My approach to teaching comes from the socio-constructivist view that my job is not to impart knowledge onto students, rather we are all gathered to co-construct knowledge and learn together. My classes are heavily discussion-based and I rely on students to share their own experiences with media so I have a better understanding of them as both learners and media users. One of my favorite ways to engage students in dialog is through debates, and a great topic for such discussion is native advertising. Following a lesson that explores who creates native ads and why they are part of news publishing, our discussion around the ethics and best practices of native advertising ends with a debate. I divide the class into ‘editors’ and ‘business executives’ of our local news organization, which has been losing subscribers to the point that we might have to cut staff. The ‘editors’ and ‘executives’ must argue their cases for and against creating a native content studio using concepts we learned in class, examples of real native advertising, and additional research found on their own. Because the groups are selected at random rather than in accordance with personal views, students express a more nuanced understanding of the complicated issue, whether or not their positions change as a result of the exercise. As the ‘publisher’ of the newspaper, I am always fascinated by arguments students make for and against native advertising, and I always learn something new about how young people think about their relationship with advertising and their expectations of publishers.
A believer in reflexive learning, I require students to self-reflect on their learning experiences. A great example of how this leads to deeper learning is a lesson I designed for news media literacy that guides students through a journey of news source evaluation, beginning with journalistic routines, leading to the social construction of authority, and ending with lateral reading. After learning the basics of how journalists solicit news sources, I demonstrate a technique for evaluating each source relative to their contribution to the story, and then have students practice in pairs. When teaching this in Hong Kong I let students choose between a Reuters article about a mass shooting in Malawi and a CNN.com story about the K-Pop sexting scandal, which was highly publicized at the time. Each pair chose the K-Pop article, which included a source many of them dismissed as not authoritative: a white, American Ph.D. student at the University of Chicago who was cited as an expert in Korean culture. A quick search of the source revealed that she had lived in Korea for several years and worked for a Korean think tank before returning to the U.S. for graduate school, where she studied Korean political relations. During their post-activity reflection, I asked students to consider whether or not their own views of gender, race, or ethnicity influenced their evaluation of a source’s quality. Of course, not all of them made the connection to their self-biases, but many of them did—and watching those lightbulb moments as part of their video reflections was priceless. Those who may not have made the connection during reflection may have done so as we reviewed the activity together in the following class.
One of the most important parts of my teaching practice that continues to evolve is giving feedback and assessment that helps students further their goals. While not an easy pursuit in Hong Kong, where instructionist learning and multiple-choice assessment are the norm, I found that delivering thorough, relevant, and encouraging feedback led to significant improvements from first to final drafts and resulted in projects that were more in line with the learning objectives of the course. In a graduate-level public relations writing course, I experimented with using screencasts to give feedback on digital portfolios—the final project for the class. Grades for each student were delivered via a copy of the rubric, complete with my notes, but I was not able to deliver their screencast feedback until after the course ended. While I knew the feedback would not impact their grade, it will have helped strengthen an important asset in future job applications.