April 7, 2002 / Spring 2002 / Staff Management

Working Online Works for Us

Written by Heather Lawrenz

By the time the end of the semester rolls around, my students’ once-rapt attention becomes blank stares. They have seen all of my first hour shenanigans. They know my dog and pony show by heart. And they are tired of it.

I used to take this quite personally, but after some serious brainstorming, I came up with an easy solution: bring the appeal of the students’ Internet-loving, MTV-watching, interactive world into the classroom.

Since the last unit I teach in beginning journalism is yearbook, this became my first foray into online instruction. I began by exploring websites that offered resources my students could check out and use.

I can see the doubt on your face already; you are thinking “I don’t have time to look up a bunch of websites.”

Finding useful website is a lot easier than you think — all major publishing companies have them. Some of my favorites are:

poynter.org — This is an excellent site for a variety of subjects, including editing and photojournalism. It also offers good advice on covering crises.

webenglishteacher.com — This site has very basic links, but covers a variety of topics, including legal resources.

Now you are thinking “The way I have always taught is just fine, thanks.” Again, remember those blank stares at the end of the semester. The greatest advantage to working online is you can draw on the experience of other advisers.

In one click, your students can access the wisdom of advisers around the country. I know it has been said before, but most of my best ideas I have “stolen” from other advisers.

Starting to get a little interested? We all have students explore and exchange yearbooks, look at design elements and learn the vocabulary of yearbook. In class, this translates to the teacher at the front holding up a yearbook, the students at their seats looking at both the good, the bad and the ugly of “yearbooking,” or, my personal favorite, the smorgasbord of yearbooks laid out for students to peruse.

Online, students can go to design showcases and look at the best of the best. There are several areas of Walsworth on the Web (walsworthyearbooks.com) that feature spreads, covers and adviser comments on yearbooks from around the country as well as helpful articles about everything from copy writing to design.

Usually, I have students respond to a series of questions about design or use these online examples to inspire them to create their own designs.

One of the projects I have new students complete is a design portfolio. This begins with having them clip interesting headline treatments, captions, or entire pages from magazines. Next, the students read articles about innovative ways to handle design and copy, which offer examples and descriptions. Students apply what they read and create a rough paste-up using their clips.

To get students thinking about copy writing and good reporting, I use articles from Walsworth on the Web’s Resource Center, including Darlene Blakely’s teaching handout “Body Copy: The Beautiful Body,” and David Knight’s “A Tale of Two Interviews.”

Students then select one other copy writing column to read and present what they learned to the class. Finally, they browse yearbooks for examples of good copy before they write their own.

How does this build a better yearbook? Having a beginning journalism class learn through a variety of mediums better prepares them for their futures on yearbook staff.

You can share these websites with your yearbook class, too. Take five minutes at the beginning of the hour to explore a new article or review caption writing. If this becomes a repeated practice, they will return to the site on their own and begin sharing with you. Those over-zealous editors (yes, we all have them) can check out staff management examples or get ideas on fundraising and motivation.

Using online resources is also a good way to begin staff training in August. While experienced students and editors work on cover or theme ideas, templates or the ladder, have first year staff members use websites to review what they have learned.

As I worked on creating student handouts with lists of websites, I thought “wouldn’t it be better if they could go to one site, read their activity and go to the appropriate website through a link?”

So, I took my online education a step further, and created a journalism home page with daily lessons.

I can hear the dissension in your voice already.

“Nothing replaces the face to face interaction,” you say. “How can kids get the same instruction from a computer screen?”

Although I like to think of myself as a motivated, inspiring teacher, when that calendar turns to week 15, I, too, am ready for change. The advantage of working online is that students who work quickly are not held back by a student who is struggling with a particular concept.

Conversely, students who need extra help can read more about caption writing or sports copy ideas. Additionally, students who are involved in every school activity, athletic event and church group can do their homework at home and not miss any content.

When it comes to using the Internet to help educate your students, I encourage you to do a little exploration and find what fits your needs, or rather, your students’ needs.

If you are interested in building your own webpage, but do not know how to get started, talk to someone in your school’s technology department, and see if they will help you put something together. You might even have web-savvy students who could help.

If you think about it, what is the difference between spending time designing interesting handouts and running back and forth to the copier, and spending time designing a little webpage?

So, instead of breaking out the floppy shoes and clown wig to keep students entertained, get them online. No, you will never have the appeal of a good episode of “The Real World,” but it may keep the class alert for a bit longer.

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Heather Lawrenz