July 26, 2020

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It’s almost August, which means the weirdest back-to-school experience ever will quickly be upon us. Whether you’re teaching strictly from home, advising in hybrid mode or planning on being right there in class, here’s a roundup of everything I could find that might help you plan for a successful fall semester. Good luck!

General considerations

If you’ve procrastinated on your syllabus or have been stuck in thinking-but-not-acting mode, a good place to start is the University of Washington’s Center for Teaching and Learning’s Teaching Remotely section. Though it’s specific to UW, there are some general tips and ideas there to get you pointed in the right direction.

Texas State’s Media Innovation Lab offers a collection of articles and advice in The Pivot to Online, including Challenges for Hybrid and Lab Courses and Moving Out and Going Mobile.

PBS NewsHour’s Student Reporting Labs has created a special “Student Reporting Unit” called Making Sense of Coronavirus Through Storytelling and Media Making. Though they’re designed for high school students, there is a lot of comprehensive material here for fundamental newsgathering and storytelling skills that would be easily adaptable to college courses (it won’t feel condescending to higher ed students, in other words). Resources, links, examples … if you’re starting from scratch, start here.

Student safety

There’s obviously a lot of concern about sending students out into the field. Born out of this year’s Teachapalooza, here’s a template for suggested reporting guidelines for student journalists. (Thanks Katy Culver from Wisconsin-Madison, Steve Fox at UMass Amherst and Mark E. Johnson at UGA!)

Then there’s the James W. Foley Journalist Safety Curricula, which includes graduate and undergraduate readings and advice on all kinds of safety considerations, with this timely update (scroll to page 30, Module Five): Reporting on — and during – the COVID-19 Pandemic.


Diversity and inclusion should be on our minds as we craft fall plans. Kia Gregory from the New School wrote these excellent Guidelines for Inclusive Journalism, which is getting big praise from colleagues.

The great outdoors?

Thinking about teaching outdoors? Poynter senior faculty Al Tompkins has done it a few times. He posted to our Teachapalooza Facebook page (you need not attend to join!) that he learned the following:

  • I underestimated how hard it is for people to hear you outdoors, so ambient noise matters a lot.
  • It really works best when it is not going to be you talking and them listening, but when they talk, say in small groups.
  • (It works) if you have no need for AV.
  • (It works) if you can somehow use the outdoors for teaching — such as a field exercise in lighting; thinking about ambient noise in audio; writing details about what you see and hear; even interviewing each other and seeing how a setting can change the conversation.
  • Be sensitive to people with issues such as light complexions who burn easily. They have to be prepared for an outdoor class. Don’t surprise them.

Sporting news

For sports media students looking for live events to cover, Steve Bien-Aimé of Northern Kentucky suggests assignments or coverage around “e-sports, cornhole, sports financing for colleges as schools are terminating terms, fantasy sports, sports research (race, gender, class), gambling or gambling lobbying.” (Of course I would love it if every sports media professor in the country would take this semester to focus on power dynamics, records requests and accountability journalism, but I used up all my wishes at my last birthday candle blow-out.)

Everything else …

Let’s not forget the always useful and newly re-energized Journalist’s Toolbox, which includes a new section on COVID-19 resources and Election 2020 (oh yeah, that’s coming up!). Students may particularly enjoy its YouTube channel for tutorials.

Here’s a great big list of resources in a google doc called Moving Production Courses Online.

Here’s that great 40-second video for a DIY at-home teleprompter. Some have reported success with the Selvi app.

The Mojo Manual is a bible for lots of folks dedicated to newsgathering via smartphone, and it’s full of detailed instructions, ideas and how-tos. (here’s a list of the tutorials in the manual).

If you’re not familiar with it, NPR’s Training site is a goldmine, with offerings like Professional sound from a DIY studio: It can be done! and Protecting, cleaning and sanitizing your gear the right way, among many others. And check out NPR’s excellent Starting Your Podcast: A Guide For Students

Jill Olmsted, an associate professor at American University, offers a free podcasting ebook, Tools for Podcasting, and accompanying website that answers just about every question you might have about podcasting, from equipment needs to music legality.

WeTransfer allows you to send up to 2GB for free when you need students to submit big files like video packages.

I’m hearing a lot of chatter about Adobe Spark and Google Sites for building visual displays and portfolios. (At Poynter we recently copied some code and were able to directly transfer a Spark piece onto our WordPress site: Student reflections of a world in crisis.)

Quik (Apple, Google Play) is a highly rated, free video editor for photos, clips and music.

WeVideo promises ease, speed and flexibility in video editing, or consider Adobe Rush if you have access to the creative suite.

Knight Lab at Northwestern has some tools that might be helpful about now as you consider assignments, like using TimelineJS to have your students plot the university’s response and reaction to COVID-19 from the spring until now. Or try Juxtapose to compare some campus photos pre- and post-pandemic.

One issue that I haven’t seen addressed perfectly is equipment checkout and return, or the lack thereof. Seems like a lot of places are struggling to address this, and maybe I just missed the solution. If you or your department/newsroom have struck upon a good solution, will you let me know at ballen@poynter.org?

Reading roundup

One last thing

Here’s a ready-made assignment. Have your students watch the Chris Wallace interview with President Donald Trump. Wallace is prepared with follow-up questions and pushes back against his source’s untruths. Ideas for discussion/assignments:

  • As you watch, keep track in a list of the ways in which Wallace was prepared for this assignment.
  • For a one-hour interview with the president of the United States, how much time should you spend preparing? What does that preparedness look like? How do you know you’re researching topics that will definitely come up?
  • Would you be willing to look the president of the United States in the eye and challenge his or her statements? How would you ensure professionalism in doing so?

Barbara Allen is the director of college programming. She can be reached at ballen@poynter.org or on Twitter, @barbara_allen_

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Barbara Allen is the director of college programming for Poynter. Prior to that, she served as managing editor of Poynter.org. She spent two decades in…
Barbara Allen

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