Tuesday, September 30, 2008

The IJIMS project at a glance

Overview: Journalism has undergone a profound shift due to the Internet and now provides the potential to engage students who might not see themselves as “computing types.” Our goal is to develop middle school student interest in 21st century writing, media, math and computing skills to motivate and prepare them for careers in computing rich fields.

There is an acute shortage of skilled professionals in the computing disciplines. Research shows that adolescents are influenced in their career path decisions by personal experience, their families and teachers rather than their peers or the media. By directly engaging students who do not necessarily view themselves as “computing types” our program is designed to change their perspective on career options in the expanding computing disciplines. Our student recruiting procedures explicitly identified the students who have a creative bent in visual media and writing as opposed to those who have been identified as successful in the traditional math and science classroom.

The Summer Institute:
A partnership between The College of New Jersey (TCNJ) and Fisher Middle School, Ewing NJ, five TCNJ faculty, five undergraduate students, and five Fisher Teachers spent a week in July experiencing the news room of the future in preparation for the following week in which they would collaborate with 16 rising 8th graders. During the five day institute for the middle schoolers, teams consisting of 3 or 4 young people, a middle school teacher and an undergraduate planned for and conducted interviews, edited video, selected still images, created interactive animations and wrote prose to assemble five feature stories for the first edition of F.I.S.H., (Fisher Interesting Stories Here). The online journal was launched on the last day of the institute and can be viewed at http://highered.commandprompt.com/fish/. F.I.S.H. was constructed using the “CAFÉ” (collaboration and facilitation environment) content management system developed at TCNJ by our team.

The Team:
TCNJ Faculty: Ursula Wolz, Computer Science & Interactive Multimedia, Kim Pearson, Journalism & Interactive Multimedia, Monisha Pulimood, Computer Science, Mary Switzer, gender/equity specialist, Meredith Stone evaluator, Fisher Middle School: Barbara Brower, Principal, Jill Schwarz, Guidance, Jean Gardner, Suzanne Gallagher, Laura Fay, and Mary Smith, Teachers. TCNJ Undergraduates: Andrew Chiusano, Rebecca Bernot, Daniel Gill, Scott Kieffer, Brett Taylor, Nancy Sai.

At the close of the week, both the Fisher students and teachers were interviewed as part of our formal study. The students reported that they had had FUN and
  1. learned to program animations;
  2. learned and applied good interviewing techniques;
  3. learned and applied good writing techniques;
  4. learned and successfully used Café, and 5) many also reported that they learned to make videos and use computer software to edit the videos.
Their product, the FISH online journal, verifies the student self-reports. The majority of students thought the most important things they learned were animation, programming and video editing. Half of the students reported that their best work was programming animation, and half reported their best work was interviewing and/or writing their news article. Polled on self-assessment of what they accomplished, their sense of accomplishment increased each day.
On Friday having filed their stories on FISH, their average rating was 4.63 on a five point scale, where “5” designated “an amazing amount.” Comments included: “I did more than I ever thought I could do,” “I learned how to do multiple things with the computers,” “I never knew I’d be able to learn this.”

The teachers were also interviewed at the end of their two-week experience. They were amazed at the students’ motivation, hard work and the “professionalism” of the finished product. Asked how this differed from their usual teaching they said: This week is totally different. I am a player, not the director. And I actually sort of like not being in charge. It takes that burden off of me. We don’t often give them this kind of time for discovery learning. It’s just been joyful being here” Asked what they thought about the overall success of the project: “It’s been wonderful! I see it as an initiating event that can be life-changing for my Fisher kids. And it’s just opening up a whole new world for them. They are really getting an understanding of computer science and an understanding of the power of the internet, and the power of the computer age we are living in—all in a very positive way.” “Of course, these are the tools the kids should be working with in school. They know, and we know, that to have them working with paper and pencil in this day and age is archaic. These are the tools they will be using in their future, no matter what careers they choose.” “This stuff is too good not to teach it to ALL the kids.”

Next Step: In the coming academic year we will support the Fisher teachers and students in bi-monthly after school sessions to continue FISH. We had the long term goal after two years to see teachers begin to incorporate interactive journalism into the regular school day. Our significant result is that after only two weeks of summer experience the teachers, on their own, are incorporating interactive journalism into their curricula, supporting student work on FISH throughout the school day, and proactively engaging their colleagues in adapting curriculum and teaching style to facilitate 21st century learning.

Results reported by independent evaluator Meredith K. Stone, report compiled by Ursula Wolz