Reddit IAMA meets Twitter chat via Slack channel — My experiment bringing a real-time collaboration tool into an intro to reporting course

This fall starts my first semester as a full-time tenure-track assistant professor at the University of La Verne.

I’m only teaching two courses this fall — Intro to News Reporting and Public Relations Methods (thanks to the course relief given to newbies). But I never do things the easy way. What fun would that be? So I’m using the course relief as an opportunity to try some new things. In the past, I’ve used Twitter as a classroom discussion tool, but this time, I decided to experiment with Slack.

I’m calling my experiment “Reddit-IAMA-with-a-professional-journalist-meets-Twitter-chat-via-a-Slack-channel.”

Batman Meme from Meme Generator

Class time is precious in a jam-packed course like News Reporting (at La Verne we call it Journalism 100). There’s a lot of ground to cover, and often, discussions end up limited to an hour or less a week. But what if our class could have on-going discussions throughout the semester?

My goals for this assignment are:

  1. Give students a chance to practice using a real-world collaboration tool.

Communicating with supervisors and peers via tools like Slack isn’t always as natural for the younger generation as you might think it would be. It takes time and a little trial and error to really perfect your giphy “A game.”

2. Connect students with a diverse group of professional journalists that work all over the world.

This means in-person visits and even real-time chats would be next to impossible to coordinate. Besides, working journalists are busy people, I didn’t want to make them commit to a campus visit. Instead, I wanted to provide opportunities for discussion over an entire week so they, you know, could converse in their “free” time. (Hahahaha.)

Here’s how I’ve designed my experiment.

First, I hit-up some people I know personally. A couple of former star students who are rockin’ it in the real world as journalists, and a couple of co-workers from Global Press Journal whose work I really admire. I asked if they’d be willing to be guinea pigs (they all said, “Yes!”). I also Tweeted out a call for people who work police beats and connected with two more stellar professionals. All-in-all, I’m planning seven chats over the course of the 16 week semester.

I’ve created three assignments related to these guest discussions. The timeline will go something like this:

  1. Guests will be added to the class Slack channel. (I may do one guest channel or individual channels per topic, that is TBD.) The guest will post a short intro that gives students some background on their career and experience, (ala Reddit’s IAMA, complete with their photo).
  2. On Monday, the week of the guest chat, students must submit a question for the guest around a specific topic, (which will probably be the topic for class that week). This is a pass/fail assignment. Either you submit a question, or you don’t. I will pick 3–5 questions to ask the guest over the course of their week.
  3. I will post a question or two a day starting on Tuesday and ending on Friday. The guest will pop into Slack during the week and answer questions, maybe even pose questions back to the students. And, in an ideal world, the students will engage in a conversation with the guest during the week. (I’m asking guests to have example links ready to share and to prep a few giphys to, you know, emphasize their points and add a little fun to the interaction.)
  4. In small teams, students will communicate via Slack to create a highlights presentation in Powerpoint or Keynote. The “Slack Chat Highlights” will include interesting quotes from the discussion, summary of key learnings and a list of examples that relate to the topic and the discussion. (See template). They’ll upload the slides to me directly on Slack.
  5. Last, but not least, I send the guest a $5 Starbucks or iTunes gift card as thanks for participating in my experiment, essentially, buying them a cup of coffee or a couple apps.

I plan to write a follow up post documenting what worked, and what didn’t at the end of the semester, so check back here sometime in January 2017! Or connect with me on Twitter (@ProfBaird) and watch for my play-by-play account of this experiment.