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Thursday, June 4, 2015

Upper School Launch Grant: Flipped Classroom for Vanguard trainees

 The students who run, write, and produce The Vanguard’s eight issues a year do so with very little reporting experience and no journalism course to drive or direct their efforts. The 10-person editorial board meets with me once a week during Activities and then once before each monthly publication date for an all-out, all-day (and sometimes all-night) production effort to lay out the paper and send it to the printers. Much of the learning is peer-to-peer and goes on behind the scenes, with feedback conversations filling Google docs and running over email from writer to editor, editor to editor-in-chief, EIC to faculty advisor, and back along the chain. Discussions about reporting are more likely to happen during 5-minute hallway interactions or 15-minute lunch breaks than in a controlled and contemplated learning environment.

The Vanguard is by nature a very results-oriented undertaking, then, with much of the process invisible to the novice and daunting for the more seasoned student reporter, who has learned by doing, to explain. The Vanguard “classroom” is by nature already flipped, and with so much to learn, so much to practice and pass on from production cycle to production cycle, it was a perfect candidate for some flipped classroom curricular attention. Over the summer I used a launch grant to learn some new applications in order to deliver task-specific journalism instruction in accessible, appealing ways. I focused on interviewing skills.

Using the presentation software Haiku Deck —which, as far as I can tell, has no relationship to the similarly named online platform that hosts our courses— I built student editors two tutorials to share with new writers as the editors guide them through the process of preparing for and conducting interviews with their sources. The slide format helps the editor pace the conversation, and the visual format makes the steps more memorable while differentiating the material from the slew of word docs and manuals already in the writers’ possession. Here they are:



I wanted to learn Haiku Deck because I’m interested in effective visual storytelling and in easy access to millions of high-quality images already available through Creative Commons. Using it is fun. Beyond applications to The Vanguard, this year I wound up inviting students to build their own Haiku Decks at the end of our Pride and Prejudice unit. The instructions were to present the novel from one character’s point of view using no fewer than 15 and no more than 25 slides and featuring no more than 25 words per slide. I got some hilarious distillations (and the students earned some extra credit while becoming still more tech-savvy). Here’s one from the character Charlotte Lucas, BFF to the protagonist Elizabeth Bennet:


I also learned to use Creatavist, a multi-media storytelling platform I heard about at the Columbia Scholastic Press Association. Because Creatavist can easily embed sound bites and audio files (not to mention images and videos), it helped me complement the how-to decks on interviewing with something more interactive. On Creatavist, I took a not-so-good interview conducted by one of the editors and broke it down for the others, commenting along the way about what was working, what wasn’t, and where the opportunities were for better follow-up questions and changes in the conversational dynamic. It turned into a really cool-looking online resource, sort of like a two-way textbook chapter. To build it, I wound up learning how to convert ma4 recordings into mp3 files and how to trim mp3 files in Quicktime. (I also learned how not to trim audio files in Garage Band).

Here is the link to the interview assessment tool I built on Creatavist:

I also created a Haiku site for The Vanguard where students can access and revisit these and other reporting resources:

All of this was fun. Screenshots of the Haiku Decks’ first slides are attached, in case you want to use either of those as an image for the blog.

-Allison Kornet

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