The Media Law Newscast Assignment is a research-based production where students work in small groups to research, analyze, and frame a current issue in media law. Each group of 4-5 students produces a 4-6 minute audio or audio-visual news segment to present their research to the class.
The learning objectives for this assignment include: 1) collecting research, 2) synthesizing and organizing research for a general audience, 3) applying principles of journalism ethics, and 4) using production skills to present an issue in a clear, concise, and engaging manner. This assignment assesses the DQP proficiencies in Applied and Collaborative Learning and Communicative Fluency.
Background and context
The Media Law Newscast Assignment was designed for a 300-level Communication course, taken primarily by Communication Majors in the third or fourth year of their Bachelor’s degree. It is the final project in the course and is used to assess students’ ability to synthesize research, apply theories and frameworks from the course, and present research in an audio-visual format. The course typically has 20-25 students split into 4-5 groups of 5.
At the beginning of the semester, I put students into small groups using a self-assessment worksheet that evaluates their production skills, experience, and interest in course topics. I form groups with similar topical interests and varied production skills, with at least one student in each group who has taken a prior video production course. Student groups then decide on three key components of their project: 1) the case or issue they will cover related to a topic from the course (for instance if they are interested in libel they might choose a recent Twitter libel case); 2) the organizational format (either persuasive or informative), and 3) the production format (either audio or audio visual). These decisions are based on students’ ethical consideration of what topic, organization, and format will best serve a general audience and effectively convey their message.
As we move through the curriculum, students work individually and collaboratively to research their topic. In class, I provide students with research lessons on how to write research questions, brainstorm key words, use online databases, and review sources. Student groups compile their research into an annotated bibliography that is turned in and evaluated with feedback from the instructor. The research component of the assignment assesses the DQP Applied and Collaborative Learning outcome by evaluating students’ ability to conduct research; apply course concepts and theories to analyze the laws, precedents, and ethics that impact their specific issue; and work as a team.
Next, students synthesize their research into an outline with a thesis statement and 3-5 main points. The instructor provides feedback for each groups’ outline to ensure they include the relevant facts, history, discussion points, and opinions to sufficiently support their thesis. To prepare students for the production component of the assignment, I deliver brief in-class lessons on script writing, set design, recording, and editing, and bring in experts from the University’s media services office for a production tutorial. Students then work together to select audio and/or audio-visual evidence to advance their argument, write a production plan, and a final script. I provide another round of feedback on the script with comments on its content and organization. The organization and production components of the assignment assesses the Communication Fluency outcome by evaluating students’ ability to craft “sustained, coherent arguments, narratives or explications of issues, problems or technical issues and processes, in writing and at least one other medium, to general and specific audiences” (DQP “Intellectual Skills”).
At the end of the semester, student groups produce their newscast and screen them for class. The final project requires an oral presentation to the class, a self and group evaluation, and a written reflection. Each of these components requires students to use communication theories to articulate the legal and ethical dilemma’s involved in media research, reporting, and production, measuring the DQP Communication Fluency proficiency to “articulate an approach to resolving a social, personal or ethical dilemma” (DQP “Intellectual Skills”).
Alignment and scaffolding
The Media Law Newscast Assignment is the final project in the Media Law course. As such, it relies upon specific knowledge and skills scaffolded throughout the semester in media law and journalism ethics. At Saint Xavier University, Communication majors are required to take an introductory media production course and this assignment builds on students’ past production skills.
This assignment is designed to assess student’s advanced research skills and utilizes previous coursework at Saint Xavier University’s Department of Communication that scaffolds learning outcomes in message construction, analysis, and communication self-efficacy through assignments that lay a foundation in constructing outlines and arguments, self-and peer evaluation, and effective delivery methods (see Paxton’s “Ethnography of Communication”). These skills are honed through individual and group research projects and presentations in subsequent classes including this Media Law course. This assignment prepares students for the research, argument construction, and production skills required for the Department of Communication’s final capstone project, Senior Seminar (see Robinson “Audio or Video Production Capstone Project”).
I have found the Media Law Newscast Assignment to be a successful tool for engaging students in the research, analysis, and production process. It is also presents a set of challenges for students and instructors. Some groups face challenges associated with organizing and distributing labor when working collaboratively. I have found several tools useful for combating these challenges including setting a timeline for each component of the assignment so that student groups stay on schedule, providing feedback for each component to ensure groups are meeting learning outcomes, and holding regular check-in meetings with student groups to evaluate group process. An additional tool used to measure the distribution of labor in each group is an individual log of time on task, paired with an individual evaluation form where each student provides a quantitative grade and qualitative assessment for themselves and other group members (turned in privately to the instructor). The average group assessment makes up 15% of the students’ final assignment grade.
I have also found that the process of researching an unfolding current event reported across multiple news outlets challenged students. To help students manage their research, I integrated mini-tutorials into the curriculum with corresponding worksheets to help students brainstorm research questions and keywords, search databases, and synthesize research. I encourage students to set up Google alerts for key words to stay up to date on their case within preset time limits (research conducted between week 8 and 11) as not to overwhelm students.
Another potential challenge for instructors is students’ technological expertise. At Saint Xavier University, all Communication majors take an introductory audio-visual production course so they each have experience with recording equipment, script writing, visual techniques, and editing software. For courses without this prerequisite, instructors could build in a week of instruction to cover basic concepts in audio-visual production and introduce a user-friendly editing program like iMovie. For instructors without production experience, campus resources like media and production services, production instructors and professionals, and campus computer labs with editing software are helpful. An alternative project could be an in-class performance of the newscast.
Through the assignment design charrette processes and one semester of teaching, the assignment directions have been clarified and the timeline has been extended to further scaffold learning outcomes and skills.
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