Fostering Student Creativity and Collaboration


This article was cross-posted from the Observations section of the Texas State of Change Project.

We have had quite a semester in the Advanced Online Media course. Fourteen students set out to push the boundaries of Web design and to learn as much as they could about programming and data journalism. We embarked upon not one, but two, extensive, experience learning projects this semester. The first, covering SXSW at is really a major endeavor. Students had the chance to gain exposure to a broad range of technology professionals and ideas. It was the perfect catalyst for launching into this second project, Texas State of Change. The project was conceived when I learned of the AEJMC/Knight Building a Bridge grant during the AEJMC conference last August. I was excited to learn we had received the grant that would allow us to work with the VIDI data visualization modules provided by the Jefferson Institute in developing a site around Texas State's recent designation as Hispanic Serving Institution (HSI). You can see more about the grant activities on the Advanced Online Media course site, including details of our visits by some stellar professionals, but you can see the result of our efforts here.

In this post, I want to focus on the work of the students. Over the course of the semester, I emphasized the need to exercise creativity and innovation and not to expect to be told exactly what to do. This being an Advanced graduate class, the expectation was for students to develop the site, content and functionality all on their own, with only guidance and support from me. I helped them establish a general framework for the project, working with them to brainstorm the "beats" or sections of the site, and assigning teams to beats and other responsibilities (we had a project editor in Sara Peralta, and Kiana Fitzgerald was our lead developer). But the students were really on their own to seek out stories, data and sources. The general assignment was for each beat to come up with one or more stories that utilzed text, multimedia and data to highlight the significance of the HSI status. The amount of data available was overwhelming. But students were highly motivated to succeed on this project. The HSI status is viewed as a very important accomplishment to our school, and the students were excited to help tell the story of how we got here. Guest speakers answered questions and helped students focus on the storytelling nature of the data.

I was most impressed with the teamwork and collaboration the students exhibited in working on this project. We covered a lot of ground, and they could use any tools we had covered, or any new ones they unearthed. An incomplete list includes basic HTML/CSS, DrupalJQueryVIDIGoogle Chart ToolsManyEyesHighCharts.comGoogle Earth and various visual tools to work with multimedia including Photoshop, iMovie, Premiere Pro and Final Cut. This is the goal of our new media graduate sequence - and something to which I have discussed in the past in an article in Journalism and Mass Communication Educator in 2004 - the ability for students to exercise integration of multiple tools, judgment as to their best usage and perspective - a comprehensive understanding of what they are doing and why it is important. I feel we have accomplished that in spades this semester. The slideshow below highlights the ways in which students worked as they were pulling together in the final hours of the semester. I am excited to be able to show off the work of my students on this project at the next AEJMC conference to be held in Chicago in August. 

Please visit the Texas State of Change project to see the results of our efforts and to read the student observations of their semester.