. I don’t think you can ‘learn’ to be creative, no matter how one stimulates our students (e.g., through fun and exciting PBL and games, or through boring old lectures). Having said that, perhaps reading books and papers may spark a new idea which one might argue is a form of creativity. That’s often (though not always) how it goes with research.

    For academic subjects like Physics, bookwork is essential in order to establish a bedrock of knowledge about the principles governing the physical universe, and the mathematical tools used to describe it and predict how it behaves. One can then go on to develop the soft skills associated with group work. In fact, it’s only since finishing my PhD that I feel like a ‘real’ Physicist, and I cringe sometimes at how naïve and misguided some students really are in their approach to solving problems. “So why don’t you just do it the other way round, and send students to do problem-solving before they do bookwork?,” one might ask. Well, let’s see. Would you put to sea before the shipbuilders have finished constructing the hull? I wouldn’t :-).

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