SPJ Field Trip Yields Lessons For Teacher From Two Groups of Students

Thanks to my experience with the Woodlawn Academy in Birmingham, I learned more from the students than they learned from me.

BIRMINGHAM–  It’s the last of three days of visits to Birmingham’s Woodlawn neighborhood for the Woodlawn Summer Academy.

This day was different as I journeyed from Tuscaloosa to Birmingham with students from the University’s Society of Professional Journalists chapter, for which I serve as co-adviser.

As a faculty-student team, we did a workshop for the 20 ninth graders.

After working with my own team and with the ninth graders, the lessons were plentiful for the teacher on both levels– with College students and high school students.

1. Impressions and Experiences of College Students can sometimes surprise you

As we arrived at the building down the street from Woodlawn High School where our sessions were taking place, one the UA students indicated how important it was to be careful going to Woodlawn and to go WITH someone.

Suddenly, I was concerned that I would be criticized for taking University students from the Society of Professional Journalists chapter on a community visit to an “unsafe neighborhood.”

The same student later in the day told me that the student’s grandmother had attended Woodlawn High School.  So, there was an indirect connection to University of Alabama  of which I was totally unaware.

2.  Provide iMovie and pocket camera instruction? — maybe NOT.  

One of the UA students who had never taken our multimedia class was able to show the high school students how to view video in the program that’s part Apple’s iLife 2009 suite without ANY guidance from me.

So maybe video editing software is intuitive?  At least when it comes to a program like iMovie, I may not need to stress out about making sure I’ve demonstrated how to do everything with the software.

Minutes later, I found one of the rising ninth graders taking, selecting and deleting photos with the Kodak zi8 pocket video camera– again without having ever been shown HOW to do it.

These (College and high school students) are digital natives — and their experience is totally different from mine or other adults who would need a “lesson” before using the hardware or software. 

3.  “We can take notes on our cell phone”

So I’m providing instruction on doing video stand-ups and giving students background information that I would normally have written down on a pad.

They didn’t have paper handy.  So, these ninth graders pulled out their cell phones and started typing notes as text messages.

One of the young men decided to use his phone as a makeshift teleprompter.  He typed out his standup and had a friend hold his phone under the camera lens.

This picture shows an earlier iteration of this cell phone/teleprompter experiment (beside the camera).

I haven’t yet viewed the video that will be edited for the standup, but I can’t wait to see what this final product looks like.  It was my first time using a cell phone  in doing a video standup

My lesson for the ninth graders may have been how to do a standup for on-camera presentation.   But, the lesson for me, the teacher– be familiar with what students coming into your class who LIVE on cell phones can do.

I’m never been a big cell phone person.  But, I’m quickly realizing if I am going to have this generation of students showing up in my journalism class in the next four years (or at our high school workshop sooner than that), I have to change my method of instruction.

4. Eating lunch IS a big deal

Yesterday before our recording studio visit, one of the students from Woodlawn Academy asked the program director, Chip Brantley,  if we were eating lunch at school.

I thought ‘why is that an important question now? Who cares about lunch?  You’re going to a recording studio.  That’s the big news of the day.’

Today I visited the lunchroom at Woodlawn High School and see why our catered lunch of pulled pork barbecue and barbecue chicken, baked beans and potato salad WAS indeed a big deal.

Let’s just say the lunch menu in the cafeteria today was reminiscent of those days when I would BRING my lunch back in my hometown of Richmond, Virginia.

No offense to the cafeteria staff at Woodlawn.  The soft tacos, toss salad and corn on the menu today were not exactly what I was expecting for lunch.

SPJ Chapter Leaders Laura Metcalf, Matt Conde (center), and Daniel Sparkman were the team that made the Woodlawn Experience work.


I can’t thank my colleague Chip Brantley enough for inviting us to work with the Woodlawn Summer Academy.   I know, I personally can say these last three days have done FAR MORE for me as an Alabama transplant from Virginia than I’m sure I could have done for the students at Westlawn.

This is why institutions like the University of Alabama HAVE to reach out to connect with students, especially when they are in communities in our backyard.

When I began this morning’s presentation, I polled the rising ninth graders about their college plans. Almost all of them raised their hands indicating they are looking to pursue a degree after they graduate four years from now.

Two of these ninth grade students already have plans to major in engineering, another psychology and a fourth student has plans to be pre-law.    These hopes and dreams WILL COME TRUE because of efforts like the Woodlawn Academy.

I have a feeling this is NOT the last time I’ll be journeying to Birmingham’s Woodlawn neighborhood.

Author: George Daniels

George L. Daniels is an associate professor of journalism at the University of Alabama. After spending eight years in the local television newsroom working as a producer at stations in Richmond, Virginia; Cincinnati, Ohio; and Atlanta, Georgia, Daniels moved from the newsroom to the classroom. He’s conducted research on diversity issues in the media workplace and change in the television newsroom as well as media convergence. Before going to work in television news, Daniels worked briefly as a freelance writer for The Richmond Free Press in his hometown of Richmond, Va.

One thought on “SPJ Field Trip Yields Lessons For Teacher From Two Groups of Students”

  1. What a great experience I had at Woodlawn! I can defend what Dr. Daniels said in this post. I feel that the new generation of students, that are born with this technology will forever change the career of Journalism.

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