Methodology and Key Findings

Considering my background in journalism and my present role as a high school online teacher, I thought it would be a good fit to design an online high school journalism course for my final project. Also, I knew that the major changes happening now in the worlds of journalism and online classes would provide interesting questions for me to ponder as a teacher, and would make for exciting possibilities in classroom discussion and production of an online student paper.

My research was informed by three sources: journalism textbooks; peer-reviewed articles; and, a survey of my high school students. First, the textbooks helped me grasp that the journalism of my undergraduate days, separated into print and broadcast news at MU in the mid-1970’s, is in a sea change called “convergence.” One textbook, written by The Missouri Group, “Telling The Story: The Convergence Of Print, Broadcast And Online Media,” describes what’s required of today’s journalists:

“Students graduating today can no longer expect to write only for print or television. Emerging technologies are changing the way the news is produced and consumed, and that means newswriters need to be prepared to write for a wide range of electronic media, as well as traditional print, television and radio outlets” (page iii).

TellingStoryWith this in mind, as a journalism teacher, I know it is paramount to respond to these changes for the benefit of my students, but how best to do that? I decided to use “Telling The Story” in the lesson plans for this course because the entire textbook is about convergence, and how it is changing the way news is gathered and reported. As the authors observe, “It’s a multimedia world in which convergence will increasingly reign.” (Page 40)  

Next, I read peer-reviewed articles about both the online classroom and teaching convergence journalism. Articles on teaching today’s journalism echo the textbook, “Telling The Story,”

“For over 100 years print and broadcast journalists have used a narrative style that follows a linear process of news reporting and writing…In writing across media one adds elements to this process by creating a non-linear approach, which means that instead of developing a rigidly structured single narrative you choose to navigate through the elements of story by using a combination of text, still photographs, video clips, audio, graphics, and interactivity such as polls or logs on a website in such a fashion that each medium is complementary.”  (Boers, Ercan, Rinsdorf, & Vaagan, 2012)

The articles also address how readers are accessing the news products.

“Online reader preferences are shifting towards mobile phones and iPads. In this environment all levels of management must have a firm understanding of the specific demands of different media channels in presenting cross-media or multimodal news to audiences.” (Boers, Ercan, Rinsdorf, & Vaagan, 2012)

It’s clear that I need to teach students the news skills needed for reporting in multimedia formats, and also how to present the online newspaper so it is accessible on all formats: computers, laptops, tablets, mobile phones and iPads.

The other aspect of journal articles that I looked at addressed how to teach effectively in an online school. Research showed me how critical it is to create an interactive environment in the online classroom to engage the students in the lesson.

“Online learners should not be impoverished in terms of social learning because they cannot or choose not to come to a campus. Access to education should not mean merely access to content, rather, it should mean access to a rich learning environment that provides opportunity for interaction and connectedness.” (Brindley, Walti, & Blaschke, 2009)

This article goes on to discuss the importance of  collaboration in online classrooms.

“Siemens (2002) notes that learner-learner interactions in an e-learning course can be viewed as a four stage continuum: communication -people talking; collaboration -people sharing ideas and working together; cooperation -people doing things together; and community -people striving for a common purpose.” (Brindley, Walti, & Blaschke, 2009)

I used this four-tiered approach as the structure for my lesson plans to promote community in the online classroom.

news ChartExportFinally, my third method of research for this project was an online survey among the high school students I currently teach, several teachers at the school, and friends and family that represent the population that will be reading the online high school newspaper for the Catholic school. The survey was brief, asking a total of 13 questions, two of which were for classification purposes. The survey was conducted by sending an email invitation to a list of 35 people in my target sample; the email contained a link that took the respondent to a site dedicated to online research. The survey was available a total of 28 days, during which 26 total responses were collected. The final sample composition is:

Middle and High School Students:17; College Students: 2; Teachers: 3;  Family and Friends: 4

While the sample is small, it offers some directional indicators of how these people are getting their news, and what they would like to see reported in the student newspaper.  The key question within my survey asks for a tally of the most important sources this sample uses to stay informed. The question allows multiple answers, but also emphasizes the most often used among all options. This sample’s preferences are shown in the chart above, confirming that people are turning to many channels to access their news and information. Not surprisingly, the majority (shown in purple) is turning online and to non-newspaper media for news (8). The light blue section shows the second largest group, which gets its news from online newspapers (5), the orange shows the group which gets news from print newspapers (5), and the smallest portion shows the group which gets news from TV networks (2). To sum it up, the patterns illustrated by my survey mirror those of my other sources, and thus add confidence to the curriculum I am creating to teach online journalism at the high school level.

I took all the research, textbook material and poll results that helped me address how to make the school online newspaper accessible and responsive, and used the information to help shape the lesson plans for this project. Before each lesson plan, you will find a short introduction which describes the research material I used to shape that particular lesson.