Widgets and Wikis for the Web 2.0 Journo

By Allissa Richardson, Morgan State University

On the first day of class, my students set up their “e-newsrooms.” The technology-shy students usually groan—then ask me what Facebook, Scribd, Twitter and Wordpress have to do with being a journalist. I understand AEJMC begs this question too. Please allow me to share how my affinity for social media in the classroom began and evolved.


At some point in the Spring 2009 semester, I realized my students were not accessing Blackboard to fetch assignments or to view the assigned readings I had suggested in class. Students were coming to class unprepared and—even worse!—trying to pretend that they had done their homework. I began to think there must be a better way to reach them.

As a journalism professor, all of my classes take place in computer labs. I found that each day was a fight to keep them focused, and off Facebook. One day it occurred to me to incorporate Facebook into the class. I set up a group called Prof. Hosten’s News Writing I Class, using my maiden name at the time. I made the group public so students would not have to be my “friend” to join the group. The next day, when I told students to open their Facebook accounts, many of them looked surprised, then thrilled. I explained to them that joining the group would be optional, but that I would cross post course material from Blackboard on our Facebook group page too. Every single student joined.

I began to post links to news stories, videos from broadcast coverage for case study, and audio podcasts. I told students to read, view or listen to the material before we met, and come to class ready to discuss. Participation skyrocketed. Although no one was accessing Blackboard, students jumped right into Facebook. What was even more thrilling was their commentary. On their own, students posted online comments to my links, or found related stories and posted those as a response. The class began to live inside and outside of the newsroom. I discovered my students were engaged, critical, and very, very funny.

At the end of the semester, in May 2009, I wrote a white paper entitled, Facebook for College Professors. I posted it on Scribd and SlideShare. About one week after its posting, I realized people had viewed it almost 300 times! By the end of the year, that number nearly tripled, to 878 views combined. Professors all over the world began e-mailing and “Tweeting” me for lecture tips.I began then to experiment with other tools that I would like to share with you. First, I should define what social media means to me nowadays. It is: “user-created video, audio, or text that are published and shared in a digital space.”By this definition I use many different tools, depending on the learning outcomes I desire, or the mode of student creativity I want to stimulate. What follows is my ever-growing list.


Since I use many social media outlets to reach my students, I created a main Website that serves as a hub for all of their activity. My site is powered by Wordpress as a CMS. When students visit my site, they can sign in using their Facebook accounts; view their work on the “By My Students” page; drop assignments in my online box; sign up for SMS text messages; review PowerPoint presentations; and view their progress in an online grade book. I also conduct learning surveys in the Blog section of my site. After every major unit, they can tell me, anonymously, if they feel ready to move on. Wordpress also has been a very powerful tool for them. My News Writing II students this semester set up a news site called “The Open Source.” They created print news stories, Webisodes and much more, all within a news beat of their choice. They also learned how hard it is to populate a site with content constantly!


Every student enrolled in my classes has a Twitter account. At the start of the semester, I tell them to “follow” all the local news outlets, such as The Afro American Newspapers or The Baltimore Sun. Then, their first assignment is to find and follow five intriguing journalists. This helps them learn who the pros are, and how they practice their crafts. One of my students’ favorite assignments is live “Tweeting.” During the fall semester, we live Tweet the homecoming football game, a Baltimore City Council meeting and at least one breaking news story. This spring, we live Tweeted President Barack Obama’s State of the Union address. If students have cameras, I allow them to add pictures to post on TwitPic. Then, when we meet for class we have a large “show and tell” session, to compare what each reporter deemed newsworthy. I often record the events, so we can go back to see who quoted news interviewees properly—and who did not! Students learn how important it is to be fast and accurate.


Flickr came to my rescue this semester when I gave a special seminar class on Editorial and Critical Writing. The semester-long topic was the image of the African American woman in mass media. I assembled many photos and magazine covers, and posted it to Flickr. Then, I allowed my students to add images they found provocative. By the end of the semester, we collected more than 200 pictures. It is a beautiful online catalog of collaboration that I could not have assembled alone. The experience so moved me, I decided to produce a film about the process, called Brown Skin Lady. My students are helping me conduct, film and edit interviews for television and radio.


Students have the option to sign up for my text message alerts. For extra credit assignments, I send out breaking news alerts. I pick news that occurs on campus, since many of my students do not have cars. If they report to class the next day with a fully reported piece, they earn 25 extra credit points that they can use however they want. By the end of the semester, as you can imagine, many of the students get quite competitive!


YouTube is a powerful tool for case study. Many of my ethics lessons come from broadcast news videos I gather online. I am also a big fan of The IFC Media Project’s video clips, which offer smart news criticism. My students write position papers on whether or not they agree with the series’ animated host, “Media Junkie.” I also love to show students clips from Current TV’s SuperNews satire. These videos inspire the most lively commentary when I post them on our class Facebook pages.


Since I only teach classes on Tuesdays and Thursdays, there is just so much to pack in. I cannot spend class time administering quizzes, so I assign them online. Zoho Quizzes has been an awesome tool for this. The online application allows me to set the opening and closing time for a quiz. It also permits students to take a quiz only once, and randomizes the questions, which makes it difficult for students to cheat. The best thing is that Zoho compiles the test results in a spreadsheet and e-mails me the scores. Then, I can analyze which questions the students found most difficult and revisit those in class.


Students submit their work electronically via Drop.io. This makes for some very lively show and tell learning experiences. I often allow students to screen their videos, show pictures or air audio podcasts, all from a centralized location. The best part is students still have their intellectual privacy, since I can set new passwords to access Drop.io at any time. And students love not having to run around campus in search of a printer.


I create online surveys using Google Docs. My students love to give feedback after every major unit. I also use Google Docs for newsgathering homework assignments. In my News Writing I class, for instance, I told students to research key facts about Morgan State University, using on-campus and State-level resources. They recorded their answers in this form then swapped notes in class before writing a trend piece about the state of the University. I love Google Books too. I post its links to assigned readings on our class Facebook group. I noticed that many more students were willing to read selected chapters from Ben Bagdikian’s The New Media Monopoly when I gave it to them in a link like this.

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