Review of Jour 21B, Winter Quarter 2013

New to the school and course structure, Professor Farideh Dada strived to teach an engaging and informative Feature Writing class every Tuesday and Thursday morning for the Winter Quarter at De Anza College. Though the class was ultimately a success, the progress of the course was not without growing pains.

Fluency in AP Style is an essential skill for any journalism student looking to land a job in the field. While the power point presentations highlighting the most common rules a journalist encounters were clear and concise, the in-class participation section of the course seemed a bit rocky.

Each student was assigned a letter and was instructed to choose a couple words from their section to memorize and teach to the class.  Conceptually, this is a good idea that would allow students an introduction to a rather intimidating book of rules. However, since there are less than 26 students who show up to class consistently, not every letter was assigned. Also, because a student teaching the class was largely done on a volunteer basis, some of the letters were covered more than others.

Students might appreciate it if each week the whole class was instructed to find two examples from a couple sections (A and B for example), and then were called on to teach it to the class. This way, every one is looking at those two sections every week and by the end of the quarter, each student has looked through every section in the book.

While the in-class activities were thought provoking, many students complained that there wasn’t enough time to complete the projects. It seemed there were several times that a half hour period was divided to two or three activities, when perhaps focusing on one (maybe two) would have been more beneficial.

One such instance was when students were instructed to interview their neighbors and then write down five potential articles they could focus on from that conversation. This was a great icebreaker activity that tested a student’s ability to find an interesting angle in a sea of information while simultaneously creating connections between students.

The only problem was that the students were only given about five minutes to interview each person, a time that may not have been communicated well at the beginning of the activity. This left many students scrambling to scratch some legible on a sheet of binder paper at the last second, a desperate act which might have been averted with a bit more communication or time.

The course might benefit from adjusting time constraints for each project according to the amount of productivity that each activity generates. If students are engaged and getting into an assignment, they might appreciate a bit more time to complete it rather than cutting the assignment short to move on to the next thing scheduled for the class.

Homework was another portion of the course that caused some frustration among the students. Initially, students weren’t certain what they were expected to hand in or post to the blog every week. A few weeks into the quarter, the system solidified, but by then some students were already disheartened that they had missed assignments and gave up trying for a good grade in the course.

The course might consider an online schedule that Dada could alter each week. This would allow students to double check due dates and might assuage some potentially heated student/teacher interactions over missed deadlines.

Eventually, the course caught its stride. Students learned the routine and towards the end of the quarter every one seemed to be on the same page.

The films shown, “Shattered Glass” and “All the President’s Men,” were both engaging and relevant movies to show to a journalism class. It is always refreshing when videos aren’t merely used as a crutch for a lesson plan, but actually strive to be informative and enlighten the students.

Class discussions about ethics and “what if” scenarios could become heated at times, but were ultimately insightful debates that allowed people to express there views.

Future classes will benefit from the bumpy start the Winter Quarter class experienced and will enjoy the creative momentum Dada generated by the end of this course.

Feature Writing is a broad topic to try to cram into a quarter of class work, but I feel that each student took something constructive away from this course, which in the end is all anyone can really hope for.

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