Back in the day, when the idea of video telephones was promised as the Next New Thing, I despaired.

You mean to tell me that my phone rings and if I’m half asleep and pick it up the telemarketer or cable guy or school principal SEES me? The intrusion appalled me.

Fast forward to Facebook, one of favorite exits to stop on the Information Superhighway to avoid writing or grading or parenting. I’ve just discovered the same intrusive hitch. Who knows why it took me so long to notice. I’m blissfully chatting away, searching for old high school pals, catching up with old colleagues leaping out  the windows at various newspapers, and suddenly a small box pops up on the lower right side of the blue line on the bottom of my screen  and it’s shrieking “HEY PAM!!!” And I’m like, WHAT?? It’s a former student. I look over and it’s telling me there are 13 of my “Friends” also online. It dawns on me. THHEY ALL KNOW I’M ONLINE BECAUSE I KNOW THEY’RE ONLINE BECAUSE THE LITTLE FREAKIN’ BOX TELLS THEM SO! And I’m in my jammies!!

Quickly closed everything, logged off, turned off, turned out the lights, shut the door. What an invasion.

I’m not on Facebook now. Nobody can find me. Safe at last in the comfort and privacy and peace of my own blog.

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Don’t ask academics if they have the summer “off.” We do not. I know. I know. It completely looks like we do. We teach for nine months and then summer off the coast or cape of something.

It is, as my brother says, a Jedi Mind Trick. 

I’m full-on technology this summer, in fact. I’m teaching my first online course on Blackboard. I’d like to report that I love it, but I don’t. I miss their faces. I know, as a New Media gal, I shouldnt, but I do. I can’t connect with them and they can’t connect with me in the same way as when we’re in the classroom, together, same time, same station. It’s week four of an eight-week course. I put up all kinds of readings and articles and books and then we “discuss.” They’ll write more formal assignments and I’ll get a better sense of what they know and how they’re processing the material.

I’m also transforming my “Reporting” course, which is normally a three-hour weekly lab/writing intensive funzone, into an online course. How do I do this, folks? I bring in guest speakers, we have writing workshops, do peer edits, cover events together as a class and then brainstorm leads and compare our best quotes. We discuss endlessly. I bore them to death with my old war stories. I even channel my old beloved the (never) late Medill Prof. Richard Hainey (if your mother tells you she loves you check it out!!!)

We argue about ethics right there with each other. I red-ink their papers until the ink seeps off the page and onto their hands like blood. It’s SO GREAT! How do I recreat this? Should I even try? What part of teaching is or should be personality, human connection, inspiration, mutual recursive energy?

I’m meeting with our tech folks tomorrow to learn some of the technical ways to move docs or video and other stuff into where it needs to go. I’m also going to try some video “lectures,” so my charming personality is not silenced by this medium.

Then I’m supposed to completely revamp our intro course, Intro to New Media Communications. Where to begin? What do we want students to know? How do we balance technological skills with content? What is considered content? What’s our responsibility to teach the technology, the software, etc… to our students, versus just telling them they must know InDesign, etc… and then assuming they’ll learn it? What common terms, concepts, histories should they know when they leave? How early do we get them into experiential work? Doesn’t this industry demand experience most of all?

What should and intro course look like? I’m looking forward to meeting with my colleagues in the program to work on these questions.

Lastly, I’m trying to work on a book. Who has time?

We’re supposed to be challenging our students’ assumptions. It’s a cherished learning objective, a must-have “outcome” on all of our syllabi. And yes, watching students crack open new ideas, rethink old ones is a most excellent way to spend one’s time. But I wish I had me a dime for every time a teacher’s assumptions were challenged.

When I arrived to teach New Media at Oregon State to New Media students, I assumed all of my students, every last one, would be technologically savvy, up on the lexicon of technology, and delving daily into all of the latest widgetry.

Nope.

Yes, most have Facebook pages. They made me get one, and now I can’t stop, which is a topic for  another post.

Two or three had blogs. And there are always three or four who are most excellent at video editing and film technology. But other than that, many of my students, 20-something years younger than I am, were starting at about the same level as I was. How could that be? I was telling THEM about del.icio.us and Twitter?? You should have seen their faces when I asked them if anybody was FARKING with any regularity.

The cool thing about that was we learned together. This past year has been an extraordinary learning curve for me and most of my students. We rode it together. It was incredibly frustrating and depressing sometimes, especially my maiden voyage Winter Term for the multimedia class, NMC 301 Writing for the Professional Media. I worried constantly about how much time we were “wasting” on technology versus content. Some of my students were like, how can you not know this?  I was like, how can YOU not know this?? I was depressed for us all at the start. What chance do they have? I brought in fantastic reporters from The Oregonian and the local paper, The Corvallis Gazette-Times, who told us they, too, were learning multimedia skills on the job. This was another surprise to us all. The G-T reporter, a woman in her 30s, brought podcasting to the paper! How did she learn it? She did the free tutorials. She then helped train some of her colleagues. 

This made us all feel better. And worse.

It was a curricular riddle: How do I teach a writing course when I’m supposed to get them up to speed on everything from video editing to the ethical dilemmas of journalists being bloggers?

All I could do was call it out for my students. Here we are, I’d say. Here’s what we knew before. Here’s what we need to know to do this assignment. I’ll show you this. You get the rest outside of class and report back. Meanwhile, I’ll fumble around and see what I can learn, too. 

That was how we began. Check out how we ended by looking at the final projects of both classes, Winter and Spring terms of 2008 on the blogroll.

By the end they’d blogged themselves silly, explored the ethical, journalistic and societal implications of New Media, written old-school news stories, heard from a wide range of New Media folks doing a wide range of jobs in the field; for their final projects some created  documentaries, others designed and wrote a magazine, others did online journalism, podcasts and video newscasts. All over multimedia map. The mindblowing part of me was how much substance they were able to retain (some excellent, thoughtful interviews, marvelous story ideas, lots of sources and follow up).

I’m still grading everything so my face is too mashed up against the window to see clearly, but I’m looking forward to reflecting more on what happened this year as I get some distance.

 

Welcome.

I’m a former newspaper reporter now teaching New Media Communications at Oregon State University. My students require an entirely new set of skills and talents than my Gen X peers did when we came up, when “media” was called “journalism” and things made more sense.

Now there’s a whole generation of editors and profs working under a whole new set of rules, trying desperately to hold onto as many of the old values of content, substance, accuracy, fairness, justice and professionalism while learning to Fark and Twitter and Vod and Pod.

This blog is me writing from that tightrope, balancing like we all are, on what feels like a crossroads made of dental floss. The extra trick for me is that this journey of technologizing and socially mediating my media is not one I’m making alone. I actually have to teach students what I know, while I’m learning it. So there it is.

  Like New Media itself, those of us who came up in Old School, big-city newspaper journalism are flailing in transformation. We have a trove of essential journalistic skills. We are diligent and enterprising reporters, skilled and empathic interviewers. We have a hound’s nose for news. We see stories leaping out of the woodwork and we know how to report the hell out of them and make them sing. We can pount out a 1500-word story in 24 minutes that does the readers and sources justice. We demand fairness, balance and accuracy of ourselves and our work.

We still believe deeply in the old saw about afflicting the comfortable and comforting the afflicted.

We learned on typewriters, moved up to Trash 80s and portabubbles; we transmitted stories through pay phone lines and the raw nerve of deadline dictation. We did not fight technology. No siree. We embraced the newfangled. We boogied and House Partied onto the Internet and got our first e-mail accounts in the 90s. We rode the Information Superhighway, pal. I mean, all our aerobics classes played Techno music!

But the story was still king. We worked on our own time writing those long Sunday Page One features about how the system failed the most vulnerable of us. We gave voice to the voiceless.

We wrote tight and bright when our bosses went to management conferences and learned we all had to write like USA Today.

We embraced the long and winding narrative lead where the nut graph didn’t make it before the jump.

We wrote touchy-feely trend thumbsuckers on parenting when our Boomer bosses started having kids.

When our bosses made us rip a comb through our hair and run an iron over our clothes we chugged down our Joe, spiffed up and dragged our perk-o-lated selves onto televsion spots, learning how…to…speak….using…a….telepromp….ter….um…without….um…cursing…much.

After two decades of the frantic, hectic, adrenalinized daily news life, you expect us to do WHAT now? Podcast and vodcast and slideshows? Yahoo who? Facebook my what? Film it? Blog it? Twitter it? Digg it? FARK it? 

Alrighty then, we say. Bring it.