Michael McKisson shows students how to use the school's new 360-degree cameras, which can be attached to iPhones. (Photo: Mike Chesnick/UA School of Journalism)
Michael McKisson shows students how to use the school's new 360-degree cameras, which can be attached to iPhones. (Photo: Mike Chesnick/UA School of Journalism)

UA Journalism Profs Take Teaching Into Field

Michael McKisson and William Schmidt will combine their multimedia and reporting courses, allowing more time to work with students on stories with new 360-degree cameras.
May 31, 2017
William Schmidt
William Schmidt
Michael McKisson
Michael McKisson

Calling it "Journalism 180," Michael McKisson and William Schmidt have teamed up to flip the way teaching is done at the University of Arizona.

They won a $3,000 engagement grant from the UA School of Journalism and funded by alumnus Al Litzow for a proposal to combine their multimedia and reporting courses — and take their teaching out of the classroom and into the field while using cutting-edge technology.

"Journalists are expected to do more now than ever," the professors wrote in their proposal. "They are required to write stories, shoot photos and video all while engaging their audience on social media, and increasingly use livestreaming. Digital journalism and writing/reporting are not separate entities as suggested by our class structure, but rather skills that work together and are indeed required by modern newsrooms."

During the fall semester, Schmidt's advanced reporting and McKisson's advanced multimedia courses will be scheduled back-to-back, letting up to 20 students earn credit for both courses. The project also will allow the two faculty members a larger block of time to transport students to newsworthy locations away from campus and work with them on developing and reporting stories.

"Now we can watch what students are doing and give real-time feedback about tips for rephrasing questions, ways to get higher-quality shots in video," said McKisson, an assistant professor of practice. "If students have a question while they are trying to set up their interview, we are around to help."

The first story students might work on could involve water in the desert, according to the professors, who plan to organize a tour of Pima County's Wastewater Reclamation Center and arrange for hydrology experts to talk about issues and answer questions. The students then would identify a story and continue the reporting process outside of the class by locating their own sources.

"Ultimately, their actual story might go in a different or narrower direction, and subsequent reporting might focus on water conservation or groundwater or flood control or subsidence — or even golf course management, since golf courses use partly treated water on the grass," said Schmidt, an assistant professor of practice and former deputy managing editor of The New York Times. 

The grant also will allow the professors to incorporate 360-degree livestreaming and virtual-reality video production into the curriculum.

An outside selection committee judged the grant competition, including former Arizona Daily Star editor Bobbie Jo Buel, 2012 graduate Kellie Mejdrich, and Jesse McCain, student engagement coordinator for the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences.

"The judges liked that the project provides potential for long-term integration in the curriculum and tangible equipment that can serve hundreds of students for years ahead," said David Cuillier, the school's director.

McKisson calls the idea something of a beta test.

"The goal is to show the benefits of combining reporting and multimedia," he said, "which could have a profound effect on the school's curriculum on the whole."

McKisson was able to buy at least five Ricoh Theta S 360-degree cameras that attach to students' smartphones and are easier to use than earlier models.

"It begins, as always, with the journalism — a good story with a strong focus," Schmidt said. "And then you give that story much more traction by integrating video or audio or graphics or mapping skills or photo streams."