Opening up my practice 5/5

“Only open journalism reveals the whole picture.” The Guardian

I spend a lot of classroom time talking about open journalism practices, discussing how digital technologies have changed forever the relationship between journalists and the “people formerly known as the audience.” (Rosen 2006). No longer can journalists lock themselves away in closed newsrooms, acting as gatekeepers of information. (UK PSF K1, K2, A1, A2)

But when it comes to my own educational practices, how open am I?

I certainly make use of other academics’ openness. For example, Mindy McAdams is a professor at the University of Florida, where she teaches courses about online journalism. A lot of what she teaches is cutting edge and there aren’t many academics qualified to cover it (eg multimedia journalism, coding) but she is generous enough to share her syllabi, materials and lots of blog posts about her teaching. That’s a great resource and helpful in achieving UKPSF A5, K1, K2, V3, V4.

I don’t feel I have enough that is of value to share in this way. However, I do want to be part of this Community of Practice, using social connections to collaborate rather than struggling to produce resources on my own (Tosato and Bodi 2011). So a first step is to engage in the comments section on key blogs, which I’ve already started doing in a small way. I also engage on twitter and note that it doesn’t take long for people with similar interests to find and follow me.

On December 10th, PBS’ MediaShift hosted the first #EdShift Twitter chat about how  students and teachers build collaborations and community in journalism classrooms. It’s been Storified and, again, is a great resource emerging from an open community of like-minded professionals. Next time, maybe I’ll join in!

I do share my teaching materials with other HPLs new to teaching at Salford. This feels a little awkward. I only have a few more years’ experience than they have so I explain that by sharing I’m not claiming to be the last word on the subject or to have the most stylish slides! But they might be a helpful starting point.

Are there opportunities to be more open at course or institutional level? I was interested in David Wiley’s experiment in creating a minimalist online course in parallel to his campus-based course (Hilton III, Graham, Rich & Wiley 2010). It made me think about what institutions can gain from opening up and sharing for non monetary gain. They might gain prestige and enhanced reputation from the wider recognition their teaching programme would get. They might also futureproof themselves from possible competition from MOOCs and other innovations (Weller and Anderson 2013). However, the study into Wiley’s experiment was very small-scale and responses from students were limited making it hard to draw useful generalisations.

As part of my research for this reflection, I came across a Data Journalism MOOC starting early 2014. I’ve signed up! (UK PSF A5) It’s taught by data journalism experts whose work I already know so I’m excited to be part of their project. It’s a whole new niche area of journalism so I need to skill up (and pass these skills on to students) but can’t afford the £100s normally charged for f2f courses in this subject. I’m also intrigued by the whole MOOC experience.

In 2007, Jeff Jarvis, a journalism professor at the City University of New York, came up with a new rule for journalists in his blog, Buzzmachine  – “Cover what you do best. Link to the rest.” (Jarvis 2007) It’s a call for newspapers to stop replicating each other’s stories and instead concentrate dwindling resources on finding their unique value and producing something special. Perhaps this is applicable to universities too.

Maybe HE institutions have the resilience to use technology in a way which enables them to adapt their practices whilst still keeping their core function and surviving (Weller and Anderson 2013) – something which the newspaper industry has largely failed to do.

References Accessed 15.12.13.

Guardian Three Little Pigs advert retrieved 13.12.13.

Hilton III, J. L., Graham, C., Rich, P., & Wiley, D. (2010). Using online technologies to extend a classroom to learners at a distance. Distance Education31(1), 77-92.

Jarvis, J. (2007) Buzzmachine blog. Retrieved from Accessed on 13.12.13.

McAdams, M. Retrieved from Accessed on 13.12.13.

PBS MediaShift (2013). Collaborative Journalism Education: #EdShift. Retrieved from Accessed 15.12.13.

Rosen, J. (2006) Huffington Post. Retrieved from Accessed on 13.12.13.

Tosato, P., & Bodi, G. (2011). Collaborative Environments to Foster Creativity, Reuse and Sharing of OER. European Journal of Open and Distance Learning (Special Edition OER) available electronically from: http://www. eurodl. org.

The Higher Education Academy (2011) UK Professional Standards Framework. Available from:

Weller, M., & Anderson, T. (2013). Digital resilience in higher education. European Journal of Open, Distance and Elearning (EURODL)2013(1).


How do I support my students and what are the opportunities for further improvement through digital technologies? 4/5

Supporting my students with CaKE

Supporting my students with CaKE after a successful newsroom simulation task

One of the most satisfying parts of my teaching role is supporting students through that tricky first semester in line with UKPSF A2, A4, K4 and V2. I’m very aware that students at university today are from many diverse backgrounds and many have difficult challenges to overcome in order to succeed in higher education (UKPSF V1, V4).

A key part of my support strategy is to make myself approachable. Although the courses I teach are conventional face-to-face courses, I do feel the need to adopt some distance learning practices because I’m an HPL and therefore not available on site outside teaching hours. I don’t want my students to feel abandoned in between the weekly sessions. As suggested by Coomey and Stephenson (2001), the need for support is a key part of online learning but the way this support is offered varies depending on the level of teacher control and formal structure of the course so I shall reflect on my own support strategy in this context.

I encourage my students to follow me on twitter and I have a # for each of my modules. I try to lead by example, using the # to RT relevant material and positive announcements. Gradually, some of the students join in and I make sure I engage in their comments and questions (UKPSF A3 and A4). For me, the beauty of twitter is that it enables me to create an accessible persona online with little additional effort.

I email students at least once during the week to remind them of preparation for the next class and comment on Good Things from the previous session.

Students email specific questions about assessments etc to me directly and I do my best to respond quickly to their individual needs.

In some ways, this strategy shares attributes with the PaMS strategy outlined by Simpson (2008) and certainly digital technologies – not discussed by Simpson – do facilitate this approach. However, I do find Simpson’s PaMS problematic since he does not refer to the number of students this approach is suitable for. Can tutors be expected to provide this level of support to large cohorts?

Certainly, this has become an issue for me. Having spent the first half of the semester working hard to develop my approachability, the second half of the semester is spent drowning under the weight of student emails!

So I’m starting to explore alternative ways of dealing with this such as an online forum, perhaps within the VLE. So instead of emailing me directly with a question about the assessment, students would be advised to post the question on the forum where I could respond publicly. I wonder, however, if some students would be reluctant to ask questions publicly for fear of looking foolish so perhaps I would need to find a way for them to do so anonomously?

This workload issue is addressed by MacDonald (2011) who recognises that the easy access afforded by email leads to students expecting “just in time” assistance and demanding more individual attention than was ever possible pre digitial technologies! (MacDonald 2011 p17).

The other implication of this kind of “just in time” support is that it could be too overbearing allowing little room for student autonomy. Am I creating a dependency which does not prepare students well for the world beyond university?! Certainly, my approach would put me in the NW quadrant of Coomey and Stephenson’s paradigm grid of online learning (Coomey and Stephenson 2001). Maybe I need to let go more?

Perhaps. But I do still feel that first term students do expect and require a high-level of support from their tutors whilst they develop their learning and collaborative skills. I do include lots of group activities in my sessions from the very start as a way of developing this and I’ve noticed – especially in my largest class – that students quickly learn to support each other. When it comes to the end-of-semester Newsday – a major collaborative project – the students supported each other via Facebook and I was pleasantly surprised how little they seemed to need me when they were working together.


Coomey, M. & Stephenson, J. 2001. Online learning: it is all about dialogue, involvement, support and control – according to the research. In J. Stephenson (ed.) Teaching and learning online : pedagogies for new technologies. London: Kogan Page.

MacDonald, J. (2011). Blended Learning and Online Tutoring: Planning Learner Support and Activity Design. London: Gower.

Simpson, O. (2008) ‘Motivating Learners in Open and DIstance Learning: Do we Need a New Theory of Learner Support?’ Open Learning: The Journal of Open and Distance Learning. 23:3, 159-170.

The Higher Education Academy (2011) UK Professional Standards Framework. Available from: