Transcript

New Media Teaching with Chris Scanlon

scanlon
Dr Christopher Scanlon
Email: c.scanlon@latrobe.edu.au

Matt Smith:

Welcome to the La Trobe University Podcast. I'll be your host, Matt Smith, and  I'm joined today by Dr. Chris Scanlon from the Department of Media Studies.  Thanks for joining me, Chris.

Dr. Christopher  Scanlon:

Good to be here.

Matt Smith:

You're here today to talk to me about teaching students using new media  techniques. Why is it important to use new media to engage students?

Dr. Christopher  Scanlon:

I think it's particularly important in the area that I'm teaching, which is  Journalism and Media Studies. It's just basically a way of introducing students  to new media and particularly if they are thinking about going into the media  and working in any capacity in the media oriented organization, whether that is  a newspaper, TV newsroom or TV session or in strategic communications/PR.

They're going to come  across these tools - things like Twitter, things like blogs, things like the  Internet. I guess that in teaching the content of those technologies and  teaching them how to use them one of the best ways is just to deliver course  content with them, so that they are interacting on a day-by-day, week-by-week  basis.

Matt Smith:

Is one of the reasons why you have to use new media to engage your students  because newspapers are in decline these days?

Dr. Christopher Scanlon:

Absolutely. The whole business model on which newspapers depended and in  increasing the evening television depended is now under threat and the things  like the Internet are really taking over the role of the newspaper. We are  saying that in the United States, newspapers are going out of existence. We're  seeing in Australia, big newspapers like the Fairfax Group under threat because  they are carrying so much debt, and a lot of this stuff is being driven by or  hastened by the rise of online.

So students, a lot of  them are not going to get on those kinds of jobs. They're going to have to  invent jobs as online news providers. And often, they are going be in niche  publications. For instance, one of our graduates is a guy who is working for an  organization called Pro Bono, which is a news organization directed at the  not-for-profit sector and now he is out there developing a website essentially  with this group - getting news, gathering news not-for-profit sector

Matt Smith:

I was talking  to Sue Turnbull and you've also got a graduate working for Crikey.

Dr. Christopher  Scanlon:

Oh yeah, and for the sister publication as well, Business Spectator. Crikey  very recently went and relaunched their website. If you look on that website  now, there is a lot more interaction. You can watch the discussions between the  editorial staff on Twitter and that's becoming kind of part of the whole news  conversation. So it's not just an idea that you put out one edition a day, it's  this ongoing throughout the day kind of conversation that's being held in  public.

It's built on a  blogging platform called WordPress. You can actually download WordPress and  rejig it and restyle it and make it look like how you want it to look, or you  can sign up to WordPress.com. With our students, we get them working on  WordPress.com. They post content to that. At the back end of that, where  they’re actually writing and organizing their material. It all looks the same.  So if they ask students who are working on WordPress.com in the classrooms, if  they are going to internship at Crikey and they are asked to go and put content  into the system, they should have an edge because they've already worked with  that.

Matt Smith:

What sort of blogs are your students posting? Is it up to them what sort of  content they're coming up with?

Dr. Christopher  Scanlon:

Yeah. Last year they could blog on whatever they wanted to. This year I think  I'm going to make them stick to a particular topic and I think this is partly  driven by blogs with the greatest longevity are staying on one topic. They're  not just jumping around from one topic to the other. In doing so, they build an  audience and that is one of the hardest things, the most challenging things  about writing a blog.

Matt Smith:

What are the sort of online tools are you using to teach at the moment?

Dr. Christopher  Scanlon:

One of the things I did last semester in 2009 with my Press and Society Course  was to integrate Twitter feed into my web page. So it was a normal HTML page  posted on the University servers and I built it at the beginning of the  semester and put it up. But I wanted to sort of update or alert students to  changes or stories that I came across during the semester and I didn't want to  go back into my web page and copy and paste.

So I set up a Twitter  account and whenever I came across an article that I thought was interesting or  I found a journal article that I thought was interesting and that students  should know about it, I went and put that on to my Twitter feed. Now I also  embedded the Twitter feed at the side of my HTML page so students would go to  the course outline and when that page loaded, it would also update the Twitter  feed and the students could click on that link and then read that article  online or some of the links have been to the university library, in part out of  laziness. It was an easy way of updating my website than going back to  Dreamweaver and rewriting the code or cutting and pasting content in. I guess  the hidden curriculum to this is to get students thinking about how you might  use Twitter in a useful way. In some ways when I saw Twitter launched, I  thought what a ridiculous idea. You can post 140 characters. What can you do in  140 characters? Well, it turned out I found the use for it and that was to  alert students to content. They could also sign up to Twitter if they have  their own account and then follow me on Twitter so they could see all my  updates. I think by the end of it I had about 30 students following me on  Twitter.

Matt Smith:

Have you found that students really need to maybe engage in Twitter as well?  Because it seems to be a common source of news for the press these days.  They're following trends just to see what the public thinks on Twitter.

Dr. Christopher  Scanlon:

It has become that way, but it's been particularly... Well, in the case of  something like the events in Iran have shown this is actually quite an  interesting tool because people can mobilize, they can organize in new ways  outside of state authorities and state controls. A lot of the news that we are  now getting from even the big networks is actually people in Iran posting  updates on Twitter. Very quickly, it has become a phenomenon in that regards.

Particularly, media  studies students and journalism students it's something they should be aware of  things, and sort of think about how they might use these or take hold of these  essentially free technologies and sort of hack them themselves and work at  "What can I do with this technology? How can I think creatively about this  technology? What sort of information can you deliver in that space?" I  think that's kind of a challenge and it's something our students should be  thinking about.

Matt Smith:

Another well established media outlet at the moment especially for lectures is  the use the universities are getting out of iTunes. Did you experience much of  that when you used it this semester?

Dr. Christopher  Scanlon:

I think iTunesU is an actually fantastic resource for students. One, I post to  do my lectures on iTunes and I found that very valuable because students are  familiar with the iTunes interface because most of them have iPods. And then  you alert them to this thing called iTunesU which is just part of the iTunes  store and you can upload your lectures up there. It's a nice, easy interface  that students are familiar with.

But the other great  thing about iTunesU is the massive amount of content from other universities.  For instance, there's a fantastic course being taught of the University of  California, Berkeley on Information Systems I think it is or History of  Information. There were some fantastic lectures about history of the public  sphere. So in my course outline, I posted the links to those lectures and I saw  that as a way of, "Well, OK, here's my lecture on it and this is what I've  got to say about it and you can see that on iTunes." But also, you should  be aware of these other people talking about these things out there.

Matt Smith:

It sounds like getting a guest lecturer without having to bring them out.

Dr. Christopher  Scanlon:

Absolutely, yeah. One of the great things about iTunesU is that guest speakers  at other universities who we could never get here because either their fee is  too much or they are not here in Australia, you can alert students of the fact  those people are on iTunes as well.

Matt Smith:

So what sort of student reaction did you get to all of this?

Dr. Christopher  Scanlon:

The student reaction, particularly to iTunesU, is very positive. I guess one of  the dangers of having guest lecturers and posting other lectures as part of  your course is that students can make a comparison between your version of the  information and other lectures. In one case, I set a chapter from a very  difficult to read book by Jurgen Habermas, very dense piece of writing, and he  listened to the same lecture from the University of California, Berkeley in  which the lecturer said that he actually set the reading for that course be he  decided that it was too dense and that he didn't make his students actually  read it. So the students were actually complaining to me that I made them read  Jurgen Habermas, whereas at Berkeley they got off lightly. So they can do that  comparison, but I think it's good that students can access these resources and  that they know they're out there because when they leave this place, hopefully  we're not just teaching them this set of skills and this is kind of this  "box of knowledge".

But then they would be  able to then keep developing those skills and that knowledge so when they go  out into workplace and they might not be interested and as part of their job  they might not need to know about Jurgen Habermas, but they know that iTunesU  is out there and that there is a whole stack of resources for everything from  ancient history to programming for the iPhone. So just to make them aware of  that as a research tool as well.

Matt Smith:

If we go back about blogs, one thing that you told me once that you have going  is something called Upstart, which is trying to give young journalists and  emerging journalists maybe, a platform to speak on.

Dr. Christopher  Scanlon:

Upstart is an initiative Laurie Zion and myself have started here in the  Journalism program and it's a platform to the world. That's just a great tool  particularly for journalists as part of their assignments - they're doing  feature articles there, they're going out and getting interviews with people  and writing the up-to-date stories and feature articles and news articles. In  the past, we have kind of encouraged them to go off and try and get this  published. Now we have the capacity to do that ourselves.

We've got an amount of  capacity to put that and make that a showcase to the world of what our students  do. But also down the track, the idea of this is also to get students involved  in the management of Upstart. So from the back-end managing the actual database  content that drives the site and designing the pages, but also in the role of  editing. We have plans for it to be something in which students actually engage  with in a much different way and it becomes part of the teaching process.

Matt Smith:

There's a bit of a risk, though, of in about five years' time, all this  knowledge that they've got being a bit obsolete. Probably, there would be in  considering how technology changes and how media and journalism is having to  constantly recreate itself.

Dr. Christopher  Scanlon:

Absolutely. And I think that's one of the challenges. One of the things I've  done in online production workshop used to take students back to basic html,  basic cascading style sheets. These are the foundations of the web. A lot of  things might change in way of technologies. Twitter might not even be around in  five years' time. The web will be.

Some of the basic  technologies, sort of get a foot in the door of the Internet, you're going to  need to start somewhere. So we've taken them right back to the basics that  pretty much anyone who does anything on the Internet will know or have a basic  understanding of it. If they are interested in this, they have got a foundation  in which they can develop. So hopefully even in five years, this foundation is  still going to be relevant to what they do.

Matt Smith:

So did you want to give your projects a plug? How are the people going to check  them out if they want to...

Dr. Christopher  Scanlon:

If they want to check out Upstart, that's www.upstart.net.au. Twitter at  twitter.com/pressandsociety or the Upstart Twitter is  twitter.com/upstartmagazine.

Matt Smith:

And on iTunes?

Chris Scanlon:

Press and Society, if you go to the iTunes store and you put into the search  function "Press and Society" or "La Trobe", you will come  up with that.

Matt Smith:

OK. Dr. Christopher Scanlon. Thank you for your time today.

Chris Scanlon:

Thank you