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7 Tips for Teaching Mobile Media to Journalism Students

Fall 2010 was the first semester for San Francisco State University’s journalism department to offer an advanced journalism class focused on mobile media. I had the privilege of developing the curriculum and teaching the class called “Contemporary News Media.” I learned a few things, about developing new courses, student priorities and the importance of of being forward-thinking.

If you want to know more about my classroom experience, hit me up in the comments. For now, here’s my condensed list of tips for journalism profs and journalism schools looking to teach mobile media:

1. Our students (twenty-somethings) use their mobile phones everyday. In fact, I’m pretty sure most of them wouldn’t survive without their mobile phone. However, that does not mean that journalism students know how to use their phone as a JOURNALIST. You have to teach them to put on their “journalism” cap when they’re out to get a story. I learned that although they carry the equipment to report the news when they happen to stumble upon it many of them say they wouldn’t pull out their phone and start reporting if they weren’t officially “on duty.” I think it’s important to create a habit for them, to make it an instinct to reach for their phone when they see or hear something newsworthy.

2. Mobile media IS social media. Twitter and Facebook are the most popular right now, but there are all sorts of cool mobile apps (like photo sharing app Instagram) springing up that tap into the social aspects of mobile media. It’s hard to keep up with all of the new apps popping up, but make to emphasize the need to stay on top of the latest tools, tech and innovation. I had my students subscribe to the RSS feeds (and/or Twitter accounts) for sites like MashableEngadgetCNET, CNN’s Our Mobile Lives, Knight’s News for Digital Journalists, andNieman Journalism Lab.

3. Find ways to make them Tweet. I let, no, I required my students to Tweet “key points” when we had guest speakers. For one assignment, my students live Tweeted an event. You should also encourage them to participate in the weekly Wednesday night #wjchat.

4. Don’t waste a ton of time teaching them how to use apps, tell them you want them to produce a 45 second video and make them find the right tool to use. But do spend time looking at mobile video examples (both good and bad) and teach them the tips and tricks that will help them tell a better video story using their mobile phone. I think my proudest moment of the semester was today, when one of my students told me she got stuck working on her final assignment, instead of chasing me down, she solved the problem herself. There really isn’t much more a teacher could ask for. As someone who’s taught a lot of technical classes, I always feel like I’ve done something right when a student is able to solve her technical issues on her own, live to tell about it and is excited to share their accomplishment with me.

5. Ask students to evaluate tools and technology and blog about it. We had some reps from Google speak to our class about some of the latest and greatest Google tools. Students were asked to evaluate tools and blog about it. They wrote about Google TranslateGoogle Goggles and Google’s Public Data Explorer. We also had Max Garrone, a former Senior News Producer for SFGate/San Francisco Chronicle visit the class and talk about geo-location and mapping. One of the students, Khaboshi, wrote about the amazing things you can do with maps.

6. Spend time looking at mobile news products – both apps and websites. Most of them are flat-out terrible experiences. Ask your students to pick a news org and evaluate their mobile experience. They’ll tell you about the wonders of mobile and the potential for media. You may be surprised by what they like and don’t like.

7. Forget about offering an entire class that focuses solely on mobile media unless you’re going to concentrate on the technical side of things and students are actually going to create mobile websites or apps. And, if you’re going to do that, you need to be sure to discuss mobile product development (from an audience needs and marketing point of view). Otherwise, my advice is to integrate mobile tools and techniques in all of your reporting and/or digital storytelling classes. I don’t know about your program, but for us, the last thing we need to do is add yet another class to our already jam-packed curriculm. Are your students learning how to develop audio stories? Have them use their smartphone to record and edit the audio like SFSU student Jackie did with her “Tuned In” series. Teaching video storytelling? Let them use their smartphone to record and edit video like SFSU student Anthony did in his interview with CNET technology news blogger Sharon Vaknin.

I’m really looking forward to the spring semester. I hope to revamp some of my curriculum and begin to integrate mobile reporting (tools and techniques) into our digital skills and intro to online classes. I’ll also be teaming up with other professionals for the Knight Digital Media Center’s mobile symposium to be held at three locations (Los Angeles, Omaha, and Missoula). We’ll be discussing mobile media with top editors and publishers of local newspapers as well as journalism educators. More info on that coming soon…

Have you lead a mobile journalism class? I’d love to hear your tips, tricks, favorite apps, etc. Please share what you’ve learned in the comments below and if you’ve got a syllabus you can share too that would be great!

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