The challenge of emergent technologies in teaching

How immersive storytelling is taught varies in scale and style. Reading the interviews reveals how teachers emphasize the importance of a hands-on approach and the role of students in learning. While immersive technologies are new to most students, enough time is required for them to be able to try out the equipment, experiment with filming in 360-degrees and work through the difficulties posed by new hardware and software. At the same time as students are learning the equipment, it is aging quickly. Most mid-range cameras used five years ago do not offer sufficient quality anymore.

Thus, one challenge is how to enable students to learn valuable skills and competences that are not tied to specific equipment. Many interviewees noted the variability of the hype around VR and changing forecasts on whether the technology will remain relevant in journalism or be forgotten. Nevertheless, students can learn valuable things from these courses, as was noted by Ben Stubbs and Sigmund Trageton.

During two years of teaching VR at UniSA, Ben Stubbs has noted the value of practical skills for students. They start with an introduction, talking about VR’s history and its connection to journalism. The next two weeks are spent learning the cameras, followed by a week of learning how to edit in Premiere Pro.The following weeks are dedicated to using their own editing software Immerse, interactivity, ethics, troubleshooting, and visiting an industry' partner. The rest of the time is left open for students to work on their projects.

The UniSA course is taught with two teachers equally sharing the teaching load.The teachers have found that it is also beneficial to join each other’s seminars for learning. Ben Stubbs notes the benefit of the small class size. Giving a strong foundation for the basic elements of 360-degree storytelling is crucial, so that the students are able to produce high-quality works. Before they start working on actual footage, the students do a written assignment, where they go through a set of questions, including why the story suits VR, what the role of the viewer is going to be, how the shots are planned, how interactivity will be used, and whether the topic could be filmed in another way.

Similarly, at the University of Stavanger, the VR part of the course, led by Sigmund Trageton, begins with a historical perspective, examining the differences in the VR medium compared to other formats. Then it proceeds to workshops about the equipment and software, and finally a course assignment for a real-life client. Although the end product of the assignment is fact-based immersive storytelling, it is not strictly a journalistic product, as it is aimed as educational material for eighth-grade primary school students.

Multiple teacher roles

Immersive journalism teachers may have multiple roles. During the time Robert Hernandez has been teaching his course since 2012, he has developed special methods and pedagogical insights for higher education that deserve to be explained in detail and at length. His teaching strategy mixes journalistic, managerial, diplomatic, and entrepreneurial skills in a way that could be seen as a rarity or even unique in journalism education.

First, as an educator he works like a journalist.

I’m still a journalist. I’m still looking at when the story or a trend is happening. And I find a way [... J As a reporter, I get informed. It is an informed,educated hunch. Right, so I have learned enough. If I start to think that I know all the answers without interviewing and learning jfromj the community, that’s the problem.

Second, Hernandez says that he has applied previous managerial knowledge to his Journalism courses. This could also be interpreted as part of an entrepreneurial mindset. Giving the course participants autonomy in their work is one important aspect.

Third, he gives a lot of power and trust to his students. He has tried to work with his colleagues, inside industry and inside the university, but it did not work out.

They [students] bring us the skills and passions and they produce things. Even if I have a really creative imagination [and a] thinking, innovative mind, they bring it forward. We bring each other forward.

Hernandez acknowledges that if one gives too much freedom to the students it could paralyze them, so it is important to find the right balance.

So, I found ways to put a framework around it. Okay, you have a canvas about homelessness. You have a canvas [about] making it work with this media company. These are the limitations, but there is still this freedom and those limitations to create, but it is not paralyzing.

In addition, he says that the students are also the key to changing the industry in the near future.

My students that may have graduated, let’s say, five years ago, are eventually going to be the boss. And they’re going to apply the mindset there. So playing the long game and hopefully inspiring and innovating the media companies that are slow to do that.

As good examples of news media organizations that are constantly innovating, Hernandez mentions The New York Times, USH Today, and A1 Jazeera.

Fourth, Hernandez clearly works like a producer and a hub-builder. Even if his employer is one of the best-funded universities in the world, his courses have not enjoyed vast resources. They have needed to create their own innovator hub strategy, bringing together an academic institution, industry, and media partners. He constantly connects media organizations and technology companies together in order to test new emergent technologies via journalism education.

So, the traditional professor-academic industry relationship was to ask industry, “What do you need?” I would train people to give them. Industry now, [it] does not know what it needs. It is not funded enough to think ahead. So, I’m taking advantage of that and saying,“I know what the industry needs”. I’m going to create. I wanna be the R&D for the industry.

Hernandez and his students have freedom to experiment with new formats. They can also work simultaneously with industry partners that usually do not cooperate. For example, in the case of President Donald Trump’s inauguration and the women’s march in January 2017, Hernandez and his students produced content both for The New York Times and National Public Radio (NPR). In addition, Samsung funded the 360-degree cameras for the students.

To sum up, Hernandez’s teaching strategies could be defined as long-term innovation pedagogy. Even if emergent technologies come and go and cycle through different maturation phases, journalism schools could be innovative test labs for the future of journalism. This could be done with the help of the students’ creativity and risk-taking, supporting media-tech industry hubs, and the journalist/manager leading the project.

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