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Eric NewtonWith the digital age rapidly changing journalism, it’s difficult for journalists and journalism educators to stay abreast of new innovations and technologies.

Educators often can no longer rely on traditional printed textbooks. School districts are moving away from them; they’re heavy, expensive and in many cases outdated from the moment they arrive.

“The digital age has turned journalism upside down and inside out,” says Eric Newton, senior adviser to the president at the Knight Foundation. “It has not done the same for journalism education. That’s a problem.”

Five-year-old books don’t analyze the social and mobile media explosions, he notes, because they hadn’t yet happened.

Teachers trying to stay up to date are seeking digital sources, says Newton. Wanting to provide teachers with just such an open educational resource, Newton, along with the Knight Foundation and a team of RJI-selected researchers and educators is creating a new type of teaching tool during a Reynolds Journalism Institute non-residential fellowship this fall. It’s a digital book that, with a click, will turn itself into a classroom edition.

The RJI team is producing lesson plans, classroom activities and research assignments useful to journalism educators at the high school, community college and college levels. The book, “Searchlights and Sunglasses: Field Notes from the Digital Age of Journalism,” traces the digital transformation of journalism and journalism education.

How the idea came about

The Knight Foundation is a leading funder of journalism education. This makes the foundation a kind of way station visited by all manner of journalists, teachers, scholars, executives and entrepreneurs interested in the digital transformation of news. For a decade, Newton has watched the gap grow between the cutting edge of change and journalism education. For the last two years, he’s blogged about those issues, including joining those who successfully pushed for accreditation standards that begin to recognize the importance of digital journalism.

Newton has championed the “teaching hospital” model of journalism education, in which students, scholars and professionals work together for the benefit of both the community and the field of journalism. It is a system of learning by doing that does not just inform communities but engages them, using innovative tools, techniques and concepts informed by research and studied in depth by scholars.

“This is about the students, professional and professors working together,” says Newton. “It’s a collaborative model. The same way an actual teaching hospital would have interns, doctors and researchers under the same roof. Researchers are trying to figure out better ways to heal people and the doctors and interns are sitting there healing people and there’s people — a community is being served.”

(For this project, the team of researchers and educators includes a mix of professionals, graduate students and educators at the high school and college levels
working together in its teaching model.)

As Newton blogged about the issues, teachers began telling Knight Foundation staff about their experiences sharing the posts in their classes.

“The question came up, ‘is there something more we could do to draw attention to the issue of the digital transformation of journalism and journalism education?” says Newton.

When the call for RJI applicants went out, he applied immediately. The foundation staff joined in to create an innovative design concept that turned a book into a classroom resource.

A look at the team/ebook

As part of the fellowship, RJI executive and administrative staff put together a team of seven educators and professionals. Knight added designers, interns and others to work on the project. The RJI-selected team makes the fellowship unique to the other 2013-2014 fellowships.

“It’s like having a team of fellows packed into one fellowship,” says Newton.

The team is now going through each chapter to develop a “learning layer” with various links to other books to read, videos to watch, discussion questions to ask, exercises to try and more. The book has three levels (flashlight, spotlight and searchlight) for various learning abilities across all educational levels.

“The educators were clear that we should not label assignments “high school” or “college,” says Newton. “Each teacher can determine the right level for his or her class.”

Goal for the e-book

The Searchlights and Sunglasses team is working with high school and colleges teachers to test its alpha and beta versions and plans for a 2013 fall release. Part of that testing is determining how students and teachers want to keep the ideas flowing after the tool comes out.

The team doesn’t want to just “make a case that journalism education should transform more rapidly,” Newton says, but to help them do it. “The teaching tool helps extend that discussion into the classroom,” he says. “It is an example of what it says should happen — be open, digital, different, experimental. It’s a demonstration. It’s show, not tell.”

Jennifer Nelson  
Senior Information Specialist


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